Where Have You Gone, Baby Face? 

I watched too much Turner Classic Movies at an early age. It can be a burden: all my celebrity crushes have been dead for at least twenty years, and to this day I think that marcelled hair looks normal. But my obsession with films of the 1930s and 1940s can also instill another bias in a contemporary movie nut: I have no doubt that the depiction of women in Hollywood films has never been as good – that is, as rich, as varied, as focused, as human – as it was during the height of the studio system. The fortunes of women in real life may have gone up, but the fortunes of women in movies have gone down.  This is, admittedly, non-obvious: this has been a banner year for movies by, for, and about women. There are more female writers and directors working now than at any point in the past century (more on this later). Modern movie women can pursue careers instead of relationships; they are allowed to talk about racism or raise kids out of wedlock. So what’s missing? Hollywood, for one thing. Women’s pictures in the new ‘10s and ‘20s are mostly produced outside the major studios, and their audience is limited to the kinds of people with a high tolerance for indie movies. At best, this can produce sharp, sincere character studies which would have been impossible a hundred years ago; at worst, there is a self-conscious, artsy unfunness to the whole endeavor: entertainment is for children and comics fans, but we’re here to watch a miscarriage or a rape. A quick look at any top-ten grossing list of the past shows a market dominated by big-budget action movies and pre-existing intellectual property. Almost all of them have male leads, excepting the occasional action heroine

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