One of America’s top critics has revived the age-old debate about women getting a raw deal in movies.
22 Dec 2009 - 11:29 AM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 3:33 PM

Mamma Mia! was a terrible movie but millions of women went to see it because they're starved of films for and about women.

Hollywood's penchant for movies based on comics and superheroes has “forced women to sigh and squeal on the sidelines.” And many romantic comedies suck because they're made by morons with no taste who “think they're making movies for the great unwashed and that's what they want.”

Those incendiary views were expressed last week in a series of articles and interviews by one of America's most respected critics, The New York Times' Manohla Dargis. Her comments sparked a lively internet debate--and a furious response from her.

Dargis drew some comfort from recent successes in the US of female-driven films including The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Julie and Julia, An Education, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, and The Blind Side, in which Sandra Bullock plays a sexy Christian mother.

And she saluted director Kathryn Bigelow, whose Iraqi war movie The Hurt Locker is winning a bunch of critics' awards and is a strong contender for best picture at the Oscars—possibly in competition with her ex-husband James Cameron's Avatar.

But she rails against the Hollywood system as largely a boys' club, and notes that of the almost 600 new films reviewed by The Times this year, only 60 were directed by women, and many were documentaries or foreign-language movies that had limited releases.

“For years the received wisdom, both in the industry and the press that covers it, has been that women don't go to the movies and can't open movies,” she opined. “Although recent hits like The Devil Wears Prada, Sex and the City and Mamma Mia! have helped put a dent in that thinking, it will take more than millions of teenage girls (and their moms) squealing in delight at sparkly vampires and hairy beasties with swollen deltoids before real change will come to American movie screens. Women need to develop their own muscles.” box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian agreed there's a dearth of action movies starring women, telling the Washington Post, “There's no Bourne Identity with a woman starring in it right now. It's almost as if in real life, women want to be empowered and in control, but on-screen they seem to like the old-fashioned damsel-in-distress, love-struck female.”

That seemingly innocuous observation enraged Dargis. “F---. What an ass----. Yes, that's what I want,” she exploded to, a website devoted to women and entertainment. “If Angelina Jolie had been cast in a movie as a good as The Bourne Identity with a filmmaker like Paul Greengrass, I would have gone out to see it, and I'm sure I wouldn't be alone. That is absurd. That's blaming female audiences -- you get what you deserve? Is that what he's saying?"

Wounded, Dergarabedian replied, “Manohla, that is not what I am saying, and you know what? I hope Angelina Jolie's action thriller Salt kicks ass at the box office next year. Just like you, I want to see good films that are female-centric and aren't just romantic fluff. I want to live in a world where great films get made and are embraced by a welcoming audience; where gender matters not and where Kathryn Bigelow winds up with the Best Director statue for The Hurt Locker. But life is not fair."

I think we can declare that a nil-all draw.