The audience only wanted white, straight, male leads


Via Peteryxx, on the stereotype thread – an article on why so few movies pass the Bechdel test.

The “Dykes to Watch Out For” test, formerly coined as the “Mo Movie Measure” test and Bechdel Test, was named for the comic strip it came from, penned by Alison Bechdel

To pass it your movie must have the following:

1) there are at least two named female characters, who

2) talk to each other about

3) something other than a man

I’m not sure I need to read any more to know why that’s not going to fly. It’s because movies are about men.

That was easy.

When I started taking film classes at UCLA, I was quickly informed I had what it took to go all the way in film…

I had to understand that the audience only wanted white, straight, male leads. I was assured that as long as I made the white, straight men in my scripts prominent, I could still offer groundbreaking characters of other descriptions (fascinating, significant women, men of color, etc.) – as long as they didn’t distract the audience from the white men they really paid their money to see.

Toldja. I knew that’s what they think, because it’s what movies and tv are like.

According to Hollywood, if two women came on screen and started talking, the target male audience’s brain would glaze over and assume the women were talking about nail polish or shoes or something that didn’t pertain to the story. Only if they heard the name of a man in the story would they tune back in. By having women talk to each other about something other than men, I was “losing the audience.”

Nothing much to say, is there.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Sally Strange, OM says

    Yep. Cuz obviously only straight white men watch movies. They ARE the audience. In fact, you can’t watch a movie without being a straight white male. As soon as I walk into any movie theater, I sprout a penis. Your skin will bleach out, and you desire to ogle a dude’s tight buns will magically vanish. In the theater, we are all straight white men. That’s why TV and movies are such cultural unifiers.

  2. says

    The bromide is that women are willing to watch guyish movies while men are not willing to watch womanish movies. Of course that could be mostly because Hollywood’s ideas of what womanish movies are and can be is so pathetically impoverished…At any rate, that’s the bromide.

    It PISSES ME OFF.

  3. Sally Strange, OM says

    Well, of course. Because it’s easy to identify as a straight white male. Even if you’re a queer woman of color. But it’s impossible to identify as a queer woman of color. Because straight white men are people, whereas queer women of color are… something else. Different. Other. I mean, they’re human, but only kinda sorta. In any case, it’s just impossible to imagine what it would be like to be one. Obviously. I mean there’s just no other way to look at it, and no explanation needed. Straight white men are awesome, and if you’re not one, then you’ve probably spent your whole life wishing you could be one.

  4. Nepenthe says

    The most upsetting thing (in my mind) about this situation is how blatantly not true it is. The Aliens series was wildly successful, despite starring a woman. Precious was remarkably successful (in certainly made money) for such a downer of a movie, and I can’t even remember the appearance of a white male, straight or no. Fried Green Tomatoes was the #5 PG-13 box office earner the year it came out.

    Movies about women make money. Movies about women of color make money. Enough people go to see them that there pretty much have to be white straight males in the audience. But clearly all these are one offs, because movies about women don’t make money, dontchya know!

  5. daveau says

    Oh, yeah? Then how come there are still chick flicks? (ducks…)

    Actually I find most mainstream movies rather boring. I prefer independent films. There are a lot of directors that are women and minorities who offer a different point of view than the formulas the establishment shoves at us.

  6. says

    Re.

    According to Hollywood, if two women came on screen and started talking, the target male audience’s brain would glaze over and assume the women were talking about nail polish or shoes or something that didn’t pertain to the story.

    and

    Cuz obviously only straight white men watch movies.

    Beyond that, and speaking as someone of that most terrible breed—a straight white man (middle-class, no less)—the attitude is pretty insulting to us men, as well. I resent any implication that I’m unable to consider women as people (even though they are the gender my sexuality orients me towards!!!).

    The same attitudes that here act primarily to render women invisible act secondarily to condescend to or infantilise men. I’m reminded of a female friend of mine who grew up in Saudi Arabia, who remarked that many Saudi men really don’t have any self control around women (justifying oppressive customs and sequestration) simply because they are never taught any self control, and rely on women to remove themselves. Women are the primary victims, but it lessens everyone involved.

  7. says

    Cuz obviously only straight white men watch movies.

