When I first read Cheryl Strayed’s, “Wild” in 2012, my son had just died. I was desperate to understand why death had come so early for him, and how I would ever get past the pain of losing a child. At the time, we were in the process of renovating our home in Chicago and just trying to survive. I escaped my sadness under the blanket of night reading Strayed’s uncensored memoir about the death of her mother and the unresolved issues of her failed marriage. Great stories like Strayed’s, and the catalyst that started her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), became my own. Her book was my way back to life and peace.
That’s what books and movies do for us. They help us to see things in new ways, to learn things about ourselves and to discover our shared connectedness to the world. Together, we laugh, cry, scream and belong to something larger than ourselves. I walked with Cheryl by turning each page of journey like it was my own – trekking through unpredictable weather and physically exhausting hikes. I slept under the same sky and stars when she camped on cold nights, but my sky was a darkened kitchen with my husband next to me on our inflatable bed, waiting until our power was restored and our furniture arrived.
Books written by women have a lens that allows us to see the world through a woman’s eye. The view may be the same as a man’s but the collective experience is different because men and women are different. So, I rejoiced when Reese Witherspoon and Australian producer Andreas Papandrea’s announced their new film company, Pacific Standard, and their production of the movie version of Wild.
Women have shared in story creation before as actors, writers and directors, but the need for more stories to be told using a female lens has never been greater. Hollywood actors have long complained that there is a gap: “a need for more challenging and diverse female character roles for women over the age of 30”1. While men are certainly capable of telling Strayed’s story, how many would be interested in doing so? Women want to read stories and see films about what matters to them, and experiences they can relate to in their lives.
Studies conducted by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) confirmed what brought Reese and Papandrea’s together. Hollywood overwhelmingly focuses 85% of its time and stories on white men even though more than 52% of movie-goers are women with diverse backgrounds2. Movies like Wild and Gillian Flynn’s bestselling book, Gone Girl, were smart bets by the Reese team, proving that capitalizing on better roles for women makes great economic sense. Wild was a critical favorite breaking into the top 10 movies during its second week, and Gone Girl became a runaway bestseller hit and grossing more than $150 million at the box office.
So far, 2016 has been a great year for “Films By and About Women”. Check out the IndieWire.com list and what’s ahead. If Jocelyn Moorehouse’s, The Dressmaker, and Mira Nair’s, Queen of Katwe are any indication of the vibrancy of women behind the lens, the camera has never looked so good. These movies speak to our diverse culture and interests employing a female lens.
As the quality and breadth of gender content in film roles expand, increased competition from online content makers like Netflix have upped the stakes, calling for stories that meet audience demand for more relevant content.
In the book Wild, Strayed’s reminds us:: “There (was) no way to know what makes one thing happen and not another. What leads to what. What destroys what. What causes one to flourish or to die.” But these same words, also reminds me that when we focus the lens across different perspectives our shared experiences help us to work towards achieving a better understanding of the world we live in.
- Jennifer Maloney, “The Book World’s New Power Broker”, Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2016, D1.
- Rebecca Pahle, MPAA Statistics Break the Stunning News That Most of the People Who Go to the Movies aren’t White Men,” www.themarysue.com, March 27, 2014.