As you may have heard, the three biggest movies in the United States in 2017 all featured female lead characters. First time that’s happened since 1958. The three movies, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Beauty and The Beast and Wonder Woman did over $1.4 billion in domestic box office. Pretty good for just three movies in any year. And since women are mentioned up front of course there’s some feeling of euphoria and “What a great time for women!”.
But I’m reminded of a Harvey Keitel line from Pulp Fiction, “Well, let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks just yet”. In other words, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For one it’s worth remembering all three movies were in the works for a while. None of these productions were fired off to capture the current zeitgeist or be part of the cultural milieu. Though Wonder Woman managed to snag being one of the most fortuitously timed releases ever. Also all three movies are adaptations. One, Beauty and the Beast, being a live action adaptation of an animated adaptation.
And that’s where you have to turn to the other side of things. From who’s in front of the camera, to who’s behind it and who is responsible for their being anything to film in the first place. Because that’s where a lot of the conversation has to be focused on, for it’s there women get shoved aside the most.
Start with screenplays and there’s not a single woman’s name to be found. Though in a true Hollywood moment, the screenplay for Beauty and the Beast is just an update of the screenplay for the animated version, which was written by Linda Woolverton. Indeed she was the first woman to ever write the screenplay for a Disney animated feature. And you might think that given she is very much alive and has been involved with Disney, that she’d get to update her own screenplay. And you’d be wrong. For reasons no one outside of Disney could articulate. Perhaps even at Disney no one can.
Then there are the directors, with Patty Jenkins who directed Wonder Woman, as the only woman among them. There are the cinematographers, all men. Then there are the editors, Virginia Katz who edited Beauty and the Beast, is the only woman there.
So between twelve positions spread among three movies, only two went to women. In numerical terms, women had 16.6% of the top positions in the three movies. Meanwhile women are near 51% of the US population. And given Beauty and the Beast had two screenwriters, it gets worse. It’s not two women out of 12 but two women out of 13.
But there is one more Star Wars movie in the current trilogy left and a Wonder Woman sequel in the works. Perhaps Hollywood has taken a hint. Well the Star Wars movie has been in the works for a few years already, having gone through a few directors and writers. And not a woman among them. The cinematographer has already been announced as well, and it’s a man. However at least as of now, the two attached editors are women, Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey. As for Wonder Woman, well Jenkins will be back to direct and co-write the screenplay with two men. No word on a cinematographer or editor as yet.
So for two movies in the future things will be a little better. And while it would be tempting to give Star Wars a break, since it’s been in development since 2014, well it’s been in development since 2014. The fact that no woman had a hand in writing it nor was given a chance to direct, that status quo is part of what’s causing so many women to push back now.
It might be tempting to look at 2017 and get a bit excited by the box office for women but that’s doing nothing to get more women in places behind the camera. Or to shake Hollywood’s mantra that women aren’t a viable target audience, certainly not ahead of men. Which is where the problems lie and until they’re done and dusted, actual change isn’t going to happen.