Before it arrived on DVD last month, Disney’s latest offering, Frozen, had already become the most commercially successful animated feature of all time, earning well in excess of $1 billion in worldwide box office. Only 18 films have ever managed this milestone, and Frozen is only the second animated movie to do so. The question now, is, will one of the highest-grossing films of all time finally lead to an improvement in how women are treated and portrayed in Hollywood?
Women have long been ill-served by an industry that enjoys having them as icons, faces or starlets, but that rarely tolerates them as human beings, with all of the potential flaws and intricacies that represents. This is especially true in what we would consider Summer “tentpole” films, designed as popcorn fodder for those eager for slick visuals and minimal plotting. Women in these films are rarely seen behind the camera and in front of it are seldom little more than props or catalysts for the male leads’ character arc, while they themselves are left with not much character to develop.
There are, of course, exceptions to this and no one would be foolish enough to say that there are no good roles in Hollywood for women, but they are few, far between and are greatly outnumbered by the amount of generic, two dimensional roles on offer. So often proclaimed as being strong or empowering, these roles are more usually playing entirely into male fantasies of “strong women” or, heaven help us, “quirky women,” by which the filmmakers usually mean child-like and malleable.
The brightest and best female characters are often to be found in much maligned genre pictures, usually in horror films. What would Scream be without Sidney or Gale Weathers? What would Halloween be without Laurie Strode? Horror cinema is packed with famous females, often pushing the boundaries of gender stereotyping in whichever era they find themselves. There is sadly also misogyny and exploitation in some of these roles, but it could easily be argued that no area of filmmaking has done more to portray a variety of female characters on screen than the horror and fantasy genres.