‘Hidden Figures’ Proves Again That Films About Women Are Not And Never Were Box Office Poison
There are a million reasons to celebrate the breakout success of Fox 2000’s Hidden Figures. The crowd-pleasing dramedy, about the under-heralded female African-American NASA mathematicians who helped put Americans into space, has earned $60 million in just 10 days of wide release and has topped the weekend box office charts two weeks in a row. It received strong reviews, excellent word of mouth and Oscar buzz. The only question is how far it will go.
The Ted Melfi-directed/Melfi and Allison Schroder-penned picture, based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s book, isn’t a fluke or an exception to the rule. Yes, the fact that it stars multiple African-American women (Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe) in lead roles is (unfortunately) noteworthy, but that a female-centric film like this is doing as well as it is par for the course. We’ve been having the conversation about female representation in mainstream cinema for as long as I can remember. Yet each year brings ample evidence that female-centric cinema is the opposite of box office poison.
In so-called “modern” times, the conversation arguably began (or at least became a subject of movie blog posts) in late 2007 when Warner Bros. president Jeff Robinov allegedly declared that he didn’t want to make any more female-fronted movies following the failures of Hilary Swank’s The Reaping, Nicole Kidman’s The Invasion and Jodie Foster’s The Brave One.
He denied saying as much and it’s worth noting that the 2008 WB and/or New Line slate included Sex and the City, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 and Nights in Rodanthe although they took some grief for tossing the Amy Poehler/Rachel Dratch/Parker Posey beach comedy Spring Breakdown straight to DVD. That WB’s post-2009 slate was/is somewhat male-centric is arguably in tune with the industry as a whole, as Hollywood started chasing the “four quadrant blockbuster” (which usually revolved around a white male’s heroic journey) and started making fewer of the kinds of dramas and comedies that would often star women.
There was rarely outright parity, but it mattered less that men dominated blockbuster genres when Hollywood didn’t just make would-be blockbusters. But even during this dark period for gender parity, there were always female-fronted breakout hits that screamed: “Look!” Just over the last 10 years, there are copious examples of films about women and starring women that broke out and made copious amounts of money. It happens multiple times each and every year.
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