THE MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF HOLLYWOOD’S TRAILBLAZING WOMEN





This article is written by FRANCINE LEFRAK at THE HUFFINGTON POST

It’s time once again for the OSCARS, when millions of Americans plunk down in front of their televisions to watch Hollywood’s young performers and veteran actors walk together down the reddest red carpet of them all.

Like so many years prior, our shared fascination with seeing female stars strut their glitziest and most glam looks will mean big ratings for the networks, not to mention box office bucks for the winning films. Our fervent interest in what Hollywood’s women are wearing, it seems, never goes out of fashion. But when it comes to the films they star in – specifically those with strong, pioneering female leads – our fascination has waned.

Several films from this year and last told the story of groundbreaking women in action, taking on the system to achieve their dreams, but none were met with box office success. If so many of these recent films have failed, it begs the question: has feminism in film become passe?

And if so, will it ever be fashionable again?

Last year was a painful one for movies about fearless women struggling for rights, freedom and equality. Do the titles SECRETARIAT or MADE IN DAGENHAM ring a bell? Probably not, because they came and went without much, if any, traction at the box office. This, even with the participation of big names like DIANE LANE and SALLY HAWKINS and despite generally favorable reviews across the board. In these films, women won the first Triple Crown for the United States in decades and fought hard for equal pay in 1960s Britain – among other amazing feats – and yet, no one was watching.

It’s not to say that all films with female leads were flops this year. After all, many flocked to theatres to watch ANNETTE BENING and JULIANNE MOORE portray lesbian partners in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT and NATALIE PORTMAN play a tortured ballerina in BLACK SWAN. Clearly, female characters in film aren’t automatically unappealing to American audiences. But could it be that once these characters start to take on whatever system obstructs their goals, we’re no longer interested?

It’s hard to tell how or why feminism has fallen out of favour with moviegoers, but Hollywood certainly has taken note. Disney, for one, changed the name of its film RAPUNZEL to TANGLED, ostensibly to make it less girl centric and more appealing to audiences.

In 2007, industry blogs were atwitter about a rumour that WARNER BROTHERS’ head of production declared the studio was no longer interested in movies with female leads. While WARNER BROTHERS came forward and denied the claim that it wouldn’t even look at a script with a female lead, one can easily see this change of tide by taking a good look at what the studios have put out recently and what still remains in development limbo.

Anyone in the industry will tell you that it is next to impossible to get a movie green lighted these days, but this is particularly true for films that revolve around female leads that defy the status quo.

A biopic about JANIS JOPLIN, the singer/songwriter who broke ground in a male dominated rock industry of the 60s, has been on hold for years – so long, in fact, that the lead role has been passed from actor to actor. The delay has left many wondering if the film will ever happen.

HALLE BERRY recently revealed that it took ten years to get her recent film FRANKIE & ALICE made. If it takes HALLE BERRY ten years, what does that mean for other filmmakers trying to make movies about women battling adversity?

It wasn’t always this hard to get audiences interested in movies about women who break barriers.

In 2000, ERIN BROCKOVICH – the film dramatizing the real life Ms. Brokovich’s legal battle against the Pacific Gas & Electric Company – was a massive success, garnering five OSCAR nominations (including a win for JULIA ROBERTS) and big box office numbers. THE HOURS and BOYS DON’T CRY are two more examples of films made around that time that tackled female empowerment and succeeded both critically and financially.

So what has changed in the last decade that these kinds of motion pictures have now fallen out of favour with audiences? Perhaps moviegoers are looking for a fresh new take on female empowerment in film. Something wild and fun…and pioneering in a whole new way.

Maybe the film industry needs a LADY GAGA to call its own; someone to show younger audiences that empowerment can be cool. If filmmakers who want to tell these kinds of stories don’t innovate soon, we may see another slew of quality motion pictures about strong women come and go faster than you can even get to the theatre. A biopic of Margaret Thatcher starring the beloved MERYL STREEP has recently gone into production.

Can these films – and others – initiate a comeback? Or is feminism truly dead in Hollywood?

