Who will be the next Indiana Jones? The question has preoccupied Indy fans since news of a pending reboot broke in January. Now, "Pitch Perfect" actress Anna Kendrick is making audiences imagine a plethora of possible candidates they never would have considered.
In celebration of Red Nose Day, a campaign that uses comedy to raise money for children and young people living in poverty, Ms. Kendrick cast herself in the role of “Indianna,” the female Indiana Jones, in a short satirical video. The full sketch will air Thursday night on NBC.
“Hollywood is now remaking hundreds of classic films with female leads,” booms the video’s narrator, poking fun at the hefty backlash against the news that films like “Ghostbusters” will be remade with an all-female cast. But for all of current discussion surrounding women’s role in Hollywood, Kendrick’s skit is just a joke, and Hollywood remains 90+ female-led reboots short of hitting the 100 mark, experts say. (A grassroots effort to cast a female Bond, going back as far as the 1990s, shook some fans and stirred others, but no actress has yet received her license to kill.)
“Last year, women comprised only 12 percent of protagonists, 29 percent of major characters, and 30 percent of all speaking characters. One of the reasons women remain so dramatically under-represented on screen is because they are under-employed in powerful behind-the-scenes roles,” says Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film at San Diego State University where she teaches television, film, and new media.
The American Civil Liberties Union conducted a two year investigation into possible gender-based discrimination in the hiring of directors. That review culminated earlier this month in a formal request for state and federal investigators to examine the matter. Dr. Lauzen points out that hiring female directors can lead to a trickle down effect that translates to a higher proportion of females cast in lead roles.
“In films with at least one woman director or writer, females comprised 39 percent of protagonists," she adds. "In films with exclusively male directors and writers, females accounted for only 4 percent of protagonists.”
Controversy erupted after Sony announced plans to launch an all-female version of "Ghostbusters," with some people unhappy to see female comedians like Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy stepping into the roles made famous by Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd. (Simultaneously, Sony is also reportedly launching a male reboot with Channing Tatum and the Russo brothers attached.)
“The Internet is really funny – I love it, but I hate it at the same time,” “Ghostbusters” director Paul Feig said in an interview with the entertainment trade magazine Variety. “The first wave when you make an announcement like that is overwhelmingly positive. Everyone’s so happy and you’re like, ‘This is great.’ Then comes the second wave and you’re like, 'Oh my God. Some of the most vile, misogynistic [garbage] I’ve ever seen in my life.' ”
Aside from “Ghostbusters,” Sony is currently creating a spinoff of the “21 Jump Street” movies with women in the lead roles. Warner Brothers is reportedly developing a new version of the 1976 sci-fi film “Logan’s Run” that will also star a woman.
Such reboots have drawn accolades from feminist film critics. However, to some advocates of gender equity simply casting women in leading roles amounts to little more than lip service if the characters are portrayed in stereotypical ways.
Take the release of the 2013 sequel of the 1981 cult film the "Evil Dead" starring Jane Levy as Ash, which raised some critics' eyebrows.
“It is female characters and only female characters who get possessed. There’s even a scene that cuts between the female characters being possessed and the male characters discussing plans of action. I don’t understand why the filmmakers thought it necessary to treat possession by the Evil Dead in this way,” wrote blogger Max Thornton on a feminist film blog.
Women’s role in film was also a central topic of conversation during this year’s Cannes film festival, with actresses Rachel Weisz, Emily Blunt, Isabelle Huppert, Salma Hayek, Aishwarya Rai, and Parker Posey all saying they hope more attention will be given to the issue so that gender inequality in movies can be erased.
“We're just very disproportionately represented in terms of directors and writers – people in charge of the storytelling. So we just need more films from women's point of view," Ms. Weisz told Reuters.
And Lauzen agrees that there need to be more diverse and realistic portrayals of women in films.
“Portraying women in a variety of roles would be a step in the right direction. There is not just one type of woman in the world. Our stories should reflect this reality. Certainly women can play protagonists in the action genre. The trick is not to just take a male role and cast a female but to craft the character so that she is a multi-dimensional, interesting, and believable character,” says Lauzen.
“The success of the 'Pitch Perfect' movies [starring Kendrick] is a good example. The films don't just feature a single female protagonist but many female lead characters reflecting at least some diversity. Moreover, we see relationships between the females and how women can work together to achieve goals.”
While Kendrick looks fetching in Indy's iconic fedora, so far, Hollywood hasn't reported any plans to green light a new "Raiders of the Lost Ark" starring an "Indianna."
“The parody is clearly a response to the fact that so many people responded negatively to news of an all-female 'Ghostbusters' movie. It plays off people's fear that all of their beloved childhood icons will be changed into something else,” says Chris Hansen, associate professor and director of the film and digital media division at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
“But why shouldn't there be a 'Ghostbusters' movie with a female cast? I don't think there needs to be an agenda behind it. They're trying to make a funny movie, and they've assembled a cast of hilarious women with proven box office potential.... Would a female Indiana Jones be a good idea? Why not? The key, as always, is to make a good movie. If it's good, people will see it.”