Boycotting the bros

I read a chunk of a review for The Gentlemen to my husband last night. Something along the lines of: Colin Farrell is a scene-stealer, but it’s not quite clear why he’s even in the scenes to begin with.

“I like Colin Farrell. We should go see that,” he said. 

“I can’t,” I replied. “There aren’t any women in it.”

That’s not quite true. Michelle Dockery is one of the seven named cast members (yes, the other six are all dudes) but no female characters speak in the official trailer for The Gentlemen. That’s become my criteria for deciding whether to see a movie: does at least one women talk in the trailer. It feels like a low bar, not nearly as stringent as the perfectly reasonable Bechdel test, but it’s incredible how many movies it excludes—including a third of the nominees for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars.

The worst offenders in that group (aka films I have no interest in seeing):

  1. 1917 Not a woman in sight here, just a lot of things blowing up and a guy running—along with some very serious men talking.
  2. Ford v Ferrari A brief flash of a mute female character in the trailer, but no women on the bill, although it is a small list with only Matt Damon and Christian Bale credited.
  3. The Irishman Unsurprisingly, the trailer for this Martin Scorsese film focuses on the big hitters—Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci—and there’s no room for women. 

And the Best Picture nominees that meet this bare bones criteria (ranked in order of my interest in watching them): 

  1. Little Women In this case the question was more, Do male characters have a voice? And the answer is yes. Women carry the speaking parts in the trailer, but two men also contribute.
  2. Marriage Story ScarJo and other female actors get about half the dialogue here. 
  3. Parasite The trailer shows both men and women in pivotal roles, with female actors speaking—and being subtitled. 
  4. Jojo Rabbit Three different female characters get to use their voice boxes in the trailer and all three female actors are listed in the cast.
  5. Joker There’s not a heck of a lot of dialogue in the trailer for this essentially one-man show, but somehow women manage to squeak their way into three different speaking roles.
  6. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Women in Playboy bunny costumes, women dancing, and a lot of chin wagging from Leo and Brad, then halfway through the trailer Margot Robbie and Margaret Qualley (who are also listed in the credits along with Dakota Fanning) get to talk!
A woman sits alone in a dark theatre with red velvet seats
The loneliness of women in film.

There’s not much I personally can do to bring gender equality to Hollywood. I can’t adopt an inclusion rider like Michael B. Jordan or speak at the UN about gender equality like Emma Watson. Tweeting about drinking wine and ranting instead of watching the Oscars like BuzzFeed producer Julia Moser won’t garner me any coverage in Vogue. But I can use the one lever I have at my disposal here and not contribute money to Hollywood’s old guard by simply refusing to consume and pay for media that doesn’t include women. 

There are lots of great movies that don’t ignore a full half of the population, including plenty with female actors in starring roles and women behind the camera. I thought Hustlers, After the Wedding, and The Farewell were particularly good in 2019 (although Hustlers has effectively no male characters). And I’m looking forward to watching Booksmart, Late Night, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, of course, Little Women.

My own personal boycott of movies that can’t be bothered to include women probably won’t have much impact on the world of mainstream cinema, but maybe it will inspire others to funnel their movie-watching money towards films that depict a more complete spectrum of the human experience—rather than nearly exclude an entire gender. 


Full disclosure, I recently watched and enjoyed The Two Popes, definitely not a movie with any female character development. I can cheat and say that the female news anchor in the trailer counts as a woman speaking, but instead I’ll admit that my boycott isn’t perfect. 

* I used YouTube to source the trailers and selected the oldest official version that was at least two minutes long and, for every film other than Parasite, was posted by the studio itself.

Photo by Karen Zhao on Unsplash

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