Hollywood has been in the business of making popular films for nearly 100 years. Within this time, it has overseen some seismic changes. In the days of black-and-white film, these blockbusters often followed a rigid, dated, old-fashioned blueprint of male and female characters.
Male protagonists would usually find themselves typecast as strong individuals who would persevere and come out on top. This is evident in some of the most successful film franchises of all time.
Whether it be James Bond, Batman, X-Men, Rocky or Die Hard, the top film franchises of all time have strong male figures in their main roles. The tide has begun to change, and many blockbuster films are made with strong female characters in similarly prominent positions. Despite Marvel Comics traditionally leaning towards male superheroes, they are now broadening the scope and creating films that put strong female leads into the spotlight.
You can find this evidence in various Hollywood releases over the last few years. This includes Black Widow, which starred Scarlett Johansson. The film was a huge box office success, grossing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and highlighting the importance of having a strong female lead role compared to the thousands of heavily male-dominated films.
This is a difficult question to answer, as several variables should be factored in to determine why male lead characters dominated the landscape for so long. One of the key contributing factors is down to the fact that a patriarchal hierarchy has long existed within the foundations of the film industry.
Some actresses were huge names back in the 1950s – Marilyn Monroe, for instance. However, huge movie companies were often managed predominantly by men, which could explain why these films were made in large quantities, with female-fronted popular movies not having the same sort of fair opportunity.
What are the main reasons behind this?
As the United States was the home of popular movies – and could still lay claim to that title today – its society was weighted heavily in favour of men. This wasn’t just in the film industry, either – it was evident throughout society at every level.
The Golden Age of Hollywood is often considered as being sometime between the late 1920s and the 1960s. However, just a few years earlier, before the beginning of this Golden Age, women did not even have the right to vote in America.
Lack of respect for women was evident at all levels of society. Historians have pointed to the fact that the right to vote was only granted to women in the 1920s as a key indicator of why films often employed men as the main character. Men also dominated film production companies. Therefore, they heavily favored having stories that drove the idea that men were the savior and success of the tale, while women played a less prominent, respectable position in the background.
How Hollywood is changing for the better?
This belief has been challenged throughout the last few decades. The rise of some of Hollywood’s top actresses has been extremely welcome in an industry that has sometimes been accused of being prehistoric and misogynistic. While we are by no means at a stage where it is a fair and level playing field, it has come a long way since the dated era of pre-colour television.
Many actresses have spoken out about the patriarchy that still exists, and these are not just actresses who star in the films but the thousands who work in the background of the movies.
There’s still a long way to go. As entertainment news outlets continue to highlight the difficulties women face in this industry, many of the highest-grossing films of all time still heavily feature male main characters. Hopefully, we will see the rise of a female James Bond character who can create a crossover appeal. This could result in a franchise in the list of the most successful film franchises of all time.
Due to a patriarchal society, a male-dominated industry, and a culture weighted in favor of men, many popular movies focus on male main characters. It would be counterproductive to suggest every film should have a female lead, however, fair representation is key at all levels of society. It is important that women should be able to set a strong example for the younger generation to show that they can perform just as well as men on the big screen.
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