“Women’s Films” —Are we still here?

“There has been a “trending” topic this week following an NPR article titled “At The Movies–The Women Are Gone” (http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2013/06/14/191568762/at-the-movies-the-women-are-gone).  There has been a series of male-dominated action hero films; the traditional tent-pole films of the summer, that have have been labeled as “under-performing”.  This means, they’ve only earned one gazillion dollars as compared to their 10-gazillion-dollar budgets.  Some reporters are even labeling these films “flops”!

Here’s reporter Peter Knegt from today’s (June 16, 2013) Indiewire (http://www.indiewire.com/article/specialty-box-office-sofia-coppolas-ring-scores-serious-bling-in-solid-limited-debut)–bold-type is my addition:

“This summer continues its parade of exceptional indie debuts, with Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” following in the footsteps of “Frances Ha,” “Before Midnight,” “The East” and “Much Ado About Nothing” to score an excellent limited debut, grossing $210,001 from just 5 locations for a $42,000 per-theater-average.

Counter-programmed against the male-centric studio likes of “Man of Steel” and “This Is The End” (a trend this summer, with most of the specialty success stories being geared toward women while the studios continue to largely consider male audiences), “Bling” — distributed by upstart A24 (which had a big success with the similarly themed “Spring Breakers” earlier this year) was a major improvement over Coppola’s last film “Somewhere,” which averaged $17,012 from 7 theaters back in 2010. And though their screen counts differ a bit too much to warrant a fair comparison, the film also topped the $40,221 “Lost In Translation” averaged from 23 locations in 2003 to find Coppola’s best per-theater-average (though adjusted of inflation “Translation” would be the winner).

“We are thrilled with the results. Sofia Coppola’s latest and greatest has certainly entered the zeitgeist and we look forward to capitalizing on this great success as we expand nationwide next weekend,” A24’s Nicolette Aizenberg said.  Perhaps appropriately overshadowed by celebrity-themed “The Bling Ring” was backup singer doc “20 Feet From Stardom,” which also had a very strong debut.”

So what do we, as film-lovers do?  I don’t label films in such black and white manner as “women’s films” and “men’s films”.  I think most people would agree that the Summer Movies are primarily aimed at the younger audience, not men.  The idea is that when the teens get out of school, they have the time and the money to see this big bombastic films over and over.   3-D versions can be expected to bring in an even higher gross!

Do we want our movie screens to be dominated by three versions (2-D, 3-D, IMAX) of the same action film?  Do we want our teenage girls and boys to see only representations of cartoon men with women as sexualized accomplices or long-suffering girlfriends and wives?  Is it fair to ask those who want a little less boom for their buck to have to search long and hard for the art-house fare?  What’s a thinking person of either sex to do about this situation?

Linda Holmes, in her article featured on NPR, did a little comparison of the films screening in her DC Metro area.  She found that 90% of the films screening were stories featuring men with 31 screenings having a somewhat balanced pairing of men and women (relationship dramas) and only 25 screenings featuring women or girls.  Man of Steel had 6X the number of screenings as all of the films about women put together.  How does the Bay Area stack up to those odds?

I would like to think that as a cinema-loving culture that puts great stock in the fact that we support art-house, animation and documentaries (many made here in the Bay Area!), that in comparison, the Bay Area would be more balanced.

And indeed, we do fare better, but I did add in the documentaries and animated films (there’s only 2 screening currently) to make the rating fair to what is offered here.  This accounts for screenings in the Bay Area according to Fandange (trying to keep to Linda Holmes study) for movie theaters not including Moraga, San Leandro or San Mateo but with Marin County.  I also eliminated any film festival or museum screenings.

Bay Area screenings (note: this isn’t a count of SCREENS, but a count of screenings): total 250.  Of those screenings, a full 38 are Man of Steel!  There’s even one chain that’s has FOUR screens devoted to this latest blockbuster!  Films featuring mainly men account for 71 screenings (28.4%) and those with a fairly even balance of men and women (Before Midnight, The Great Gatsby, Epic, a few documentaries), 51 screenings (35%).  There are only 15 screenings featuring mainly women-driven stories or mainly female casts! 6%!  Here are the women-centric films on screens in the Bay Area: Fill the Void, Frances Ha, The East, The Sapphires (a single screening),  and Stories We Tell (also one screening, Rialto Cinemas Elmwood).  There’s even one screening of Oblivion still showing; the only action film that features strong female roles!  So hunt these films out!

How do we rank with the DC Metro area?  Rather than the 90% of screenings featuring men, we can see a more balanced representation when we add back in animated and documentary films.  And Bay Area audiences do enjoy those films.  This weekend screens are still dominated by Summer Blockbusters but we do have 35% of the screens shared by men and women. We may make up 51% of the population of humans but women are still short-changed in our movie choices.  But next weekend we’ll add Bling Ring to the mix and even a comedy, The Heat!

What do we do to send a message to the studios?  I think you know this answer.  Hunt out the independent films featuring strong performances by men and women.  Most importantly, see them OPENING WEEKEND if you can.  And at the very least, wait to see the latest Summer Blockbuster (or lame men-behaving-badly comedy) till after Opening Weekend.  Please use your movie dollars wisely!  We all know that it’s not common sense that the studio machines hear…it’s the cash register!

That’s my two cents…and I spend them wisely 😉

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