Hollywood: Please Stop Marketing Some of Your Movies as Being “Feminist”
I’m a conservative, but unlike many other conservatives, I don’t get upset by having more diversity in casting in movies – within reason and depending on how it’s handled, at least.
If Hollywood wants to include more women, black people, Asians, or Hispanics in movies, I have no problem with it, and I welcome it.
I do actually tire of seeing primarily white, 30 year old guys play the lead in most movies, and it’s been this way for decades now.
(Note: I do not hate white men. I’m just saying it gets tiresome seeing mostly nothing but white guys on screen constantly.)
My one area of exception: I do think, however, the Trans activists and LGBT crowd go way too far out though in their anger over LGBT diversity in movies – such as getting upset over a cis, hetero actress playing a transman in a movie. (See Amid Backlash, Scarlett Johansson Drops Transgender Role as an example.)
At any rate, I’m by no means opposed to having more women or black people in films – as a matter of fact, I think movies can look very strange if everyone is white and male, because I live in a world that has more types of people in it, one that is populated by more than 30-something white men.
While I believe it’s wonderful to include more women in movies, I think Hollywood should be careful about how they go about doing this, otherwise they end up shooting themselves in the foot and creating a sexist backlash – which is what happened in the case of the Paul Feig Ghostbusters.
Creating Backlash By Marketing a Movie as Being “Feminist”
If a studio wants to include more women in roles, and does in fact cast more women, especially in these gender swap movies, the best way to go about it is to not call attention to it, which may seem counter-intuitive, especially if you think advertising a movie as being “feminist” or “pro-woman” will attract more women audience members.
If that is what you assume, you would be wrong, and I don’t care how many focus groups you’ve run on this subject.
The moment the Hollywood publicity department makes a big deal out of the fact that a Hollywood re-make, or original movie, focuses on women, or starts touting a film as being “feminist,” all it does is activate a Pavolvian, angry response in sexist (and even the non-sexist) conservative men who feel as though they are being force-fed diversity and political correctness, which they very much resent.
And most of us conservatives are experiencing Diversity Fatigue, or Identity Politics Fatigue, at this point in our culture, including in our entertainment.
(You can trust me on all this because I have been a conservative my whole life. I’m not a liberal who is trying to understand or guess at conservative thought processes. I already know how they think because I am one.)
The “It’s Feminist, So You Gals Will Like It and you HAVE to Like It” Marketing is Patronizing to Women
Furthermore, even though I am a woman, and I like the idea of having more female representation in movies (I’m sure not opposed to it!), it feels very off-putting and patronizing for movie studios to market any movie as a “girl power” type affair.
As a woman, the more I see a studio or a movie director market a movie by branding it “feminist” and telling me I, a woman, MUST see it at a theater to support feminism or women, and if I do not, I am supporting the patriarchy – the more turned off I am.
A movie has to have more than just a woman character or two to draw me in: it has to be an entertaining movie, with well-written characters, good acting, good special effects, and an interesting plot.
(In other words, women viewers look for many of the same elements in movies that men do.)
As much as I think it would be great to have a woman president in the United States, I wasn’t about to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 just because she was a woman.
I didn’t feel that Clinton was a great political candidate for several reasons, but none of those reasons I had against her had anything to do with her biological sex. (I didn’t vote for Trump, either.)
I believe that Hollywood directors, advertisers, and marketers make a big mistake when they present a movie as being “feminist.”
What Does the Word “Feminist” Mean And How Is It Understood
First of all, the word “feminist,” or the concept of feminism, comes with way, way too much negative baggage up front, especially in the purview of conservatives.
Conservatives, whether liberal Hollywood likes it or not, make up at least half the American population (if not more – some studies say the nation has more conservatives than liberals).
Conservatives generally do not agree with, fully understand, or even like feminism, and it doesn’t make financial sense, or plain common sense, to needlessly alienate half the movie-going public from the out-set by saying a movie is “feminist” or marketing it in that manner.
Furthermore, the word “feminist” – once one gets past the basic dictionary definition that most agree upon – is not clear in meaning to many people.
More over, feminists cannot even always agree among themselves as to what it means, nor do they agree with who should be considered a feminist and who should not be.
Feminists do not agree with each other on many topics, on everything ranging from transgenderism to abortion.
Most conservatives, though, associate the word “feminist,” rightly or wrongly, with a negative stereotype that often looks like this:
Feminists are women who hate all men, babies, and children, who always vote Democrat, who support “social justice” issues, who burn their bras and who won’t shave their armpits.
And none of those positions or proclivities are appealing to conservatives – who again, enjoy movies just as much as liberals and feminists do.
If you don’t want to alienate half of America’s population from the out-set, then, refrain from using the word “feminist” in your movie marketing materials, and do not promote the movie as being some kind of “rah-rah, girl power” statement.
Ghostbusters 2016 and Bridesmaids Movies
For the sake of this post, I would like to focus primarily on two examples of how Hollywood misses the mark when promoting movies to, for, or about women: the 2011 movie “Bridesmaids” and the 2016 movie “Ghostbusters: Answer the Call” (also known as “Ghostbusters 2016”).
