Is Hollywood Afraid of Strong Women?

If you enjoy movies where the women are the heroes (and not just the eye candy), this weekend's box office is bad news: Amelia, the Amelia Earhart biopic starring Hillary Swank, didn't even open in the top 10. In a business where the opening weekend is everything, Amelia should have performed better — and the fact that it didn't means that we may see fewer woman-centric dramas in the coming year.

Washington Post film writer Ann Hornaday saw this coming. In Sunday's edition, she penned a devastating article about the state of women in the movies. Female protagonists, Hornaday argues, are widely considered box office poison. Studio execs believe that women don't go to movies, don't know anything about movies, don't care about movies. Even though three of the decade's most successful films — Mamma Mia!, Twilight and Sex and the City — starred women and catered to a female audience, they're dismissed as flukes because they're not "serious films." They're musicals, comedies, supernatural romances — you know, chick stuff.

As for those "serious films" — Hollywood is still churning them out, but not with women in the leads. Hornaday throws out some disheartening statistics:

It's been nine years since Julia Roberts starred in Erin Brockovich, about a nervy legal assistant who wound up taking on corporate America. Nine years before that, Jodie Foster starred in The Silence of the Lambs, in which she played a quietly courageous FBI agent. Of the top 10 movies of 2009 so far, only one features a woman in a leading role: the romantic comedy The Proposal, starring Sandra Bullock.

So is this sexism, or something else? The Hollywood insiders quoted in the article have a few theories: one says it's a bad time for dramas, women-centric or not. Another says women only like certain kinds of movies — namely romances, or comedies about groups of friends. Yet another says that women don't like things with product and toy tie-ins (like Transformers or GI Joe), which makes their movies a tougher sell.

There is one thing everyone agrees on: movie producers are catering to young men because they see the most films on opening weekends. So if you want to start seeing better movies about women, start buying tickets for that first Friday — and bring as many friends as you can squeeze into your car.

Do you think it's true that most women only like "chick stuff"? Chime in below!

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