7 Responses to “THE MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF HOLLYWOOD’S TRAILBLAZING WOMEN”

  1. glimmer Says:

    Do the titles SECRETARIAT or MADE IN DAGENHAM ring a bell? Probably not, because they came and went without much, if any, traction at the box office.

    hmm…

    it’s time for the novice to speak. i have no idea what happened with secretariat but at least this was put in a position to succeed. ultra ad push/the disney connection opening in 3,000 theaters stateside. if not 3,000 some huge number that doesn’t spell limited release.

    secretariat was in a position to get in the the race. (yes, i have more lame jokes.) it had the blog/national critics ready and talking about it before hand. all that was needed was the tough part. this film was gonna have to get nice box office/good word of mouth and great reviews and it would seem set to at least be mentioned in the could it get a nom game or at least some top 20 list type films of the year type thing. of course none of that happened nor came close to happening.

    so i don’t know how much of secretariat’s failings could be read as some sort of “is feminism truly dead in Hollywood?” thing or just the 50th film that was supposed to be a player in awards season but was a casualty instead…

    made in dagenham wasn’t even a player in this season. unlike secretariat it wasn’t even given a fair chance. but again i don’t know if out this in the feminism is dead in hollywood or just another film that looked cool and never caught on/wasn’t given a chance. each season you could lump several films in this category. could it be that secretariat and dagenham just happened to have the same not nice fate and are feminist films or is/was it more likely to happen to this year because they’re perceived as feminist films???

    wish this was clearer or at least clearer to *me*

    anyway…

    i had no interest in secretariat. disney+sports film/horses would have needed wild horses to drag me to the theater to see it. (yes i know this wasn’t gonna just be about the sports/horse angle. but still no interest from me. none…i don’t even have to pretend to like/or be interested in every thing. like the pro critics cover that..)

    made in dagenham: i do regret not seeing this. but i was so deep in my can’t leave the house to see a film phase/which i’m pretty much still in.

    and was really looking forward it seems interesting and i kinda have a soft spot towards surprise underdog stories. and sally hawkins really needs to make it up to me for my having to endure happy go lucky. i know she’s talented enough to do so. and maybe this film would have been the one.

    yes ms.m, as hard as it it to believe/hard to believe/ a man can’t live on a pic of sally kissing an award statue alone.

    but i still have that saved to my hard drive/if you know what i mean… 😉

    verdict from the geek view…

    let’s see what happens this year/the year after before we asking the is it dead question. or have the last few years been that bad it’s time to throw up the panic flag???

  2. It’s eminently cool to have you comment about this, glim. You know what you’re talking about, honey bear.

    You and Ms. LeFrak make excellent points. I think that the two of you are both right.

    I feel that any actor, filmmaker or writer should be concerned about the lack of good roles for women and the fact that movies with a female focus often have difficulty getting made.

    I haven’t talked about this for a while. But it does make my blood boil. We’re 50% of the population. It’s not like we can actually be ignored. There have always been parts for female actors. There always will be. But lots of times there isn’t very much depth involved.

    Quite often movies are guys’ stories taken from a male perspective. So someone will have to play the love interest/girlfriend/wife or some insubstantial bimbo role. Or (depending on the age range) the hero’s daughter or mother. There is a lot of that around, unfortunately.

    There are talented women that will rise to the top of their profession and grab the best of what’s out there. But there generally isn’t a lot to choose from. That’s why some female actors set up production companies. They can be on the lookout and try to develop something interesting for themselves (or someone else).

    It’s harsh. But it’s the bloody truth. The pendulum slides back and forth. But Hollywood stopped writing rich complicated interesting female roles in the 1940s. I’m serious. There were some in the decade that followed. But the 50s was the last gasp of the major female star. As much as I love the 60s (especially the films from that particular era), there weren’t a lot of great female roles or films with a feminist bent. The 70s were a golden age in terms of American cinema. There was a lot of risk taking and pure artistry. But not a hell of a lot of interesting things for women.

