New Warner Brothers Production Policy Bans Movies with Female Leads

Well if you needed proof that the movie industry is still, after all these years, just a giant boys club and that women aren’t fairly represented in Hollywood, look no further than this next story. Shockwaves were sent around the web this week after the public caught wind of a boneheaded and rather sexist new policy being implemented by Warner Brothers execs. According to Deadline Hollywood, WB President of Production Jeff Robinov has decided that they will no longer greenlight any movies with female lead characters, as a response to the failure of such recent films as The Invasion, The Reaping and The Brave One. Because, as we all know, those movies failed to generate box office dollars solely because audiences can’t relate to women in lead roles… right? Come on, that’s just about as stupid as if they had decided to put a ban on all movies that start with “The”.

A lot of people around the web are outraged and are calling for an boycott of Warner Brothers films. While I can understand this kind of reaction to the news, I don’t really think it will change anything. Once another studio finds a big hit with a female in the lead, they will drop this inane policy and try to jump right back on the bandwagon. The real problem is that these bean counters at various studios are constantly trying to map out trends and find impossible explanations for the behaviour of moviegoers… as if such a thing were really possible. They have to find somewhere to place the blame when a movie fails. But anyone with any common sense knows that there are a huge number of factors that go into the success of a movie, and that it’s not something that can be broken down into a simple formula. Each of the films mentioned above had plenty of other problems whether it be poor marketing, extensive reshoots, or just plain bad filmmaking. The thing is, as much as the majority of movies are made by men and for men, there are still a ton of women out there who love to go to the movies. Maybe they should be asking women what they want to see on the screen instead of telling them? Either way, if the people at Warner Brothers are smart, they’ll back down from this policy and issue a public apology fairly soon, because they’ve got a lot of people around the web worked up and ready to feel heroic by avoiding their movies at all costs.

  • “they’ve got a lot of people around the web worked up and ready to feel heroic by avoiding their movies at all costs.”

    Oh, it’s a deep burn. Oh it’s so deep. I wish I was as elegant as Sean. I want your laissez-faire attitude towards stupidity. Teach me, master of logic.

  • Captain N

    This is such a non-issue. If this information was never released to the public, nobody would have noticed that WB stopped producing films with female leads. It seems like people haven’t had something new to complain about and need to fill that void and thankfully (or not) some man hating feminist journalist was able to throw out this (non) news just to stir up controversy. Boycott or not, I’m sure all these people will suddenly forget this piece of news once Dark Knight trailers start getting released.

  • Makes you wonder about all of those negative reviews towards Death Proof:

    ‘It was nothing but a bunch of bitches blabbing for an hour and half!’

    I wonder if those same people would’ve like the movie more if it was men blabbing for an hour and a half? Oh wait, wasn’t that Reservoir Dogs? And Pulp Fiction?

  • Do you want to debate that? I’ll say that the second group of girls in Death Proof felt more like an audio commentary than actual people. The first group I will agree with the analogy.

  • Henrik: It takes years of deep meditation, but I can take you on as an apprentice if you’d like.

    Captain N: I agree completely. This is obviously not something that they intended to announce to the public, and I’m sure there’s been plenty of other stupid policies like this in place at other studios that no one knows about. I can understand the outrage on some level, it’s just that crap like this happens all the time in the movie industry.

  • Jon Rocks

    Apparently Jeff Robinov subscribes to Dr. Dre’s theory that “Bitches ain’t shit.” Good for him.

  • Henrik:

    Not particularly. But it is interesting that you find the second group of girls (the strong willed, friends 4ever ‘real world’ set) less realistic than the first. (the lap dance giving, drug taking ‘genre’ set)

  • Less realistic? They just felt like Tarantino more than individual characters who actually had something going on. The first group had dynamics and all of them had their own little universe. The second group had the cheerleader who had something of her own, but especially Zoe Bell and the Afro-Negro were just mouths going on about references to Vanishing Point, and they had much more typical scenes like the one where she’s trying to talk Zoe Bell out of doing the stunt etc… That was just boring and there was nothing going on other than building up to a car chase for 30 minutes.

  • Wait, are we talking about which group was more ‘boring’ or more ‘real’? I don’t really see any points of yours supporting the bar girls to be any more real then the second group.

