#MovieWeek: Where Are the Mainstream Feminist Films?

I love watching movies. When I have enough free time, one of my favorite pastimes is renting a movie and transporting myself into another world. Even if that world looks a lot like mine, watching movies allows me to escape my reality, even if it's just for two-hour intervals. But even when I'm drawn into a film, I sometimes can't stop my brain from whirring. As an English major, I've honed my close reading and analyzing skills. My Women and Gender Studies major informs the lens in which I analyze, and I am often thinking about gender politics as I watch films. Therefore, I often ask myself, where are the mainstream feminist films?

You might be thinking, "Aren't Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel two examples of mainstream feminist flicks?" You're right; they are, but can you name some other films that feature female leads who fought against gender stereotypes AND were highly successful? While I can think of movies that fit the first two criteria, it's hard to find movies that fit all three. After thinking about it a bit longer, I came up with two more examples: Girls Trip (2017) and 9 to 5 (1980). Yes, I had to reach almost twenty years before my birth to come up with a second example.

9 to 5 follows three women as they rebel against their misogynistic boss. Let me be clear, there are tons of feminist flicks, but they're not as mainstream as you might think. This year's Booksmart might have been a fantastic ode to adolescence and female friendships, but I had a hard time trying to find it in a theater near me. According to Box Office Mojo, the movie had a wide release in more than 2,000 theaters, but it didn't make that much money. Twenty-four million dollars sounds like a lot, but keep in mind that we live in a world where movies can easily gross over $100 million domestically, especially if the film is part of a franchise.

And let's talk about franchises. The top 10 highest grossing movies of this year (as of Nov. 11, 2019) are all parts of franchises, sequels or remakes. Only two of those ten movies had female leads - Us and Captain Marvel (2019). In an industry dominated by men, both on-screen and off, it's not surprising that we don't see many blockbusters with female leads, let alone feminist ones.

It's disappointing to look at the numbers of some of my favorite feminist films. Eighth Grade (pictured below), directed by Bo Burnham and starring the wonderfully talented Elsie Fisher, perfectly encapsulated what it meant to be an eighth-grade girl. Fisher's character, Kayla, has to navigate a maturing body that doesn't fit our rigid body standards for young women, as well as unrequited crushes, sexual desires and friendships. I felt so seen after watching the film, and I so desperately wished that Eighth Grade existed when I was a tween. But Eighth Grade only earned $14 million at the box office, discouraging female-centric film productions for the future. I look forward to the day when large production companies take a chance on girls and women. I want them to start actively looking for and producing content for us because we will show up and financially support the film; just look at how well both Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel performed.

I'm tired of having to search for films that reflect my beliefs. I love movies as much as anyone else, but it can be draining when the female characters are surrounded by men, when said female characters only talk about men and/or when every female character is in a subordinate position to a man. Sometimes, it's fun to reflect back on a movie and see if it passes the Bechdel test, but it always leaves me disheartened. If you're looking for some recommendations, watch any movie mentioned in this article; I recommend them all. And if you've already seen those, here is a handful more you'll enjoy: Lady Bird, The Edge of Seventeen, Little Women (1994), Real Women Have Curves, The First Wives Club and Hidden Figures. We might have to search for movies that portray women as more than sexual figures, but they are out there. Hopefully, if we keep supporting feminist films by showing up to the theaters or streaming them, we won't have to keep searching so hard.