Hollywood has long had a problem with women, but with Kathryn Bigelow’s historic best director Oscar in 2010 for “The Hurt Locker,” it looked like things might be slowly changing. And in 2011, the box-office success of “Bridesmaids,” a raunchy comedy written by and starring women, led to predictions that Hollywood was finally ready to recognize the reality that female-centric movies could be as profitable as man-centric movies. While no industry that employs Michael Bay can really be considered a safe space, more women in production positions might mean better depictions of women, more roles for older actresses, and more influence at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that awards the Oscars.
That may end up being the case years down the line. But judging from the available evidence, it’s not going to happen any time soon. Bigelow’s movie was released in 2009, but in 2011, only 5 percent of the top-grossing movies were directed by women. And, astoundingly, the Oscars are even worse. None — zero — of the films in the best picture, best director, best adapted or original screenplay, best lead or supporting actor, and best supporting actress categories were directed by women. In the major categories, 98 percent of nominations went to movies directed by men, 84 percent went to movies written by men, and 70 percent went to movies starring men. The only female-centered movies that appear outside the best actress categories are “The Help” and “Bridesmaids.” In the best picture category, there are as many movies about women as there are movies about horses.
Getting beyond basic cast-and-crew details, Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist pop culture media critic and the editor of Feminist Frequency, hasproduced a video putting the 2012 best picture nominees to the so-called Bechdel test. This looks at whether a film has, at any point, female characters having an interaction with each other that’s not about a male character. Only two of the 10 pass. While it’s possible for male directors and writers to produce representative depictions of women (as Manohla Dargis said in a 2009 interview, “Flaubert wrote ‘Madame Bovary.’ That’s all we need to say about that”), they mostly don’t. Female characters aren’t given anything to do besides pine about their (heterosexual) romantic interests.