Which Film Genre Treats Female Characters The Best In 2015? There's Been Progress Across The Board
We are constantly on the lookout for better representations of women in the movie industry. For hopeful gaps in Hollywood’s constant pathological chauvinism both onscreen and behind the scenes. Though we know that there are countless actresses and female filmmakers readily supplying their performative and authorial gifts to the big screen release schedule, it can sometimes be tough to figure out where exactly we’ll find them. Are we best off sticking with blockbusters or diverting attention to the indie scene? Is comedy a more supportive venue for women’s voices, or hard drama? And, across the genre spectrum, where are we most likely to discover the strong female characters we seek — fantasy? Science fiction? Horror? Which film genre treats women the best?
A brush back over the past year might offer a few hints as to which facets of modern cinema are most prone to offering up the helping of feminism that audiences are looking for. Of the roughly 180 feature films yet to open in American theaters (wide and limited), we’ve found 48 that showcase women in focal positions, and an additional 35 featuring women playing opposite men in roles of comparable importance. But, breaking our findings down even further, where can we allot the strengths and weaknesses in the way that Hollywood genres wield their female characters? And which genre reigns feminist supreme? It's time to find out.
The horror genre has long been a proponent of female leads, though some particularly exploitative entries of the past might take away from any progressive labels this statement might otherwise suggest. This year has thus far offered 11 women-led horror flicks: The Woman in Black 2, REC 4, The Lazarus Effect, It Follows, Unfriended, Poltergeist, Insidious: Chapter 3, The Gallows, The Vatican Tapes, Goodnight Mommy, and Sinister 2.
Though notable exceptions apply — the Alien and Terminator franchises topping the lot — the diverse slate of American sci-fi has not always been especially generous in terms of female casting. Though we’ve seen the same grand total of female-led science fiction movies in 2015 that we have female-led horror films, there’s something a bit more encouraging and unexpected about the sci-fi trend. So far, Project Almanac, Jupiter Ascending, Insurgent, Home, Ex Machina, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Tomorrowland, Jurassic World, Terminator: Genisys, Fantastic Four, and Z for Zacharia have featured female heroes at the center of stories about space invaders, sentient robots, dystopian futures, and genetic experiments gone awry, not as passive reactors to the goings on but as strong plot directors in their own right.
It’s likely no shock that the film industry has relegated the bulk of its female characters to playing objects of the affection of masculine leads. Though we may be inclined to cynicism in our vantage point on Hollywood romance, a few pieces of the genre’s recent output offer the long awaited agency and independence to their female leads. In 2015, we’ve seen romances like Strange Magic, The Duke of Burgundy, Song One, Fifty Shades of Grey, Focus, The Longest Ride, The Age of Adaline, Far from the Madding Crowd, Aloha, Trainwreck, Irrational Man, Paper Towns, Diary of a Teenage Girl, and Z for Zacharia. In large part, this helping is one to be thankful for. Films like The Duke of Burgundy, Far from the Madding Crowd, Trainwreck, Diary of a Teenage Girl, and (perhaps most surprisingly) Fifty Shades earnestly channel female empathy, passion, and sexuality in a manner that will hopefully rub off on mainstream romance pictures yet to come.
Comedy vs. Drama
Truth be told, 2015’s female-led films represent a pretty even split between the comedic and the dramatic (with a good deal of them earning the ever-nebulous “dramedy” designation). Highlighting only the best of the lot to tamper in humor, we find Maps from the Stars, Spy, Trainwreck, Tangerine, Ricki and the Flash, and Mistress America. Noteworthy dramatic performers (that lie outside the parameters of any other dominant genre label) include Still Alice, Mommy, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, and Clouds of Sils Maria. Drama’s overall numbers might trounce comedy’s across the female-led board, but the laughers certainly do claim a denser legion of favorable representatives this year.
You don’t need me to remind you what this summer’s biggest event films have been. Surprises both good and bad have surrounded these past few months’ most anticipated entries. But an even bigger surprise, perhaps, is in the summer’s inclusion of female stars. Avengers: Age of Ultron, Jurassic World, Terminator: Genisys, and Fantastic Four include women operating at similar levels of focus to their male costars. Of course, they’re all outdone by the masterful work of action and writing that is Mad Max: Fury Road, starring Charlize Theron in the all-but-titular lead role.
Behind the Scenes
At last, we must pay due credit to the women who have written and directed some of 2015’s great movies. Pictures like Selma (expanded from 2014), Song One, Jupiter Ascending, Serena, Ride, Hot Pursuit, Welcome to Me, Pitch Perfect 2, The Wolfpack, The Yes Men Are Revolting, Eden, Infinitely Polar Bear, Batkid Begins, Trainwreck, Ricki and the Flash, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Goodnight Mommy, Mistress America, and Return to Sender all came to be courtesy of the imaginations of female filmmakers and authors. Hopefully, Hollywood will take note of the fact that a good number of these are some of the year’s most enjoyable entries so far and set some changes into action.
There is nary a corner of the cinematic world that couldn't stand a little progress in the realm of its representation of female characters and talents. While blockbusters do seem to be offering up a greater number of female leads than they have in the past, said characters aren't always all we'd like them to be. Meanwhile, smaller sci-fi pictures could stand to up their number, but are showcasing far more interesting central ladies than anything set forth on a large scale. Best of all is the realm of comedy, which tops all contemporaries in volume and quality alike. While no genre on the whole is doing it quite right just yet, we're at least seeing progress across the board, and will hopefully see even more as the years go by.
Images: Warner Bros.; RADiUS-TWC/Dimension Films; Universal Studios; Universal Pictures/Focus Features; Fox Searchlight Pictures; Walt Disney Pictures; Sony Pictures Classics