Over the many months writing this column, one thing is absolutely certain: Hollywood and the film industry still have a lot of work to do when it comes to women in front of and behind the camera. But the fact of the matter is: It's not just the system. There is another thorn in equality that's just as pervasive as eating disorders and body issues, low women-to-men percentages, and wholly troublesome plots -- the moviegoers themselves.
It's funny... We can be so picky, sarcastic, and condescending about so many aspects in Hollywood, but when it comes to themes and characterizations, we're willing to forgive so much. Just as there are hordes of theatergoers who don't find anything wrong with the many troublesome movies that hit the screen, there are masses who would agree with every critique laid upon a film, yet still enjoy it. Why? Because they forgive. A lot.
In my December 14th Girls on Film, I touched on the rampant habit for female filmgoers to forgive, and briefly relayed a story from 2008. I had gone out to dinner with a friend who raved about Sex and the City. Had she been talking about the TV show, I would've dug it. On HBO, Carrie and her posse might have been blessed with more riches than most, and been eye-rollingly fashion-obsessed and goofy at times, but they also experienced a whole myriad of real-life thrills and turmoil. I can't begin to count the number of times the show's themes popped up in my own conversations with friends, whether it be wacky dating stories or professional challenges. But my friend, unfortunately, was referring to the film.
What about Charlotte's over-the-top and sadly justified xenophobia? How "omg you're here!" squeals took the place of engaging dialogue? The rampant love of displaying women as irrational and hard to deal with? How the smallest, struggling tendrils of frugality or middle-class life were replaced with opulent consumerism and dropping tens, hundreds, or thousands of dollars on ridiculous whims? My friend agreed with everything I brought up, and told me she forgave it all for a "fun" film about women.
While I can't fathom forgiving all of the flaws of SatC on the big screen, forgiveness is an essential part of the experience for any moviegoer eager to see real-life women. There are, quite simply, too few films that are interested in reaching beyond the typical stereotypes, and even when they do, bothersome cliches usually sneak in. We are part of a cinematic landscape where The Bechdel Rule still runs strong. "The Rule" is simple: Find films where two of the characters are women, who talk with each other about something other than men. Jette Kernion struggled to find even a handful of solid examples when she wrote a Cinematical Seven on The Rule. I spend a long time staring at my many DVDs when I want some intelligent and real female fare -- especially when I add further qualifiers like little to no romance and no-heart-wrenching drama.
But at some point, we have to stop forgiving everything. As much as we all have dramatic lives that need release with fluff fare and mediocre cinema, we can't keep paying into the system that perpetuates crap.
Take Valentine's Day: It earned the #1 spot at the box office this weekend, grabbing over $56 million. Regardless of the holiday ties, this overly cliched, embarrassing excuse of a rom-com just made a ton of money and already has a sequel in the works, once again "proving" that the women of Valentine's Day are the kind of females moviegoers want to see on the big screen -- the sweet-as-pie grade school teacher, the airhead blonde high schooler, the perpetually single girl who wallows in candy and panic attacks, the rich wife who tries to ignore her husband's infidelity... (Not to mention the film's treatment of minorities, and other cinematic atrocities, which might get outlined in another post.)
If you pay to see films like this, and buy them for your shelves, because maybe you like Emma Roberts' spunky teen, or love Jennifer Garner's sweetness, or Anne Hathaway speaking in a Russian accent, every cent that goes to these movies decreases the chance of finding anything better on the big screen. Studios don't see the success of Garry Marshall's latest, or the cash raked in from SatC, as an example of moviegoers wanting more diverse and awesome women on the big screen, or more women in general. They see it as a simple equation: Romance + sexy women + comedy = Goldmine. Female friends + fashion + money = Goldmine. Women obsessed with men = Goldmine.
Studio Goldmines = Smart Moviegoer's Hell
By forgiving the flaws, we make them stronger and all the more prevalent. In this day and age, when it's easy to buy old movies and get access to indie treats, I can't help but think that we all need to stop paying in to the system and forgiving the laziness and lies. We need to satisfy ourselves with the rare gems of the past and great indie flicks that dare challenge the norm until things start to change. Calling films out on their faults is a step, but no studio will care if they still make tons of cash on the venture.
It might sound like sacrificing for the greater good, but it can also be a win-win situation. Using a little critical and planned thought about what we spend our money on in the theater, and putting that little bit of extra time in hunting down a rental or indie alternative, will give you better results, save you cash, and ultimately be worth the effort. I guarantee you, a classic like The Thin Man will give you more laughs and smart romance than Valentine's Day could ever dream of doing.
Sure, there will still be those that eat these flicks up with a spoon, but I think there are enough smart women and men out there that our buying power can count towards something. And even if it doesn't at least we're trying.