  • Primal

    I thought both groups of girls were real and not boring. I thought that the 1st group represented the type of girls Tarantino hated. You had a girl who was easily offended, Butterfly a tease, Julia as a stuck-up snob, etc. Even tossing in a blonde and a short-haired butch dike at the end. The 2nd group of girls were much different and I think you should even like these characters from the get-go with the men-in-their lives introduction compared the 1st groups intro. The cheerleader “air-head” was the only vulnerable character of the 2nd group and the other girls actually protect her by not bringing her along for the ride at end.

    Anyway, I’m with Sean on the issue. WB should issue an apology if this is true. For some reason I see this topic headlining for Attack of the Show or some show like that and finally filtering to CNN. I think this whole boycotting Warner Bros. film is ridiculous. Please tell me that Film Junk isn’t a part being on this bandwagon. As listening to previous podcasts I know that Campea is your friend, I would think that you might be on his side.

  • Just visit the movie blog’s thread about this issue and you’ll see i’m not on board with this boycott.

  • Liz

    It makes me curious that no women are weighing in on this (although of course it’s possible that Captain N and Primal are women, but given some aspects of their comments, I suspec they are not but I could be wrong, of course). While I do agree with Captain N that no one would have noticed if WB stopped producing films with female leads, considering their back catalogue of films is decidedly male-centric, I think it’s a *huge* problem for the President of Production to actually come out and state this as policy. If your studio isn’t known for producing films geared towards women (e.g. “chick flicks”, if you must), that’s one thing, but to actively *refuse* to look at projects specifically *because* they have female leads, that’s another thing all together. I don’t see how anyone could either a) be okay with this or b) not see how this is a huge problem.

    I will concede that I do think that a boycott is sort of ridiculous. This is the company that produces the Harry Potter films, after all: does anyone expect any of those people would boycott the studio for this reason? Unlikely, very unlikely.

    I think it’s also rather amusing that Robinov hasn’t noticed the other common denominator between these two films: not only do they have female leads, they were also at some level okayed by Robinov himself (or someone acting on his behalf at a lower level). How about taking some responsibility for the quality of the product you put out there? I personally didn’t see The Brave One or The Invasion, but it wasn’t because there were women in the leads: it was because they looked pretty damn crappy and I wanted to spend my $11 elsewhere.

    Primal: I wouldn’t consider not bringing the cheerleader along to be “protecting” her considering it’s strongly suggested that she was going to get raped and/or otherwise sexually assaulted by the leering car owner while the other girls were out on their daredevil test ride.

    I also take issue with Captain N’s idea that the author of the article must be a “man hating feminist”, but that clearly says a lot more about Captain N than the author. I’d hope that any decent guy would be just as upset as women are about this policy development, rather than writing women’s outrage off as being the product of “man hating”.

  • I think the outrage is definitely justified, and I think it’s newsworthy (even if you’re not a man-hating feminist). I just think people should realize that lots of studios probably have equally stupid policies that are sexist or racist or whatever, preventing good films from getting made simply because they don’t think they will sell. It’s a business, and at the end of the day, the numbers are all the major studios care about.

    I think you hit the nail on the head though Liz, when you mention the refusal of execs to take responsibility for a failed movie. There always has to be a scapegoat so that these people don’t lose their jobs. Sad but true.

  • Primal

    Liz, that’s definitely where it gets subjective between you and me on that issue. Yes, for a moment you feel like he might get raped by the car owner. But, why would he rape a girl that is part of a crew that he is selling a car to? Once the girls hit the road, I don’t think for one moment what is gonna happen to the cheerleader because I am way more intrigued by what the hell is Ship’s Mast and the whole car chase.

    I guess what I should of said is that they protected her from all the violence they were going to be a part of.

  • Liz

    Sean: but do they have actual policies governing their racist/sexist/etc. attitudes, or is it something that happens without actually being in writing? (Not that I expect you necessarily know the answer, so I guess that’s a rhetorical question.) No doubt that the other studios have equally sexist/racist/etc. people making important decisions about what gets produced (the lack of women in lead roles is pretty common across the board with major studios, after all), but there’s a difference (in my mind, at least) between making sexist/racist/etc. decisions based on your own prejudices and making them based on company policy. Neither is okay, obviously, but only one of them comes as the result of an officially sanctioned company policy as opposed to one jerk acting on his (or her) own accord.

