Hollywood Climate Change: Warming to Sheroes or Still in Denial?

Jan. 7, 2014 2014 is the year of Redefining Girly. Not just Redefining Girly, the new book on gender stereotypes and sexualization of kids by parent actionist Melissa Wardy, but redefining girly in the creation of lead characters who aren’t all about form over function.

Can you feel the climate change? The energy surge? The sardonic wit of media critics pointing out the tired tropes to remind that male leads don’t always ‘pull the numbers’ and win the day?

We all know Hollywood’s had a  ‘women problem’  as this glaringly obvious  gender inequity in film infograpic attests. Casting calls have been sorely lacking (great Geena Davis quotes in this NPR piece and line of inquiry about Wonder Woman film here but it’s 2014 and there’s a persistent climate change that is seismic, which Hollywood seems to stubbornly deflect. As The Atlantic summed in a shout from the rooftops Network movie style, “Earth to Hollywood, People Will Pay to See a Female Superhero Film!”

How much more evidence does Hollywood need? Industry executives and bean counters, clearly SHEROES SELL.

From the white-hot heat of Katniss in Hunger Games, Catching Fire, the cold hard cash of Disney’s Frozen co-directed by Jennifer Lee which met a $500 million worldwide milestone for the mouse house with their largest opening ever for a Walt Disney Animation Studios film and Gravity defying $251 million gross (which even trumped Brad Pitt’s World War Z) please put this on replay in the mental relay: “Hollywood Movies with Strong Female Roles Make Money.” Boom.

According to the latest box office earnings showing Vocativ’s research on Top 50 movies by Bechdel breakdown of sexism, it’s readily apparent both genders prefer films with adventurous plotlines of substance over vapid boy toy portrayals of females.

What IS the Bechdel Test?

It’s a simple query that is surprisingly difficult to achieve in today’s marketplace, asking: “Does a movie have two or more women in it who talk to each other about something other than a man?”

Here’s a “short version of the big questions” on bleak mainstream film statistics, which The Mary Sue contextualizes quite well, reminding that effective writing yields good female characters…It’s not enough to glance at the Vocativ chart and toss out corollary/causation using a sheer numbers game.

That said, we all know the color of money turns up the media volume in terms of what is given the ‘green light’ in Hollywood…

I’m ecstatic that 2014 could FINALLY be the year industry starts shifting away from the absurd stereotypes and damaging sexualization so prevalent in media’s portrayal of how females are valued in our culture, to a more substantive depiction. (See Jane.org’s pdf on gender roles enlightens as a ’why does it even matter’ primer)

I’m certainly not saying Frozen is any deep dive thought piece or diversity win, (and Elsa and Anna are certainly not Katniss caliber sheroes) but by tweaking the formulaic princess bit in a healthier direction with some spirited indie maverick fun and a “true love comes from within” nod to bravery and authenticity, the media behemoths may be inching towards redefining girly as it snowballs at the box office with money momentum.

One can only hope the toy industry, food, and fashion marketers are paying close heed to this avalanche of consumer demand pushing back against the stereotypes and sexualization running rampant in our cultural credo, and let’s hope they follow suit…fast.

When marketing and media producers see social media being used to shift the almighty greenback from ‘ka-ching’ to ‘ka-boom’ in nanoseconds, the behemoth giants know they’d better get the script right on their ‘big ticket items’ (blockbuster media, manufacturing, toy tooling, etc.) early on.

The instant ability to unite, be heard, team up, and use social media clout to slit the polarity of extremes into a sizable fillet and serve it back to the media producers to do something about it with a mix of ‘do or die’ purchasing power is part insta-poll part ‘pile on’…

Look no further than the massive outcry and petition against the “merchandising makeover” of Merida, the lead character in the recent Disney/Pixar movie Brave…and the subsequent memes to “Keep Merida Brave” and voice what “Brave Girls Want”…

Parents and youth themselves balked at the once adventurous, maverick heroine of Brave being dipped into a sparkle silo of sameness and spewed into the marketplace.

Consumers were “not buying it” echoing the outcry of the Miss Representation campaign to callout sexism and stereotypes with action.

When hundreds of thousands are irked by the narrow marketplace definitions of girlhood, willing to take action and then even put their money where their mouth is to crowdfund The Brave Girls Alliance and grassroots billboard campaign to ‘Take Back Media’ in Times Square with lead donors like Brenda Chapman, the creator of the original Merida character and co-director of Brave herself, it’s time for industry to sit up and pay attention.

So yes, 2013 was the year of women at the box office, but 2014 could very well be the year for Redefining Girly…literally and figuratively.

Kids are watching that ‘girls have gone missing’ and that when they ARE depicted in toys and goods in mass market merchandise, they’re sexualized and sold as ornamental props.

Let’s change visibility of girls and women and elevate pop culture sheroes (beyond princesses please)…If money talks, Hollywood should FINALLY be listening.

Is the economic incentive strong enough? Will Hollywood dink around with toe in the water ‘testing’ in ‘don’t rock the boat, it was a fluke’ mode or worse yet, purport that gender equity is ‘accomplished/done’ now and dismissively get back to primordial pablum of women splayed and filleted in toxic tropes?

Or will executives wise up, see the numbers and vast talent pool and leap in with a splash to go after the cash?

The “money talks” methodology remains to be seen, but make no mistake…

There IS a climate change…And denial is ignored at one’s own peril.

It’s like clueless naysayers who dupe themselves into thinking “just because it’s 50 degrees below zero in the Midwest there’s no global warming”

Hollywood: Massive shifts are in order not just to survive and stay alive but to thrive and be our best selves as humans occupying this planet. Changes need to be made. And fast.

There’s a clarion call for industry to not just SEE the momentum and make a quick buck off it, but to add hard pack to the snowball effect with solid funding to help shape and grow a model that’s a sustainable win-win for us all.

If 2014 marks the emergence of awakening for Hollywood’s sleeping giants toward gender equity and visibility in robust roles with healthier messaging, just think of the trickle down impact on kids, culture, society, and humanity as a whole.

We’re inching toward a cultural tipping point, accelerated by social media’s ability to ignite a bonfire of change with a whoosh of fuel on highly flammable briquettes…

Just think how fast and high those flames could carry if Hollywood helped create positive change.

Talk about Catching Fire…


Love this poignant video reminder by See Jane.org. If she can see it. She can be it.

Let’s extend this first :37 seconds of positive milestones and video footage in 2014, shall we?

Visual Credits: Hollywood Sign-Creative Commons/Flickr raindog808, lead graphic screenshot via HuffPost linked above, Bechdel infographic via Vocativ as linked above, SheHeroes.org logo (thumbnail visual) is from our fabulous allied friends (also a Brave Girls Alliance partner org) who we’ll be featuring in a follow up on this “sheroes” trend soon!

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