Women star in three pivotal movie trends of 2012
As women (very slowly) gain more clout and credence in the film biz, it’s worth noting how our image is evolving onscreen. Three trends emerged in the films of 2012 that touch in some way on how women are presented—or present themselves—in the movies.
THEIR AIM IS TRUE The bow and arrow, a weapon practically as old as humankind itself, became the coolest onscreen weapon in 2012. First, it was Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, racing through the forest in survival mode, armed with only a bow, arrows, and true grit. Then came Hawkeye in The Avengers, taking aim with cold precision in the midst of chaos. In Brave, a spirited young Scots princess puts the kibosh on an archery competition for her hand in marriage by out-shooting the menfolk.
Archery is all about individual skill, and it’s not gender-specific; a bow and arrow can be wielded just as surely by a woman as a man. It’s the anti-macho discipline; it takes skill and smarts, not brawn. No wonder archery lessons are becoming popular again, especially among women.
FRACTURED FAIRY TALES Why is our pop culture suddenly so besotted with fairy tales? For one thing, they are morality tales that evolved out of the collective subconscious centuries ago and deal in potent, timeless themes—love, hate, envy, oppression, betrayal, revenge. Also, these familiar tales are in the public domain, meaning they can be endlessly recycled and revised to suit modern sensibilities. In 2012, the “It” girl was Snow White. We all remember the Disney version from 1937, with her piping little soprano voice; a wet-eyed domestic dishrag, she plays mother to the dwarfs, while her song of yearning, “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” launched a thousand feminist tracts decades later. Mirror Mirror tries to give the story a grrrl power twist with Snow White, banished to the forest, becoming the leader of the seven dwarfs, a gang of roistering thieves. (Although the emphasis on campy slapstick is almost as fatal as a poison apple to the project.) In the darker, revisionist Snow White and the Huntsman, the huntsman sent to assassinate Snow White instead mentors her in warrior-training so she can defeat the Evil Queen. Sadly, it all falls apart in the idiotic battle-siege finale. And they could have used a warmer, more empathetic actress than angsty Kristen Stewart as Snow White. Anyway, I’m not sure if turning a goody-goody into a warrior is the best possible use of evolution. (My ideal of a kick-ass modern heroine is still Lisbeth Salander, who outsmarts her vile opponents with ferocious cunning and nerve in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.) Still, female role models have to change with the times or lose their currency, and any fairy tale heroine who does more than sit passively by her spindle, waiting for her hero, is a step in the right direction.
SISTERS DOING IT 4 THEMSELVES Back when he won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for Sling Blade, Billy Bob Thornton told this story: he was a young, unknown actor looking for a break when the legendary Hollywood icon Billy Wilder gave him a piece of advice. If he wanted a great part, Wilder told him, he’d better write it himself. This is more true today than ever, especially for women. Any actress who doesn’t want to be stuck playing the invisible girlfriend, mother, or sexpot in the Old Boy’s club of Hollywood movies had better hit the keyboard. In 2012, a clutch of actresses did just that. Rashida Jones writes plenty of caustic one-liners for herself as co-star of Celeste & Jesse Forever. In Ruby Sparks, scriptwriter Zoe Kazan writers herself a plummy role as a novelist’s fantasy dream girl come to life who’s feisty enough to start wanting a life of her own beyond the typed page. Jennifer Westfeldt, in Friends With Kids, and Julie Delpy, in 2 Days In New York up that ante by directing the comedy scripts they wrote for themselves. These women are writing their own chapters in the Hollywood story. Sure, they’re all writing frothy rom-coms now, but there’s no reason their subject matter can’t deepen and broaden over time. If enough women chime in, maybe it will no longer be seen as a trend at all, but part of the norm. Women’s voices telling women’s stories in the movies. What a concept!