Column: The action movie genre under-represents female audiences
If I were to ask you to guess what do you think is the most popular genre of movie among women, it’s safe to assume your answer would be something like romantic comedies. Romantic comedies are so strongly associated with the female viewer that they have become synonymous with the phrase “girl movies” because as a society we now know what women want, right?
A investigation directed by Fandango takes a different view, noting that the most popular genre of film for women is actually action. A breakdown The popularity of movie genres between male and female viewers revealed that, although they are publicly associated with predominantly male viewers, the action and adventure genres are popular with 90% of men and over of 85% of women.
Despite the widespread appeal of action films to all viewers, the importance of weak female characters, as well as the continuation of the male gaze – a cinematic practice that suggests a sexualityzA view that empowers men and makes women objective – in these blockbuster action films, illustrates that the target audience for these films is not women. That being said, I find myself in the majority of viewers who identify as women and find themselves on the edge of their seats watching action and adventure unfold on the big screen.
There are scientific reasons for an individual’s enjoyment of an action movie that exist apart from the sexualization of their female characters. When we look movies, our brain processes the images shown on the screen in the same way as a real event would happen to us. Action movies that have high-intensity fight sequences and larger-than-life stunts can cause the viewer to experience short-term excitement and stress in a safe and controlled environment.
Action movies are capable of doing physical reactions to the stunts on the screen too. Viewers’ palms get sweaty and their heart rate increases as they experience the excitement and thrill of adventure! There is nothing more exhilarating than watching a hero walk through walls and jump from rooftops while thinking you might.
The fact that our brains are wired to love thrill like this makes it all the more difficult to recognize and criticize the tropes that have become synonymous with it. Yes, the objectification and hypersexualization of female characters is found in all genres, but it’s inherently evident in action movies. Action movies like the “Fast and Furious” franchise, the “Dark Knight” trilogy and the Never–The latest “Mission: Impossible” movie stream is just the start of a very long list of action movies that use the male gaze.
Female-centric action movies that haven’t used the male gaze currently tend to get an intense reaction from male viewers. For example, when “Captain Marvel” came out and the female protagonist was not sexualized and had no romantic ambitions, male viewers expressed serious disdain for the character. Even when a man–centric films like the new James Bond film, “No Time to Die” have limited objectification of female characters and create female characters with depths and purposes, male viewers express their frustration.
These important characteristics of the action genre make it difficult to be a big fan of action movies as a woman. Studies have shown that women appreciate chaos and chaos onscreen as much as men, so why do these films continue to target male viewers?
This is probably due in part to the fact that those who direct these films are male. In 2020, women represented 18% of directors, 17% of screenwriters and 21% of executive producers working on the 250 highest-grossing films
None of this explains the fact that cinema has little To no representation, either in front or behind the camera, for individuals who do not adhere to the gender binary, leaving 1.2 million Americans out of this conversation. GLAAD Studio responsibility index concluded that there were no transgender or non-binary characters in the major studio films released.
The most straightforward solution – besides re–educating male viewers to be content with movies that don’t demean women – to even begin to tackle this systemic problem, recruits more diverse people to create action movies. Allow women to sit at the table to create provocative storylines and have fully formed, badass female characters – I know, maybe I’m a little too ambitious here.
The fact that women direct, write and produce these stories radically changes the way the female characters are portrayed. Looking at the evolution of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) character, Black Widow shows the stark contrast between when a project involving the character is led by a woman or a man. Black Widow entered the MCU in 2010 with the movie “Iron Man 2”. From 2010 to 2019, Black Widow was in eight MCU feature films, all written and directed only by men. In these projects, the character is always one-dimensional, objectified and sexualized. In 2021, Black Widow received her own solo film “Black Widow” which, although written by men, was directed by Cate Shortland. A director’s touch allowed for excellent character development, Black Widow sustaining agency, and no inherent objectification – well other than the character’s leather suit uniform.
While there is clearly a large percentage of women who enjoy watching action movies the way they currently are – sexism and objectification included – that doesn’t mean the genre should remain static.