    Primal: when the girls departed on their test drive, all they knew was going to happen was that they were going to be engaging in some seriously dangerous driving (except Rosario Dawson’s character, obviously). There wasn’t going to be any violence as far as they knew because they had know way of knowing that Stuntman Mike was going to try and kill them with his car. On the other hand, they essentially barter their friend to the car owner and it’s all in the manner that they do it that suggests that even *they* know what his intentions towards their friend are. It’s the trading of sexual favours for a test drive and both parties seem to have a pretty explicit understanding of the nature of the deal, which is why the girls are quite content to let him have their way with their friend: they just want to play Ship’s Mast, their friend’s safety be damned. The viewer may not think about it once the car chase is going on (because, yeah, that *is* a lot more engaging than wondering what’s happening to someone off screen), but that’s not really the point. Even though I really liked Death Proof, I’m still sort of appalled every time I see that particular scene because Tarantino plays it for laughs (“Oh, hahaha, this girl’s gonna get raped!”) with no real sense of irony or critical eye about the situation. He’s normally pretty good with “heavy” topics like that in his films, but this one was pretty one-dimensionally humourous.

  • This is ludicrous. If this thing about no more movies with lead women is true, shouldn’t it be the same for movies with men in the leads? Just as many, if not more, movies starring men do poorly in theaters. Maybe WB should just cut their losses and stop making movies with humans in the leads.

  • Liz

    I should add that given the nature of Death Proof, I wasn’t expecting important moral commentary on behalf of Tarantino (or Rodriguez); what I was expecting was a twist on the grindhouse genre, and so playing that scene with even the tiniest dose of irony would have satisfied me. But Tarantino played it at face value, which I find incredibly weird, given the fact the the entire Grindhouse project was rooted in irony from conception.

  • Liz:

    There’s one scene in Death Proof i’d like to point out in contrast to your remarks. When Rosario Dawson is trying to convince the two girls to let her come along for the ride, she makes them an offer. If she can convince the man to let them take the car, she gets to go. They ask her how she’ll do it, she says she’ll insinuate that Lee will give the man a blow job. Here’s the important part: they all laugh, then Dawson clarifies that she’s kidding, of course.

    The way the girls leave their friend behind, in my eyes, is less a sign of them trading their friend for a car and more of a cartoony gag that moves the plot along. The man himself is an unusually cartoonish character among the others. He grunts and laughs like a Scoobi Doo caretaker or something. When they drive off, she looks up at him and says ‘gulp’, which to me was an equally naive and cartoony response. I don’t know that it was meant to be taken entirely seriously. That’s just my take on it, however i’m sure there’s many ways to look into it.

  • Primal

    Liz, the stuntwomen knowing if there Stuntman Mike or any violence is totally irrelevant. Tarantino already knows that there will be and viewers upon multiple viewings know there will be all this bad stuff happening. So that’s how I am looking at it. I think Tarantino dealt with “heavy” topics extremely well in the movie and he really knows how to write about women.

    But that specific scene with the car-owner doing that trademark giggle that he has done in a bunch of other movies was, yes, for laughs and was humorous in that “one-dimensional” way. Its funny though because you thought that the cheerleader was suggesting she should get raped. Of course I “laughed off” anything of the sort.

    btw, won’t be talking about Death Proof anymore on the thread even I love that movie and will definitely be in my top 5 films of the year.

  • Liz

    Jay, I would definitely agree with you about it being a joke if Abernathy didn’t go and do exactly what she said she wouldn’t do (or a close approximation of). I can’t remember if this was in the theatrical version or just on the DVD version, but Abernathy then proceeds to tell Jasper (who is a ridiculous cartoon, you’re right) in a wink wink, nudge nudge way that he’ll have time to “get to know” their friend Lee while they’re test driving the car, after which she tells him that Lee is starring in a porn film. The final shot we get of Jasper is him standing and leering at Lee while she is lounging in a submissive position with her legs somewhat spread. The imagery of this final shot is incredibly powerful in establishing the dynamics of sexual power in that scene, and it’s clear that the power does not side with Lee the Cheerleader.

    I can see the cartooniness of the scene, definitely (I forgot about the “gulp” bit), and that’s probably part of my problem with it: I just don’t find sexual assault to be all that amusing.

  • Liz

    Primal: I think you misunderstood my previous comment since I never suggested that Lee thought she should get raped a) because her character is pretty dim and doesn’t ever really seem to know what’s going on, and b) what woman in her right mind would ever suggest that she get herself raped? It’s Abernathy who suggests that Jasper could perform all manner of sexual acts on Lee (regardless of consent), not Lee herself.

