Feisty moms and warrior women take on Oscar
IT'S no coincidence that Oscar is a guy.Skip to next paragraph
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Traditionally, the Academy Awards have been all about muscle, as Scottish warriors, soldiers, and mafia bosses have hacked and slashed their way up to the podium to grab the top honor.
But this Sunday's ceremony has a decidedly more feminine tone. For the first time in 15 years, a woman is the central character in three of the five movies nominated for best picture. And some culture watchers and members of the film industry are hopeful that such gains will become more common, as more women are involved in telling stories on film.
"It's testosterone versus estrogen" at the 73rd Oscars, says Tom O'Neil, author of "Movie Awards." "Three feisty female movies are taking on Goliath at the Oscar Coliseum."
The Goliath in question would be the frontrunner, "Gladiator." Fortunately, the ladies in at least one of the pictures, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," are pretty handy with a sword.
Or with a suit, as in the case of "Erin Brockovich," whose fiery public crusader put both star Julia Roberts and scribe Susannah Grant on the red carpet for Sunday's affair.
"Tons of women are saying, 'Good for you!' " says Ms. Grant, one of two women nominated for a screenplay this year. She laughs. "Then they say, 'What are you going to wear?' "
An even bigger question than whether Grant should go with Dolce & Gabbana or Prada may be: Why now? And observers are hard-pressed to say. Possible reasons range from an increase in the number of women in Hollywood's decision-making roles to a hunger by audiences for new stories.
"There are certainly more women now than before in positions to make choices about films," and which films get made, says Hollace Davids, a Universal Studios executive and president of Women in Film in Los Angeles. And there's a distinct possibility that these women "will gravitate toward stories that speak to them."
Cheryl Rhoden has her own theory about the force behind the rise in respected movies starring women. "Evolution!" quips the spokeswoman for the Writers Guild of America, West.
And in an industry where there are at least as many imitators as innovators, there may be more scrappy single moms and lyrical action heroes coming soon to a theater near you. "It's hopefully a harbinger of good things to come," says Ms. Rhoden.
In the past year, more take-charge roles for women - particularly the strong, single type - have cropped up. They're found in everything from action flicks to French fables, a la "Chocolat," the third nominated film. And audiences are lining up to see them. Last year's "Charlie's Angels" took in more than $100 million, as did Sandra Bullock's tomboy FBI agent in "Miss Congeniality." In April, Angelina Jolie becomes the next archaeologist-action hero in "Tomb Raider."
But others caution against placing too much importance on an awards show. "It's no brain trust," says Stephanie Zacharek, movie critic for Salon.com in San Francisco. "[The Oscars] do, to an extent, reflect things that are visible or prevalent in the culture. [But] it's dangerous to look at them as a final indicator of what's important or interesting."