Earlier this summer, a new era in female-driven movies was declared when Bridesmaids had a strong showing at the summer box office to the tune of $169 million domestically, and $286 million worldwide. I can't count how many articles I saw touting this as a victory for female screenwriters and womens' movies in general. Again and again, executives were quoted as being invigorated to discover that the female audience *gasp* buys tickets to films featuring female protagonists.
In fact, so great was the return on Bridesmaids, it made everyone forget how incredibly annoying most of Kristen Wiig's original characters have been on Saturday Night Live and it even won Melissa McCarthy an Emmy. (I know, the Emmy was ostensibly for the sitcom Mike & Molly, but I ask you - do YOU know anyone who watches that show?)
I couldn't help but chuckle at all of these "rah rah sisterhood!" articles - not because I have anything against female writers, mind you. It's just that I've seen ALL of those articles and their thesis before. It happened after Sex & The City, it happened after The First Wives Club, and I'd be willing to bet that there were similar articles after Thelma & Louise came out.
The routine: a movie targeted at a minority demographic makes a big splash - usually on a somewhat conservative budget. The stars of the film are splashed all over the industry press for a few weeks, along with analysis that there's a vastly under-served audience out there that could yield. Thinly-veiled ripoffs of this film are announced - begining a trend that lasts until a solitary inferior film in that genre tanks. This insures that when another film in that genre "inexplicably" is a hit a year or two down the line, the analysits are shocked anew.
So what I'm saying is - pretty much every female screenwriter in town is pissed at What's Your Number? for opening in eighth place this past weekend. This is solid proof that when it comes to selling tickets for shitty concepts and poorer execution - it's a lot easier to dupe male audiences than female audiences.
This phenomena isn't limited to just female-driven films. Tyler Perry has made a career out of going just long enough between movies for people to forget that black people go to the movies too. Thus, every film he makes is not only a profitable hit - but it reasserts his position as a filmmaker whose works are basically a license to print money. Amazingly no other filmmaker or studio has really taken advantage of the audience that Perry has shown time and again is there.
Furrthermore, the success of Bridesmaids was in part because it appealed to women AND men. If you have something that speaks to a passionate audience that isn't often catered to and still draws in the men who go to, say, Adam Sandler comedies, that's where the money lies. Similarly, consider why Will Smith is one of the biggest stars in the world - because he draws the African-American audience - and is beloved by the mainstream (read: "white") ticketbuyers. If studio heads had any sense, they'd invest serious money in creating another black superstar capable of headlining movies that would have been once led by Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson.
And if I had any sense, I'd be writing a film with an ensemble African-American cast, with a few funny ladies thrown in for fun.
Screw it, I'm making that my next project - a comedy about maturing African American "playas" who get a new perspective on romance as they woo a bunch of comedicly gifted Caucasian ladies. I think I'll call it Where All the White Women At?
So what can you, the writer, take from this? Easy - every trend is cyclical. It's always the Year of the Woman until a bomb comes out. But even when the trend goes fallow it ALWAYS comes back. So if you're halfway through a female driven ensemble comedy - finish it! If you've got a great script that just so happens to be predominantly African-American in cast, don't worry, its day will come. If it was hot before, it will be hot again.
So hang in there, ladies. If your script's any good, it'll have its day.
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