'Frozen' & 'The Heat' Were The Rare Exceptions: Where Are the Female Friendships in Film?
Last night, I rented the Oscar-nominated oldie, Thelma & Louise, for a late-night movie date with my bed. I had never seen it before and after researching its list of esteemed accolades, I thought I should just give it a whirl. Not only was it hands-down an excellent film, it was also completely refreshing. A self-proclaimed movie aficionado, I pride myself on seeing as many movies as I can year in and year out. However, this film struck me not only for its original plot and dynamic characters, but more so because of the fact that I had not seen a movie like it in quite some time- it was a movie solely about female friendship.
As soon as I realized what had captivated me about the film, I had to do some research on my claims. How many films are made about female friendship every year? The answer shocked me. In 2013, there were only four films- Spring Breakers, The Heat, The To Do List, and Frozen. If I apply the Bechdel test, which requires the film to feature at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man, to those four films, The To Do List would not even make the cut because the female characters only talk about their sexual escapades with men. Of the remaining three films, Spring Breakers features their female characters engaging in illegal activities and vying for the attention of the central male character. It's not exactly the most uplifting tale about the bonds of sisterhood. So, we're basically down to two films.
However, in 2013, the men certainly had each other's backs. There was the finale to The Hangover series with The Hangover 3, funnymen Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson fighting the age gap in The Internship, and some old-school friendship between Robert DeNiro, Michael Douglas, Kevin Cline, and Morgan Freeman in Last Vegas. In total, there were seven films that celebrated the relationships between men.
I thought this year might have just been a fluke, so I looked at the films made in 2012. The results were actually worse. While men got buddy-buddy in six films, including the blockbuster hits Ted, American Reunion, and Magic Mike, all we got of the ladies was one film- Sparkle.
Aside from the sheer imbalance in numbers, there is also another major difference between the male friendships and the female friendships that have been portrayed on screen- the level of star quality. While the films about male friendship star Hollywood's A-list stars, like Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper, Vince Vaughn, and Channing Tatum, the female films featured mostly newcomers with little branding power. While we do not fault these young actresses for having short resumes, it makes it difficult to market the films they star in when they're up against the likes of Vaughn and Tatum during commercials.
Some may excuse the stark difference in numbers by claiming that male friendship sells better than female friendship on screen. Well, that excuse would be invalid. As we have previously explored, Hollywood films with strong female characters make billions more than films that focus solely on men. Women and men go to the movies in equal numbers, so the audience cannot be blamed either.
The actual problem? Films about female friendship are simply just not being made as often as they should be, which only furthers the gender gap in film. If films are not made about the lives and relationships between women, they silently become subordinate to those of men in the public eye. Furthermore, if women want to go out and see a movie and their only option is to sit through two hours of men saving the world, falling in love, becoming CEO, and hanging out with their buds, how is that at all fair?
Despite the harsh realities of current film and the promising statistics that encourage otherwise, Hollywood simply is not getting the message. Film overall in 2013 was heavily one-sided with men, which only furthers the notion that we are moving backwards as a society toward complete male domination in Hollywood.
No wonder Thelma & Louise took me by surprise. I spent the last couple of years watching Leo DiCaprio pop ludes and hump prostitutes, Mark Wahlberg get high with a teddy bear, and Owen Wilson play around at Google that I forgot what women even looked like on television all by themselves. I want my money back.
Images: Pathe Entertainment; Muse Productions