Hollywood v. Women

Yet again, someone’s doing my work for me. Here’s an article from Entertainment Weekly which seconds my opinion that it’s just stupid to ignore half the species when you’re marketing a product anyone could enjoy.

Interesting tidbits include:

Women aren’t a special-interest group or a ”niche” market; they’re half the audience. Making movies that appeal to them (and maybe even to their husbands, fathers, and sons) is what we call good business sense.

Me, too. But that’s not how they teach it in business school:

Hollywood today puts its faith in a business-school approach to moviemaking known as the quadrant theory, a dull-edged marketing tool that divides the audience into four groups: men over 25, men under 25, women over 25, and women under 25. But rather than producing movies for each category “” which might actually make sense “” the studios are obsessed with reaching all four quadrants with the sort of magic bullet that hits only once every Titanic or so. And because Hollywood believes women will line up for ”guy” films more willingly than guys will for a so-called chick flick, the vast majority of movies right now are made for men.

And when films for women DO score big, the suits swear it was for any reason other than women viewers or women characters:

And Nancy Meyers’ Something’s Gotta Give didn’t earn its $125 million because comic-book geeks love Diane Keaton. ”That’s why I wrote it,” Meyers says. ”Because older women are discounted and disregarded [by the studios].” But it’s typical of the problem that when Meyers’ film was test-screening, she had to nudge her studio into inviting women Keaton’s age to check it out.

The article also blames the lack of women behind the cameras. I agree – somewhat. The problem is not so much how many women you have, but how much they’re marginalized – just like the rest of us. I was told I had an excellent future as a screenwriter – if only I’d learn that the star must be some white guy, and he must score with chicks. I opted out. I doubt I’m alone.

The article also recommends actresses stop trying to hide their age – because Botox makes them look stupid and perpetuates the negative stereotype of old hags trying to act young. I agree… but aside from Baz Luhrman, who else is going to hire them with wrinkles?

There’s more good stuff in the article. I don’t agree with all of it, but I do love that they’re asking the question: just what has Hollywood got against making money off of women, anyway?

Comments

  1. scarlett says

    I’ve never got the idea of cutting out half a potential audience. I mean, that’s just stupid business sense, especially given that women have proven, with hairacre, cosmetics and clothes that they are willing to spend billions and billions on things that are tailored for them.

    What floors me is that someone hasn’t already cottoned onto this. I mean, surely SOMEONE would have worked out, ‘hey, there’s an entire other market out there just waiting for stuff which is tailored for them. Is Hollywood collectively so short-sighted someone in power hasn’t worked this out?

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    It’s just sexism, pure and simple. At some point in the 80’s or 90’s, several ideas crystallized:

    –That women ar more willing to accompany men to “guy movies” than men are to go to “chick flicks”, so why not just make guy movies?
    –That women have no money, and if they did, wouldn’t spend it on movies
    –That women aren’t easily influenced by advertisement (despite, as you pointed out, the success of so many cosmetic and fashion campaigns)

    These ideas may have had some grain of truth at some point. The problem was, they became a dogma for the film industry, to the point that otherwise intelligent people couldn’t even understand the simple logical arguments against these precepts. When things went well, it was thanks to the system in place, but when things went badly, it was never the system’s fault.

    Statistics don’t ignore one side – they don’t predetermine the outcome and stick to it come hell or high water. That’s zealotry.

    So when women attended an action movie in droves, the system supporters quickly crafted a comeback: the little ladies were just accompanying the men in their lives to that movie. When “chick flicks” profited far more than the latest Tom Cruise mistake, it couldn’t possibly indicate that women are a plenty strong enough movie to give you awesome profits on inexpensively made films. Nah, it had to be something else.

    I came to believe that when they ran out of even illogical arguments, they’d move on to alien conspiracies. I mean, really. I’ve had better luck debating evolution with Creationists. I’ve never seen minds closed as tight as those in Hollywood, when it comes to some of this stuff.

    And to this day, I can’t quite figure out why. A lot of individuals privately admitted to me that they knew audiences would embrace female action heroes, would watch “chick flicks” if they weren’t marketed that way, etc. Everyone knows, but no one’s allowed to say. It really is the Emperor’s new clothes.

    In 1966, Gene Roddenberry wanted Star Trek to feature a female second in command for Kirk, and I believe she appears in the original pilot. NBC refused to keep her. I believe the possibility of a female captain was raised with TNG in the 80’s, but it wasn’t until DS9 in the 90’s that we got a female second in command. And finally, a female captain.

    Meanwhile, the TV airwaves are littered with little second-in-command chickies who can’t wait to hop into bed with their commanding officers.

    Who says we’ve come a long way?

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    That book sounds fascinating.

