"Five little movies aimed at women have brought in over $1.6 billion in worldwide box office," said Meryl Streep at the Crystal and Lucy Awards for women in film earlier this week. Despite this, she noted, there is very little investment in films aimed specifically at women. "Why? Don't they want the money?"
She's referring to films like Mamma Mia, The Help and Bridesmaids and it's clear she has a point. What's even odder is that films like this tend to cost very little to make - The Iron Lady, which cost $14M, brought in $114M at cinemas alone. There would certainly seem to be room for more. But is Streep correct in suggesting that these are the sorts of films women really want to see?
Despite the success of the big five, statistics are equivocal about the tastes of female audience members. It turns out that women, like men, actually like a huge variety of films, flocking to see action blockbusters, horror films and work in other supposedly masculine genres. There really isn't a typical female filmgoer and there are plenty who say they hate stereotypical 'chick flicks'.
Where Streep has a more pertinent point is in her attack on the industry'd underrepresentation of women more generally. The most recent annual report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University showed that just 11% of central protagonists are women, a number that has actually fallen in recent years. Older women are particularly poorly represented, with three quarters of all female characters aged under 40. Only 13 of the top 50 films in the US last year passed the 'Bechdel test', featuring two or more female characters who talked to each other about something other than a man. It's a situation Streep describes as "shocking".
In the UK and US, women make up slightly over half of all cinema attendees. But there are countries where women often find themselves excluded from going to the cinema altogether. A multiplex in Tehran was ordered to close on Monday for selling tickets to women who wanted to watch the Euro 2012 football. "Men, while watching football, get excited and sometimes utter vulgar curses or tell dirty jokes. It is not within the dignity of women to watch football with men," said the police commissioner responsible.