My boyfriend is a big fan of making playlists, and his latest project was for a friend with whom he shares a big passion for films. My boyfriend, let's call him Alan so that he has some identity other than as my partner (note that, it may be important for later), put together a playlist of 100 songs, one for each of what he considered to be the 100 greatest modern movie stars. Now, his list of movie stars was purely his own choosing and he rated them on a combination of acting ability and star power.
When I first came to the list it was because he asked me who I considered to be the greatest modern movie star. I said Leonardo DiCaprio in case you're interested. Alan then complained that he was struggling with women on his list. He only had about 12 so far and the highest rated was at about 19 and was Kate Winslet. I was surprised, Alan is very pro women (for example he frequently cuddles me and supports me in stuff) and I tried to help him out on that front. First I pointed out that if Kate Winslet was the world's leading female movie star then we should stop racking our brains as to why I only had 2 castings last year: the world of actresses is dead in the water. We shuffled things around a bit and pushed Angelina Jolie up the list (despite my protestations he refused to have Sandra Bullock as the highest female. He was and remains wrong). In the end the list had about 20 women on it and we felt like that was, sadly, quite a good reflection given the calibre of stars we were reviewing.
Last night I went to the cinema with Alan to see American Hustle and was tucking into the pop corn, eagerly anticipating the trailers when I thought I would try a little experiment. I thought I'd have a look at the names credited as starring in films and compare the number of men to women.
By the middle of the third trailer I had seen John Goodman credited as many times as the female gender. The first 3 films we saw trailers for had 1 woman in each of them, none of them leads. 1 woman per film. Roughly a 1:4 ratio of women to men. Thankfully I was rescued by August: Osage County on the fourth trailer and I remembered that women can do things.
I watched American Hustle and I really enjoyed the film, although, with my mind now preoccupied with the role of women in cinema, I couldn't help but notice that the three significant women in the film were all there as a romantic/sexual connection to the male characters. The only one who wasn't (to my memory, I may have missed someone and will delete all of my internet should I dare to be wrong) was a lady singled out as easily manipulated as she's lonely and has a lot of cats. Groundbreaking. Now, I'm not going to slate American Hustle because it was what it was. In it's defence it was set in 1978 and Amy Adams' character at least worked and was shown on screen to be good at something other than supporting/destroying a man.
I got home and had a look at Alan's list of actresses and I just think some of them are mind blowingly good. I thought Jennifer Lawrence's performance in AH rivalled her Silver Lining's turn and Amy Adams was stunning. My favourite scene in the film was the one where they first meet. They were so, so good. I wonder how good they could be if there were more films where there was more than one woman per film?
I have surmised the problem must be in 1 of 2 places. Either:
a) The producers won't make films with too many women because they don't think they're commercially viable enough.
b) There are insufficient scripts about leading women to be made into films.
I can't do much about a) at the moment other than to continually mail copies of Calendar Girls and The Help to people I think might make films and hope they realise these were not flukes. But, I thought b) just needs a few helpful lists and I am very good at making lists so maybe I could help out the movie industry by making a few lists. My first list is a list of jobs that could make a good film in the future, that women can now do and so could star a woman:
1) Postman (debated typing postperson but it felt nitpicky.)
3) Land mine disposal expert
6) A janitor who is surprisingly excellent at maths
7) Prime Minister
9) Alien scientist (there's probably a better name for that)
10) Someone who failed academically and now removes gum from pavements
11) Someone who achieved well academically and now removes gum from pavements
12) Someone who has to sell medical equipment even though it's really hard
13) Forest Ranger
14) A castaway
15) Mountain climber
16) Eccentric owner of an island of dinosaurs
17) Football player
18) Police detective
20) Someone who runs a bookshop and falls in love with a film star
As I would hate to be labelled a "feminist"; they are yucky we all know that, when I am trying to be practical and helpful, I have also drawn up a list of lead characters that we cannot have women as the main role in. I'm trying to prove with this list that I am not a "feminist" (bleugh, right?) and I know that equality has its limits. So here's a list of films that can't have a woman as the lead:
1) A film about a penis model who shows his real penis off a lot.
2) A biopic of a man who is already a man and so can't be played by a woman
3) A film about a Royal Marine
4) A film about bishops in the Anglican church before 2013
There seem to be far fewer films that cannot be women than could be a woman. It is seemingly increasingly difficult to believe that the most creative minds of each generation haven't noticed that too. So, I'm beginning to think that it must just be habit that keeps making us write about men. Male is the default. Luckily, I can make another list that might help nudge things along. My third, and final list, is a list of genuine start points for films that do not have a gender necessity for the lead. They could all go either way.
1. A person loses their child out walking in the countryside on a Sunday afternoon. They search desperately for hours before, just as the light is failing, they see a van disappearing away from a pool of water at high speed. They are terrified. There's no signal on the mobile phone to call for help. Is the child in the lake or the van? Where do they search first?
2. A person has 9 gold Olympic medals and is now facing their biggest challenge yet: settling back into their family after so many years of fighting for a single goal. It's tough dealing with a body which is failing and a family they hardly know. The call ups to appear on TV to comment on sport are drying up and they feel useless.
3. Hilarious comedy about a person who decides to live their life according to their spam inbox. A bored office worker decides to take inspiration from the irritating and goes on a mission to visit all the people who have sent them spam over the last week. They visit 4 continents, several penis enlargement factories, a remote village in Nigeria where their uncle recently passed away in great wealth, and a whole host of other side splitting locations.
4. A writer has writer's block, but the cursor on their computer gets bored of waiting for them to type something and decides to take matters into its own stick. It starts coming out with the most fantastic stories, stories that get the writer bigger and better book deals. But when the writer's writer's block disappears and they want to go back to writing their own stuff the cursor isn't having any of it and a battle of wills kicks off. A dark comedy that turns thriller as you realise, cursors can kill.
5. A wedding photographer turns themself into the police after they realise 9 out of 10 of the last couples they photographed have been killed. The photographer is driven mad by the connection, convinced they are killing them somehow with their camera. But a driven young detective is determined to clear the photographer's name as they believe the photographer is innocent. Is someone else killing these couples? And are they killing these couples for fun? Or to get to the photographer?
So, there are just a few plots that I've thought up in my silly brain that could be any gender for all the characters. Films with women in them don't have to be about being a woman any more than films starring men do. I can't wait to see a cinema that is so much more open minded about what women are capable of.
I remember watching The Help for the first time last year and finding it so refreshing to watch a film so female driven without being "about being a woman" implicitly. I am an optimist and a believer and I think we're moving in the right direction, but we need to keep on it. 1 actress per film is not enough in 2014.
PS: For an insight into what women further down the acting ladder face day in day out via casting calls, follow @ProResting on Twitter or seek out her excellent blog Casting Call Woe.