Bottom line: Sexism in Hollywood is bad business

Tom Long
The Detroit News

Last weekend "Cinderella," starring a luminous Lily James, earned nearly $68 million at the domestic box office. Worldwide it pulled in more than $130 million.

In North America, women made up 66 percent of the audience for "Cinderella," according to Deadline.

This weekend "Insurgent," starring Shailene Woodley, debuts. The first film in its series, "Divergent," took in $54 million on its opening weekend in 2014. This one could well top that.

Women, you see, go to movies. They especially go to see movies that feature women. What a surprise.

A new report from the Motion Picture Association of America on the state of the movie theater world makes this very clear: 52 percent of domestic moviegoers are women.

And the logical attachment women have to watching movies built around women is obvious in one contrast contained in the study.

Four of the top five money-earning films last year — "Guardians of the Galaxy," "The LEGO Movie," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "Transformers: Age of Extinction" ("American Sniper" isn't calculated in) — had male leads (even if one was made of plastic). And males generally made up about 58 percent of their audiences.

But "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1," a movie built around Jennifer Lawrence that earned earned $337 million domestically, had an audience that was 57 percent female.

If you show them, they will come.

So how come Hollywood doesn't show them? Or at least show more of them.

This column is about the business sense of letting male characters dominate a product for which the majority of customers are female. Simply put, it doesn't add up. If the biggest part of your customer base likes vanilla ice cream, you make sure there's always vanilla ice cream available.

Of the Top 20 domestic box office hits last year, only two — "Mockingjay" and "Maleficient" — were what you could call female-centric ("Gone Girl" was something of a guy/girl split).

That's not much vanilla ice cream. What is Hollywood thinking?

One easy argument can be found elsewhere in the MPAA report. Simply put, Hollywood is no longer making movies for America; it's making movies for the world. There are 142,000 movie screens in operation worldwide, and that was up 6 percent in 2014, mostly due to growth in Asia. China alone accounted for $4.8 billion worth of ticket sales.

So the problem must be that international markets don't want female-centric films. They're the sexist ones, not us.

Wrong. "Mockingjay" made $337 million in North America, but it made another $414 million worldwide. "Maleficient" took in $241 million domestically, but added more than twice that amount — $517 million — globally. Both those are right in line with the riches earned internationally by male-centric films.

Look, sexism is a sad fact of life, but money is money and Hollywood is seriously under-serving its largest audience. That's not just sexist; that's dumb.