2016 - The Electra women in film review of the year

Emma Jones

Did 2016 really change things for women working in the entertainment industry? The industry is very keen to say yes it did. It points at Arrival, at Jackie, at Miss Sloane – and shouts: Complex female characters! Lots of them! Ones that pass the Bechdel test with flying colours! And some of them aren’t even nice! (Although all of them are attractive.) 

Just as no one wants a repeat humiliation of #oscarssowhite in 2017, so the industry would be eager to answer Moonlight director Barry Jenkins’s recent rhetorical question: “What about #oscarssomale? What about 51 percent of the population?” with the answer of: it’s changing. 

Well, thank you, awards season, for putting females up for awards in the categories where only females can be recognized. I appreciate they’re great roles: I was transfixed by Jessica Chastain, Amy Adams and Natalie Portman’s characters this year. Mind you, last year I was transfixed by Charlize Theron in Mad Max and Brie Larson in Room. Every year there’s a handful of great leading roles for high profile actresses.

Don’t get me wrong, I rejoice that in the last year Star Wars created Daisy Ridley as Rey and Felicity Jones as Jyn. It’s testament to the fact that producer Kathleen Kennedy has a decision making role in the franchise. I am rooting for Naomie Harris in Moonlight, Ruth Negga in Loving, and all three actresses playing black women scientists in Hidden Figures. As I pointed out, female ethnic minorities make up 1 percent of the industry. Even if the figure doubles or trebles this year, that’s still dreadful. 

But the films that truly are ground-breaking this year are not from Hollywood. Elle, with Isabelle Huppert, playing a middle-aged woman who enjoys being raped by her neighbour, is, obviously, French, and made by a Dutch director, Paul Verhoeven. The Eagle Huntress is set in Mongolia and the director is British. Toni Erdmann, though it’s written, made and produced by a woman, is German. Divines was made by a French Arab director. These films are crowding up the Golden Globes foreign language and documentary categories, but when it comes to looking for the female directors and scriptwriters in the film sections, where are they? Even the great 20th Century Women is directed by a man. Andrea Arnold’s American Honey remains a faint hope for an Oscar nomination, and she’s an independent British filmmaker.

There was a fabulous independent American film that debuted at Sundance this year, Certain Women by Kelly Reichardt, but despite critical acclaim, it hasn’t made its way to awards mainstream where it could have guaranteed a bigger box office. And let’s not pretend it’s not ultimately all about box office. Ghostbusters pleased (although not me personally) and in 2017 the pressure will all be on Wonder Woman, and her female director, to lasso in some serious cash. After all, The Force Awakens and Rogue One were helmed by a safe pair of male hands.

Until the directing, writing and film categories for consideration are packed with women who’ve created them I don’t think we can hail any year as a game-changer. We’ll have to take the positives – Miss Sloane is allowed to be a bitch, a female linguist got to take the lead in meeting aliens, and more black women were employed. In the meantime, we’re told with the faint air of patronage that Emma Watson’s character in Beauty and the Beast is allowed to have a career in 2017, and the most recent article I saw on an actress, Sienna Miller in the Telegraph, headlined on how she wasn’t afraid of getting wrinkles.

 Oh Electra – we’ve a lot to do next year.


ELECTRALaura Piety