Does more female leads really mean we are moving closer to equality?

Watching Colossal, the new Anne Hathaway giant monster/alcoholism, social realism/fantasy movie, something occurred to me. Here was another film with a thirty something female lead which is clearly great in terms of Hollywood equality. The character is strong and independent, she is at the centre of her own narrative and she is not objectified which is all to be celebrated. I realised though that with all of this she still wasn’t playing at the same level as the men? True equality should mean that casting is blind to gender and race and age and sexuality but looking at Hathaway’s Gloria in this story it was clear that she had a vulnerability and a fragility that you would very very rarely see in a male protagonist.


This instantly made me think of Katherine Waterston in Alien: Covenant. Yes she overcomes incredible odds to save the day, she is empowered and she is an excellent role model but only after she has fallen apart emotionally, sobbing in heartache and despair. You don’t see men do that very often. There are examples of this happening; Matthew McConaughey in Intersteller, Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet, Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner, Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy, but you’ve got to go back a long way to get a decent list and even then, they’re not all exactly alpha males are they?


If you take a look at the majority of recent movies with really strong female characters most of them involve these women succumbing to their feelings at some stage. Off the top of my head I can name Gravity, The Hunger Games, V for Vendetta, Brave, Black Swan, Juno, Mad Max: Fury Road, Lucy, Arrival and The Force Awakens. It’s not that I want these ladies to toughen up; displaying real emotions actually makes them better, more appealing and more rounded as people. I just want to see some equality in the way the sexes are represented. It seems to me that in contemporary cinema, if you need your character to be vulnerable they need to be a women or a child.


Film makers will no doubt put this back on the audiences saying that they are not ready to see their male heroes getting in touch with what is often referred to their ‘feminine side’. To return to the aforementioned Mr. McConaughey though and the way he dramatically loses it in Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic, whatever problems people may have had with that film they were not because they thought the main guy was a wuss.


Sorry Hollywood but I’m noticing a trend. 2015 and 2016 both saw a record number of female leads in mainstream films and long may this increase continue but do they always have to be more fragile than the men? If I take the 99 new releases I saw last year 37 of them had female leads. Of these films there were only 10 where the women managed to hold it together all the way through. Of the 62 boy’s own adventures there were also 10 where one of the guys lost it at some point but that’s 16% compared to 27% and I hope my viewing habits have a slightly more feminist leaning than many people’s. Again, it’s not that the women need to man up, it’s that the men need to. It certainly isn’t that we need more films like Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, Alice Through the Looking Glass and The Boss but we do need more like The Hunt for The Wilderpeople, Swiss Army Man, Green Room and The Revenant; films that show boys do cry. (Special mention does need to go to Eye in the Sky and Love & Friendship both of which are admirable in their representations of stoical women.) Also of the 62 I reckon 25 could quite easily have swapped the man in for a woman and it make no difference to the essence of the story at all so that would have redressed the balance nicely too.


It is wonderful then that there are more and more brilliant parts for women and parts that are often more layered than those given to the men. Like everything related to gender equality though, if you look at things more closely you realise how far we still have to go.


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