  • Primal

    “considering it’s strongly suggested that she was going to get raped and/or otherwise sexually assaulted by the leering car owner while the other girls were out on their daredevil test ride.”

    Not saying you specifically believe in it. Just responding to what you think the scene conveyed. Sorry if I misunderstood the comment.

  • Well i don’t think anyone finds actual sexual assault amusing. But this is a ‘Grindhouse’ film, and ‘sexploitation’ is a common element.

    But back to that scene, another reason I don’t take it as seriously is the nature of these girls. They’re obviously established as the type of people who are somewhat naive and feel as though they’re invincible. I mean, leaving their friend alone with an auto mechanic is one thing…but look at WHY they’re leaving her there! So that they can play a dangerous game in which one friend drives a speeding car while the other is on the hood! I think THAT is an even bigger WTF? then the ‘trading’ of the cheerleader. But within the context of THIS film, it works for me. They are naive. They are invincible. And it’s proven in the end that you don’t want to mess with them. I’d like to think while they’re punching out Stunt Man Mike, their friend is exacting some justice on her own as well, and I don’t think it’s unfair to assume so.

  • Liz

    Sorry, yeah, in the bit you quoted I was trying to say that it was strongly suggested by the scene itself, not the victimized character. If that clears things up (probably not, heh).

    Anyway, yeah, we’re a long way from the original point of the post. The more I think about it, though, whether or not the characters in Death Proof are strong women isn’t all that relevant since Grindhouse completely tanked at the box office;if the film had been backed by WB, they could easily have added it to their list of “Films That Tanked Because They Had Female Leads”.

  • Liz

    Jay: I feel like there are two different types of sexploitation working in Death Proof, though. The first is comprised of all the hilarious T&A shots that act purely as stylistic elements of the film in the same way that the dust and scratches or missing reels do. The second type functions in a much darker way in that it invites the violation of a character based on a plot contrivance that goes beyond being an element of the genre. I think it’s a fine line to walk at best, but I feel like Tarantino ended up on the wrong side of the line in this case.

    Uh, and weirdly enough I’ve never actually given much thought to the sexual politics of Death Proof prior to this post, possibly because I’ve largely only discussed the movie with other women.

  • Liz

    Actually, here’s the real question: what exactly does all this do to WB’s planned Wonder Woman movie?

  • Goon

    I read on David Poland’s site that Sony already has a loose version of the same policy, and that Nikki whatserface who wrote the article this all came from, knew about it… and didnt say anything about it because the person who made the decision is a freind of hers… also a woman.
    take that with a grain of salt, but the more i read about this news item, the story is as much about the people reporting it as it is about the story itself.

  • Nikki Finke as a source!!?? Shit. The woman has near ZERO credibility in the film circles I happen to swim in. Good at shit-stirring — yes. But she’s a gossip hound, people-magazine type of ‘journalist.’ From what I’ve read of her, damn near the anti-christ if you get on her bad side!

  • you should update this post. the WB folks have denied the statement and pointed at their 08 schedule as evidence.

  • The girls at the bar felt way more real to me. They had stuff going on. The other group didn’t have any character, all their segment was about was talking about Vanishing Point, which is sort of a meta-conversation. Add to that typical moviegenre-scenes like the “you can’t”-scene, and you get a muddled sense of nothingness. You’re talking as if because Zoe Bell is named Zoe in the movie it’s like a documentary all of a sudden.

  • i dont know if thats exactly fair. the girls in the bar had seperate issues going on, but the other girls had a united goal. plotwise of course the first set are going to be more individually distinctive. but its comparing apples and oranges. the only way to correct it would be to put way more time into the second half of the story

  • right now so many of the blogs that posted this story are patting themselves on the back, as if bringing the issue to light made them change their mind… they’re all assuming the story was 100% true and that if they hadnt sent some angry emails that we’d never see any female led movies from WB ever again…

    look at all the little heroes all over the web, hi fiving for something they probably had no influence over from the get go. i dont like it.

  • Liz

    Goon, do you have a link to wherever WB denied the allegations?

  • go to the movie blog, john updated his post. theres other places, but i dont want to dig up the links.

  • Liz

    Thanks for your help.

  • I think the only way Death Proof could have been better is if Nicky Katt were in it. DVD? Problem solved.

    Grind House is still the best movie I’ve seen this year.

  • jake

    I thought the US had laws against racist remarks!