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Sexism is Not The Problem, Bad Movies Are

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Reuters is carrying a feature from the Hollywood Reporter today attributing the lack of films with female leads to sexism in the business, and that's actually a decent point worth making, but the proof provided as ridiculously pathetic. If anything, it leads me to the exact opposite conclusion, that the problem isn't sexism so much as bad movies.
Recent history has left a graveyard of tombstones reading such names as "Elektra," "Catwoman" and "Aeon Flux," while mausoleums house "Tank Girl" and "Barb Wire." There are exceptions, of course, such as the "Tomb Raider" and "Underworld" movies, but their sequels failed to capitalize on any goodwill created by the first movies.

For what it's worth, and with respect to fans of these films, they were all terrible movies. The beginning to Elektra was cinematically beautiful and entirely uninspiring. I saw nothing in the first ten minutes that made me want to stay put in my seat for another hour and a half. Aeon Flux was convoluted and lacked any kind of story telling discipline.

Neither of them jumped out at the audience which is evident to any critic or viewer right from the start, they were obviously stories that the writer wanted to tell, but not one the audience wanted to see -- and they were executed poorly on top of that.

I don't blame their failure on the leading ladies, and I reject the notion that more films such as those don't see the light of day because of misogynist studio executives and producers. I fault the creative minds behind these films entirely for putting crap on the screen and calling it art.

Oddly, the examples of films that did succeed, at least the first time around, aren't what I'd consider success either. Tomb Raider did well at the box office because Angelina Jolie was in it, which actually would rule out the theory that men are holding films like that down. It wasn't terribly good either, suffering from an egotistical director that fired writer after writer only to take it upon himself to write the script.

The Hollywood Reporter was right about the sequels failing, though, but again I argue it had more to do with their mediocre predecessors than it did sexism.
One manager says it doesn't take X-ray vision to see studio sexism as part of the trouble. Female-oriented action movies, he reasons, take a hit when one fails, whereas a male-oriented action movie that misfires bounces off a studio's back like a bullet off Superman.

One manager is an idiot. Action films attract just one demographic, and one demographic alone: young moderately affluent white men, and to a lesser degree young men in general. They aren't going to see great acting or riveting stories; they want shit to blow up. It's hardly surprising that brain-dead zombies like that aren't going to react well to a woman in the lead role, so if there are accusations of sexism to be thrown around, they really ought to be aimed directly at the audience.

Studio execs may be blind when it comes to separating good scripts from the bad, but they have 'X-Ray' vision when it comes to money. If a female lead could open a movie wide and turn it into a blockbuster, she'd be the star of a franchise that'd never die. I don't care how much of a misogynist an exec supposedly is, money matters more, and in Hollywood, there is no greater past time than milking crap for money.

There's another angle here that I'm going to look at, with this as a inspiration:
But television is another story.

On the small screen, female-starring genre stories become buzzworthy cult hits, such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Alias" and (the just-canceled) "Veronica Mars." The fall season will see a new crop of heroes in the form of a new "Bionic Woman" on NBC and Fox's "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," a spinoff of the "Terminator" movie series.

You can stop right there because I've got something worth thinking about. Perhaps the reason women don't get the kind of big roles men do in feature films is because our society is less willing to see women portrayed in risky ways. We think absolutely nothing of portraying a man as a drunk, drug addicted, murder-happy misanthrope. Look at Sin City, virtually every male lead in that film is a glorified murderer -- and it's awesome.

But then we have a societal contingent that shrieks any moment a role is written for a woman that portrays negative character aspects. Sometimes those complaints are justified when they focus on the obvious, like sex. How often do you see women in roles where they kill without conscience, and a quiet contingent?

If you redo Sin City with all the roles reversed, would you still have that kind of success? I think you would, if you didn't just replace those actors with females, but real actresses of equal talent and ability. You'd also have certain groups from all corners screaming of how the negative portrayal of women sends "all the wrong messages to young girls."

I'm not beyond reason, there probably are quite a few misogynist executives, producers, directors, and even writers in the business. But are they the leading cause for women getting second billing?

It's going to take a lot more than this flimsy concoction of excuses to convince me.

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The text of this article is Copyright © 2006,2007 Paul William Tenny. All rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Attribution by: full name and original URL. Comments are copyrighted by their authors and are not subject to the Creative Commons license of the article itself.