SCREEN QUEENS

Af­ter years of playing side­kicks and stereo­types, the tides are chang­ing for women in films and TV. From su­per­heroes to as­sas­sins, wrestlers to psy­chol­o­gists, com­plex fe­male roles are now at the cen­tre of the story, says Re­becca Ni­chol­son

ELLE (UK) - - Elle Play -

Early on in this year’s Won­der Woman movie, there’s a scene in which ac­tor Gal Gadot’s no-non­sense demigod Diana bursts into a meet­ing of Bri­tish mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal elite – all men, nat­u­rally – as they at­tempt to ne­go­ti­ate an end to the First World War. They blus­ter at the sight of a woman in their pres­ence, not so much an­gered as per­plexed: what could she pos­si­bly have to of­fer?

It’s an anal­ogy for many of the sto­ries that have been told in main­stream films and TV pro­grammes over the past few decades. Women are un­der-rep­re­sented on both sides of the cam­era; far too of­ten they’re writ­ten as cliches – if they’re writ­ten about at all. The lack of sub­stan­tial roles for women on screen made it nec­es­sary for a scale to be in­vented, the Bechdel test, which dis­cerns whether or not a film por­trays its fe­male char­ac­ters in a sex­ist or stereo­typ­i­cal way. (To pass the test, the film must fea­ture at least two named women talk­ing to each other about some­thing other than a man – an as­ton­ish­ing amount of movies still fail it.) There used to be a no­tion that films with fe­male leads could never make money. Won­der Woman has las­soed that into obliv­ion. Even bet­ter, she’s done it with a smart, witty story that’s also di­rected by a woman, Patty Jenk­ins. But still, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for the Study of Women in Television and Film, in 2016, just 7% of all di­rec­tors work­ing on the top 250 gross­ing films in the US were women.

There’s a lot of work to be done, but it feels as if we could be at the be­gin­ning of a sea change where sto­ries about women, and for women, are no longer niche con­cerns. Won­der Woman will be back in Jus­tice League later this year, along­side her old friend Bat­man. Luc Bes­son’s mas­sive and ex­pen­sive epic Va­le­rian starred Cara Delev­ingne in the lead role. And it’s not just sci-fi and su­per­hero movies: the up­com­ing Daphne is a low-key Bri­tish in­die that takes a Fleabag-style ap­proach to the story of a mis­an­thropic woman strug­gling to process a trauma. Less low-key is Bat­tle of the Sexes, out in Novem­ber, with Emma Stone playing women’s tennis pi­o­neer Bil­lie Jean King in the run-up to her in­fa­mous match against

Bobby Riggs, which is as much a story about fem­i­nism as it is sport.

Af­ter six decades, even Doc­tor Who

(BBC One) is mov­ing with the times. The

13th Doc­tor will be played by Jodie

Whit­taker, a first in the show’s history.

In Atomic Blonde, we saw Char­l­ize

Theron flex­ing some se­ri­ous mar­tial arts as a su­per-spy, while Bond pro­duc­ers

Bar­bara Broc­coli and Michael G Wil­son have cast Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively in their new as­sas­sin-led thriller The Rhythm

Sec­tion. ‘It feels that fi­nally, af­ter much fo­cus on the lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties for woman and a lot of ef­fort from mul­ti­ple or­gan­i­sa­tions, things are be­gin­ning to change,’ says Broc­coli. ‘We still have a long way to go be­fore we have di­ver­sity and rep­re­sen­ta­tion in our in­dus­try, but there is a strong will to ini­ti­ate change.’

It’s not a fe­male 007, but it does prom­ise to up-end cin­e­matic cliches about ‘kick-ass’ women. It will be di­rected by Reed Mo­rano, who also over­saw the first three episodes of Chan­nel 4’s The Hand­maid’s Tale, the bru­tal, brilliant adap­ta­tion of Mar­garet At­wood’s novel, which dared to show a hor­rific near-fu­ture Amer­ica where women’s rights have been sup­pressed by politi­cians who do not look dis­sim­i­lar to some sit­ting in Wash­ing­ton to­day.

It takes far less time for TV shows to go from idea to screen and, in many ways, stream­ing ser­vices have led the way by be­ing quicker to grasp the ob­vi­ous fact that women con­sume me­dia, too. Stud­ies have shown that women ac­tu­ally watch more TV than men, with fe­male view­ers av­er­ag­ing three hours per week watch­ing on de­mand TV se­ries – half an hour more than their male coun­ter­parts*. ‘Ser­vices like ours, serv­ing dif­fer­ent de­mo­graphic groups, are will­ing to take more per­ceived risks on pro­gram­ming, in­clud­ing the por­trayal of char­ac­ters that break the norm,’ ex­plains Cindy Hol­land, VP of orig­i­nal con­tent at Net­flix, who is re­spon­si­ble for shows like Jes­sica Jones, 13 Rea­sons Why and GLOW. ‘These in­clude women, who, af­ter all, make up half the world’s pop­u­la­tion and rep­re­sent roughly half our mem­ber base – it is only nat­u­ral for us to pro­gramme for them.’ And it shows. Net­flix rom­com The In­cred­i­ble Jes­sica Jones starred Jes­sica Wil­liams, co-host of the hugely pop­u­lar pod­cast 2 Dope Queens, who at one point in the film delivers the line, ‘Of course you do! Every­one does. I’m freak­ing dope,’ in re­sponse to a guy ad­mit­ting he re­ally likes her. The stand­out episode of the last sea­son of Mas­ter of None was all about Denise (Lena Waithe), the best friend of Aziz An­sari’s char­ac­ter, Dev. It was di­rected by ris­ing star Melina Mat­soukas, whose pre­vi­ous cred­its in­clude Bey­oncé’s For­ma­tion video and episodes of HBO/ Sky At­lantic’s In­se­cure, star­ring Issa Rae. In­se­cure is an­other crit­i­cally ac­claimed com­edy show­ing a woman’s per­spec­tive on dat­ing in LA.

There are also more bound­ary-de­fy­ing shows to come this au­tumn. The Deuce (Sky At­lantic), a new se­ries about the rise of the porn in­dus­try in Seven­ties New York, may not sound like an in­sta-fem­i­nist clas­sic, but Mag­gie Gyl­len­haal, who stars, has been keen to al­lay con­cerns. ‘I didn’t know if I could play a prostitute with­out some kind of guar­an­tee that they wanted to use not just my body but also my mind,’ she said in a re­cent in­ter­view, de­cid­ing the best way to solve the prob­lem was to be­come a pro­ducer on the show.

Ni­cole Kid­man had two great TV roles this year, first in the fe­maleled Big Lit­tle Lies, and then in the re­turn of Top of the Lake (BBC Two), di­rected by Jane Cam­pion. She also starred in Sofia Cop­pola’s The Beguiled along­side Colin Far­rell (who Cop­pola joked was their ‘to­ken male’). At the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val in May, Kid­man pledged to work with a fe­male di­rec­tor at least ev­ery 18 months. ‘Hope­fully it will change over time, but ev­ery­body keeps say­ing, “Oh, it’s so dif­fer­ent now,” and it isn’t,’ she told a press con­fer­ence, a re­minder that change is slow. It’s also a re­minder that recog­nis­ing a prob­lem, speak­ing up, and tak­ing ac­tion is the only way to speed change up. Af­ter all, what would Won­der Woman do?

ELLE

OCT

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