Friday, September 11, 2015

The Dilemma Of Women In Film

I came across this recently on Facebook:
Several points there. First, Hollywood's entire business is about constructed realities. While I couldn't find the source material here — neither nor Google turn up this graph — someone is getting their panties in a bunch over the number of men vs. women onscreen? So what? The obvious rejoinder would be, well, MONAYZ:
Using Bechdel test data, we analyzed 1,615 films released from 1990 to 2013 to examine the relationship between the prominence of women in a film and that film’s budget and gross profits. We found that the median budget of movies that passed the test — those that featured a conversation between two women about something other than a man — was substantially lower than the median budget of all films in the sample. What’s more, we found that the data doesn’t appear to support the persistent Hollywood belief that films featuring women do worse at the box office. Instead, we found evidence that films that feature meaningful interactions between women may in fact have a better return on investment, overall, than films that don’t.
So it seems possible that there are two effects here (at least!):
  1. Films passing the Bechdel test have better return on investment.
  2. They also have lower budgets.
 The second point suggests studios are unwilling to make the sorts of budgetary mistakes on such films they more readily do on other sorts of films, i.e. there is a kind of discipline involved in making character-driven stories that does not attach to, say, cop buddy pictures or action-adventure films. If the second point drives the first, it points to the Bechdel test as a sign, not a cause.

The way forward is unclear, at best; losing money in Hollywood is axiomatic, and informs their rapacious accounting. It does not seem likely, for the reason that film making is both a business and an art, that producers or investors will be particularly eager to have a mechanistic version of the NFL's Rooney Rule, as proposed by Stacy L. Smith in the Hollywood Reporter; accounting for every person onscreen rings of the old Communist art machine that demanded conformance to socialist realism, whatever that meant. If advocates like Geena Davis want films with more women in them, go her; and let her also finance them and take the risks such necessarily entail. Telling others how to run their lives without taking that risk is the first sign of a fraud. Yet there may well be entirely sound commercial reasons for changing the status quo.

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