Was 2009 The “Year Of The Woman” In Movies?

There are pretty much three roles for actresses in mainstream movies—the ingenue, the quirky best friend, or the mother—and all other actresses get sent to the glue factory. Some actresses enjoy diverse careers, like Meryl Streep, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren, who’ve always been cast in deep roles regardless of their age. But they are the exception.

In 2009, something highly unusual happened: newcomer Gabby Sidibe, a plus-sized black woman who looks like no one in Hollywood, starred in “Precious”; Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep both starred in multiple hits; and the truly “crazy” part is, several mainstream movies starring female leads grossed more than movies starring male leads. “New Moon,” starring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, grossed $580 million worldwide; Bullock’s “The Proposal” grossed $296 million worldwide; Katherine Heigl’s “The Ugly Truth” grossed $207 million worldwide; and Bullock’s “The Blind Side” will soon pass the $200 million mark. Compare that with the mainstream flicks starring men—Denzel Washington’s “The Taking Of Pelham 1, 2, 3″ earned $150 million worldwide—and you’ll see why The Wrap, a news site about the movie industry, declared women are winning the “box office battle of the sexes.”

But look a little more closely at the data and you’ll find it’s not time to pop the champagne just yet. The top-grossing film of the year, “Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince,” grossed $929 million worldwide, and Daniel Radcliffe was the star (with Emma Watson as a supporting actress). The number two film—“Transformers,” $835 million worldwide—starred Shia LaBeouf, lots of explosions, and Megan Fox’s boobs. The top 15 highest-grossing films are still mostly other flicks marketed towards males with heavily male casts, like “X-Men,” “Star Trek,” and “The Fast And Furious.” And don’t forget buddy comedies like “The Hangover” still grossed higher than those two flicks and starred an all-male cast. (Unless you count Heather Graham—as a ditzy prostitute!)

The quality of flicks starring women that were high-grossing is rather poor, too. “The Proposal” and “The Ugly Truth” are formulaic rom-coms where a successful but stubborn woman needs a man’s love to thaw her cold exterior and find true love. It’s fine if you’re into those flicks, but they hardly indicate some great feminist accomplishment. Diversity of roles, I think, is the key to truly opening up Hollywood to all kinds of actresses, yet besides “Precious,” Hollywood saw a lot of the same-old roles for women. And don’t even get me started on the lack of female producers, screenwriters and directors! According to 2008 statistics compiled by the Center For The Study Of Women In TV & Film and touted Melissa Silverstein, blogger for Women & Hollywood, women comprised only nine percent of directors and 12 percent of writers for the year’s top-grossing films. No wonder better flicks starring women aren’t getting made!

I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining about the success women like Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock or Kristen Stewart have enjoyed. (Or even Kate Winslet, Queen Of Everything Last Year.) Their box office clout and money-making mojo are to be celebrated. I’m just convinced it’s a huge stretch to say 2009 is the “year of the woman” in movies—if anything, what happened in 2009 with women’s flicks was a more of a fluke than a sign of changing trends. Personally, I’ll only be happy when we look back in, say, 2019 and remark how great it was that over the past decade, women were cast in diverse leading roles and killed at the box office. [The Wrap]