Audrey Hepburn. Bette Davis. Judy Garland. Marilyn Monroe. What do you think of when you see those names? Beauty, strength, talent, grace. Most of all, legendary. Women were a huge part of the film industry in the early stages of Hollywood. They were portrayed as strong, in-depth characters. Somewhere, for what ever reason, there was a shift in how women were seen on scene.
I know what you’re thinking. “Oh God, she’s going to go on some rant about feminism and sexist films.” That’s not what I’m doing. Women are complex people, and they should be portrayed as such. And that doesn’t mean that they always have to be characters in high positions or portrayed as perfect. It just means that they should be shown as real people.
One movie that really portrays women realistically is Love and Basketball. It’s my sister’s favorite movie, and I used to hate that she made me watch it all the time. But, then I started high school and found myself really relating to the main character Monica. Love and Basketball, tells the love story of Monica and Quincy in four parts as Monica tries to find balance between pursuing her dream of being in the WNBA and being with her first love. Monica struggles with feeling like she has to choose her love for Quincy or her love for the game. But she eventually realizes that she can have both. She can pursue her dreams that she has worked so hard to achieve and have love. Many women struggle with this pressure to have a career or love, and also face the hardships of trying to break into an industry that is more difficult for females. This is how film about women should be told, but it rarely happens.
Think of how many working and still relevant actresses you can think of that are at least 50. There’s the almighty queen of film Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, maybe Sally Fields, and. . . yeah I’m blanking too. Actresses over 40, and sometimes even younger, have trouble finding good roles because they are “too old” for their male counter-part. Now, we’re not talking about 19-year-old up and coming actors. We’re talking about male actors who are in their 40s or 50s. They’re the SAME age! One of the most outrageous stories I’ve heard is the fact that Maggie Gyllenhaal was told she was “too old” to be the love interest of a 55 years-old male actor. For some ridiculous reason, it’s not okay to have a 30 something actress be a 50 something actor’s love interest, but it’s completely acceptable to have a 20 something actress play the girlfriend or wife. And the few times we do see an older woman and a younger man, the woman is seen a “cougar” or not good enough for the young man. If that isn’t ageist, than I don’t know what else you can call it.
Okay, I’m assuming that most people have read or heard of Jennifer Lawrence essay about the wage gap for male and female actors. She spoke out against her significantly lower paycheck for American Hustle (great film by the way) than her male co-stars. It’s definitely strange and unfair that Lawrence made less than her co-stars since she definitely as a higher status in Hollywood and probably brought a wider audience to see the film, but what was more frustrating to me was Amy Adams’ wage for the film. Adams had a larger role in the film that Lawrence, and she STILL was paid less than the film’s male stars. And it’s not like people don’t know who Amy Adams is. She’s an established, Oscar-nominated actress who deserves more credit than she’s given. And this isn’t something that just happens every once in a while. Women are paid less than men in film all the time! I know there’s the argument that they all make a lot anyway, but that doesn’t mean that actors shouldn’t be paid what they should be, male or female.
And let’s talk about women behind the camera. How many female directors can you think of? Can’t think of anyone? Exactly! I can think of maybe five off the top of my head, and that’s simply not enough. There needs to be more women in writing, composing, editing! I’m lucky that producing has the highest percentage of women in the field, but it’s also only 25%. There needs to be more women on set. To put it simply, we get things done. Maybe it’s from being a theatre techie and seeing young women create amazing productions all the time, but women are an advantage to crews, not a hinderance.
I don’t say all of this without seeing the steps being taken to improve. Reese Witherspoon has her own production company that has produced many films with great female characters, including Gone Girl. Amazing actresses such Queen Latifah, Jessica Chastain, and Juliette Binoche have joined a production company dedicated to making movies about women. More male and female actors in industry are speaking for progress.
This isn’t a topic that is going away any time soon, and I will continue to share how I see it. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, but I believe that it will get better. And I look forward to being a part of making change.
Through my eyes,