    My mother has spent quite a bit of time in the past year or so watching movies (she’s mostly housebound and unable to read due to her Graves disease), and laments that the movie industry (not to mention the TV industry and the sports industry) is targeted primarily at men. One day we were talking about it, and she pointed out that the moguls are probably correct in their read of the demographics involved since studies also show that women have far less leisure time than men do. In other words, men in our society have more opportunity to watch movies, TV, sports, and play video games (almost forgot that one), because women are working full time, while still doing most of the housework and child-rearing. It’s sexism on all sides of the question.

  8. says

    @4

    But clearly all these are one offs, because movies about women don’t make money, dontchya know!

    I’m sure the prevailing wisdom is that as long as there are only a few such movies a year, they can do well because women will take the time to go see them (and bring their men along). But any more than a few and the market would be saturated and none of them would make enough back to make it worthwhile. Even so, they’re much more of a risk than most “male-targeted” movies.

    Romantic comedies are a special case because going to the movies together is still one of the primary “date” activities. They’re a generic “safe” choice for two people of different tastes and backgrounds who don’t know each other very well.

  9. Aquaria says

    It’s why they hate shows like Designing Women, Golden Girls, Murphy Brown, shows that had women not talking about men for five minutes sometimes!

  10. Kris says

    I don’t think Joss Whedon can even write a movie or TV show with less two prominent female leads who talk to each other about things other than men in nearly every scene… Or without an apocalypse of some sort.

  11. julian says

    Or without an apocalypse of some sort.

    Giles: I’m afraid it’s the end of the world…

    ALL: AGAIN?!

  12. crissakentavr says

    That’s an oldie but goodie.

    Of course, movies with other than white males can succeed – but as long as movies need money to be made, and that money is held by white guys…

    PS, why are you trolling here, Sally?

  13. Pteryxx says

    The same blogger has lots of follow-up articles, for instance:

    Women buy 55% of movie tickets

    Sigourney Weaver’s Aliens costume choice

    and the kicker:

    If audiences don’t want women as leads, why did Aliens succeed?

    What if the answer is that audiences never rejected “women” as action or sci-fi leads, and instead rejected distractingly sexed-up leads (which just always and exclusively happen to be women)?

    Definitely an interesting theory. The comments are worth reading, too.

  14. says

    Speaking as a “chick”, I’m fucking disgusted at the pabulum that’s presented to us in the form of “chick flicks”. They’re boring, often have no plot other than “get the guy”, and honestly, a few more explosions, or maybe a herd of zombies, would liven ’em up quite a bit.

    I’ll take the “guy” movies — especially horror flicks — over sappy, insipid “chick flicks” any day.

  15. Josh Slocum says

    PS, why are you trolling here, Sally?

    Please. You cannot be serious. Scuttle away now.

    Different. Other. I mean, they’re human, but only kinda sorta.

    I believe the product name you’re searching for is Humanique (TM). It shines just like a human at a fraction of the price.

  16. Nepenthe says

    @WMDKitty

    Let’s get real. What kind of movie wouldn’t be livened up with a herd of zombies.

  17. julian says

    I’ll take the “guy” movies — especially horror flicks — over sappy, insipid “chick flicks” any day.

    They’re both equally shitty if you ask me. Best to sit in the back and be as snide as possible throughout the hour and half ordeal.

    “We’ve already had breakfast, sir.” – Battle: Los Angeles

    “And now I’m ready for lunch!” – Someone wishing they’d picked a different movie

  18. The Ys says

    I would rather gouge out my own eyes than have to watch most movies made within the past decade. They’re crap, and so are most TV shows.

    Give me Farscape. Give me Stargate. Give me Burn Notice. Give me indie films that aren’t afraid to show that the characters are unique and interesting human beings.

    I will admit to wanting to see Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (I love Greek mythology), but they messed that one up too. X-Men was decent, and the Avengers is working with what they’ve got…except they’ve decided Loki is actually evil, and not just a giant douchecanoe. That makes me sad.

  19. The Ys says

    Let’s get real. What kind of movie wouldn’t be livened up with a herd of zombies.

    I’m looking forward to World War Z, but I’m afraid that they’ll butcher (heh) that one as well. Sigh.

