When Tara Cardinal's labor of love and sweat and tears, the fantasy/action feature Legend of the Red Reaper, was written, it was shopped at various distributors and production studios, as films are wont to be when their creators are seeking distribution or production funds.
A filmmaker is used to rejection, whether male or female, because HEY that's SHOWBIZ! Some films will sell well despite being piles of crap. Brilliant films will be rejected despite having talented people behind them, often because the genre is wrong or the timing is wrong. Sometimes the reasons for rejection make sense; sometimes it's difficult to understand why a film is rejected. I think all filmmakers expect rejection and most handle it with tact (not all, I said most).
But I think something all filmmakers, male, female (and everything in-between), don't expect is for their film to be rejected because of the sex or gender of the main character. Frankly, since we generally have two main accepted genders and sexes (let's not get into graduate-level feminist ideology here, folks, just roll with the "two genders and sexes" thing for my sake), a film is sometimes rejected because the lead character is female.
Don't believe me? Case in point: Cardinal shopped Legend of the Red Reaper script and concept to Legendary Pictures, offering them the property outright. It was rejected. The reject-or cited reasons for passing on the film: 1) He (the male executive) found part of the back story confusing. 2) The market is over-saturated with epic fantasy right now. 3) There're no big stars or big directors or writers attached to it. 4) Oh yeah, and female action heroes are a very tough sell because audiences didn't like Sucker Punch.
'Cause, you know, Sucker Punch did badly not because it was a pile of incoherent crap about insane-asylum inmates who have daydreams about being abused prostitutes to escape their insane-asylum world, who then realize they are the worst daydreamers in the world so they have to daydream away from their daydreams that they are slutty action kung-fu martial artists who fight robots. That's not why audiences hated it. They hated it because the leads were female.
Definitely. Audiences hate women leads in action and/or fantasy movies. They hated Resident Evil and Underworld and Batman Returns and Terminator II and the entire Alien franchise and La Femme Nikita and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Kill Bill, and especially The Hunger Games. They literally will not see any movies that have women in lead action roles.
On the other hand, action films with male stars tend to be far better bets. Like John Carter and Hudson Hawk and Speed Racer and The 13th Warrior and R.I.P.D. and Green Lantern and Jack The Giant Slayer and Conan the Barbarian (the new one, of course) and The Wolfman (new one. Remember that?).
I just don't buy that audiences prefer male leads to female leads, especially in action films. I have yet to see hard data that mathematically proves that audiences definitely don't see movies with female lead characters. There are plenty of films in the fantasy and action genres with male leads that are total flops, and plenty of films with female leads that are total flops. And plenty with female leads that are hits. And plenty with male leads that are hits. So, why does Legendary Pictures think having a female lead is generally a bad idea? Could it be that it's based on this one guy's personal feelings about watching women in movies rather than any larger truth about women leads being unmarketable to the masses? Yes, it could be about him.
The guy has a right to use his personal preferences when making a decision whether to acquire a film or not for his company; that's not what bothers me. What bothers me is the assumption that films with female leads naturally are not what people want. I want them. If you're reading this blog post, it means you want them (or that you REALLY DON'T in which case you will probably leave a nasty comment).
But I want anyone reading this to consider that making sweeping judgements about the viability of women actors and filmmakers and their potential box office success based not on truth and numbers but instead on personal prejudice has a bad general affect on women's ability to succeed in filmmaking (and in any other profession wherein that same logic is used to hire or fire or promote) , especially because most of these people making these decisions are male, straight, and white.
Here is the email from Legendary, unedited:
Thank you for letting me take a look at your script this weekend. While I did enjoy the mythology behind the story, I found myself a little confused with regards to the 'Red Reaper' world as a whole. While I was not closely familiar with the world before reading, certain aspects felt either unexplained or redundant -- most specifically, illuminating Aella's past, demonic powers, etc. I feel that it would be difficult to bring on another project with our currently saturated slate of epic fantasy fare, especially without any significant cast/director attachments or large-scale brand recognition. Also, while I am personally drawn to the presence of a female action hero, it is currently a tough sell with the less than stellar way Sucker Punch was received. Ultimately, while I don't think this is for Legendary, I think the property has potential.
His points about story and preference for general genre and big-names are valid concerns for any money-minded film company. If the exec had described the lead character as unappealing because of her actions or her motives or the story itself, I wouldn't be riding his ass. But to dismiss a character because of gender alone is just a little silly and strange and completely out of tune with, you know, the present day. I'd be less surprised if this had happened in 1985.
The executive states that he is drawn to the presence of a female action hero; why does he believe that you're not? Seriously, that's not a rhetorical questions.
Legend of the Red Reaper was made anyway. It isn't out yet, so I can't say whether it is good or bad. I can only say that if I don't like the film, it won't be because the lead character is a woman with a sword.
Bad Hat Harry also allegedly passed on the project citing that they don't feel female action leads are bankable.
Heidi Honeycutt is a journalist with a special interest in women directors of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy films. Her most recent work can be found in Fangoria Magazine and on her blog www.PlanetEtheria.com.
Republished with permission.