Every single one of us who has been a “Woman in Film” for more than five minutes is sick of the phrase “Women in Film.” This is particularly true of those of us who have been in the business for—let’s just say—more than five minutes. We, in various groupings, have been interviewed, empanelled, moderated, headlined, icon-ized, vilified, statisticized, and photographed—without and with glasses, and with various sizes of cell phones.
This year was a good year for us all. Some even dubbed it “The Year of the Woman”! The chick flick returned to the marketplace with thunderous approval from all female quadrants. Usually, it’s young boys who engine the business, because they see the most movies—so the big franchise movies which drive the business, the Transformers and Batmans take up most of the cash and energy. But this year, the upper female quadrant (ages 24 and up) flocked to see movies like Julie and Julia ($130 million gross), and It’s Complicated ($215 million), while the lower female quadrant, (ages 12 to 24), turned out for Valentine’s Day ($215 million), The Ugly Truth ($200 million), He’s Just Not that Into You ($180 million), and Dear John ($80 million)—not to mention the phenomenon, Twilight in the new crossover genre, romantic-horror. With box office numbers like these, the industry could be making movies starring and written by women for years to come.
And then came the capper: Kathryn Bigelow’s triumphant win at the Oscars for Best Director, the first for a woman in its 82-year history. Even though Kathryn famously doesn’t self-identify as a gender-based director, and her work has been decidedly action based (or, as one female critic put it, “masterly”), every woman and girl I know was rooting for her as a role model. We all knew what this meant, as you could hear in the exclamation of the presenter, Barbra Streisand, who called out, upon her win, “The time has come!” Streisand endured brutal sexism in her early efforts at breaking the directing glass ceiling, even though at the time she was one of the biggest stars in the world.
But surprisingly, Kathryn’s win set off a torrent of sniping among the chattering class of women critics. Instead of celebrating this year’s impressive box office numbers, and our all-too-few female directors (and even fewer writer-directors), it served as a launching pad for attacks on the romantic comedy.
The implication was that Kathryn is cool because she doesn’t make “chick flicks,” the kinds of movies that women have been flocking to malls to see – and that I make and have been making for over 20 years. The “chick flick,” a genre I love, defend, and honor—as do almost all the girls who rooted so hard for Kathryn’s win (no matter how she self-identifies)—can’t be killed by a stick or a pen, even if it is detested by critics. Just like Horror or Action or Thriller or Sci-fi or Fantasy, the genre is here to stay.
I’ve known Kathryn since 1983 when we were both starting out in LA about the same time. We were in a beginning gymnastics class together, both of us jocks, she the super-tall one, and me the pint-sized one. We got on great, as we are both girls’ girls. I had worked on Flashdance and Adventures in Babysitting, and I knew that her then-boyfriend Jim Cameron was trying to help her get an action movie made. It seemed normal to me that she made action films—my then-partner, Debra Hill, had made Halloween and Escape from New York. It never crossed our minds that there was some kind of chasm between the kinds of movies we made, and we certainly never saw ourselves in different worlds.
But the writers now extolling Ms. Bigelow scoff at the “ghetto” they call the romantic comedy, which they claim “entraps” so much of Hollywood’s female talent. Yet this “ghetto” is like Scarsdale for us. It’s a suburban community where we can work steadily when the market kindly allows. It’s where women play the lead, and get to be the one with the coming-of-age story. That these tales are now being financed by the studio system reflects the fact that our audience loves seeing themselves not as girlfriends, or sluts, or baggage, or dumb hos (as in Heather Graham’s hilarious Hangover girlfriend), but as protagonists with real dialogue, and jokes we are not the butt of.
In the pages of the New York Times—a notable outlet for the vilification of chick flicks, and one in which I have never received a good review for a hit intended for women—Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers, the most successful writer-directors for women in the world, were called “lesser talents.” That blew my mind straight out of my skull. They are our auteurs and our hit-makers, our trailblazers for future female writer-directors. Their movies have cumulatively made more than 2.3 billion dollars internationally at the box office—and that isn’t even why they’re amazing.
I sat through Nancy Meyers’s Something’s Gotta Give three separate times, each making me happier. Is that a crime? That movie reawakened an enjoyment of movies in women of all ages and shapes all over the country, in red states and blue. And Nora’s movies – I can’t even begin!*... She makes girls smart and funny, and depicts working women in a political and social context. Is that so bad? Do you really prefer the female characters in Judd Apatow or Kevin Smith movies? Or perhaps the indie chimeras in movies like 500 Days of Summer? Are those really characters you identify with? Really?