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Pissed Off: When Did Playing Evil Women Become a Rite of Passage for Oscar Winning Actresses?

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by Melissa Silverstein
May 9, 2013 12:00 PM
13 Comments
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You know I hate all the princess shit that we see everywhere.  The film business has up it ass that boys get to be superheroes and girls get to be princesses.  The boys save the girls and the girls need to be saved.  Like anyone believes that shit anymore.

I let most of the things that I read about Hollywood pass me by, but yesterday the story about the new live action Cinderella movie pissed me off.  The release comes into my box that Richard Madden has been cast as Cinderella's Prince.  Of course I have no idea who Richard Madden is until I read that he plays Robb Stark in Game of Thrones and then I can totally see it.  And then I keep reading the story and it says that the film is being directed by Kenneth Branagh and the wicked stepmother will be played by Cate Blanchett.

Now I get pissed.  First, because I am reading another story about another princessy movie being made that will cost a fortune.  Maybe it will have a little teeth since the Devil Wears Prada writer Aline Brosh McKenna wrote the first draft, but it is still a story about a girl who needs to be saved by her prince and quite frankly, I am sick of those.

But it was reading about Cate Blanchett that really pissed me off.  Cate has been busy of late taking some time off from the big screen to run a prestigious theatre company in Sydney.  We, or I, have clearly missed her because sadly, there are so few women with her talent in her age range.  So then I read that she will be playing the evil stepmother in Cinderella and I think What the Fuck?  Why is she playing evil?  Why is she a supporting character? And why is she in a princess movie?   

If this were an isolated incident I could let it pass by with little remark, but note, recently both Charlize Theron and Julia Roberts took on playing evil queens or stepmonsters, and we also have Angelina Jolie about to scare the hell out of us in the upcoming Maleficent, a character who is elevated to the star of her own film after being Sleeping Beauty's nemesis.  It's not that I;m not going to see Maleficent.  I will.  It seems to have a strong female lead.   And it seems that the evil women are the more interesting ones onscreen.

Do you see a pattern here?  Why are the better and more interesting roles about women who are evil?  It's not just one or even two, this is four, and I'm sure I am missing some other films.  These are four of our finest actresses.  I know they are discerning in picking parts.  I know that "playing evil" is probably fun and gives you more freedom.  But I am guessing that since they are the top tier actresses who get offered all the best scripts that these are the best parts out there for women of their age.  Now that just sucks.  I will completely throw in the towel if I see Reese Witherspoon take a part like this.  

I don't blame the actresses.  They gotta work.  It just makes me sad.  These movies just hammer us over the head with the stereotype that boys and men get to be the heroes, and girls and women get to be evil women who cause young damsels to be in distress so the prince needs to save them.  That trope is just so tired.

We need new stories.  Please.

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13 Comments

  • guest | April 26, 2014 12:32 AMReply

    In a nutshell….because every flipping script, story, out there has a cast of 5 men to 1 female. If the flick is full of females, it is a chick flick and the men retreat for the hills. So the 1 female is either going to be the pretty damsel or a crazy bitch. I am not going to see Maleficent because I think Angie reeks. It is best to see a strong lead flawed female character as much as it is to see men in that role but those roles are mostly written for men. We just had Jennifer Lawrence play two such characters in Silver Linings and in American Hustle. She rocks. And both of those movies had oscar noms. So I think the audiences love to see REAL female characters too, obviously. But who is going to play them? Julia? Jolie? Cate? LOL!!! I don't think so. Thank God for J. Law and Amy Adams and Emma Stone.

  • Stephanie Rogers | May 11, 2013 5:58 PMReply

    Reese Witherspoon as Damsel in Distress is currently in theaters. See MUD.

  • ola go | May 10, 2013 9:44 PMReply

    Some things are biologically wired, so just get over it and accept it, like that you can't fly.
    Scientists have learned a great about how behavior is inherent through mechanisms designed to advance survival of the species through reproduction. Humans like to pretend we control everything, even male/female role playing (or not role playing) but fact is, we are wired to respond to behavioral cues.

    Princesses waiting to be courted is just another mating call... and quite natural. Films that understand our deep motivations are seen throughout many enduring classics.

