Long: Women rock big screen, struggle behind the scenes

Tom Long
The Detroit News

Women seem to be having a moment on screen this summer.

Unfortunately, it is indeed mostly on screen and still too rarely behind the camera.

That a woman’s perspective can be both commercially and critically successful was made clear last weekend when “Trainwreck,” starring and written by the comic Amy Schumer, opened with more than $30 million at the box office. Scoring a rock-solid 85 percent from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, it was Schumer’s first turn at writing or starring in a film.

But she was hardly the first and hopefully won’t be the last female to make an impact on screen this summer. Kicking off the party was “Pitch Perfect 2” in May, a tale of bawdy a cappella singers which was directed by co-star Elizabeth Banks. To date the film has earned $183 million.

Then came “Spy,” starring Melissa McCarthy, which, so far, has pulled in $106 million. And the best film of the year at this point, Pixar’s “Inside Out,” which mostly takes place inside the head of a young girl. It’s earned a whopping $307 million.

And let’s face it, even though “Mad Max: Fury Road” was named for a guy, the true hero of that movie was Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. Take so far: $151 million domestic, $367 million worldwide.

So, obviously, audiences are open to female protagonists and a female point of view. Earlier this year, “Cinderella” brought in $539 million worldwide while “Insurgent,” starring Shailene Woodley, earned $295 million. This summer has just seen further proof of what should be clear by now: Women matter.

And yet Hollywood remains a fervid boys club. The only female-directed film of those mentioned above was Banks’ helming of “Pitch Perfect 2.” Meg LeFauve is one of five writers credited with “Inside Out.; Other than that, Schumer’s “Trainwreck” is the only “woman’s” film actually written by a woman.

Which means that overwhelmingly Hollywood is presenting women’s stories as told by men. What kind of sense does that make?

Not much when it’s clear that many of the most talented directors and writers around — Kathryn Bigelow, Ava DuVernay, Jill Solloway, Tina Fey, Lena Dunham, Sofia Coppola, Lisa Cholodenko, Jane Campion, Lake Bell, the list could go on — are female.

Women will continue to be heard on screen this summer. Greta Gerwig co-wrote and stars in the wonderfully neurotic “Mistress America.” Marielle Heller adapted and directed the much-lauded “The Diary of a Teenage Girl.” And Oscar-winner Diablo Cody wrote the script for the upcoming Meryl Streep film, “Rikki and the Flash.”

But the number of women making films remains tiny. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, a mere 7 percent of the directors of the top 250 films of 2014 were women, which is actually down two percentage points from 1998. Down!

So, yes, 2015 is proof that women matter at the movies. But we are still mostly being shown men’s perception of those women. It’s far past time to let the ladies speak for themselves.