    Yes, the “date movie” theory was used to explain why Titanic is the #1 movie ever in terms of gross earnings. In truth, it made so much money because women and girls embraced it somewhat obsessively. But even when some people did admit the truth that the #1 movie of all time was a “chick flick” according to the industry’s own prejudiced views, guess what they cited as the reason the movie did so well with women?

    Leonardo DiCaprio.

    Yep. Strange how none of his other movies have made half as much, if he was billion dollar eye candy in Titanic. It’s almost as if… well, as if women saw something more in the movie than a cute guy? ;)

    The Bette Davis book you’re talking about sounds fascinating. Strong female roles really WERE the norm in the early days. And I agree that TV is currently doing better than film at presenting interesting female characters. I think TV has more room for niche programming, where you can be a little less status quo. And TV is generally a little cheaper to produce, which probably makes them more daring.

  4. MaggieCat says

    That women are more willing to accompany men to “guy movies” than men are to go to “chick flicks”, so why not just make guy movies?

    And yet every time a so-called chick flick has done well, I’m sure I’ve heard at least half a dozen sources say that “oh, well that’s because it’s a good date movie”, implying that the only reason it made money was because men were dragged against their will. If the people who say that think women have that much influence, you’d think there would be more movies that bridge the gap, encouraging women to want to see them and men to not pass out from boredom. The fact that there aren’t makes me think they don’t believe it, they’re just looking for a reason to write off the success of a non-action movie with a female lead as a fluke.

    There’s a wonderful book called ‘Bette Davis Speaks’ that’s a series of interviews by Boze Hadleigh over a period of about 15 years, in it she talks about everything from her early days when she was being told to conform to the cheesecake norm to being phased out in her later years. She said that it used to be the standard for women to be offered strong roles in movies that had little appeal to men because the studios knew that women would fill the theatres, and that she noticed a steep decline in the quality of scripts as television became a commonplace medium- the theory the producers had being that women were controlling what the family watched at home, but when people went out it was the man’s decision, so they just stopped paying attention to women’s films. Despite a lot of bad examples, tv does seem to be a bit more accepting of complex female characters, so did women lose ground nearly 6 decades ago that we have yet to reclaim?

  5. MaggieCat says

    Well I can’t speak for all the teenage girls who saw Titanic, but the only reason that I did was because I adore Kate Winslet and for the ship sinking sequence. The male actors I happened to like were Victor Garber and Billy Zane (despite the cartoon villian character the latter was playing). Couldn’t have cared less about DiCaprio. ;-) I think Titanic is actually a good example of making a movie that appealed to a huge group of people: it was an action movie with a romantic candy shell.

    The Bette Davis book really is amazing, it’s fun and a really great picture of the drastic shifts the film industry went through in the first 60 years or so, but from a woman’s viewpoint. I highly recommend it. I wish I knew where I’d put my copy so I could get this right, but I’ll try anyway. The view a lot of people have of Davis now is the rampant bitch who had a feud with Joan Crawford. But she recounts rarely having had problems with directors during the 30s and 40s, and when she did it was often because they weren’t really directing and that’s why she took some control. Even though she was known as difficult (whether it was fair or not) it didn’t start impacting her roles until the 50s when women’s roles in general were getting scaled back and the backlash against working women began. Then suddenly no one wanted to work with her because she was bitchy. In hindsight it’s hard not to see it as being a case where the values changed, female audiences were being marginalized, and the producers didn’t want to deal with any of the actresses who would demand a more fleshed out character than the prim, stay in the kitchen type.

  6. toyreviews says

    They also seem to have a problem employing woman–did you notice at the emmys that virtually every, if not all, of the nominees in directing and writing categories were men?

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    That also corresponds with the timing of women being encouraged to enter the workforce in the 40’s during WWII, then being told to go back home to the kitchen when the menfolk returned from war (in the 50’s).

    I had a professor at UCLA who taught that the Donna Reed/Father Knows Best style sitcom was actually devised cooperatively by government elements and the media to re-condition women to the joys of being stay-at-homes wives and mothers, so they’d stop causing all this trouble by wanting to keep their Rosie the Riveter jobs. Not sure what his source was on that, but it stands to reason.

    Of course, single women who’d enjoyed truly gainful employment for the first time in their lives were also shunted, but that served them right for not settling and submitting to marriage with whatever unfit male creature was left over by the other, luckier wives.

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    Virtually all the directors and writers ARE men. The ET article estimates that maybe 17% of directors, writers and producers in film are women, and that stat is probably similar in TV.

    I’ve heard lower estimates too. Women are actually less well-represented in the film/tv industry than in most other industries, and you know how few female CEO’s and VP’s you hear about.

