Film & Television

The ‘Real’ Women of Independent Films

Mistress-America-UK-Quad-Poster Lola Kirke and Greta Gerwig in the independent film Mistress America

With the Oscars coming up, everyone is focused on the race for those awards as representative of important trends in entertainment and culture, but it is well known that some of those candidates are beholden to PR and studio muscle for their nominations. Oscar nominations and even wins are not necessarily the best barometer of deeper trends in the film industry, though they have important implications for the box-office mojo of the films and artists who are nominated and, especially, the winners.

In November, I posed the question “Will 2015 Be Remembered as the Year Women Conquered the Movies?” The number of high-quality roles written for women seemed to be very high, and those roles were expanding in scope and range. Women of all ages and even body types were being cast, though women (and men) of color were still not well represented (an issue that has created a controversy at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Furthermore, women were cast this year in the kinds of roles that often were filled by men.

Independent films have always recognized that actresses have lives after their brief runs as ingénues and have provided many wonderful roles for older women and character actresses through the years. But this year, major Hollywood studios released films starring women, such as Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) about a business prodigy, Sicario (Emily Blunt), about drug smuggling, and Mad Max: Fury Road (Charlize Theron), a futuristic/nihilistic chase movie cast with women in the types of leading roles that usually go to men.

Comedies, which used to be the sole province of male performers, are now routinely being produced with female leads. Three entries this year, Spy (Melissa McCarthy), Trainwreck (Amy Schumer), and Sisters (Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) were hits. A new Melissa McCarthy film is already being promoted for release soon (The Boss, which sounds like another one in which she takes on a traditionally “male” role), and I’m sure we have not heard the last of Amy Schumer. Was it only nine years ago when Christopher Hitchens provoked such outrage with his Vanity Fair remarks about why “women aren’t funny?”

Two films, Cinderella and Pitch Perfect 2, which are about as “feminine” as you can get—Pitch Perfect, which is about a girls’ singing group, has almost an all-female cast—were among the highest grossing of the year, with Cinderella bringing in more money than Spectre, the latest James Bond movie. I would even argue that the two top-grossing Hollywood films, Star Wars, and Jurassic World, which are revivals of franchises, have more roles for women and those roles are more important than they were when the series began. Remember when Princess Leia was the lone female in all those galaxies? That would be inconceivable nowadays. In fact, one of the most successful current  franchises, The Hunger Games, stars Jennifer Lawrence. Read More »

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