An Open Letter to Hollywood About Women in Films

Dear Hollywood,

I went to watch American Hustle with my boyfriend last week. I was really really excited to see the movie. It was going to be a delicious romp through the 1970s, a story of intrigue and crime, all set in a time period where the hair, dress, and home decor styles were so baffling that they are hilarious to look at. Alas, I came out of the movie really disappointed. To be fair to the movie, whenever I go to see movies in theatres, I get bored. So it was at a disadvantage. However, the two parts that I really disliked were, in my opinion, completely avoidable. Those two main things were a) the love triangle between Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, and Christian Bale, and b) the male leads.

Love and Relationships
I love Jennifer Lawrence. I love Amy Adams. And I loved both their characters. I don’t want to spoil too much, but Jennifer Lawrence was crazy, and Amy Adams was crazy strong. Their characters were entertaining to watch. So why all the fuss? Why was I so annoyed? Well, even though American Hustle probably didn’t fail the Bechdel test (if I remember correctly, Jennifer Lawrence’s character had a conversation with Elisabeth Rohm’s character about nail polish), it still adhered to what seems to be Hollywood’s number one policy: Women can’t be interesting unless they’re in love/a relationship with a man. In this case, two women, fighting over one not-so-attractive man (sorry, Christian Bale. It was the weird combover). It really hit me when the two meet in the bathroom and have a hissy fit. The two main females meet up once for the whole movie, and fight like cats over a man. Ugh.

When I say that women are portrayed as being in love/a relationship, I want to be clear that this phenomenon exists FAR beyond the reaches of chick flicks. In fact, a chick flick/romcom might be the only type of movie where a female in love/a relationship isnecessary. I mean, that’s the point of a chick flick, right? As “porn for women”, chick flicks show women in a relationship with the ideal man. That’s the point. Fine. I get it, I like chick flicks, I accept the need for relationship drama. What gets me is most other genres of movie. I can’t speak for horror, because I don’t watch horror movies, and ditto for Westerns, but when it comes to action movies, fantasy movies, and a lot of dramas, women get typecasted: in love with the main character/dating the main character/married to the main character.

Take Man of Steel, for instance. Yes, there is the Lois Lane/Superman love thing going on. But I want to focus on something smaller. At the end of the movie, the army man asks the army lady “What are you smiling about?” as Superman flies away. She says something along the lines of “Nothing, sir.” And when he continues to stare at her, she adds, “Well, I just think he’s kind of hot.” I hated that line. There are basically NO lines for females in that entire movie, except Lois Lane and the smug evil sidekick to General Zod. But when they did give a woman the chance to talk, a woman who seems to be a fairly important person in the army, all she can say is some ditzy line about Superman’s looks? Why!?

50% of the population is female. Women go to the movies too, and not just to see chick flicks. I saw the Hobbit in theatres recently. Now, Tolkein’s casts are always pretty predominantly male, so no surprises that the main characters of the Hobbit were one (male) hobbit and 13 (male) dwarves. What’s frustrating to me is that Peter Jackson decided that in order to make more money extend the Hobbit into three movies, he was going to have to write some fan fiction. So he introduced a new female character, one who’s really skilled at killing orcs. But as the only major female character to appear, she’s also a part of a love triangle between a dwarf and an elf. Because what else to women do, other than fall in love? How else can a woman possibly be interesting on screen? How could any woman in the audience relate to her unless she’s in love with someone?

A Plethora of Male Leads
And then there’s our second problem. American Hustle was, in spite of it’s two female main characters, still a movie about men in a men’s world. Pretty much all the characters outside of Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams were men. Congressmen, lawyers, policemen, hustlers, men men men men men. Seriously. It was a man’s world.

I looked through some lists of the top movies of 2013, and can confidently say that in all of the lists, the majority of the films’ main characters were men. Of the others, most either featured male-female lead duos, or in some cases, male-female-male trios and even male-female-male-male quartets (Looking at you, Now You See Me). Notable exceptions to this rule in 2013 include Blue Jasmine, Catching Fire, and Gravity. But even Catching Fire features a love triangle (although to be fair, that also exists in the books).

I know that a lot of women wanted to see American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyer’s Club, and the Wolf of Wall Street, in spite of the male main characters. And I know a bunch of men who wanted to see Catching Fire and Gravity, even though it featured women as the main characters. The problem is not that women are boring. It’s that Hollywood is a man’s club. You have too many male producers, executives, directors and writers. There are women out there, and they do their jobs very well, but it’s pretty clear that Hollywood is overrun by men. And that should change. Shockingly, women having interesting lives and stories too! And even though they often fall in love and get married (although, here is a shocking fact: men and women get married just as often! Surprise!), their lives aren’t limited to that fact, just like the male leads of many movies have stories that don’t exclusively involve love and relationships.

I would declare a boycott or something but I don’t have that kind of influence. So consider this my letter to you, Hollywood’s filmmakers. You have the power, for now. You make the films, and we just dish out the cash to come see them. But as entertaining as guys are, I want to see more movies about women! More specifically, I want to see interesting women. Women who don’t spend all their timing whining about men, or flirting with men, or fighting over men. And I don’t want to see one or two movies a year that depict entertaining ladies. I want a more even split. Let’s have more movies like Gravity and Catching Fire. I think you might be surprised to find that people want to see those kinds of movies too. You might even make even more money!

Sincerely,

A Woman Who Occasionally Does Things Not Involving Men

Status

The Begging Hobbit

Should you ever find yourself at the medical building of Café Italia and a grizzled old man asks you to buy him a meal, fight the urge to display kindness and say no.
You see, this old man used to order a coffee, sit in Café Italia, and ask every passing customer for money. Finally, Oliver told him he wasn’t allowed to do that anymore. So the old man switched tactics. Yesterday I watched him smooth talk someone into buying him a sandwich for breakfast. After he had left, Oliver told me that was his THIRD free breakfast that morning. Not only that, but he can afford to buy food for himself. He’s paid for himself before.
Obviously his three breakfasts didn’t fill him, because he returned in the afternoon to con a nice girl into buying him a hot dog. Then he convinced another lady to buy him a turkey wrap.
So I repeat: if you meet a grizzled old man at our medical building who tells you some story about how he was in the army, and asks you to buy him breakfast, say no and save your change for someone who doesn’t eat like a Hobbit.

Status

Rushing Slowly

We have this regular customer who comes in every once in a while. She always tells us that she’s in a rush.
‘Oh, can I get that to go?’ She says. ‘I only have 3 minutes to eat.’ Or ‘How fast can you make that? I really have to go!’
Now, we can be very accommodating if you are in a hurry. We will rush our butts off to make sure your food gets to you asap. The problem is, this woman ALWAYS tells us to ‘Please hurry’ and then proceeds to sit down, talk our ears off (she’s very talkative and opinionated and loudly dislikes French people…awkward), and always eats her entire meal in front of us. 3 minutes always turns into at least 20. Sometimes she even sticks around to order and eat dessert!