    I read one stat that said women make up a higher percentage of Congress than they do of film producers. Now, if the public’s willing to vote for more women to help run the country than the film industry’s willing to trust to run movie-making… WTF? :)

  9. sbg says

    They don’t live in the real world. I think most of us have always suspected that. ;)

    I sit here wondering what on earth women (and any other class of people who are considered in the minority) can do to have their voices heard. It’s just a crying shame that one woman’s success is viewed as a monumental affair, when it should just be standard. It would be so nice if the hurdles were at least the same height for men and women.

  10. Jennifer Kesler says

    No kidding. The phrase “empowering women” drives me up the wall. I was born empowered, thank you. There just seem to be some people out there who don’t get that – they are the ones who need to change, not me.

    (I realize there are women who’ve lost all sense of personal power at such an early age that they do need “empowering”, but I don’t think referring to the whole gender by one term is meant to help them so much as to perpetuate the myth that we are powerless as a group.)

  11. Nialla says

    I have never cared for Leonardo DiCaprio, and went to see Titanic despite him. I’ve been fascinated with the story of Titanic for years, and I wanted to see it “live” again, and also to see the f/x of its death. Titanic was the star of the movie, the actors were just bit players, IMO.

    I’m reminded of years ago when I got pulled into a survey for watching a film’s trailer. Turned out to be the movie “Jade,” which was the first post-NYPD Blue effort of David Caruso. I watched the clip, then the survey taker asked me a lot of questions about my reaction to what I’d seen in the trailer, most of them revolving around Caruso.

    I told him I didn’t like Caruso, but could he tell me if that was Michael Biehn I saw for five seconds in the background? Biehn is an actor that would get me to watch the movie, despite Caruso being the lead. The survey taker looked at me like I was a loon, because I wasn’t giving him the answers he wanted, and sent me on my way.

  12. Jennifer Kesler says

    Yeah, interesting how they stop the interview when you don’t support the demographics they’re going for. And people say you can’t manipulate data.

    Funny thing – I remember Jade being out, and it looked hideous from the ads to me. But I was so tempted because of Michael Biehn. David Caruso just doesn’t even leave an impression on me at all.

  13. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’ve heard more than a few women cite Kate Winslet and/or the love story as a main attraction, but I think everyone, including them, went for the spectacle – the ship, the effects, the high drama.

  14. says

    I was one of the many people who saw Titanic in the theatre several times, and Leonardo Dicaprio had very little to do with it. His character may have had a bit to do with it, but Titanic made more DiCaprio fans than it relied on them.

    Personally, I thought the special effects were cool and seamlessly (well, sort of) worked into the story and that the story itself was sweet – even if you wanted to shake the characters quite often. Plus, I’m slightly impressed by almost any movie that manages to give a female character one of the main roles (arguably the lead role) and bothers to make social commentary on class issues and sexism – even if it does so from the safe distance of looking back into history – without sounding preachy, stilted, or insincere.

  15. SunlessNick says

    Despite a lot of bad examples, tv does seem to be a bit more accepting of complex female characters, so did women lose ground nearly 6 decades ago that we have yet to reclaim?

    TV series have time to develop more characters (be it a a good show developing them well, or a bad show just having them on screen) – but it might make TV producers more interested in developing a range of characters, since they can include the standard straight white male among them. In a film, the size of main cast is limited by duration, and they don’t want to ignore the “standard,” so “nonstandards” including women are those dropped by the wayside. So speaks the complete sociology and media studies amateur anyway.

    Which doesn’t say much about six decades ago vs today. If I had a theory there, it would be that as the film industry has aged (as opposed to matured), it’s built up demographic models which have become both more detailed and more set in stone (thus preserving wrong details as well as any right ones that have crept in).

    The McCarthy era is mostly known for people railing against real and imagined Communism, but it also produced a big backlash against other values seen as too liberal, eg a panic about paganism that matched the ritual abide allegations of the 1980’s. I don’t have any direct evidence for it, but I wouldn’t be surprised is this included strong female roles in drama.

  16. Jennifer Kesler says

    If I had a theory there, it would be that as the film industry has aged (as opposed to matured), it’s built up demographic models which have become both more detailed and more set in stone (thus preserving wrong details as well as any right ones that have crept in).

    That’s exactly the sense I get. They seem to conclude that if they’re making money, that justifies their current approach, and if they’re not making money, that means they didn’t follow the current approach well enough.

    The McCarthy era is mostly known for people railing against real and imagined Communism, but it also produced a big backlash against other values seen as too liberal, eg a panic about paganism that matched the ritual abide allegations of the 1980’s. I don’t have any direct evidence for it, but I wouldn’t be surprised is this included strong female roles in drama.

    Well, that’s just it. The status quo doesn’t include women who speak their minds, have better sense than men, or are more expert than men. And this country is obsessed with the romance of the status quo.

