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Women in Hollywood - Are we the problem?

JodieFoster.jpgWhile actresses over forty complain that Hollywood don't want them any more, black actresses who feel they can speak out still talk of racism, and allegations abound that Warner Brothers doesn't want any more films with female leads, it's beginning to look like there's a big problem in Hollywood.

Are there a distinct lack of films with female leads? Are non-white actresses getting roles as big as their counterparts? More importantly do Warner Brothers have a case for allegedly halting all female led films, or is there even a need for them to say it out loud?

Firstly let's address the issue that has hit the news recently, the memo that has allegedly been leaked from Warner Brothers that calls for an end to films that boast female leads.

The reasoning are three films, The Brave One, The Invasion and The Reaping.

The Brave One stars Jodie Foster with Terrence Howard supporting. According to IMDB it has taken US $30.8 million and UK £497,838, and has been considered as not much of a success. Personally I haven't seen the film and can't comment on why people aren't seeing it, so if you have tell us your thoughts, and if you haven't, why not?

The Invasion stars Nicole Kidman with Daniel Craig supporting. According to IMDB it has taken US $15 million and we're waiting for the UK figures at has just been released. This film has more complications than The Brave One, there's the fact that neither Nicole Kidman nor Daniel Craig are promoting the film and although Oliver Hirschbiegel was the original Director, the Wachowski's were called in to rewrite and create some title sequences with James McTeigue reshooting much of the film. Could these be the real reasons for the poor performance, female lead aside?

Then there's The Reaping starring Hilary Swank with David Morrissey supporting. It took, according to IMDB, US $25.1 million and UK £610,252. Now some people are saying that this film hit the tail end of a period where there had been a whole raft of horror films and the audience were tired of them.

So is it fair to pick on these three films and equate their low takings to a failure of female leads in the box office?

If this were the case why aren't studios banning Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez from making films after their embarrassing performance of Grindhouse in the US with a mere US $25 million? Why aren't Kurt Russell or Freddy Rodríguez being hounded for their lead roles in the two parts of the film?

I'd love to see the analysis that brings the studio to the conclusion that these films failed becaise of the female leads, especially when there are plenty of other films around and below those figures that have male leads.

The Invasion and Grindhouse show that the reasons films don't work are much more complex than simply the lead role. All three of the films that were stated in that alleged Warner Brothers memo are Oscar winners, in fact they carry five between them, is it really down to these top rate actresses?

The answer is clearly no.

However, what is interesting is if you start thinking what strong female led films there have been in recent years, and I do want you to focus on the "female led" part, because I'm not talking about co-starring or supporting, I mean lead.

Just looking at these three ladies and their careers gives us a fair insight. Jodie Foster doesn't take roles very easily, and that list is looking sparse. Flightplan (2005), Panic Room (2002), Contact (1997), Nell (1994), The Silence of the Lambs (1991) - although both these films are starring with strong male leads and could be argued as co-starring, and then we're back to The Accused (1988).

Nicole Kidman, on the face of it, seems to have a better record, but actually the strong films in her career are speckled with co-stars and not so well received films. The Interpreter (2005) is most definitely a co-starring role, Birth (2004), Dogville (2003), The Hours (2002) were stronger leads, The Others (2001) is a great example, as is Mouliin Rouge! (2001), then we're back into co-star territory with Eyes Wide Shut (1998) and so on.

It is fair to say though that Kidman does have some strong co-starring roles that could be seen as lead female roles, if you don't want to be too pedantic. Some of the characters she has played may share the focus of the story with a male counterpart, but the characters have been more than two dimensional atypical female roles.

Hilary Swank hasn't really had the career of the other two actresses, but there are three roles that are, without a doubt, strong female leads, with two being defining roles for actresses. Freedom Writers (2007), Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Boys Don't Cry (1999).

Considering the number of roles that they've each had and the fact that each carries at least one Oscar, don't you think that's a low number of strong leads?

Could you list films this year that have had strong female leads? How many, and don't think that films with male leads and supporting actresses in atypical female roles count. Would you have to extend that list into last year?

This isn't really helped when there is so much stacked against actresses, often pushed to a co-star status as a wife or mother for the male leads, or worse still ageism or racism.