Consider the marketing and buzz surrounding the movies “Bridesmaids” and “Ghostbusters (2016)” when both movies were first being discussed and advertised when they were released, or about to be released.
When “Bridesmaids” was about to hit theaters, back in 2011, I remember seeing a lot of online chatter and articles where many laypersons, feminist writers, and professional movie critics, were saying that “Bridemaids” was a “feminist” movie, and if one supports women and wants to see more women-centric films, they were saying, one should go to the movie theater and watch the movie.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
… But here’s why it’s actually important to see Bridesmaids. On opening weekend. (Twice if you can afford the admission, time and babysitters).
I don’t know a female screenwriter, TV writer, actor or comedienne who hasn’t heard this statement in the past few months with regards to future projects: “Well, we’ll see how Bridesmaids does…”
That sentence means that every creative, brilliant, funny woman in Hollywood is (unfairly) being held hostage to a single film’s opening weekend box office. Meaning no studio is likely to take any sort of chance on any new projects perceived to be “female driven comedy” unless they have proof that it can perform. And perform well.
… But if you support Bridesmaids on opening weekend, you may very well soon have a whole bunch more options to entertain you in the very near future. Because there will be undeniable, financial proof that chicks can be funny to everyone.
— end excerpt —
Back in 2011, there were many more articles and comments conveying the same message: ‘if you are a woman, you need to run out to the theater to support this movie to send sexist Hollywood a message, that’s the feminist thing to do.’ I was rather turned off by that message.
Some commentators and reviewers early on also seemed to suggest that the “Bridesmaids” movie had a feminist tone – which it did not, but more on that below.
When the Ghostbusters 2016 movie got quite a bit of push-back from angry men on social media – some hated it because, yes, they were sexist and resented seeing women in the roles formerly held by men – there were yet other men who disliked it because they felt it would be a terrible movie, because it looked un-funny to them.
The movie studio and the director of the Ghostbusters movie, Paul Feig, responded by spinning this Ghostbusters reboot as being some kind of feminist work. They really dug their heels in on this point, rather than back off, which was a big mistake.
(And reminder: I’m saying this as someone who is conservative but NOT hostile to having more women in roles, even roles formerly held by men in beloved movie franchises.)
I’m not sure how much of the push-back against the Ghostbusters 2016 movie was due to the sexist, whiny, cry baby men online, or how much of this supposed sexist backlash against the movie can be attributed to manufactured outrage by Paul Feig and Sony to get free publicity for the movie, and at that, to entice “feminist” women, or women generally, to go see the movie at theaters.
(I do believe a percentage of the dislike of the movie was indeed due to sexist men bad-mouthing the film online, but I am wondering if this fact or phenomenon was grossly over-stated by Feig and/or Sony for marketing purposes, or if Feig and Sony “milked” that controversy for all it was worth to gain more attention and sympathy for the movie.)
Not only does marketing a movie as “feminist,” or as some kind of “pro woman” propaganda piece, automatically create backlash from a lot of people who don’t like feminism, or who don’t want to feel as though social justice causes are being shoved down their throats, but there is another annoying situation at work.
Which leads me to my next point.
A Movie Having a Woman Protagonist, Or Many Women Characters, Does Not Automatically Make the Movie “Feminist”
One of my problems with anyone – with feminists, movie critics, or the studios that produced these movies – marketing them as being feminist films is that, quite often, they’re not actually feminist in content, message, or tone, or, in some cases, only tepidly so.
“Bridesmaids” and “Ghostbusters: Answer the Call” are not “anti-feminist” movies, but they’re not really terribly pro- feminist, either.
Both movies just happen to have a lot of women protagonists and characters in them – which is fine, I am supportive of movies with female leads, but such films are not necessarily “feminist” by sheer fact of having women in them.
To put it yet another way:
A movie happening to have a female protagonist does not automatically make it “feminist” or “empowering” for women.
Many of the 1980s slasher horror films also contained women protagonists who often wore skimpy clothing while being chased around by some maniac with a knife. These women were sexually objectified in these films, always prey – so I wouldn’t necessarily classify them as being “feminist” films.
Neither movie, Bridesmaids or Ghostbusters, had particularly strong “girl power” or “women can do anything” or “society sure is sexist and that’s horrible” messages in them.
What Makes A Movie Feminist
To me, for a movie to be considered “feminist,” one element of a few that it should contain – and this is not an exhaustive discussion on my part – is a story line expressly addressing sexism, or possibly, showing a woman showing courage and being assertive, in roles usually designated for male leads, or, in roles showing how women deal with dangerous or stressful situations usually dealt with by women (not men) in real life.
A few examples of what I mean:
The Furiosa character in the Mad Max Fury Road movie, in which the female protagonist, Furiosa, risks her life to rescue several other women.
(This is not to say that all women characters always have to be portrayed as perfect, strong, as karate experts, and so on. I’m all for seeing women in myriad ways on screen, including the Kristin Wiig character, Annie Walker, in “Bridesmaids,” who is shown as being down on her luck, she’s broke, depressed, and single but wants to have a boyfriend.)
