Will the Success of Sex and the City Force Hollywood to Stop Ignoring Women?


Unless you've been under a rock for the last week or so you know that the women from the TV show Sex and the City are back, this time on the big screen. Four years after we said goodbye to Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte, the women have taken the movie industry and the country by storm, besting all projections with an opening weekend take of almost $56 million dollars.

Sex and the City made almost $27 million on its opening day, which is the same amount that The Devil Wears Prada made in its opening weekend. It earned the highest opening box office for a romantic comedy ever. The most stunning news is that it won the weekend by beating Indiana Jones, a feat not even the most optimistic observers predicted. Variety reported that "Sex and the City whips Indiana Jones" and went further, stating that the "film's performance took Hollywood by utter surprise, shattering the decades-old thinking that females, particularly those over 25, can't fuel a big opening or go up against a male-driven summer tentpole."

Carrie & Co. have sent Hollywood into a frenzy -- and according to website Deadline Hollywood "looking through their film and TV libraries to see what else they can produce for the fortysomething-and-older female" -- thinking that maybe women, even those over 40, are a real potential audience. Finally.

Whatever your thoughts on the actual content of Sex and the City, you can't help but acknowledge that this is a cultural watershed moment for women's films; that's true for a couple of reasons.

  • Everyone (who talks about movies) has spent the last couple of weeks discussing a film that stars and celebrates women and women's friendships. Indiana Jones, which has two of the most successful moviemakers attached to it in George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, is so yesterday's news, just one week after being released after an almost 20 year wait!
  • Everyone (who talks about movies) was scratching their heads trying to figure out how much money an R rated movie targeted at adult women could make. Imagine, women preoccupying the minds of Hollywood's men. The New York Times reported that studio execs were shocked at the interest.
  • The male misogynists in the film blogosphere have outed themselves in a big way with their extreme meanness about the film, one actually calling it a "Taliban recruitment film."
  • The film sold 1 million advance tickets through Fandango, at one point selling 10 tickets per second.

Harry Medved of Fandango monitored the growing interest and excitement: "We haven't seen anything like this before -- it's unusual for a female driven movie to inspire so much fan anticipation." In a survey on Fandango, 71% of the 10,000 respondents said that Hollywood does not create enough movies for adult females. They've got a point there: in 2007 only five of the top 50 grossing films starred or were focused on women and in 2006 the number was three.

But even in its overwhelming success, it's hard not to be disturbed by the double standard this film has been held to and the nasty tone in the media last week. So few films are targeted at women that when one is, it is held to an unreasonable high standard. The women's film world got lucky this time, and the movie was a success; but this film became more that a movie, it became an event. What happens to the next film about women that doesn't engender this event-like status?

Additionally, the gendered marketing campaign placed the burden of success directly on the wallets of women. No other film has that burden. As Philadelphia Inquirer movie critic and blogger Carrie Rickey said on her site last week: "Remember when movies -- and books -- were mass-marketed? When studios assumed that moviegoers were equally interested in Working Girl as Superman?"

Think about last year's hit film Wild Hogs. It was about four guys, including Tim Allen and John Travolta, on a middle-age road trip. The film opened in March 2007 to $40 million. This was not a film targeted at women, but women went to see it. The point is that women never got the impression that seeing a movie about four guys going through a mid-life crisis was not worthy of our time or money, the way Sex and the City was described to men.

No movie about men or starring men has ever had to deal with headlines like "Can Women Alone Make Sex and the City a Hit?" (AP); "Sex sells, but will men see City?" (Variety); Time Out NY ran a cover photo which had duct tape over the four women's mouths with the headline: "No Sex! Enough Already -- we love 'em, but it's just too much." As Carrie Rickey said, "the personal attacks on Sarah Jessica Parker not being conventionally beautiful are creepy. Why is it OK to be unconventional if you're a guy (Bruce Willis, Harrison Ford, Will Smith) but not a gal?"

All detractors aside, women proved themselves as a force this weekend as never before. Sarah Jessica Parker, the star and one of the producers of the film, knew that her film could have wide implications in the industry. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly she said: "I want people to make good movies for women of all ages, whether they're 11 or 68 years old. I want to convince those people who hold the purse strings that it's worth their money and their time. I want to be part of proving that."

You sure did.

This article was originally posted by The Women's Media Center at www.womensmediacenter.com. The WMC is a non-profit organization founded by Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, and Robin Morgan, dedicated to making the female half of the world visible and powerful in the media.

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