In 2007, Jeff Robinov, then president of production at Warner Bros, said that his studio would no longer make movies with female leads. This from the studio that used to love women so much that they dressed Bugs Bunny up as a girl. The theory behind Jeff’s decision was that moviegoers prefer their films with big manly men at the helm. At least this is now being challenged by new research proving that films featuring “meaningful interaction between female leads” have a better return on investment.
The data is based on films that pass the Bechtel test, namely, films that feature at least two women who have a conversation with each other about something other than a man. Many of these movies are very encouraging in their portrayal of real, complex female characters and their interactions – August: Osage County being a prime example. Even Disney is getting in on the act. Boringly, they do still push anorexic princess types on little girls as ideal role models, but at least their latest offering, Frozen, passes the test – and it’s been hugely popular as a result.
This cheering news is a call to action to Hollywood to write more and better roles for actresses. These films do better because they reflect real life! Real women have lives and opinions and ambitions and emotions enjoyed by men and women alike.
This won’t be a shock to you, as a real-life person, but Hollywood hasn’t quite clocked this yet. Do keep up, movie-makers. Watch a non-Bechtel-friendly film and you’d struggle to work out whether women are actually independent sentient beings with a purpose other than looking scarily skinny and beautiful.
Roles for women in film also need to reflect the fact that we do go on living past the age of 30. Even though 30 is nowhere near old, it’s the age at which roles start to dry up for actresses. Yet this is the age at which many women start to get interesting.
The Weinsteins of this world need to take this research seriously and stop putting size-zero, vacuous dollybirds in front of the camera. Let’s see real women there instead – women who have conversations, do interesting things and look as though they enjoy a sandwich or three.
Louise Scodie is a presenter on London Live