But I don’t believe the Ghostbusters movie, which was being touted to the public as being “feminist,” to lure women movie-goers to the theater, was inherently feminist.
Granted, in the Ghostbusters Answer the Call movie, we do find the following seemingly feminist touches:
- the main villain of the Ghostbusters movie was a nerdy, bitter guy who may have been motivated to turn evil by feeling rejected by women (or from feeling rejected by culture in general)
and who dares to lecture (man-splain), in one scene, to the four women Ghostbusters, what it feels like to be marginalized by society (women already experience this in society vis a vis sexism and don’t need a man to explain it to them),
- it’s somewhat implied that the Kristen Wiig character, Erin, was possibly facing on-going sexism by male academians in her university career, and
- there was a line in the movie where the Kristen Wiig character reads, and reacts to, a sexist insult about herself and her fellow lady Ghostbusters under a You Tube video
So, there was possibly a tad of feminist rhetoric going on in this movie, but it was by no means a main feature or plot of the movie.
Furthermore, some of those themes I mention above go by in the blink of an eye. They are not really drawn out and dwelled upon.
I don’t think those three points are enough to consider this a “feminist” movie per se.
How to Properly Get Women (and many men) On Board with Your Woman- as -Protagonist Movie
Other than the fact that women want more in a movie than just a woman protagonist – we women viewers also appreciate a compelling plot, for example – we like to see good or strong women characters in a movie without the hype, without selling the movie under the feminist rubric.
Back around 2015, when Disney was advertising and releasing trailers for Star Wars The Force Awakens, they played things smart: they did not initially reveal that the protagonist of the film was a woman, Rey.
Most any shots of Rey shown in the trailer – that I recall – had her face hidden. It was not readily apparent to me that her character, shown in shots with her face covered by a scarf and goggles, was even a woman. I had no idea if her character was male, female, or possibly an alien creature.
The Force Awakens trailers suggested that a black man, the character Finn, was going to be one of the main characters of the film.
One shot featured in the commercials and trailer for the film showed Finn wielding a light-saber, which suggested he may be the film’s new focus and Jedi.
By down-playing the fact that the central character of the movie was actually a woman in their marketing…
(rather than going the Paul Feig and Sony strategy of hyping up the fact that the movie “HAD A WOMAN AS THE MAIN PROTAGONIST, ISN’T THAT FEMINIST, SO COME SEE THIS MOVIE LADIES!!111!!11!!!”),
…Disney managed to avoid turning off women, and avoided a lot of trolling and backlash against the movie by sexist men on social media, men who often who resent seeing more women take over lead roles in all movies generally, but particularly in franchises, such as Star Wars and Ghostbusters, that they act like they “own.”
Disney once more did the same thing with the movie “Rogue One A Star Wars Story” – they simply put a woman in the lead role but did not hype this up in their marketing.
Yes, there was some sexist male quibbling online about the lead being a woman in the Rogue One movie, but you’ll notice that both these Star Wars films didn’t get any where near as much online backlash from sexist men as did the Ghostbusters reboot because it was not made into an issue.
It was simply presented as a fact by the movie studio: a woman is in the lead.
(Where Disney dropped the ball with handling gender in their films was with Force Awaken’s sequel, Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
This is the movie where the well-meaning, yet clueless, director was clumsy and too heavy-handed in his “girl power” message and spent part of the movie having strong women characters repeatedly and harshly correcting the cocky young male pilot, Poe.
This was one element that really offended the sexist male dolts online who are already pre-disposed to hate seeing women in movies, especially women who correct men, or who show independence.
If you are going to insert “girl power” elements into your movies, you should not be too obvious or heavy-handed about it. You have to present women being in charge as matter-of-fact, rather than making a big deal out of it.)
It’s actually more refreshing and effective to see a movie present “women in leadership or being courageous” roles without comment or drawing attention to it, because it sends a message that having women in charge, or in strong roles, is perfectly normal and that it’s not an aberration.
Putting women in lead roles without making a big fuss about it de-sensitizes most sexist men to it. It’s much easier for these sexist men to accept and digest when they don’t get this sensation that “SJW liberal Hollywood” is cramming “Girl Power” concepts down their throats.
And there you go, Hollywood.
If you want to make films more appealing to women, if you’d like to stop the sexist backlash by whiny, male toxic fans, and not have your marketing backfire on you, avoid overtly branding or presenting any movies as being feminist.
Just include more women characters without the fanfare. Don’t draw attention to it: simply put more women in the films, but don’t make a big production out of it in your ads, marketing, or social media accounts.
The women out there will see, notice, and appreciate you are including women more, and they will go see the movie; you do not need to spell out to your women audience that “hey, this movie has women in it!” – they will recognize it on their own. And most of the sexist men won’t feel quite so attacked by it. It’s a win-win.
Contentious Movies: Ghostbusters Answer the Call (Ghostbusters 2016) – (my movie review of Ghostbusters 2016)