I can't tell you how happy I am that Dear John beat Avatar at the box office this weekend. I have a special place in my heart for Avatar because I know one of the main costume designers who worked on the film. I also know absolutely nothing about Dear John. What I do know is that if Hollywood put out another "chick-flick" that bombed at the box office like Leap Year or Have You Heard About The Morgans the studio heads would have made a broad pronouncement: Chick-flicks are dead, bring on the big-budget action flicks. The fact that both Have You Heard About The Morgans and Leap Year were decimated by the critics (not for being chick-flicks but for being poorly made movies) won't matter at all. It won't even be considered a real factor. In their heart of hearts a lot of the decision makers in Hollywood believe that the teenage boy demographic is where it's at and that the blockbuster movies made by/with Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep are the exception, not the rule. It takes a success like Dear John to convince them otherwise and their change of heart will only last as long as the success of the most recent female driven movie. When you have two or three box office failures in a row that feature female leads the powers that be will be looking to see what Robert Downey Jr. and Matt Damon are up to.
While this is a problem for all actresses it's a BIG problem for minority actresses. Sure, Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson and Morgan Freeman are all considered reasonably safe bets for staring roles but Hollywood isn't sharing the love with their actresses of color. Beyonce occasionally gets to star in a movie but unlike Will Smith the movies she's cast in usually have issues of race as some part of the central theme. She doesn't just get to be an action star or a female lead who happens to be black. Halle Berry was getting those roles for a while but for various reasons she is no longer considered a major box office pull. And really, when's the last time you saw an Asian actress play the starring lead role in ANY big budget production? Latinas aren't fairing much better. It doesn't help that Disney's latest animated film, The Princess And The Frog failed to impress at the box office. It will and has made money for Disney due to merchandising opportunities (and really, isn't that what all Disney films are about?) but I know that the decision makers in Hollywood are looking at the numbers and concluding that white audiences won't see movies starring black female characters. Never mind that this was the 1st non-3D animated movie that Disney has put out in five years or that children under ten may now simply expect their movies to come with cool plastic glasses. That's not the lens Hollywood will see this through.
I read a book that excused the lack of women in lead roles (in front of and behind the camera) as simply a matter of economics. According to the author it has nothing to do with prejudices, racism or sexism at all. He "proves" his point by explaining that Hollywood is very liberal. Hollywood players vote Democratic and they support causes that fund breast caner research. So in other words, it is his belief that Democrats who don't like cancer are incapable of prejudice. I personally think that reasoning is somewhat flawed. But I also think that prejudice is almost ALWAYS rooted in economics. Slavery was about economics. Hitler's call to eliminate the Jews and confiscate their property and wealth took hold because of the economic conditions in Germany at that time. Xenophobia is based in economics. Initial resistance to allowing women in the workplace? Economics. That's why whenever anyone argues that "It's not about prejudice, it's about economics," I cringe.
I understand Hollywood's wariness when it comes to making movies staring women or (gasp) minority women and I understand the economics of the situation. But I hope that they push themselves and the movie-going-public's perception of what a headliner star can look like. Will Smith and Bruce Lee have proven that minority men can be, from an economic standpoint, big time money makers. With the right movies and gutsy enough studio heads the same could be true for many women of all colors.
Bestselling Author of:
The Sophie Katz Murder Mystery Series,
SO MUCH FOR MY HAPPY ENDING
Order LUST, LOATHING AND A LITTLE LIP GLOSS on Amazon or Barnesandnoble.com today!