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Women and Hollywood

Posted at 9:27 AM on September 4, 2006 by Euan Kerr

If you haven't already, check out Lynn Hirschberg's excellent profile of Vera Farminga in The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Much of the piece is about how it is almost impossible for women to find meaty lead roles in Hollywood dramas today. Hirschberg holds up Meryl Streep as the example of the career to which many woman actors would like to aspire, but cannot because Hollywood has narrowed its focus.

One particularly informative paragraph: "In 2005 there was not a single female-driven drama that was a financial blockbuster - not "North Country" starring the Oscar winner Charlize Theron; not "Proof," starring another Oscar winner, Gwyneth Paltrow: not "Memoirs of a Geisha." Even romantic comedies, long a showcase for actresses, are being replaced by male-driven comedies like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Wedding Crashers." The only film among the top 10 highest grossing movies of 2005 to prominantly feature an actress was "Mr and Mrs Smith" (unless you count "The Chronicles of Narnia" in which Tild Swinton plays the White Witch, or "King Kong," which stars a large, digitally animated gorilla alongside Naomi Watts.)"

As well as the box office issue, Hirshberg heard from several people who blame celebrity obsession with poisoning tickets sales.

"One place actresses are still the dominant force is on the newsstand. Female stars may not sell tickets, but they do sell magazines. The tabloids — US Weekly, The National Enquirer, In Touch, even Vanity Fair — have invented their own movielike narratives for stars like Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Kidman and Lindsay Lohan. But this type of exposure may be making the possibility of serious leading roles only more remote. Because of their tabloid fame, it is increasingly difficult for these actresses to be seen by audiences as characters who are much more than versions of themselves. That may be why “The Break-Up” has been the only big-screen success for Aniston: the plot of the movie, which also starred her real-life boyfriend, Vince Vaughn, neatly mirrored her tabloid storyline."

We all know that Hollywood sees its largest demographic as 15 year old boys, and we also know that people are more and more likely to wait for a drama to come out on DVD than to rush out to the theater to see it.

The question is whether audiences will realize how much they are missing by having this ever narrowing bill of fare in the theaters, and how what is presented on screen represents less and less of everyday life. Sadly people tend to vote with their feet and we are seeing that in the stalled box office numbers.

To quote an old Jam song "The public wants what the public gets, but I don't get what society wants." It seems we are all the poorer as a result.


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