May 2015 has been a pretty good month for women in the movies. We’ve seen the release of a number of films with female characters in central roles. There’s Far From the Madding Crowd, which I’m going to see this very afternoon with my husband for our seventh wedding anniversary (and yes, he does want to see it, but I’m going to have to see SPECTRE with him opening night). There’s Pitch Perfect 2, which I have no interest in seeing (it’s not really my genre) but which boasts a range of female characters and a female director. There’s Tomorrowland, which I may wait and see at the dollar theater thanks to lukewarm reviews, but yet again, female lead. Then there’s Mad Max: Fury Road, which I have seen, a cinematic fist-pump which features not just one exceptional Charlize Theron but women, lots of women, in kick-butt roles. This last film represents a triumph I have been waiting for: a critical success which shows women in major roles, from a genre that usually ignores or marginalizes them: the science fiction action-adventure film.
Here’s the trailer:
But one woman’s triumph is, apparently, another man’s tragedy. Mad Max: Fury Road has roused the ire of “men’s rights activists” because it blurs the gender lines they cherish — or rather, it blows those lines away. They’re not upset about Far From the Madding Crowd or Pitch Perfect 2, which they can safely dismiss as “chick flicks” they wouldn’t want to see in any case. (See this article for a good look at that “chick flicks” designation.) No, their rage is directed at Mad Max because it presents feminine incursion into a “masculine” cinematic space. “Get your girl cooties out of our post-apocalyptic road chase movie!” For these activists, this movie poses a threat where the other ones do not.
I can’t take them too seriously, fierce their rhetoric might be. They’re a small minority compared with the men who appreciate intense and well-filmed action movies and actually enjoy seeing a hot Charlize Theron being a major badass. To me, the fulminators come across as little boys who don’t want to share. In innumerable action and sci-fi films, men are the driving force, the only capable and powerful characters. A Smurfette may be included, but she’s very obviously a token, and more often than not a piece of distressed-damsel eye candy designed to titillate the male audience rather than to attract a female one. Yet let one or two movies come along in which women get a substantial share of the action, and it’s Oh, no! Circle the wagons! How can we stop “them” from taking over? Even when they hold fifty marbles, they can’t stand our having one.
Just how much of a threat does the film in question represent? Are women taking over action and sci-fi films? Will we soon find ourselves unable to distinguish between “chick flick” and “guy movie”? To answer this question, I examine four trailers I saw before Mad Max: Fury Road started to roll.
1. Jurassic World
Here we have the tough dinosaur-hunter male protagonist played by Chris Pratt, whose macho badassery is in now way challenged or compromised (in the trailer, at least) by Bryce Dallas Howard’s uptight-scientist Smurfette. Apparently the movie’s only important female character apart from the marauding uber-dinosaur who must be destroyed, Howard’s character apparently exists to express the Wrong Idea, to be subsequently corrected by the tougher, wiser he-man hunter. The Jurassic franchise has never been especially friendly to girls and women (in the second film, the female lead is a screamer, and in the third film, she’s a moron- although Laura Dern’s ever so brief cameo is welcome), but at least in the first film, one of the kids embroiled in the adventure was a girl. In this one, both are boys.
2. The new Transporter film
Are there women in this movie? I don’t remember any in the trailer. This movie promises to be a strong shot of testosterone.
3. The Last Witch Hunter
So, Vin Diesel vs. evil witches. A red-haired woman (Rose Leslie, formerly of Game of Thrones) is hanging around, but I don’t think we hear her speak in the trailer. It’s pretty safe to say Dudes Rule in this one.
4. San Andreas
The trailer for the new Dwayne Johnson movie immediately follows the one for the new Vin Diesel movie, aggravating my tendency to get these two actors confused. (I just have to remember that Vin Diesel was never a professional wrestler.) This trailer does show a few women, generally running from things, calling for help, or showing off “Michael Bay Wear” (tank top, booty shorts). At least this time around, pretty much everyone is in distress, not just the damsels. But the movie is clearly Johnson’s story. It doesn’t look like any powerful heroines will bring their girl cooties to this party.
Those are just a few due out this summer. Others include Entourage, Ted 2, Magic Mike XXL, Ant-Man, Pixels, Pan, the remake of Vacation, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, and The Man from UNCLE — all guy-centric. A few due out in the fall are No Escape, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, The Jungle Book, SPECTRE, The Martian, The Good Dinosaur, and Kung Fu Panda 3 — some promising to be good, others not so good. However, each of these films features male protagonists. The best that girls and women can hope for is a halfway significant supporting role. (At least we’ll get another marble in the form of the final Hunger Games movie, and the upcoming Spy — if action comedies are to your taste — and Terminator: Genisys may be two more, if only they’re well-reviewed.) And lest we forget, previously in 2015 we’ve seen Taken 3, Paddington, The Wedding Ringer, Blackhat, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie: Sponge Out of Water, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, McFarland USA, Focus, Chappie, Unfinished Business, and Run All Night — all movies with male protagonists.
(My husband reminded me that we are getting a Peanuts move in November. While the protagonists may be Charlie Brown and/or Snoopy, most of the female characters created by Charles Schulz will be represented. I cannot say “all” because there’s been no confirmation of the little red-haired girl. However, I had to remind him that the females in the strip are mostly jerks.)
In all honesty, I cannot forget Jupiter Ascending. But as this Honest Trailer points out, this wasn’t exactly a boon for women seeking active heroines in sci-fi films.
All this serves as evidence that the Big Screen is not an estrogen-poisoned wasteland that leaves male moviegoers without stories in which to engage or male heroes with which to identify, and it isn’t likely to become so. Boys, you still have your fifty marbles. It really won’t destroy you to let us have one, or even four or five.