Hollywood has a long history of being dominated by men – from the movies being made, to the stories being told. 1975 was the year that invented the blockbuster, 1999 was the year that redefined special effects, and 2017 was the year that put women front and center.
Yes, 2017 was also a complicated year for women. Between the numerous sexual assault scandals that exposed predators like Harvey Weinstein to the fact that over a million protesters felt it necessary to march the streets of Washington in support of basic women’s rights, many of the headlines were about women fighting back – and a single year isn’t enough to turn around such deeply entrenched gender inequality.
But while women still only make up around 10% of the directors in Hollywood, with female characters only constituting around a third of all speaking roles in movies, last year saw some serious milestones passed. Domestically, the highest-grossing superhero movie of the year was Wonder Woman, which was also the first female-led superhero movie in over a decade, and had one of the top three biggest domestic grosses of the year overall. The other two movies – Beauty and the Beast and Star Wars: The Last Jedi – were also female-led. Money talks in Hollywood, and that kind of success could be a serious force for change in the coming years.
Here’s a recap of how women seized Hollywood in 2017.
Year of the Wonder Women
Wonder Woman led the charge this summer by breaking several records: becoming the highest-grossing superhero origin story (beating Spider-Man’s $403 million by additional $9 million); director Patty Jenkins becoming the highest-paid female director of all time; and star Gal Gadot becoming the highest-grossing actress of 2017. But while Themyscira’s Champion holds the official title, she wasn’t the only Wonder Woman of 2017.
Take Greta Gerwig, for example. A Golden Globe-nominated actress who has been a kind of indie staple for the past decade, Gerwig wrote and directed Lady Bird in 2017—a movie that not only explores the manic highs and lows of adolescence, but positions the story through a purely female perspective. Stars Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are frontrunners in the awards race, both earning nominations in several Lead Actress and Supporting Actress categories, respectively.
However, the most notable success in Lady Bird isn’t the female writer/director, the strong female cast, or even its equally powerful and viscerally honest portrayal of mothers and daughters, but the reaction it earned from critics. Following its release, Lady Bird managed to whip up the most consecutive positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes without a single negative review (164 in total versus Toy Story 2’s 163). Lady Bird currently stands strong with an enviable 99 percent score.
Also released last year to critical acclaim, Dee Rees’ Mudbound is an epic motion picture getting the small-screen treatment. Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, Mudbound tells a sweeping story about two families – one white, one black – working on a farm in Mississippi Delta before, during and after WWII. Perhaps best known for her 2011 film Pariah, Rees is an up-and-comer in the directing field, but Mudbound’s VOD release has introduced her work to a wider audience than ever before.
With the film releasing on Netflix, Rees has a chance to not only become the first African-American female director nominee at the Academy Awards, but also the first director ever to be nominated for a film released on a streaming service. So far, most of the nominations aimed at the film have been in either acting or adapted screenplay categories (Rees co-adapted the screenplay alongside Virgil Williams), but the Academy is no stranger to last-minute surprises.
Leveling the Playing Field
2017 was a year filled with breaking records in film, but it also showcased some refreshingly defiant female characters – among the best of them, Frances McDormand’s Mildred in Three Billboard’s Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The meat on this movie’s bones isn’t easy to swallow, but it’s hardly indigestible either. Mildred is a no-holds-barred mother seeking justice for the rape and murder of her teenage daughter. In her garish attempts to get the local police department’s attention, she stabs, swears, and spits her way through locals, casting her decency aside in exchange for doing whatever it takes to find her daughter’s killer(s).
In June, Sofia Coppola wrote and directed The Beguiled, an adaption of Thomas P. Cullinan’s A Painted Devil (she borrowed the title from the 1971 adaptation starring Clint Eastwood), which depicts the members of an all-female boarding school during the Civil War tending to a wounded Union deserter. Where this soldier is under the impression that he holds some kind of masculine power over them, the tables soon turn.
In The Post, Meryl Streep plays Kay Graham – a woman who, as the first female publisher of a US newspaper, had to deal with a parade of men who believed she was unfit for the position. Meanwhile, Margot Robbie portrays figure skater Tonya Harding, a complex and challenging role, in I, Tonya.
These are characters who aren’t only driving forces in leveling the scales in what sort of stories Hollywood is willing to tell, but characters who evoke recognition. McDormand, Streep, and Robbie are all frontrunners in the Lead Actress race, with equally game-changing roles and performances, like Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water and Ronan in Lady Bird, in the race as well.
Page 2: 'Weinstein-gate' and Beyond
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