  17. SunlessNick says

    would watch “chick flicks” if they weren’t marketed that way

    What are “male bonding” movies if not chick flicks with guys in them? Sure, there’s usually celebration of competence at some field of endeavour, but in the end it’s about how a bunch of guys feel about one another? Is the core of Apollo 13 about fixing a damaged spaceship or the emotional journeys of three men as far from home and safety as anyone’s ever been? There’s a reason why I’m dazzled at the spectacle of the lift-off scene, but moved by that of the re-entry scene, and it’s not down to the effects – it’s down to everything the characters have gone through to get to that point.

  18. MaggieCat says

    TV series have time to develop more characters (be it a a good show developing them well, or a bad show just having them on screen) – but it might make TV producers more interested in developing a range of characters, since they can include the standard straight white male among them. In a film, the size of main cast is limited by duration, and they don’t want to ignore the “standard,” so “nonstandards” including women are those dropped by the wayside.

    That’s a good point. Audiences seem to have been trained to accept male characters easily, while female characters have to have time to prove themselves competent. It’s a catch 22- female characters have to work harder to be accepted because they aren’t the norm, but they’ll never become standard as long as the audience needs to be convinced (or at least while producers believe the audience needs to be convinced which amounts to the same thing) to accept them. Doesn’t it amount to willful ignorance though, since TV gets the most attention for breaking the mold rather than churning out everything by rote, while the people who make films refuse to do that very thing?

    I wonder if there’s a direct connection to the rise in film budgets and the decrease in risk taking? I seem to vaguely recall that in the 30s/40s movies were filmed in a matter of weeks, actors made many more pictures per year (for example, Bette Davis made 11 movies in 1934-35 alone) so there was just a greater volume- it would parallel the fact that television became more willing to break out a little after there were 100 cable channels to fill/compete with. It seems like now the only movies that get any attention had $100 million budgets and it’s too big a risk to change with that much money on the line. If they do the same thing everyone else does and the movie fails, they can still claim they did everything ‘right’. Plausible deniability. And they’ve squeezed out the smaller films by people who haven’t been brainwashed into the universal mindset, when competition might actually force them to improve. Win/win for them really.

  19. Jennifer Kesler says

    I wonder if there’s a direct connection to the rise in film budgets and the decrease in risk taking?

    Absolutely. I heard this reason quite a lot when I was working in film, and it is one of the few that made sense to me. But, like you, I thought lower budget films left some room for experimenting with tweaks that might make the big budget movies even more profitable.

    I really can’t understand why anyone’s spraining their bank account on hundred million dollar movies anymore, when cheaper movies tend to be more profitable. Maybe they think the big budget films as loss leaders, in the sense that they present trailers for all the other movies that year, the movies that DO bring in profits? I really don’t know. I can’t make sense of it.

  20. Jennifer Kesler says

    And personally, I prefer male bonding movies to “chick flicks” because I so rarely identify with women in “chick flicks”. My perception – and mine alone, offered purely anecdotally – is that women in chick flicks explore their relationships without exploring themselves, while men in buddy movies explore themselves through their relationships. The latter approach is more how I live my life.

  21. SunlessNick says

    (Adding to that that those “chick flicks” I like – such as Dolores Claiborne – feature exactly that (though one of the characters in that film has to be dragged forcibly into exploring herself, but that’s the kind of person she was).

  22. Jennifer Kesler says

    OMG, Dolores Claiborne is one of my favorite movies of all time. I wonder if it is considered a chick flick, or just a sort of murder mystery? It’s still a Stephen King story, even though the ugly monster is a sexually, physically and emotionally abusive human being rather than a demon. I’ve certainly known some guys who thought it was a great story in book form, but I really haven’t talked to many about the movie.

  23. SunlessNick says

    The status quo doesn’t include women who speak their minds, have better sense than men, or are more expert than men. And this country is obsessed with the romance of the status quo. - BetaCandy

    And in the 1950’s, America had just won a war, largely through denting that status quo, and bringing women – with their speech, sense, and expertise – into the workplace. Must have been a scary time to be a man, poor dears.

  24. says

    Well, the poor dears got some help. The government counseled Hollywood to re-establish the old norms through the new medium of television. Hollywood happily provided sitcom after sitcom of happy, smiling housewives and happy, wise fathers overseeing happy kids who occasionally got into adorable trouble – all white as paper, of course. It provided dramas about strong, daring men doing tough jobs while pretty women kept respectfully quiet and fainted into their arms.

    It’s no accident that intensively conformist programming came right after Rosie the Riveter got her pink slip. But it’s also no accident that the next decade saw a huge anti-establishment movement.

    And now the government has learned from that mistake that the sort of brainwashing it attempted in the 50s wasn’t subtle enough – many people saw through it. Since then, they’ve learned to be more subtle and play us all off against each other.

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