TO THE NAKED EYE, IT MAY APPEAR THAT: Paul Feig's Bridesmaids follow-up The Heat, out today, puts a twist on the buddy-cop comedy formula by making the lineup all-women. It features two polar-opposite female police officers (Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy) forced to work as a team to bring down an inner-city drug lord, which results in both some explosively funny moments and some actual explosions.
BUT ACCORDING TO SOMEONE WHO THOUGHT REALLY, REALLY HARD ABOUT THIS: The Heat blows up more than just cars, warehouses, and the rule that buddy-cop movies are for dudes. It also blasts some tired Hollywood tropes about female police officers.
In 2008, Virginia Tech professor Neal King published a paper in the academic journal Gender and Society on the patterns he found in portrayals of policewomen in the 291 cop-action feature films released between 1973 (starting with Cleopatra Jones) and 2008. Of those 291 cop movies, King found that 24 feature female police officers as main protagonists—among them thrillers like The Silence of the Lambs as well as comedies like Bullock's Miss Congeniality films.
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The law-enforcement films of the last 40 years, King discovered, present a narrow, distinct vision of onscreen lady cops with regard to their status on the force, the types of cases assigned to them, their skill sets, and their version of a happy ending (hint: it involves getting the guy). Below are four common tropes of policewomen in the movies—and four ways The Heat bucks them.