    The 80s were a disaster from that point of view. That’s when box office became a huge public deal and the concept of the opening weekend debuted. Still not a windfall for women.

    So now we have today. 2010 was actually great. Far more fascinating strong roles for talented women than most years. But I doubt that that’s a breakthrough, unfortunately. It’s probably just a blip on the radar.

    How do we solve this problem? I’m not sure. But having more female executives and powerful women in Hollywood would definitely help. You can’t get people to see movies that they’re not interested in. But if films are marketed correctly, well…

    You’re absolutely right, glim. SECRETARIAT was definitely positioned to succeed. Disney was behind it and it did receive quite a lot of publicity pre release. I liked it to a degree. There are some excellent performances in it (DIANE LANE, JOHN MALKOVICH, MARGO MARTINDALE, NELSAN ELLIS) but I found it rather bland and by the numbers.

    It didn’t get to me in the same way that SEABISCUIT or THE BLACK STALLION did. There was no there there.

    The whole thing with MADE IN DAGENHAM really frosts my royal Irish ass. Everyone had some idea about SECRETARIAT. The vast majority of people (except for cinephiles that were actually waiting for it…like me) knew nothing about DAGENHAM.

    To date, it has made less than a million dollars stateside. Would audiences have gone if it had received more publicity? I don’t know if it would’ve done big numbers. I doubt it. But I’m sure more people would’ve shown up if they had heard about it.

    But how do we ever know? I think BLACK SWAN is a masterpiece. But I would’ve laughed anyone out of the room that would’ve predicted that film (brilliant as it is) would gross $100 million.

    And there it is…

    It’s too bad. MID is #8 on my Top 10 list this year. It’s beautifully done – a great stirring true story that most people are not aware of. I think it’s genuinely worth seeing.

    and sally hawkins really needs to make it up to me for my having to endure happy go lucky. i know she’s talented enough to do so. and maybe this film would have been the one.

    yes ms.m, as hard as it it to believe/hard to believe/a man can’t live on a pic of sally kissing an award statue alone.

    but i still have that saved to my hard drive/if you know what i mean…

    Ha ha ha ha.

    You certainly are an original, you lil southern firecracker. I wonder what SALLY would have to say about that…???

  3. glimmer Says:

    and no one saw this coming either. black swan was news corp’s top money film stateside for 2010. (this was even more insane considering the problem this film had getting financing.)

    http://www.altfg.com/blog/movie/natalie-portman-black-swan-the-voyage-of-the-dawn-treader/

  4. glimmer Says:

    Quite often movies are guys’ stories taken from a male perspective. So someone will have to play the love interest/girlfriend/wife or some insubstantial bimbo role. Or (depending on the age range) the hero’s daughter or mother. There is a lot of that around, unfortunately.

    even lamer

    http://womenandhollywood.com/2010/11/02/newsflash-the-summer-of-2011-movies-will-have-no-women-leads/

    makes you want to cry. i mentioned this to some guy and he didn’t give damn or seemed to give a damn if the summer of this year had a film with a female lead as the focus. he’s getting the films he wants. he didn’t care about any other bracket.

    whether that be females or kids like me that want to see something aside from blockbusters/talking animals and super hero crap.

    no, he couldn’t even fake one bit of sympathy or concern. he saw nothing wrong with this. and people wonder why i often say i worry about the kids coming up. (if those are the lame standards adults are gonna pass down, i worry more than ever…)

    in the back of my mind there’s a reason to worry and in the front of my mind too…

    ms. m, your words i started this post with this sort of tie in with i’m sick of ”she’s hot” from the guys y’all/the media. none of the females the guys have deemed ”she’s hot” can base a movie box office success on the lame backs of the people that won’t shut up about which ever generic female they claim is part of she’s hot/those hot /sexy females list.

    these guys are a worthless audience, never showing support for the females they supposedly love and lust after…

    one of the many reasons this is bad is because it’s helping put females in just the love interest/girlfriend/wife or some insubstantial bimbo role.

    talent is not needed or wanted nor is anything personality/persona wise. just have generic hot chicks and the masses are happy.

    i want good films. i don’t care so much about whether she’s hot. i can see females as hot as the females on screen just walking around. and if you don’t think they’re as hot give the same pro treatment and photoshop madness and celebs and watch the difference slip away.

    how the f**k can you pop crush someone that can’t act or even seem the least bit likable personality wise? ask the guys y’all for details.

    ok i can see this happening a bit/sometimes but i swear with so many people their entire crushlist is just females that show no talent and they have zero interest in them aside from ”she’s hot”.

    and then the hotness is just the most lame generic /predictable type.

