Women’s History Month: Why MovieDiva

March 1, 2024 by Sandy Lerebours

During Women’s History Month, MovieDiva curator Laura Boyes explains why she created the classic film series featuring strong female leads. 

Hollywood has been run by men since almost the beginning. Male interests and the male gaze overwhelm cinema history. So many film genres leave women out almost entirely. If women green-lighted stories from movie infancy, would there be so many Westerns? School marms and floozies are just about the only women to be found on that prairie. Action movies? Women rarely get to be a part of that action, they are there to be rescued—or raped or murdered. Not to mention the enormous number of comic book movies dominating the release schedule. Yes, you can Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel me, but do I really care? What does it say that “Barbie” is the top-grossing Warner Brothers film of all time? And what does it say that its creator, Greta Gerwig, was snubbed for the Best Director Oscar? It says absolutely nothing new. 

Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”

Watching classic films can be a delight, but it can also be cringe-inducing. How many movies that you love include a male character who badgers a female character until she gives into his pursuit? Leave her alone! She said no! How many times is that man decades older than the object of his desire? Audrey Hepburn made delightful and endless rewatchable classics, but Cary Grant? Gary Cooper? Humphrey Bogart? Are these men old enough to be her father if not her grandfather? Can I please recast these movies with younger heroes? And don’t get me started on “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”  “Pretty Woman”? The hooker with the heart of gold. Do men think it would be kooky and fun to be a sex worker? Judging by the history of Hollywood, they do. 

And how many films include a sequence in a strip club for no reason? How many movies (post-Production Code) require an actress to take off her top? Pole dancing? Who cares? Oh, wait a minute.  Let me guess. 

Yet, half the movie-going audience is female and some of them legit love these kinds of movies, too.  Fine. But, where are the other movies? The goal of MovieDiva is to provide a safe space for women’s interests, women’s stories, and women’s bodies. 

Film director Alice Guy Blaché

In the very earliest days of silent film, there were numerous women directors, some of whom even owned their own studios. When the film business began to consolidate in the 1920s, and it was clear that money was to be made from the picture business, many of the women, like Lois Weber, Alice Guy Blaché, Cleo Madison, and Nell Shipman were pushed out or resigned the field. Women continued to work as film editors (it was thought their tiny hands were an attribute to that kind of detail work), as script girls, and sometimes as screenwriters. There were many powerful women scenario writers in the silent era, like Frances Marion, Jeanie MacPherson, and Anita Loos. But women were much less dominant in classic talkie Hollywood. A couple of women, Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino, managed to become directors, although their careers were decades apart from each other.   

Today, there are many more female directors and writers. But, there is still a missing link. There have to be more female reviewers (I’m guessing aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic are mostly populated by young males, hence their often low scores for female-dominated films) and more female programmers. I’m happy to say that women reviewers are much more common in the last 10 years or so, but there also must be female film curators, and that’s where MovieDiva seeks to fill a void. 

Now, let me be clear about one thing. I will defend to the death your taste in movies, even if it is diametrically opposed to mine. Everyone is allowed their own taste. I am not putting down your love for whatever pleases you. And, in return, I expect respect for the type of films that I love. 

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in “Gentleman Prefer Blondes”

I’m just saying, can we not have films with age-appropriate romantic partners? Female characters that are not long-suffering wives and mothers? Can we please wear pretty clothes? Can we plan our own heists, like “Topkapi” or “How to Steal a Million” (that, by the way, has Audrey with a hero approximately her own age)? I want to see some outsized personalities, like Carmen Miranda or Marilyn Monroe. Women who don’t feel obligated to defer to men. I want a rom-com heroine that does not have to trip and fall down to show how vulnerable she is, independent spirits like Amy Irving in “Crossing Delancy” or Melanie Griffith in “Working Girl.”  I want to root for the office workers in “9 to 5.” I want to see Barbara Stanwyck take control in “The Lady Eve” or “Baby Face.” I want to see Judy Holliday outsmart all the men who think she is too dumb to know what they are doing in “Born Yesterday.” 

I get it.  This will probably never be as many movie fans as come to see Godzilla or Dario Argento.  I’m OK with that. The Carolina Theatre is a treasure because it is an extremely large tent, and the fact that MovieDiva’s choices are included is a pleasure for me, and hopefully movie fans looking for all kinds of stories to be told. 

Tickets to films in the MovieDiva Film Series are available at the box office and on our website.