Why Hollywood Is Turning Its Back
On Women’s Issues
-Movies will be made to appeal to foreign men, not American women
-A poor image of America will be shown to the world by LA studios
-John Cusack and Hollywood stars like him are partly to blame
-Big costs for talent and crews make international money critical
By Alexander Law
In the real America a powerful man can be brought to account for his actions largely on the word of a woman at the other end of the influence scale, and that brings hope to women everywhere.
But in the reel America that’s projected on movie screens around the globe Hollywood is creating movies with fewer women wearing fewer clothes and speaking fewer lines, and isn’t very interested in creating strong female characters or helping women solve problems that often involve life or death.
Hollywood knows that maintaining its cushy lifestyle requires more movies aimed directly at the male viewers in foreign markets where women don’t enjoy the same rights, dignity and degree of safety as women in North America.
As a result, Hollywood will avoid the type of movies that made the industry rich from the its first days to the arrival of television (women overcoming some sort of male oppression) so it can concentrate on stories that encourage the beliefs of foreign men.
Because it’ll have few foreign sales, even a successful female movie like Bridesmaids doesn’t really change things, since the studio could invest the same money in a male-oriented film.
So movies that might have supplied the same kind of emotional encouragement for women that the New York arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn of the IMF did will not be coming from Hollywood. It’s much more likely that men whose behavior oppresses women will get emotional support from Hollywood, which of course means America to many people in other countries.
That is the unavoidable conclusion that comes from watching over 2,000 films in researching Movies About Women (a guide to over 500 films reflecting the issues and concerns of women), following box office trends, reading other experts on the subject (such as Geena Davis), and examining studies by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.
According to the Annenberg study, only about a third of the actors with speaking parts in modern movies are women, the sexualization (nudity, revealing clothing, etc) of female characters is greater, and that’s happening to younger women (13 to 19) more often than with women who are 21 to 39. Female actors are also six times more likely to wear revealing attire then men are, and three times as likely to appear nude.
The tonal shift in films began about a decade ago when Hollywood realized it would have to make more male-oriented films if it wanted to keep its revenues up. It was originally done to draw young North American men back from video games, web searching, online porn and other distractions.
But when that wasn’t enough to get domestic males going back to the theatres, Hollywood decided it would have to start casting its nets farther out, hoping to snare men in countries with less enlightened views of women.
One of the earliest and best received films of this type was The Wedding Crashers in 2005, where two single men tell whatever kind of lie will get a woman into bed, which allows the male audience to enjoy a topless musical montage. That was followed by such films as Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past, I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, and of course The Hangover.
The Hangover was instructive to men in foreign countries because of the status of the two most sympathetic characters in the movie. On the female side that would be Heather Graham as a hooker with a heart of gold, which is standard stuff in male fantasies. On the male side it’s Zach Galifianakis as a disturbed man-child who likes to masturbate in his seat on airplanes and admits to having a restraining order involving schools, which suggests he may be a child molester.
People in North America aren’t too worried about this kind of thing because they’re used to it, but it may have a completely different impact in other places around the world. It certainly can’t be doing anything to change minds in foreign countries when people in the great liberal democracies laugh at the notion of child molestation.
Hollywood’s justification for this is of course economic, and that seems to work like magic with a lot of people in capitalist countries. That tends to wither a bit when you bear in mind that the primary economic urge Hollywood feels is hanging on to the beach-front, foreign car, five-star, Charlie Sheen lifestyle it’s created over the years.
Movie stars make a lot of money and demand whatever perks they can think of, but that’s not the only thing that raises prices and forces producers to make questionable artistic decisions to keep the money coming in. Because of tough union contracts with pretty much everyone on a set (including the director), salaries and staffing levels are kept much higher than you would think.
A perfect example of why and how this affects content can be seen in Hot Tub Time Machine, a very small picture that cost about $40 million to make. But that tends to happen when the star/producer (John Cusack in this case) feels the need to have five personal assistants.
This movie is most infamous for a scene in which one of the male characters who’s gone back in time phones the 9-year-old version of his future wife and screams sexual threats at her, to alter some future behavior of hers that he dislikes.
This is quite a change from the days when Hollywood served as a positive influence on people around the world, including France’s first female finance minister, who hopes to succeed Strauss-Kahn at the IMF. Esther Williams’ swimming movies turned her on to synchronized swimming, and that taught her a lot of life lessons.
It was the growing reality of this change in Hollywood that caused us to create Movies About Women: Reel Women Share Stories Of Life And Love, Vol.1 (www.bampress.com). It includes reviews of 500+ movies, over 200 of which were directed by more than 150 women.
Some of them are famous, but most of them are not, as we wanted to show women the breadth of the movies available to them. There turned out to be so many that we’ve already started Vol. 2 and are hoping to include suggestions from our readers.