How Hollywood’s Bro-Fest Hurts Us All

More often than I’d like to admit, I need to fill my quota of mind-numbing movie watching. I become like the zombie in Warm Bodies and feast off the brain matter of someone else’s seemingly more interesting story, so I can escape my own for a while. Therefore, I now confess that I pretty much watched every major film that came out this summer. This puts me in-the-know about everything, because Hollywood rules the world. So imagine my surprise and embarrassment when I decided to read something (on the Internet, of course) and my eyes landed on an article by Caryn Rivadeneira, titled “Where Were All the Women in This Summer’s Movies?” Wait. What? I actually had to stop and think about it. After all my countless hours of movie gorging, I hadn’t even noticed that women were missing from starring or even co-starring roles in almost all the summer hits (The Heat being an exception). This identifies problem number 1: Awareness.

Once I recovered from my shame-shock, my natural inclination was to wonder what’s going on? In our day when the media champions women’s rights and inclusion into all facets of society and point the finger at less developed nations that exclude or oppress women, why are women still sidelined in our films? And more important, what can we do about it? Once awareness is achieved (and that alone could prove to be a tough feat), it should lead to action and change . . . but why isn’t that happening?

Oftentimes, there isn’t any action toward change because we don’t know what to do. The machine called Hollywood is too big and menacing, rolling over everyone in its path. Because the stakes are so high and the film industry so large, it’s easy to abdicate any desire to mess with it. Even Linda Holmes, in her article “At the Movies, the Women Are Gone,” questioned and answered what most of us think and feel about the issue:

“Somebody asked me this morning what “the women” are going to do about this. I don’t know. I honestly am at the point where I have no idea what to do about it. Stop going to the movies? Boycott everything?… My answer is that I have no idea what the women are going to do about it. It helps when critics, including men, care about the way women artists are treated and make it their problem to share.”

So it’s understandable when people, including the very women being slighted, opt to ignore the situation and turn to other artistic mediums that seem to hold more promise, simply hoping that one day the menacing machine will somehow be indirectly influenced. That’s what Caryn Rivadeneira suggested in her article, saying,

“So Hollywood certainly has a dearth of female characters, but I did meet many wonderful, strong female characters this summer through other forms of media…So though it may very well be true that Hollywood continues to dish out women characters with little depth or complexity or awe-inspiring characteristics, this doesn’t mean the world itself is devoid of them.”

Turning our attention to other media forms for inspiration could possibly be one effective way of filling the void on screen. There’s no harm in focusing on the mediums one can directly influence, such as literature and art. Yet, it seems that turning our backs on the problem that is magnified on screen has its own impact on society. It creates an imbalanced and slanted view of reality, promotes one-sided values and ideals, and emphasizes biased topics and themes, to name a few. Instead, action must follow awareness and there needs to be a collective and sustained effort by both women and men to address the truth of inequity that is still played out in our cultural values and institutions. After all, how can our spoken value of equity transform our current reality of inequality if we brush it off and just hope for change? Addressing the truth should lead to calls for action in giving women a place at the table to effect change in both making business and creative decisions. Putting money where our mouth is includes placing women in positions of power in which they can be a legitimate presence in all facets of the film industry, not just as overlooked and overcharged viewers.

Therefore, taking an active role in transforming our current reality to match our spoken values will have far-reaching effects, not only for the women we know, but also specifically for the women who are struggling in the trenches. Unlike what is portrayed on the screen, many women in the film industry want roles of depth and character far beyond the flat portrayal of women as lovers, sex objects, or mothers (to name a few typecast roles). For instance, actress Ellen Page, “a jeans and T-shirt” kind of girl, who is known to seek roles beyond Hollywood’s stereotype laments the difficulty in the film industry to portray women beyond their sexuality. When interviewed by Hadley Freeman for The Guardian, she commented:

“’There are moments when you are, um, encouraged to dress a certain way. But I can’t. It just erodes my soul,’ she says with a nervous laugh. ‘That’s no criticism to girls who can wear a tiny dress and kill it—that’s awesome. People always attribute being a feminist to hating girls being sexual, and that’s not it at all. I’m just not into it…I don’t feel it’s all that helpful. It’s not the direction I want to take.’”

There are probably many other female actresses and screenwriters, as well as directors and producers, who feel the same way. But they are given the choice to either abandon their ideals or do something else. Their voices are hardly heard, and they are not often supported in their goals to represent compelling women characters with quality and depth. If there is no collective support behind their efforts to portray different kinds of characters and experiences of women, then the imbalance will remain entrenched in our culture. So let’s find out who they are, and let’s support them.

Considering the fact that in 2011 the U.S. film industry produced over 14 billion dollars in exports globally, this issue is not just one that affects our own culture, but also represents our upheld values to the world, showing what we believe in. It’s not enough to say we believe in women’s rights and equality, but then exclude them from a place to represent their differing perspectives on the screen. We have a responsibility to care about the images and characters we put out into the world, because we are not created in the image of nothingness and meaningless entertainment, but represent something quite human, redeemed and whole. Women are the other part of that equation, an equal part, and when the one part suffers loss, so does the whole.

About Anita Kobayashi Sung
  • Esther O’Reilly

    Women on screen annoy me probably more than half the time, unless their names are Jessica Chastain or Jennifer Lawrence. And it’s not necessarily because their characters are annoying, it’s because they can’t act. Bring on the bros, at least when they can act too. Come to think of it, we have hardly any good actors right now, male or female. Never mind then, I’ll just stay at home and watch Lawrence of Arabia fifty times.

  • Brian Westley

    No mention of the Bechdel test?

  • Agni Ashwin

    Miley can act.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    And I thought my jokes were bad…

  • danallison

    Another cultural Marxist screed here. If there’re enough women in films, sports, business, or microbrewing, then there aren’t enough blacks or gays or Hmong, so they are “hurt.” Of course, whenever Sandra Bullock or Meryl Streep actually make a great film, people go. That’s our freedom, and that’s how the market works. Honestly, these articles (and they are everywhere, not enough black people go camping, I read the other day) actually prove most people are doing well and are NOT hurting here in the First World.

  • Ted Turnau

    I think Hollywood is still reeling from the Catwoman effect. That movie was supposed to be a sure thing (Haley in leather? What’s not to like?!). But it tanked, and tanked hard. Hollywood doesn’t really care about women or social justice or anything else. It cares about box office revenues. When someone comes up with something that can convince studio execs that it will make money, then they’ll make the movie. It may have to be an independent that catches on (saw a great short Wonder Woman film online the other day, trying to goad someone into making a feature length film). I think you’re right – critics do have a part to play. But until someone proves that there is a bankable market out there for female driven movies that aren’t sappy rom-coms, the situation is going to remain unchanged.


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