The Woolf in the Room: Where Are All the Strong Women in Hollywood?

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[Opinions expressed by LA Screenwriter contributors are their own.]

by Fiona Wheeler

Short answer – We’re all here, busy working away at our careers.

So, why are women treated, and represented, so very differently by the industry?

A glance at films nominated for Academy Awards indicates that actors are given the nod for very different types of role, depending on their gender. This year male role models ranged from internationally-recognized brilliant minds who faced adversity, to a nationally-celebrated patriot/assassin, a once-brilliant and famous actor/celebrity on his comeback trail, and there was a brilliant but misanthropic mentor in there for good measure.

Female role models, on the other hand, were non-working wives and working wives who really haven’t spent enough time with their family and are feeling guilty about that.

Members of the Academy awarded Eddie Redmayne an Oscar for playing a man who’s made notable achievements despite all obstacles, and they awarded Julianne Moore one for depicting a woman whose Alzheimer’s diagnoses is terminal for both her career and her life. A year before, the statue went to the superb Cate Blanchett for portraying a woman who’s desperately dependent on the attention of any and all males.

Wind back another year, many thought Jessica Chastain should have won as a government worker who chases after the same guy for a decade and then doesn’t know just what to do with herself once he is no more. She narrowly lost out to Jennifer Lawrence playing a young, grieving, job-less widow.

I am in no way belittling the amazing craft these actors exhibited in their execution of those parts. I’m merely pointing out that the Academy didn’t even consider nominating Tom Hanks for his role as a grieving single parent in Sleepless in Seattle. If there was only one Best Actor and one Best Supporting Actor category, regardless of gender, how many women would ever even get nominated?

ilSure, Meryl Streep won in 2011 for her portrayal of a female politician, but do studios ever bother to make films about male politicians simply because of their gender? Expectations of men are so much higher than that.

What’s Being Done to Address the Problem?

A little over a year ago, at the ceremony for the 2013 Academy Awards, thirty men received awards, nine went to women. That was the ceremony hosted by Seth MacFarlane and his opening song We Saw Your Boobs. Many were outraged at his words and behavior, but he was just doing what he’s always been rewarded for.

If an owner laughs at puppies and gives them ample attention and affection every time they poop on the rug, said owner can hardly be surprise when the litter grows into a pack of Pluto’s, Goofy’s and Scooby’s who gallop to the nearest spotlight and defecate every time they’re feeling insecure and in desperate need of adoration.

Of course, I was disappointed that an Oscars host would waste their time at the podium ridiculing all the top female actors of the world. What’s worse, many of the disrespected artists have kids who would have been home watching the show with Grandma (as the mean-spirited host and those who put him there well-knew) further compounding their humiliation. Absolutely, I was dismayed and disgusted, but I was even more disappointed with the Academy for allowing it. The day after the ceremony I really expected them to issue an apology for their lapse in judgment. They didn’t.

[bctt tweet=”If there was only one Best Actor category, regardless of gender, how many women would ever get nominated?” via=”no”]

Back in the 1950’s I wish the leaders of the industry had done more to protect the Hollywood Ten (and the Hollywood hundreds) from the unfair victimization which occurred, but they didn’t. I also wish the present-day members of the Academy would step up and be the role models we want, and need, them to be.

After all, what’s the point of being a pillar of society if you can’t use that capital to make the world a better place?

Leaders of the industry who aren’t helping to shape a better, more dynamic, equal and diverse environment for us all… why aren’t the Seth MacFarlane’s of the world taking jabs at them?

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The millionth version of Cinderella opened recently, taking 67 million in its first weekend. It’s great that a female-centric movie pulls such crowds, but it would be better still if the studio invested in projects with depictions of femmes who aren’t damsels in distress.

Where’s Our Dorothy?

In 1939, the biggest blockbuster was The Wizard of Oz. True, the title is about a guy, but the story is about a strong-willed gal who wants to get out there and get on with her existence. She has amazing adventures, and many of the remarkable characters who help or hinder her along the way are also female.

Jump to present day, seek out a similar femme protagonist, and you’re left wanting. Pepper from Iron Man has herself a Tin Man, but she’s such a diluted version of Dorothy, she’s almost unrecognizable. Certainly, she’s not center stage, but a mere cameo. Nor is she the chief of her own fate, as the girl from Kansas was.

Why are so many brilliant, award-winning female actors stuck playing bit parts? They are clearly capable of so much more.

And what of the female screenwriters, producers, and directors? The myriad of challenges we face would overwhelm anyone. Who could blame us for giving up, or for accepting some form of compromise in order to accomplish what we’ve set out to achieve?

A Room of One’s Own

Long ago, Virginia Woolf was asked to give a lecture on what it takes to be a female Creative. Her solution: every artist needs space of their own. Without that, creative endeavor is futile.

Her prescriptive ‘A room of one’s own’ sounds so simple and instantly achievable, but really it’s not. How many times a day do you thoughtlessly ask for the time and attention of a woman with no regard to her privacy, her task-at-hand?

We can all try harder, each day, to respect the most basic rights of the women in our lives. Seemingly small feats such as this are ultimately what challenge perception and bring about change.

Personally, we screenwriters can make sure the protagonists, antagonists and supporting characters we create, regardless of their gender, are strong, interesting, complex, non-subservient characters who are individuals in their own right.

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