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Gender Watch: Uphill Battle for Heroines in the Marketplace, From True Grit to Sucker Punch

Thompson on Hollywood By Sophia Savage | Thompson on Hollywood January 10, 2011 at 9:07AM

It's an uphill battle for teenage movie heroines these days, writes LAT's Rebecca Keegan, who argues that female protagonists traditionally "alienate" male audiences. But things are looking up with True Grit's Hailee Steinfeld and Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone. They are:"…the product of a film industry in which young women are infiltrating traditionally male genres like action films; female directors and producers are wielding increasing creative influence, and the culture is moving from a sexed-up, dumbed-down model of female adolescence to one marked by smarts, strength and scrap."
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Thompson on Hollywood


It's an uphill battle for teenage movie heroines these days, writes LAT's Rebecca Keegan, who argues that female protagonists traditionally "alienate" male audiences. But things are looking up with True Grit's Hailee Steinfeld and Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone. They are:

"…the product of a film industry in which young women are infiltrating traditionally male genres like action films; female directors and producers are wielding increasing creative influence, and the culture is moving from a sexed-up, dumbed-down model of female adolescence to one marked by smarts, strength and scrap."

While putting in her two cents on the Steinfeld Lead vs. Supporting Oscar argument (she says lead), Women and Hollywood's Melissa Silverstein points out that "as a culture, for some reason we are still shocked when we see young women playing strong roles.  It would be no big deal if Mattie was a boy, because boys are expected to have 'grit.'  But we still are at a place where strength in girls and young women — like Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone — is still new enough to excite us beyond just the performance.  These films are also statements about the strength in girls and young women."

Keegan spoke to director Zach Snyder, who wants to bring female audiences to the prison-break genre while not turning off men with his upcoming Sucker Punch. He says the film is set “mostly [in] the terrain of men…It’s a challenge economically to find who is the audience…Our hope is that the movie is transcendent.” How is he trying to accomplish this? With rampant CGI, scantly clad schoolgirlish characters holding huge weapons in 3-D with names like "Baby Doll," "Sweet Pea" and "Blondie."

Hollywood tends to portray females as either hyper-sexualized or stripped entirely of their femininity. Both True Grit and Winter's Bone downplay their characters' emotion and sexuality; Mattie Ross winds up an unmarried spinster, while the tomboyish Ree Dolly is fighting to save her family.

Here's more on the Sexualization of Women and Girls on Screen.

This article is related to: Box Office, Directors, Genres, Headliners, Hollywood, Daily Read, Media, Marketing, Exhibition, Winter, Remake, Period, Action, Western, 3D


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.