  • Kathy | May 11, 2013 10:13 PM

    No, we're not going to get over it and accept it. Why? Because scientists have been so biased against women for so many centuries and have often been so wrong on that account that they just don't have much credibility in that area with me. Science has done a lot of good things but it is not a panacea, especially on gender and race relations. There is nothing natural about the 'princess waiting to be courted' role, especially when so many women have to suppress their natural assertiveness just so that they can get a man to be sexually attracted to them.

  • Judy Sandra | May 10, 2013 2:49 PMReply

    I'm with you on this one, especially about the princess part. I also want men to stop getting on their knees to propose marriage and women waiting......for them to do so. Hence, reinforcing the prince/princess dyad.

  • Kim Leonard | May 9, 2013 7:14 PMReply

    As Harrison Ford said on Tuesday at the San Francisco International Film Festival: "I'm not a leading man anymore. That's my former job" when asked why he was now interested in playing character roles after building a career as a leading man. "I'm a little too old for that now" Mr Ford repeatedly reminded the audience. Of course, for male actors, that "too old" phase of their career comes a bit later than for women, though at least women are no longer put out to pasture the moment they hit 40 (cf. All About Eve). I agree with Linn D that these actresses may have accepted these roles simply as a way to get to play a "character role" that they wouldn't normally be offered, perhaps inspired by Tilda Swinton's scary good turn as Jadis from the Narnia stories.
    I guess I'm not really clear on what about these casting decisions is upsetting. Would be as irksome if any of these actors were cast as Gertrude in Hamlet, Lady Macbeth or Herodias in Salomé? Mo'nique won an Oscar for playing a hideous beast of a human being in very modern, not at all princessy times. Is the main issue that there don't seem to be any decent roles for women in this age bracket where they aren't playing the bad guy? Or only that they are attached to a retelling of a fairytale, which tend to be inherently sexist?

  • LostPevensie | May 9, 2013 5:14 PMReply

    I write and write about these issues in my read-by-no-one blog. I hated Oz the Great because of the way women were portrayed. Thing is nobody cares. Not even women. They are happy with the constant stupidity of women roles. When I bring the topic to my sisters and friends they all rolled their eyes and give me the "here we go again" look. I am pretty sick of it. The day I see a movie about an middle age working woman I will probably drop dead. Why you may ask? Well because it would be a miracle.

  • Stephanie Rosenfeld | May 11, 2013 12:41 AM

    I'll read your blog-- where is it?

  • jasmine | May 9, 2013 3:47 PMReply

    Working on it....

  • Ted | May 9, 2013 3:44 PMReply

    From the actress' perspective, the appeal seems obvious. For one, it's probably a bigger pay-day than many more interesting roles. And two, it's probably really fun to play crazy evil. I didn't like Snowwhite, but I think it would probably be fun to play a role like Charlize Theron. Over-the-top crazy is probably fun to play.

  • Jenny | May 9, 2013 12:40 PMReply

    This puts a new light on an anecdote I read when the film adaptation of The Golden Compass came out several years ago. Apparently the author of the source books, Philip Pullman, had to personally appeal to Nicole Kidman to get her to play the villain in that story. Apparently she had initially turned down offers because she wasn't interested in playing a villain. At the time, I thought that was weird, but now I wonder if she shares your general view, Melissa.

  • Linn D. | May 9, 2013 12:15 PMReply

    Umm... Women have been winning oscars for playing the bad guy since the beginning of film. Bette Davis. Joan Crawford, etc. It generally is WAY more fun to play the bad guy/evil than the ingenue. In fact, some actresses look forward to growing out of the ingenue and into the bad guy. I think what's really bothering you is the "princess" aspect. And yes, pop culture and certain movie studios (ahem, Disney, among others) are trying to make a buck by encouraging little girls to be princesses. They need to make enough money to feed their families and send their young daughters to good colleges where those women can realize what kind of crap their parents are creating, then come back and change the world. :) As a women recently said at your mixer last Tuesday, it's time for certain movie executives to RETIRE. :)

  • melissa | May 9, 2013 1:05 PM

    question- how old were those women when they played those roles.

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