I asked my old friend, the screenwriter Brian Nelson if he, as a veteran of the Entertainment Industry and a fellow father of daughters, had any insight into the issues raised by my commentary: why doesn’t Hollywood make more kid’s movies, or movies in general, with powerful female heroes? His typically thoughtful response follows.
It is a sad commonplace ofbox office that boys do tend to avoid movies that star girls. Occasionally there are near-exceptions — enough people showed up for the first Lara Croft film to trigger a sequel, but then the franchise ended.
I do think [your wife]‘s right that women are used to having to identify with the male protagonist, while in general the majority of men can’t return the favor. Some of this has to do with socialization, cf.‘s YOU JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND: WOMEN AND MEN IN CONVERSATION — women are generally brought up to empathize while men are brought up to solve problems and establish hierarchy. Some of it has to do with how our culture encourages men to remain in a state of arrested development, which gives them trouble empathizing with any problem that doesn’t affect them directly (such as the many Republicans who only vote for medical research when they have a relative affected). Some of it may come from the dominant role that pro sports plays in our culture — everybody knows how to root for the Redskins, but not so many for women’s basketball/soccer/golf/tennis.
In some ways, things are markedly better than when we were younger — a show like KIM POSSIBLE was literally IM-possible when we were kids. ALIAS, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, LOST, BUFFY, and many more shows do let their heroines kick a lot of ass.
But the bigger a film budget becomes, the more it’s thought necessary to attract EVERYONE to see it in order to pay off that budget (making it a “four-quadrant” film, in current parlance). So the more expensive the film, the more it will be driven by male characters. Smaller films and tv shows, which need only a smaller chunk of the public to survive, can be female-driven, but not the huge blockbusters.
Last year I tried to move forward an adaptation of UGLIES, a great young-adult fantasy novel that your girls may soon be ready for. It’s set in a future where everybody gets plastic surgery when they turn 16, to make them look uber-perfect. But the surgery also makes them docile and compliant with the government. The novel follows two girls who try to take down the system — but the producers made it clear that for the special effects this movie would require, one of the girls would need to become a guy. Considering the vast number of boy-buddy movies over the years, you wouldn’t think it’s still nearly impossible to do another THELMA AND LOUISE, but there you are.
As I said, often I think things are getting better. But then I worry that in movies and shows that we don’t see, it’s the same old same old. You only saw HORTON because you’re a dad (I asked [my wife], who saw it out of similar parental obligation, and who responded, “Yeah, it was appalling, I just blocked it all out.” On a related theme, last night I was at a Dodgers game with a producer who told me that he was shocked to watch WILD HOGS — which he only did for work — and to see the rampant homophobia throughout this film that grossed something like $230M domestic. So maybe things are getting better in some sectors, but the battles are far from done.