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Gender Watch: Uphill Battle for Heroines in the Marketplace, From True Grit to Sucker Punch

Gender Watch: Uphill Battle for Heroines in the Marketplace, From True Grit to Sucker Punch

Thompson on Hollywood

It’s an uphill battle for teenage movie heroines these days, writes LAT‘s Rebecca Keegan, who argues that female protagonists traditionally “alienate” male audiences. But things are looking up with True Grit‘s Hailee Steinfeld and Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone. They are:

“…the product of a film industry in which young women are infiltrating traditionally male genres like action films; female directors and producers are wielding increasing creative influence, and the culture is moving from a sexed-up, dumbed-down model of female adolescence to one marked by smarts, strength and scrap.”

While putting in her two cents on the Steinfeld Lead vs. Supporting Oscar argument (she says lead), Women and Hollywood‘s Melissa Silverstein points out that “as a culture, for some reason we are still shocked when we see young women playing strong roles.  It would be no big deal if Mattie was a boy, because boys are expected to have ‘grit.’  But we still are at a place where strength in girls and young women — like Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone — is still new enough to excite us beyond just the performance.  These films are also statements about the strength in girls and young women.”

Keegan spoke to director Zach Snyder, who wants to bring female audiences to the prison-break genre while not turning off men with his upcoming Sucker Punch. He says the film is set “mostly [in] the terrain of men…It’s a challenge economically to find who is the audience…Our hope is that the movie is transcendent.” How is he trying to accomplish this? With rampant CGI, scantly clad schoolgirlish characters holding huge weapons in 3-D with names like “Baby Doll,” “Sweet Pea” and “Blondie.”

Hollywood tends to portray females as either hyper-sexualized or stripped entirely of their femininity. Both True Grit and Winter’s Bone downplay their characters’ emotion and sexuality; Mattie Ross winds up an unmarried spinster, while the tomboyish Ree Dolly is fighting to save her family.

Here’s more on the Sexualization of Women and Girls on Screen.

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SUCKER PUNCH reminds me of D.O.A. DEAD OR ALIVE, which went straight to DVD a few years ago. D.O.A. was a Hong Kong-style female action film, based on a videogame, although with a far less capable cast than its HK counterparts. SUCKER PUNCH strikes me as more of an anime-style version of the same thing, although I doubt it will be as satisfying as its anime counterparts. Sadly, the U.S. male audience doesn’t seem to want females to dominate their action films. Hong Kong and Japanese audiences don’t seem to mind.

It’s always bothered me that American karate champ Cynthia Rothrock never had much of a career here. She went to Hong Kong and became a star in kung fu films and then, several injuries later, came back home and went to L.A. to do a series of much safer, but much less interesting straight-to-video action films. She kept working, but never came close to mainstream success. All she needed was one good role in a Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal or Wesley Snipes film, but they never reached out to her. And it’s not like they didn’t know her. (I met her once at a Snipes-hosted martial arts event in New York about 12 years ago.) It certainly would have helped them in addition to helping her. Now she’s over 50, so it’s a little late. What a missed opportunity.



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