  20. says

    Fortunately, these conventions (and many more) only apply to Hollywood films, and not to European cinema, for example.

  21. Pteryxx says

    What is it about profit-mongering that seems really anathema to diversity, anyway? Advertising’s mostly stuck in the 50’s no matter how offensive it gets. Movies seem to get dudewashed in direct proportion to their budget. Shows get cancelled if their rabid fanbase strays too far from whiteboyness. Are they specifically pandering to the highest-status group, like a bunch of high schoolers forming a clique just to make everyone else beg to get in?

  22. martha says

    Y’s @19,

    The kids are very into something called ‘Stargate Atlantis’ and I have been thinking, “Yuck, one more TV series to zombify their brains.” Possibly I should adopt a more positive attitude?

  23. Sally Strange, OM says

    @ The Ys – Yay! Someone else who appreciates Burn Notice!

    PS, why are you trolling here, Sally?

    Why are YOU trying to police where and how I post? I’m delighted that you seem to have such an animus against me–coming from such a pusillanimous, prissy net nanny, that means I must be doing something right. I also sometimes post on Greta Christina’s blog, Pandagon, Slate, Digby, Racialicious, and others. You can follow me on twitter–my handle is @SallyStrange. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on any opportunities to get whatever kick it is you get out of shaking your finger at me and going, tsk tsk tsk.

  24. Sally Strange, OM says

    @ martha

    I’ve only seen a few episodes of Stargate Atlantis, but from what I’ve seen, it’s not brain-rotting dreck.

  25. julian says

    @ The Ys – Yay! Someone else who appreciates Burn Notice!

    I guess that makes 3 of us. Love the show’s take on the typical James Bond style spy. “There’s no magic spy trick to get out of a bad situation. Usually it just involves really strong finger tips.”

  26. Pteryxx says

    *raises talon* I’ll even state in public that the My Little Pony reboot is really good. Sure everything is adorable, but all the main characters are female, yet differ in everything from aggression to talents (and are all different colors, only one of which is pink).

  27. Arkady says

    Another Burn Notice fan here, but there’s one thing that bugs me about the show (and most other Miami-set shows, now I think about it). Being set in Miami they have plenty of gratuitous shots of bikini-clad women, but few/no scantily clad men! There’s nowhere near enough shots of the lead actor sans-shirt to compensate!

  28. julian says

    There’s nowhere near enough shots of the lead actor sans-shirt to compensate!

    Merely having Bruce Campbell on screen should be more than enough compensation.

  29. Sally Strange, OM says

    Merely having Bruce Campbell on screen should be more than enough compensation.

    I want Bruce Campbell AND lots of hot dudely asses and abs to check out. Call me greedy.

  30. The Ys says

    The kids are very into something called ‘Stargate Atlantis’ and I have been thinking, “Yuck, one more TV series to zombify their brains.” Possibly I should adopt a more positive attitude?

    It’s not entirely brain-rotting dreck. It’s not as good as Stargate SG-1, but science plays a heavy role and fighting isn’t always the answer. Intrigue abounds, and women actually get listened to when they’re not talking about men. Not one of the best, but definitely not bad!

  31. The Ys says

    Sorry, that last post was at Martha. I woke up in the middle of the night to watch the final of the rugby World Cup, and I’m not thinking very clearly atm. :)

    @ Sally, Julian, and Arkady: I like that Burn Notice still performs the magic that you’d see in James Bond movies but explains how it happens. And Bruce Campbell. And yes, there’s not enough shirtless men! But Fi rocks, and so I may eventually forgive them.

  32. Sally Strange, OM says

    I like that Burn Notice still performs the magic that you’d see in James Bond movies but explains how it happens. And Bruce Campbell. And yes, there’s not enough shirtless men! But Fi rocks, and so I may eventually forgive them.

    I know! “If you ever need a bomb in a hurry, you can make one using a microwave, some common household cleaners, and a drawer full of silverware. It’s not elegant, but it gets the job done.”

    Fi does indeed rock.

  33. says

    I’ve noticed a trend in recent years to attempt to get men to watch chick flicks. Add a bit of time travel or a giant shinking ship to an othewise lame-arsed love story and you can trick men into watching too.

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