    *always*

    and then we get generic action films. it all sort if ties together???

    make the madness stop. but it’s not stopping in my lifetime. or maybe things will get better when i’m 97 when i won’t know or care what’s going on…

    and i’ll just end with the obligatory pixar *still* sucks…..never let a chance go by to cheap shot those kids…

  5. Bravo, baby!!!

    Aside from the Pixar thing (I never see their films so I’m fairly indifferent), I wholeheartedly and fervently agree with everything that you said.

    I understand what you’re talking about, honey bear. There is no need to worry. Believe me. Worrying never solved anything anyway. You have to work hard, be vigilant, cut through the BS and strategize effectively if you want things to change.

    Yeah, there will always be some lowlife mofos that don’t get it. How unfortunate for them.

    But things will even out. It’s inevitable. Just the way of the world.

    That’s really great news about BLACK SWAN. As much as I adore it (it’s a groundbreaking work of art…and NATALIE has a lot to do with that), I had no idea that it would do so well at the box office.

    Just goes to show that you never can tell…

  6. glimmer Says:

    HALLE BERRY recently revealed that it took ten years to get her recent film FRANKIE & ALICE made. If it takes HALLE BERRY ten years, what does that mean for other filmmakers trying to make movies about women battling adversity?

    and the film still hasn’t got a national release??? maybe it played a few dates on whichever coast to put it in the awards race.

    but if you’re not an academy member or live in cali/nyc… oh who gives a damn about those other people? i keep forgetting…

    ok. no national release so far this year. and a film of this sort doesn’t spell summer release and i doubt it will get a push/release for next oscar season.

    so?????

    this film is having quite a round of adversity i’d say…

  7. I haven’t spoken to anybody about this. So I’ll just go on my best guess and what I comprehend about the industry.

    If anyone in the know has any concrete information that would contradict my statements, they can feel free to say something on the record.

    As I stated previously, 2010 was an exceptional year for female performances. For the first time in ages, the BEST ACTRESS category was actually crowded and there was a lot of excellent work for ACADEMY voters to choose from.

    And the women that they did select were incredible. The five nominees that made the cut all did courageous stunning exemplary work.

    From what I understand, HALLE was absolutely magnificent in FRANKIE & ALICE. She got a lot of buzz. She also received a GOLDEN GLOBE nomination. So she was probably within striking distance. She could easily have been #6 or #7.

    But 2010 was a very tough year in terms of making a definite mark and getting serious consideration. Politics and luck really carry the day in this particular situation.

    Accoding to IMDB, FRANKIE & ALICE was released on one screen on December 12 and made just under $8,000. It doesn’t say. But I would naturally assume that it was either LA or NY and that it was specifically for OSCAR consideration.

    I’ve seen the trailer many times in the cinema. So I imagine there were plans in place for a wider release. But perhaps (unfortunately…*deep sigh*) those conditions were contingent on HALLE receiving another OSCAR nomination or the film making a certain amount of money. FRANKIE & ALICE does not have a major studio behind it…and that makes all the difference in the world.

    It’s a wicked shame. Just from the trailer, HALLE looks exceptionally impressive.

    But the film industry is a business like any other. Box office is an extremely important factor. Some of this stuff will never change. Artists were complaining almost 100 years ago (literally…) that it was a miracle that any film ever got made.

    Never mind the good ones.

    But at least it’s out there. Even if it doesn’t end up with an actual release of any description, if enough people love it, it could be a success on DVD.

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