Don't stare, women, but that suit-guy in the Ferrari is checking us out. I know him. His name is Hollywood. It's usually near-impossible to get him to pay attention to us, but this summer, he seems to be looking our way.
It started May 15, when Pitch Perfect 2 – about female a cappella singers, and therefore perceived as created solely for women – made more money, in fewer theatres, than the postapocalyptic chase flick Mad Max: Fury Road, which, though stealth-feminist, was marketed mainly to young men: $69-million (U.S.) against $45-million, to be precise. So that turned Hollywood's head a little. (The Pitches continue to gross more than Max, domestically. Internationally, Max has edged past the girls, but they sing in English, while his grunts know no language barrier.)
The next weekend, May 22, the top-grossing film was Tomorrowland, which looks like it's an ad for Disney theme parks starring George Clooney, but is actually about two young women (Britt Robertson and Raffey Cassidy) who know how to chop, drop and roll. And then this past weekend, the grosses for Spy, which is about an underestimated CIA desk agent (Melissa McCarthy) who transforms herself into a trash-talking sure-shot, trounced those for Entourage, which is about a smug actor (Adrian Grenier), his posse and their many graphic but empty sexual encounters. (One character defines "fun" as "forgetting a woman's name while you're [screwing] her," which means it's unlikely to receive any awards from the National Action Committee on the Status of Women.)
When I say trounced, I mean $30-million against $10-million. And that matters, because box office is the language Hollywood speaks – much as he loves a pretty face, only big numbers turn him on.
There are at least seven more women-centric flicks to come, and for summer, that's a lot – Hollywood historically reserves this season for boys ages 14 to 44. (The people with two X chromosomes, Hollywood usually figures, aren't a real audience; they just tag along because they want the boys to like them. Or something like that.)
The animated film Inside Out has a female protagonist – not a huge surprise, since the movie is about emotions (two of which are voiced by Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling). The sequel Magic Mike XXL was made specifically for women and their gay boyfriends. Terminator Genisys has some powerful women behind the scenes and Emilia Clarke (the dragon-mistress from Game of Thrones) onscreen.
There's also an Amy Winehouse documentary (Amy); a Greta Gerwig dramedy (Mistress America); and a gorgeous, moody weepie that tells a true story of the First World War from a woman's point of view (Testament of Youth). The latter is so woman-centric that it devotes a full half-hour to the heroine's desire to attend Oxford – but then again, it's British.
Ricki and the Flash, meanwhile, is a comedy written by Diablo Cody (Juno) and starring Meryl Streep – as a rock star. (I know, it sounds like a parody on SNL.) Either it's really good, or Hollywood is a lot more desperate than I realized to get into our pants, and by that I mean our wallets.
And of course there's Trainwreck, written by and starring the unstoppable Amy Schumer, everyone's New Girl Hero. A rom-com-with-crotch-jokes, Trainwreck neatly flips the usual stereotype: A commitment-phobic wild gal (Schumer) has her life changed by a nice guy (Bill Hader).
Hollywood takes pains to point out that Trainwreck was directed by Judd Apatow – the poster reads, "From the Guy Who Brought You Bridesmaids." That may slightly irk Kristen Wiig, who co-wrote that film, and Paul Feig, who directed it (as well as Spy). But Apatow is a producer and de facto godfather of Bridesmaids, and he's a big reason Hollywood is so fascinated with women right now. Bridesmaids made nearly $200-million and started a conversation that grew to include The Hunger Games, Frozen, Gravity, The Heat, Maleficent, Fifty Shades of Grey, Orange Is the New Black and the upcoming women-led Ghostbusters reboot.
Apatow, who also co-produces the HBO series Girls, has figured out that women can hold their own with men, both in raunchiness and in wanting to see themselves represented onscreen. Too bad Hollywood is taking so long to follow his lead. According to studies conducted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, the stark inequalities of the entertainment business haven't budged over the past 20 years: the number of speaking parts for women across all media is stuck at 39 per cent and under; only 23 per cent of films worldwide feature a female protagonist; only 7 per cent of directors, 20 per cent of screenwriters and 23 per cent of producers are women.
Nor is Hollywood as worried as I think it should be about the campaign launched last month by the American Civil Liberties Union, which demands that state and federal agencies first investigate the troublingly low number of hires of female directors, writers, actors and others by the major studios, networks and talent agencies; and second, consider filing legal charges of rampant discrimination and civil rights violations. As Ariela Migdal, a senior staff attorney in the Women's Rights Project of the ACLU, told The Guardian, "Hollywood is in a dire situation in terms of gender disparities and the industry has been pretty much getting away with it."
But I do think that enough women – especially young women, who know how to flex their social-media muscles – are paying attention, and that the entertainment business will have to adapt, if only out of sheer self-interest. One fine day, Hollywood will learn to think of the "interesting" girl as "desirable" and will continue doing so even after she swaps her summer shorts for a winter coat.