'Female Films Earn Money': Cate Blanchett's Awards-Season Crusade

The two-time Academy Award winner has spent the last few months tirelessly (and charmingly) reminding the media how Hollywood shuts women out of leading roles.

On Sunday night at the 86th annual Academy Awards, Cate Blanchett accepted an award for Best Actress for her role in Blue Jasmine. She thanked all the usuals: family, agent, director, castmates, and audiences who went to see the film. Winning the award, she said, meant a great deal “in a year of, yet again, extraordinary performances by women.”

But then, she called out a certain sector of the movie business: “those of us in the industry who are perhaps still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films, with women at the center, are niche experiences.”

“They are not,” she proclaimed. “Audiences want to see them, and in fact, they earn money.” The auditorium erupted, and she exclaimed, “The world is round, people!”

You probably can’t say it better than that—and with essays like “Earth to Hollywood: People Will Pay to See a Female Superhero Film,” it’s fair to say even The Atlantic has tried. And not only is Blanchett right—after all, 2013 brought female-led box-office powerhouses like Frozen, Gravity, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and The Heat—but this isn’t the first time this season that Blanchett has heroically drawn attention to the fact that Hollywood is just now starting to atone for its historic dearth of complex roles for women. In fact, she hasn’t let interviewers forget it all awards season long.

Back in July, Blanchett appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman to promote the film. Letterman raved about Blanchett’s performance: “I could have directed you in this movie,” he said. “You step into this movie, and you just have it by the throat for 90 minutes. And it’s a delight to watch.” But Allen’s on-set direction, Blanchett said, is secondary to his spectacular ability to write characters, especially women.

“Jasmine, the character I play in Blue Jasmine, is just such a fantastic creation,” she said. “You think back over the pantheon of films that he’s made, there are some fantastic female characters.”

In January, Blanchett won a Critics’ Choice Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Blue Jasmine and again reminded viewers that a screenwriter who consistently writes great female roles is still a pioneer.

“I just wanted to thank, first and foremost, Woody Allen. Not only for this, but for everything he’s done,” she said at the Critics’ Choice Awards. “Not only for cinema, but for the roles he’s created for women.”

At the SAG Awards, similarly, she dedicated her win to “Woody—for writing role after role after role for women, and then giving them the space to create them.” Blanchett also earned some feminist kudos at the SAG Awards when she called out some red-carpet double standards: “Do you do that to the guys?” she asked during the pre-show broadcast, squatting down to look directly into E!’s GlamCam as its gaze looked her up and down.

And as she continued to steamroll through awards season, picking up statuette after statuette, she nevertheless stayed tirelessly on message. At the Golden Globe Awards, she accepted her award and pointed out that 2013 was “an extraordinary year, not only for cinema, but for roles for women in particular,” she said—and added, “The last 10 years, really.”

After the ceremony, she praised the speech Diane Keaton made when she accepted Allen’s Cecil B. DeMille award in an interview with Extra. “It’s a shame Woody never shows up to these things,” she said. “Woody, singlehandedly, has written some of the most extraordinary parts for women and handed them over. I’m the lucky girl who got this one.”

Of course, proclaiming Allen as a champion for women became a trickier proposition when his daughter Dylan Farrow resurfaced allegations that he had sexually abused her. In her open letter in The New York Times last month, Farrow asked, “What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett?” Some said the actress should refuse the Academy Award entirely if she won it; Slate’s Amanda Hess, who talked to several PR professionals, wrote that the shrewdest move for Blanchett would be to “thank her director kindly—but do it carefully.”

On Sunday, Blanchett did, indeed, scale back her praise of Allen. Instead of bringing up him in relation to gender equality, she merely thanked him for the opportunity to act. “I’m here accepting an award in an extraordinary screenplay by Woody Allen,” she said. “Thank you so much, Woody, for casting me. I truly appreciate it.” And with that, she pivoted to the most extensive of her recent remarks on the state of women’s roles in feature films. With Allen minimized, it seems, her message became simpler—and more powerful—than ever.

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Ashley Fetters is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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