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A Big Year for Hollywood Women?
From left: Meryl Streep, Mo'Nique, Kathryn Bigelow, and Sandra Bullock. (AP)

From left: Meryl Streep, Mo'Nique, Kathryn Bigelow, and Sandra Bullock. (AP)

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Once more, it’s back. They’re talking the “Year of the Woman” in Hollywood.

High-profile roles for Meryl Streep in “Julie and Julia” and Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side.” Box-office Cinderella stories in “Precious” and “The Proposal.” Director Kathryn Bigelow delivering “The Hurt Locker” to critical acclaim on traditional guy turf of war and danger.

So, is this it? The time when women really make their mark on the movies?

The buzz says yes. New York Times critic Manohla Dargis says no.

This hour, On Point: women in Hollywood and what to make of a standout year.


Manohla Dargis joins us from Los Angeles. Chief film critic for The New York Times, she wrote recently about women in Hollywood in a piece titled “Women in the Seats but Not Behind the Camera.”

Also with us from Los Angeles is Nicole LaPorte, contributor to The Daily Beast. She was previously a film reporter for Variety, and has written for The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, and W. Her latest piece is “Finally, the Year of the Woman?”

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  • Erin (Salt Lake City)

    It’s encouraging to hear that Hollywood filmmakers are awakening to the possibility that an actress can play a compelling, three-dimensional character in a movie with (pardon the term) broad appeal.

    But I agree with the caller who expressed annoyance at the fact we’re just now having this conversation. Why is it beneath the dignity of a male audience to watch a film with a female protagonist — or with more than two dynamic female characters — in the first place?

  • Kris

    Good Morning,

    Recalling what I believe would easy qualify for a women’s “raunchy” movie, does anyone remember 2002′s “The Sweetest Thing”?

    Written by a woman – Nancy Pimental – popular stars — Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate, and Selma Blair — but written by a man, Roger Kumble. I wanted to but ultimately didn’t like it, so maybe I can blame it on the male director??

    Would like to know your guests opinions, assuming they saw it.


  • Douglas Bowker

    The BIG title that needs to be talked about is Twilight. My wife likes all sorts of movies, but I’ve NEVER seen her go to one more than once, let alone watch it a dozen more times on DVD until the Twilight series hit the screen. And this goes for most of her friends too (all over 35 and degreed professionals). Good or bad, this is the Transformers for the feminine viewing audience: fantasy, ridiculous, but pure pleasure for the target market.

  • Shannon

    Have you pointed out yet that a woman has yet to win an Oscar for Best Director?

    It’s too bad and a bit ironic that this year Kathryn Bigelow’s indie hit Hurt Locker is up against the behemoth that is her ex-husband’s Avatar. The latter film is short on story but long on box office numbers – a tough thing to compete with.

    There are longstanding gender hurdles for women to leap. Here’s a great article from the NY Times that proves you’re onto something with this discussion, but what’s it doing in the Fashion section?!


    In any case, I’m glad to hear this conversation. It’s long overdue, despite the fact that women like Meryl Streep have long been playing strong women. Recall Streep’s powerful role in Out of Africa?

  • Kris


    My favorite “women’s” movie to date is STILL “My Brilliant Career”; the complete package with intelligent script, direction, and a brilliant acting turn by Judy Davis. OK, the screenplay was based by a male author’s novel, but let’s not quibble.

  • Nancy Garreaud

    A great movie about a powerful woman is Gloria with Gena Rowlands.

  • Carla

    Sigourney Weaver, in Alien, was one of the strongest woman charactors in a lead position.

  • Megan J

    I think someone who should be mentioned for writing great female characters is Joss Whedon. His women are warriors, mechanics, high school vampire slayers.. Even his “companion” (essentially an upscale prostitute of sorts) is highly developed and intelligent. See: Buffy, Kaylie, Echo, Adelle, Inara, Willow, on and on. Smart, nuanced, equals with men on the shows.

  • Courtney

    Why isn’t anyone talking about the fact that so many of the most popular movies out today for men (especially the ‘Bromances”) are geared toward very low emotional maturity levels? Does that factor in here at all?

  • Peter Wood

    Tuned in late. Has anyone mentioned Kate Hepburn? I saw African Queen in the 50′s and loved it and her. She held her own against raging rapids, leeches and the German navy. It was filmed largely ON LOCATION.

  • Margaret Lee

    Very important to mention directors like Mike Leigh and Pedro Almodovar who create the BEST roles women have ever had.

    PS Raunch is NOT what a lot of women want; let’s get realistic.

  • Pia

    While powerful women directors have been celebrated in Hollywood in the past (one comment rightly mentions Jane Campion) I find it ironic and disappointing that this year’s line up for best actress features someone of the caliber of Meryl Streep in the essentially non-threatening role of a cook, or, together with Sandra Bullock, acting out Hollywood fantasies for middle aged women. I found Sigourney Weaver’s role in Avatar much more emancipated. At least in past years we had several strong
    Queens !!!

  • Veronica

    I think another director that should be mentioned for having strong female leads is Quentin Trantino. I’m thinking specifically of ‘Jackie Brown’ and ‘Kill Bill,’ Vol. 1 and 2, and even ‘Inglorious Bastards’ with Shoshanna. Even though she is a sort of co-lead, her story line is equal to the other. Sofia Coppola, a female director, also has strong women leads that are complex and imperfect. But sadly, these are the only two contemporary directors I can think of off the top of my head that have not already been mentioned.

  • http://WPLN90.3 Jaminthia Pillow

    In response to the caller whose sister wanted a movie to show her high school class that had a strong leading female character: Iron Jawed Angels directed by Katja von Garnier.
    It is a great film that highlighted the strength of women during an oppressive era.

  • Todd

    Peg Entwistle’s contribution in 1932 was a sign of “great” things to come for women in Hollywood.

  • Drew

    I agree with Megan J. Joss Whedon is an amazing writer and director with incredibly strong female leads. And when I was listening to the show, it sounded like “strong” character was interchangeable with “interesting” character. Whedon has the ability to strong female characters that are independent of the male characters that surround them, whereas an “interesting” character is still defined by her relationship to the lead character or to her male cohorts. For example, James Cameron was mentioned as creating strong female characters, however, in both Avatar and Titanic, the “strong” characters were still in relation to the male leads. All in all, there are plenty of “interesting” female characters, but it is rare to come across a “strong” female character.

  • Yolanda

    So “the Oscar buzz says this is a big year for women?”

    Um…is this because 5 women might be nominated for Best Actress, and five for Best Supporting Actress?!

    Wow…what a shocker!

  • Tom Arnold

    I heard this conversation last night and wanted to join in with some thoughts
    about “strong” leading female characers.. There are so many.

    Charlize Theron – North Country and Monster
    Kathy Bates – Fried Green Tomatos and Delores Clairborne
    Frances McDormand – Fargo
    Meryl Steeep – Silkwood, Out of Africa and so many others

  • Christie G.

    Tom, I caught the last 5 minutes of your show and wished I had heard all of it because I wanted to call in. Your guest was commenting on the male protaganist in ‘bromance’ films. While your guest viewed these characters as an advancement in male sexuality (a flawed, less-attractive, goofy male character who the audience loves and sympathizes with). The flipside to to this is that there is no female equivalent – and in fact the female characters in such bromance films are on the sidelides, attractive yet dull, and generally could be swapped out for any siilar actress.

    I would like to throw in what your guest missed and that is that ther ARE a few emering female characters who definitely fit the bill. The two that come to mind are:

    1. Liz Lemon from 30 Rock
    2. Sweet D from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

    The more distressed and unatractive these female characters become, the more we love them.

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