Last night I went to a movie. I don’t get to do that too often, so I try not to be too picky. If it isn’t a movie for children that I am seeing with my children, I’m usually good to go. Last night I was on a date, he’d mentioned wanting to see the new Mission Impossible and that was totally fine by me.
So here’s the thing. I am not particularly militant about my entertainment because it would mean I could watch very little. Most of what we have to watch, especially in movies, is very heavy on white guys. But I felt that, in this day and age, there’s probably a little more gender parity. And in the first few minutes of the movie I thought, well why don’t I see if that’s really true.
So I counted the number of women in this movie with speaking roles.
The thing about this movie, and most action movies really, is that the parts can pretty much be filled by any race or gender. They aren’t heavy on character development, they just need bodies. Occasionally when a bankable actress is on board with one of these projects they’ll actually flip the gender of the main character with no damage to the story. (Example: Jodie Foster in Flightplan, although I’ll warn you, reading articles about how the movie was more “sympathetic” with a mother than a father might make you slightly stabby.) In a franchise you get an actor in and they stick, obviously, but any character new to the movie is basically a blank slate. With just 4 returning characters, that left lots of room.
I started counting.
And as I’m sure you can guess, the results were not happy-making. If they had been it would’ve been fodder for a pleased tweet. Instead, it’s a post. So yeah.
The final numbers: 8 women who spoke. (9 if you include the opera singer singing, but I don’t, really. She didn’t get a closeup or have her Italian translated so she remained background.)
To give you a little context, more than 8 men speak IN THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES OF THE MOVIE.
And it’s even worse than that. Of the 8 women who spoke, only 2 had lines that were more than filler like “Stand by,” or “Yes, sir.”
Only 1 of them appears regularly throughout the movie as a main, named character. 1 woman.
There are 13 men in this movie who are named, central characters. But 1 woman.
2 government agency heads face a subcommittee of senators in a hearing. Everyone in the room is a man. (I know women sadly only make up 20% of congress, but you couldn’t make room for one lady in there?)
This happens over and over again, to the point where nearly every scene without our 1 woman is a scene made up completely of men. And when she’s there, she is the only woman in the room time after time. And yes, she’s kickass and mysterious, but she feels an awful lot like token eye candy when every single other person is a dude.
The second (and only other) woman with decent lines should matter, but unfortunately she remains unnamed “Record Shop Girl.” This is part of the deal with action movies, of course. There are many, many unnamed characters with parts like “Lead Biker” and “Drone Technician #1.” But there are only 7 women among these hordes, and it gets to the point that it starts to feel like a very strong and unrecognized bias or a conscious choice. I lean towards the latter, especially since every lady in this movie is pretty darn gorgeous, even the one woman who’s supposed to be an older character, the wife of a head of state, is ridiculously gorgeous.
It seems pretty clear that you’re not looking to put any women in your movie, and when you throw a handful of them in there, they’re mostly just to look at. When it comes to your other needs? Dudes.
Security guards? Dudes.
Lab techs? Dudes.
Airplane pilots? Dudes.
Power plant employees? Dudes.
Police officers? Dudes.
People behind a desk? Dudes.
People here to kill you? Dudes.
Your boss? Dude.
Your nemesis? Dude.
The movie was fun, quite jaunty and light considering how much chasing and fighting there was. But once I started counting, it was rather depressing. Which is why I don’t make this a regular habit.
Many people criticize the Bechdel test, including me. (For a movie to pass the Bechdel test, two female characters must appear, speak to each other, and have that conversation be about something besides a man.) But it remains necessary when so many movies don’t even seem to acknowledge that women make up half of the world.
To be honest, I got in this frame of mind in the first place not because of this movie but because of the previews. They were VERY heavy on dudes, including several period pieces and some true stories. And the thing about period pieces is that they are almost always about white dudes, since it was white dudes who had all the power for most of history and we still tend to fall into the pattern of assuming that these are the stories that matter. Those stories just get boring, honestly. I didn’t get excited by any of these previews. Tom Hanks is a white dude who saves the world. Leonardo DiCaprio is a white dude who is in the wilderness. Michael Fassbender does a Steve Jobs impersonation that looks decent but still doesn’t make me want to spend 2 hours watching a movie about a guy who seems to have been a raging asshole. Daniel Craig is James Bond and there’s a whole bunch of dudes, with the occasional cut to a hot chick. (I liked the one for Black Mass, which was of course filled with white dudes, and sadly it appears that Benedict Cumberbatch will join the long line of actors doing terrible–no, seriously terribly terrible like it may be up there as one of the worst–Boston accents in movies.)
The trailers were sending me a clear message that this was a dude movie, which is why I thought to undertake counting the women in the first place. But as I said earlier, I honestly thought it would turn out okay. It’s not a period piece. It’s not a movie where gender plays any real role. (Although I did wonder how long it will take for us to have a gay action movie hero who doesn’t get involved with the mysterious hot chick, but the mysterious hot dude. I would totally go for that even if it means more dudes!)
It looks like nothing has changed at all during my years away from the movies. And honestly? That doesn’t get me super excited about going back.