by / August 15th, 2013 /

Opinion: Women on Screen

The current status of women on screen gives equal cause for commiseration as celebration.

Firstly, lets examine the reasons for commiseration. Unless you have been living in a cave on Mars with a bucket over your head for the last few years, you couldn’t help but notice the cinematic rise of mega, blockbuster action movies over more thoughtful, quirky and off-beat works. As Transformers 3 is overtaken by the Fast and Furious 6 franchise, which gets stomped on by Pacific Rim, the more thoughtful cinema-goer would be forgiven for feeling neglected by Hollywood.

The reason for this sudden and depressing change in trend is mostly financial. Film-lovers in the western world now prefer to watch movies in the comfort of their own home, often “borrowed” from online sources, while our counterparts in the East still cough up for that outing to the cinema. We thought we were being so smart, didn’t we? Now we’re living with the unpleasant consequences, as Hollywood concentrates on making films with mass global appeal, which usually means action, or male orientated comedy. Fight scenes, car crashes and raucous comedy require little translation.

A further result of this is that female leads are fast disappearing from our screens. A study by the University of South Carolina found that of 2012’s top grossing films in the US, just 28.4% of speaking roles were women, compared to 32.8% in 2010. Incredibly low figures, and the fact that they are still shrinking is downright depressing. Not only are women proving grossly under represented on screens, but when they do finally appear they are rarely depicted as creatures with any great depth.

The majority of modern films now fail what is known as the Bechdel test, which has three simple requirements:

1. The film must have at least two women in it.
2. The women must talk to one another…
3. …about something besides men.

This simple test should be a no-brainer to pass, but it only takes a few minutes contemplation to realise how few movies actually do (heres a hint).

However, there is light at the end of this tunnel. The up-shot of women being pushed off center stage is that we are reappearing on the fringes, where there is less pressure to conform or achieve mass appeal. Evidence of this can be seen in a recent trend of wonderfully funny and off-beat works, such Netflix’s latest original series Orange Is the New Black, or Lena Dunham’s hit HBO show Girls.

In this modern twist on the Sex and the City formula, cocktails and Jimmy Choos have been replaced with the struggle to pursue your creative dreams while also paying your bills. This is coupled with the demands of dealing with men whose sexual expectations have been set to alarming new heights due to the saturation of pornography. If these are types of modern themes women get to deal with while their male counterparts are banging and crashing on the big screen, then I can live with being marginalised.

The new film Frances Ha is the latest instalment in this trend of work. As well as dealing with similar themes to Girls, it passes the Bechdel test with flying colours. This is a movie with mostly female characters, who talk to each other constantly and guess what they’re not talking about? Men! Thank the sun and the stars for this refreshing change!

Instead, the most meaningful relationship in the movie is the one between the main character Frances and her best friend Sophie. With all the ‘bromance’ movies out there, it’s nice to see a film about female friendship that doesn’t involve a) talking about men troubles constantly or b) end with them driving off the edge of a cliff. Here are women growing up, messing up, trying to figure it all out and not looking all that glamorous while doing it.

This is another refreshing aspect to this movie, as women are often depicted as the mature, relationship-hungry, nagging 50% of the population. To confirm this, check out the poster for the new movie Grown Ups 2. Three men on go-karts, having the time of their lives, as their women folk stand in classic arms-folded eye-rolling long-suffering partner position. It’s the 21st century—let the women have a shot on the go-karts!

There is also some success to report in the mainstream box office. Cinema goers in America have voted with their feet as the new film The Heat, starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa Mc Carthy, has proved to be a surprising box office hit. In a summer swamped in blockbusters, this comedy offered some welcome relief from the relentless action.

So with the critical success of Girls and Frances Ha combined with the box office earnings of The Heat, perhaps we’ll begin to see more women characters back on the big screen. Although, going by the quality of work Hollywood is currently producing, we are left to question whether this is such a positive outcome.