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If Women Ran Hollywood . . . 2012

Wanda20 Sykes

The author of annual studies of women working in film and prime-time TV updates a classic consciousness-raising article as a 2012 reality check.

Twenty years ago, the late producer/writer Julia Phillips and writer/critic Anne Thompson considered how the film and television businesses and their content might morph if women were in charge. In an Entertainment Weekly article entitled, “If Women Ran Hollywood,” the authors suggested that if women ruled, “Penelope Spheeris, who directed the $120 million-grossing Wayne’s World, would be hired for the next Batman sequel” and “Older male stars would be cast opposite women their own age.”

Fast forward to the summer of 2012 and men continue to dominate as directors of summer blockbusters, as well as more serious winter fare. According to the latest Celluloid Ceiling study of the top 250 domestic grossing films, in 2011 women accounted for a meager 5 percent of all directors. The companion study considering on-screen portrayals, It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World, found that females comprised only 11 percent of protagonists and 33 percent of all characters appearing in the top 100 domestic grossing films of 2011.

The statistics reveal just how far a more gender-balanced Hollywood is from our current reality. Still, one wonders how Hollywood might change if women were in charge in 2012...

  • Films made by and for a male audience would be considered a “niche” and frequently referred as “small films.”
  • Chelsea Handler, Wanda Sykes, and Ellen DeGeneres would reign as long-term hosts of late-night network television. Jimmy Kimmel would be relegated to a show on a distant cable channel, and feel grateful to have a career in late-night television at all.
  • A major studio would entrust a woman who had previously directed one relatively low-budget romantic comedy to helm an expensive and high-profile tentpole reboot of a popular comic book franchise. No one in the Hollywood community would bat a fake eyelash.
  • Film and television executives would suggest that if men don’t have careers in film and television, it’s because they choose not to. According to the prevailing conventional wisdom, men would prefer to stay at home to raise families instead of enjoying high-profile careers as cultural architects.
  • Male movie-goers would routinely contort themselves to adopt a female point-of-view in order to identify with the mostly female driven and created fare at the neighborhood multiplex. They would wistfully wonder when Hollywood would make films they could relate to.
  • When a film featuring a male comic lead was successful, studio executives would scratch their heads in amazement and wonder, “Are men funny?”
  • The Real Husbands of (fill-in-the-blank) would be a successful reality show franchise for Bravo, featuring males in manufactured situations highlighting and reinforcing the worst possible stereotypes about men.
  • The pool of actresses over 50 who work regularly in film would expand greatly past the current pool of the usual suspects (e.g., Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren).
  • Every successful film featuring a primarily or all-male cast would be considered a fluke. These films would be praised when they appealed to a female audience.
  • After many fabulously successful years in the animation business, Pixar would finally make a feature with a male lead. Critics would judge the film harshly, unaccustomed to seeing a male protagonist.
  • Cable television networks targeting a male audience with monikers such as Men’s Entertainment (or ME) would traffic in the most heavily prescribed social roles imaginable, encouraging men to stay in their proper place.
  • Studio executives would name five male directors they had ever worked with—in their entire careers—as proof that men are just as likely to direct features as women.
  • Every journalist writing about Kathryn Bigelow would feel compelled to wax poetic about her films, constructing a nearly indestructible “girl wonder” myth around her and her work. Simultaneously, token male directors would bristle when journalists focused on their appearance, former and current marital connections to powerful women in the business, and the fact that they’re men.
  • (And if women ran the world of film...) The female head of the Cannes Film Festival would be accused of sexism after choosing only female-directed films for the annual event. A popular website, Men and Hollywood, would sponsor an on-line petition urging festival coordinators to open their minds and screens to more male filmmakers. Responding to the criticism, the head of the festival would suggest that if men made worthy films, the festival would consider them.

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