Whether or not you actually liked the plot of Brave, few can deny that it was certainly a step up in terms of the way women have been treated in previous films. Merida was a heroine not content to be some prize to be won by a strong male lead and the overall film featured a very real struggle between mother and daughter that didn’t end in the protagonist’s ultimate goal being marriage. While the story certainly managed to weave a debatably good story around a strong female protagonist, it also highlighted some of the major problems Hollywood seems to have whenever a female is involved in the story.
While the problems involving women in films run the gamut from poor characterization to underutilization to just plain ignorant chauvinism, these problems all stem from a very real disconnect in the way women as a whole are viewed in our society and how that translates into a poor portrayal. Movies from DirectStarTV like Real Steel, for example, will often feature a strong and complex male character and a weak-willed female support who is just that – a support. In the case of Real Steel, you had Evangeline Lilly’s character who repeatedly allowed Hugh Jackman’s character to walk all over her, and while the writing might have offset her obvious subservience by making her handy with a wrench (how unconventional), the fact remains that her presence in the film felt very much like an afterthought.
And most of the time this treatment of the female character isn’t intentional. Most of the big-budget Hollywood blockbusters are predominantly written by men and, let’s face it, a lot of men don’t know how to write compelling, actualized and empowered female characters quite the same way they can for male characters. A lot of it has to do with a disconnect between what women are and what men think they are combined with our progressive society’s constant re-evaluation of gender roles and identity and, unfortunately, when it comes time to sign off on a multi-million dollar project, these layers of complexity are not met with much scrutiny when it gets down to the writing.
This isn’t to say that there are no other films featuring positive portrayal of women or female heroines – they are just a little harder to find. Mulan was another great Disney film that featured a strong female protagonist and there are many more out there. And as our society continues to move forward and we continue to grow and learn from one another, we may find many more in years to come. Then the problem with women in films might not be such a big problem anymore.