Everyone loves “Argo” but where are the women?

Women and Hollywood posted about Ben Affleck’s universally adored “Argo:”

Of the movie’s thirteen or so lead roles, three of them are played by women, and none of them are the caliber you might expect from a film that takes its female characters seriously…

Part of the movie’s marginalization of female characters can be rationalized away by the true-life nature of the film. Because the movie is “based on a true story,” Affleck and his screenwriter, Chris Terrio, have to somewhat stick to the facts and show the story the way things happened. But unlike this year’s Compliance, which told about as accurate of an account of real-life workplace abuse possible, Argo plays fast and loose with the facts for cinematic impact — to ramp up the drama and intensity. (If you needed someone to tell you the airport chase probably didn’t happen that way, you have no idea what the definition of a movie is.) Thus, the “we-had-to-stick-to-the-facts-so-no-lines-for-womenfolk” argument doesn’t hold up. If you can make room for an airport chase, a protracted dénouement where Mendez is awarded an Intelligence Star, a speech from Jimmy Carter (that adds nothing to the film) and a gratuitous shot of Affleck’s abs, you can give one woman something to do. Anything at all.

I’m not saying they should create a new role for a woman or magically create a female spy (it’s not Alias, after all), but the women here deserve more than virtual silence. The film doesn’t take place at an all-boys’ school or a magical world in which all of the women have gone mute. It was the 1970’s, not Spike TV. There were women who had relationships to the story, and the film’s desire to marginalize them or cut them out completely shows how little modern Hollywood thinks of female narratives. Movies actually made in the 70’s had better roles for women than this, and the idea that Affleck gets let off the hook for sexism because he made a period piece is insulting.

Writer Nico Lang is addressing an issue that people always raise on Reel Girl: “a magical world where the women have gone mute.” Fill-in-the-blank movie has to leave females out because that’s just how it is, in the original story, in the time period, in the jungle, whatever i.e. Tintin, Lord of the Rings, Marvel comics, DC comics, pirates, the 70s.

WTF? There is only one female chef in “Ratatouille” because there aren’t female chefs in France. The movie is about a rat who can cook. A talking rodent is more believable than 50% of chefs being female? In “The Lion King” the female lions have to wait until the male lion, our hero, Simba, returns because males lead the pride in the real world. That same “real world” where a lion dances, sings and is BFFs with a warthog and Meekrat? Huh?

The “we-had-to-stick-to-the-facts-so-no-lines-for-womenfolk” argument rarely holds up, yet it gets used all the time.

Lang makes another point in her criticism of “Argo” that I often address on Reel Girl. When a female is allowed to be a lead in a movie, she is surrounded by a constellation of males. You almost never get to see powerful females working together. Lang writes:

Argo isn’t alone in marginalizing women’s roles in film, as all but five of this year’s Top 20 films were dominated by men, and even films that feature women as leads do so in films where their gender is the minority (see: The Hunger GamesBraveSnow White and the Huntsman).Although it may be wrong to criticize Argo for doing the same thing everyone else is (just more egregiously), the film shows that even our “serious films” often do not privilege women’s narratives.

Not serious films and not children’s films. What does that leave? Oh yeah, chick flicks.