The movies we watch inform our values and view of the world. That’s one of the many reasons why it’s necessary for women’s voices to be heard in film. That does not only mean ensuring Hollywood releases pictures that address social issues that are relevant to women. While it is, of course, important to ensure that these topics are covered in film, not every single movie is going to tackle society’s problems. Sometimes, we simply go to the movies for pure popcorn entertainment.
However, the film industry must realize that even movies that aren’t primarily about major social issues still need to represent both men and women in a fair and open-minded way. That often involves stepping away from typical Hollywood convention to depict women in ways that they are not typically portrayed.
For example, Haywire and Salt are two recent action movies that defy audience expectations by featuring female characters in espionage-action roles. Traditionally, these characters are male: James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Jack Bauer.
Haywire and Salt both avoid this trope. Here’s why we need more movies like them.
Expanding Our Casting Consciousness
It’s worth noting that these types of movies aren’t likely to inspire any young women to actually imitate the characters on the screen. Young men don’t see James Bond movies and decide to become assassins.
However, other types of casting choices can impact how young women and men perceive their own potential. If a woman grows up only seeing men play doctors on screen, she might grow up with a subtle message ingrained in her, one she wasn’t even aware of: “Being a doctor is a man’s job.”
When filmmakers subvert audience expectations by not casting based on “traditional” Hollywood gender roles, they prove to other filmmakers the value of questioning all conventional types of casting. A filmmaker who walked out of a movie like Haywire, impressed with what they saw, may realize that just because they didn’t naturally assume a woman could be the protagonist of an action spy thriller, that doesn’t mean their assumption was correct. The next time they start working on their own project, they may take some more time to question their ideas about what gender a certain type of character is supposed to be.
Leveling the Playing Field
This type of attitude will open up the playing field. People may start to see more women in roles that typically went to men. Over time, this could have a positive impact on the overall conversation we have about what women can or “should” do.
Most people become movie directors or screenwriters because they grew up loving film. A young man watches action movies throughout his childhood and decides he wants to make action movies when he grows up.
Often, young people are drawn to those movies whose protagonists they identify with in some way. That’s why so many action film directors are men. Historically, men have portrayed the protagonists in action movies.
What this means is that we’re limiting ourselves as both filmmakers and audience members. The fact of the matter is, men and women have different experiences throughout their lives. They see the world through their own unique lenses. This impacts how they decide to tell their stories.
Variety of Voices
Everyone benefits from a greater variety of voices. When female directors do make action movies, they often bring a fresh perspective to the table that results in a unique filmmaking experience.
For example, there are many reasons why the original Point Break continues to resonate with audiences to this day, while the recent remake fared so poorly that many have already forgotten it exists. That said, it’s very likely that one of the main reasons why is that the original Point Break was directed by a woman. Kathryn Bigelow’s unique take on the genre resulted in a truly thrilling movie that stands out among other action pictures.
When Hollywood releases more movies like Haywire and Salt, young women will have greater opportunities to enjoy and embrace the action genre. This means many of them will possibly grow up to direct films of their own. Studios will benefit from fresh talent and audiences from movies that don’t simply follow the same formula that they have already seen countless times before.
In the future, let’s all hope that filmmakers and studios focus on more projects similar to these two movies. The action genre isn’t the only one that could use more females in lead roles. Superhero movies, political thrillers, and teen comedies have all traditionally featured male protagonists. Let’s hope that this won’t always be the case.