The (few) women in the post #MeToo blockbusters: what’s the problem?

A few notes on the #MeToo Movement

It is undeniable that, since October 2017, cinema, but I dare to say the whole world, has changed. The journalistic inquiries of Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey for “The New York Times” (which will be told in the cinema by the film “She Said” from Maria Schrader) and of Ronan Farrow for “The New Yorker” they uncovered a particularly scandalous Pandora’s Box, that of the repugnant behavior that the producer Harvey Weinsteinconsidered one of the Hollywood heavyweights of the past three decades, he has perpetrated for years, forcing young women to entertain himself sexually, with a cruel system of blackmail, harassment and threats.

Beyond the obvious gravity of the issue itself, the other – disturbing – side of the coin concerns the golden world of Hollywood: how many of our beloved stars did they know? How many have been silent? How many suspected but did not want, for multiple reasons, to investigate the matter further?

The questions flooded, and the image that the world of cinema has returned was not the best. What is certain, and positive, is that since that moment a historically sexist industry has moved to try to at least partially correct the damage to image deriving from this matter: from wage equality between actors and actresses, passing through the multiple awards given to female directors by all the pillar authorities of the film industry, from the Oscars to the Venice and Cannes film festivals. More and more often female stories find space, which are received with a greater sensitivity than in the past.

Changes take time, we know, but the widespread suspicion is that all too often this change is just a facade, a bit like the blackwashing seeks to remedy years of discrimination against black people. And this is even more marked in the context of blockbusters. Remaining in the time frame of the last year, I am reminded of at least three titles, two of which are very successful, which on the female side are somewhat lacking.

The premise is obvious: no work is obliged to have numerous and / or interesting female characters within it, but in a world in which women and men, numerically, are practically equivalent, it is interesting to note the overwhelming predominance of men in the titles that I am going to analyze.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

The third chapter of the very successful Marvel saga, with Tom Holland protagonist e Jon Watts as director, it was a success with audiences and critics beyond all expectations. Released in December 2021, it is currently the sixth most successful film of all time, earning around $ 1.9 billion.

Certainly the idea of ​​making the film a reunion of almost all the protagonists of the previous cinematic transpositions of Spider-Man was of enormous appeal to the general public.

But the gender disparity in this film is almost impressive: in the face of the fifteen main characters in the film, there are only two women, who also play the most “standard” roles possible: the dynamic and sweet MJ of Zendaya is the romantic interest of the protagonist, the overwhelming Aunt May of Marisa Tomei instead it is the maternal and wise role. Stop.

For the rest, an avalanche of supporting characters, villains or deuteragonists, all men. And yes that the universe of Spiderman comics of women has many, starting of course from the well-known Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy, made iconic by Kirsten Dunst and Emma Stonewhich despite being fundamental in the films in which they were the companions, respectively, of the Spiderman of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, they have not returned here. Of them, in the film, not even a trace, a cameo.

The King’s Man

Matthew Vaughnafter having directed and created the first two films of the extravagant espionage saga “Kingsman“, Has decided to offer the public a prequel, set during the First World War, which mixes fictional characters with real historical figures.

After a troubled management and numerous postponements, the film made its debut in cinemas all over the world, with little success, between the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022. Here too, a choral and well-fed cast, and a single woman of relief. On paper, however, the film presents a rather original and progressive basic idea: the spy network set up by the Duke played by Ralph Phiennesand which solves almost all the problems of the film, is made up of maids and servants, and the co-stars along with Fiennes, Gemma Arterton And Djimon Hounsouin fact, they play a maid (Polly) and a butler (Shola).

Destructuring of the social scale, therefore, and a woman and a black butler as helpers of the protagonist: certainly an interesting narrative structure, which, however, for the phenomenon mentioned above, seems a bit like a red herring: to these two co-stars the script reserves an in-depth study of their personal background almost nil, they do not bring with them a story, a signifier that their existential condition in that historical period would certainly have.

Polly is presented as the classic woman “with balls”, a trivial expression but that the writers probably kept in mind when writing it, who takes the situation in hand with pungent irony proving to be valid, and acts (obviously, one might say) love interest for the protagonist.

Otherwise, all the other female characters have laughable screen-time, including Mata Hari’s Valerie Pachner.

For such a captivating and controversial historical character, the film reserves only a couple of appearances in its two hours of duration, and in the final confrontation with the protagonist she is defeated in about ten seconds, in a duel certainly not worthy of the legendary figure of this spy dancer.

The Batman

Another superhero, another successful blockbuster: Robert Pattinson lends its face to the new (and yet another) cinematic adaptation of the Bat Man. Directed by Matt Reevesthe film was released in March 2022 and has been very well received by critics, the general public and historical fans of the saga, with many of them defining this transposition as the most faithful to the spirit of the character.

Another ensemble film, based on a narrative universe that has plenty of women, yet an embarrassing scarcity of female characters. There’s Catwoman, played by Zoë Kravitzwho acts as an ally, love interest and – partially – villain, as per the tradition of this multifaceted character, already beautifully interpreted in the cinema by Michelle Pfeiffer and Anne Hathaway. The more melodious part of the plot is reserved for her, with more tears and revelations than her about her personal and family life.

The other woman in the film is candidate for mayor Bella Reál, played by Jayme Lawson. On paper, for a film that since its announcement presented itself as political, dark and intrigued, the potential was enormous: to transpose an antithetical character, a young black woman into Gotham, par excellence, a corrupt and crime-ridden city. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were many, at the announcement of the casting) as a banner of salvation and redemption.

One could also postpone the umpteenth scarcity of female characters, as long as this potential was exploited. What I found with bitterness, even more so because the rest of the film is valid, is that not only does the character in the film have a space reduced to the bone, although the political plot is rather developed, but only through male characters, but basically all that we are told about her is… in fact, that she is young, black and progressive. No other flickers, two dialogues on the cross so rhetorical and lazily written that they seem taken from any political talk show, and nothing else.

Lark mirror is an understatement. The proof of this is that, discussing the film with other film students, the answer to these observations was that, if anything, the film proved to be quite progressive having a black woman as mayor within it. What more could you want than this?

More than that, I would like to understand why the women in these projects (I have made three recent examples, but the cases are many) are present with the dropper, treated as an endangered species, sipped. And they take on multiple narrative loads that films, in the case of men, don’t mind spreading on 3, 4, 5 characters.

Why this disparity?

What is the logic behind it? Market surveys suggest that movies sell better if the male-to-female ratio is 9: 1 or slightly off? Or is there a problem in the script, direction and production (almost always all male) that just struggles to give the female gender a worthy representation in this genre of film?

I said at the outset that things take time to evolve, and perhaps the process is simply underway. Hopefully things will change shortly, and the recent forays by established female directors like Patty Jenkins And Chloé Zhao in the world of superhero blockbusters they could be forerunners in this sense. I hope so.

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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