I can't really comment too much on the racism in Hollywood that Halle Berry continues to speak out about, claiming that even she is still subject to it. Although some could argue that Catwoman and Perfect Stranger hurt her career, her list of strong films and roles such as the X-Men series (2000,2003,2006), Gothika (2003), Monster's Ball (2001), and even her memorable appearance in Swordfish (2001) should have her appearing more than she has.

It's the ageism angle that seems to be the most prominent at the moment. With stars like Sharon Stone, Demi Moore, Meryl Streep and Faye Dunaway speaking out about it.

From FemaleFirst Faye Dunaway says:

"I am furious that they think I'm too old to play the love interest of guys like Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood...Why should I play sisters and mothers, while guys like Jack and Clint, who are older than me, have on-screen lovers half their age?"

Also from FemaleFirst, Meryl Streep says:

"I have seriously thought about giving up unless there are roles available that do not depict women of my age as either dotty or horrible."

For Streep this comes as some surprise considering how well she continues to work. Four films in 2006, four or five in 2007 and a similar number for 2008 with one already marked for 2009. For the most part these roles feature strong females, although not all are leads. However with the unmatchable talent that Streep has she'll outshine any of her leads or co-stars.

Sharon Stone and Demi Moore have said similar things about Hollywood's ageism towards actresses, but because of a career of roles that media deem lesser than those of other leading ladies they are often ridiculed for speaking out about their experiences of ageism.

Stone has had a mixed career, with some high points that could be pointed to as Bobby (2006), Casino (1995), The Quick and the Dead (1995), and Basic Instinct (1992), these last two roles being very strong female leads. However the lower points are the ones that the media point to and lessen her comments.

The same is said of Moore, who starred next to her in Bobby and delivered a similarly strong performance. Her high points are Bobby (2006), G.I. Jane (1997), Disclosure (1994), Indecent Proposal (1994), A Few Good Men (1992), Mortal Thoughts (1991), Ghost (1990), About Last Night (1986), and St. Emlo's Fire (1985).

She is perhaps the strongest sign of the fight to beat ageism in Hollywood. A recent article in The Daily Mail revealed the work she has put into herself to keep looking young for Hollywood and try to keep herself in work.

According to the paper she carries a huge bill for keeping herself looking young, including a whopping £165,000 for exercise coaches. The list does include a fair amount of cosmetic surgery, some of which I really don't believe, especially that knee surgery was to keep herself looking young. However it does show the lengths that she has gone to in order to try and keep Hollywood looking at her as a viable female lead.

"It's been a challenging few years, being the age I am. Almost to the point where I felt like, well, they don't know what to do with me. I am not 20. Not 30...

...There aren't that many good roles for women over 40. A lot of them don't have much substance, other than being someone's mother or wife...

...If we are told we are not valuable once we hit 30, it is a problem," she said. "We all have more to give."

Now before anyone sounds off about Stone and Moore not being good actresses, get yourself off to see Casino and Mortal Thoughts. They are both excellent actresses, but need the roles and direction to get the most out of them rather than letting them fall back on their stereotypical roles.

Charlotte Rampling has revealed why non-Hollywood actresses don't feel the problem is as bad for them:

"The system in Europe is nothing like in Hollywood. It is not so barbaric in terms of the ageing process."

It certainly is true that you can see European actresses appearing in many films and having more strong roles than their Hollywood counterparts, just look at Judi Dench or Helen Mirren.

So what is wrong with Hollywood? Is it as simple as sexism, ageism, and racism? Are they right in saying that female leads aren't ones that win the audience and therefore the box office figures? You're the audience, what do you think?

Why aren't female leads more prevalent and stronger in Hollywood, and why aren't older actresses deemed as bankable as younger ones? Is it purely down to hot looking younger bodies? Surely the audience isn't that shallow. Surely we aren't that shallow, sexist, ageist and racist?



Surely these woman have enough clout to produce some of their own material? Maybe work with some up and coming indie film makers that they believe in? Rather than act like victims and blame the world?

Damn good point Lars. Perhaps they do, but if there really is an anti-them feeling in Hollywood maybe they can't get projects going.

No, I don't believe that. These women could easily raise independent films with their reputation.

Did you ask us if we were shallow at the same time you pointed out Berry's "memorable" performance in Swordfish? ;)

That's not shallow, it's true that her performance there was memorable. Surely that would get her more Hollywood roles!

Glad to see you read the whole thing though, I was wondering how many people would!


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