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        Annette O'Toole, left, and Margot Kidder in 'Superman III'

For Hicksflicks.com, Sept. 5, 2014

EDITOR'S NOTE: This Deseret News cover story for the Weekend section of June 10, 1983 (back when I was using ‘Christopher' Hicks as a byline) is a rant about the dearth of women's starring roles in movies. Sad that 31 years later so little has changed.

WOMEN IN THE movies these days include up-and-coming sex symbols (Nastassja Kinski), serious actresses to whom the craft is an art (Meryl Streep), former sex symbols now accepted as serious actresses (Jessica Lange) and stars whose behind-the-scenes interests have led to producing their own films (Goldie Hawn).

But if you watch trends in the movies even casually, you'll have noticed that women just aren't getting many starring roles these days, unless they are subordinate to male co-stars.

And this summer, even the co-starring roles seem scarce.

Oh, sure, Margot Kidder and Annette O'Toole are both in "Superman III," which opens next week. But if you've seen the previews, you know that only Richard Pryor and Christopher Reeve are mentioned.

And while it's equally true that Jamie Lee Curtis is in "Trading Places," Candy Clark is in "Blue Thunder" and Maud Adams is in "Octopussy," it's no secret that they don't get much billing or screen time in those films. (Carrie Fisher fares a little better in "Return of the Jedi," but even she is subordinate to the story of Luke and Darth.)

The only films set this summer that star women are "Mr. Mom" and "Class": The latter is a coming-of-age drama, with Jacqueline Bisset getting top billing, but who knows if the focus is on her or the young man who co-stars. And "Mr. Mom" might well focus on its male lead, Michael Keaton ("Night Shift"), since it is a role reversal comedy about a working wife and her househusband.


Teri Garr, Michael Keaton, 'Mr. Mom'; poster for 'Class' with Bisset

It's hard to believe that out of more than 40 films slated for release over the next three months, so few star women.

Whatever happened to Barbra Streisand, Jill Clayburgh, Ellen Burstyn, Faye Dunaway – where are the mature serious actresses these days? Will the only females we see on the screen be exploited teeny-boppers in "Porky's" clones?

Let's hope not, and most of the actresses mentioned are indeed active in films now. But their activity certainly seems to be the exception, not the rule.

Burstyn, whose last two films received so little exposure that she has vowed to remain on the stage for the near future, has nothing on the boards, but Clayburgh is currently shooting, and Streisand and Dunaway have films completed and awaiting release.

Clayburgh's most recent film, though, received the same lousy treatment as Burstyn's. "Resurrection" and "Silence of the North," both with Burstyn, and "I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can," which starred Clayburgh, had basic weaknesses, but all were superior films and deserved general release. But because the studios didn't make enough profit in test engagements, they became pay-TV fodder.

An even more obvious illustration comes from the Oscar nominees for best actress this year. Of the five — Meryl Streep, "Sophie's Choice"; Jessica Lange, "Frances"; Julie Andrews, "Victor/Victoria"; Debra Winger, "An Officer and a Gentleman"; Sissy Spacek, "Missing" — only Streep, Lange and Andrews had top billing in their respective films, and only Streep and Lange gave Oscar-caliber performances.

While it's true a couple of good performances were overlooked in the Oscar race, most notably Diane Keaton in "Shoot the Moon," it was unquestionably a bleak year, and over the past decade a dearth of good, solid women's film roles has gradually developed.

More solid evidence is provided by another interesting poll, this one taken each year by theater owners, sounding out box office draws. Of the top 10 for 1982, only one female made the list — Dolly Parton, presumably on the strength of last summer's big hit "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

Barbra Streisand is an example of a superstar who hasn't been able to find satisfactory projects, so she finally formed a production company of her own to produce "Yentl," which is now scheduled for Christmas release. And that seems to be the newest trend among female movie stars these days — Goldie Hawn formed her own production company with "Private Benjamin," and that organization is now developing new projects for her; Jane Fonda has her own company looking for her future projects; likewise, Sally Field.


              Amy Irving, left, and Barbra Streisand in 'Yentl'

All agree that good scripts with female leads are so scarce they had to form production companies just to find properties for themselves.

Why are there so few good scripts for women?

It's been coming ever since the decline of the studio system, when stars were groomed and properties created for them. Stars like Bette Davis, Carole Lombard, Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert and Myrna Loy had numerous stories adapted or written specifically for their talents. Assignments were made and roles created that offered a variety of dramatic and comedic opportunities for women.

Perhaps the production companies being formed by female stars these days will prove to be a positive influence and fill in that gap.

For the most part, however, writers are out there just churning out script after script — 90 percent of them garbage, according to Hollywood insiders — and they seem to be writing for no one in particular, including the audience.

And most of those writers are men, so most of the scripts are written for men, to star men.

But more than that, the actresses discussed here, along with others — Sissy Spacek and Diane Keaton, for example — simply won't appear in spinoffs of "Animal House" or "Star Wars" or "Halloween," much less other action or violent films that are made in such abundance.

Dignity, reality and human relationships are at a premium in the movies these days — and scripts with those elements have to be specially developed for the stars who want to do them.

Thank goodness we still have stars that want to do them.