Money, money, money

"Sex and the City" proved that four women over 40 can open a movie -- but what about three women over 50?


Kate Harding
July 7, 2008 9:31PM (UTC)

Just over a month ago, "Sex and the City" had the most successful debut ever for an R-rated comedy, knocked "Indiana Jones" out of the top spot and earned almost twice what its own distributor had expected for its opening weekend, proving that a movie starring four women over the age of 40 can be a bona fide blockbuster. But what about three women over 50?

On the weekend of July 18, when "Mamma Mia!" hits theaters, we'll find out. Although three men and a young, beautiful woman -- which sounds a lot more like the typical cast of a summer hit -- are crucial to the plot, Meryl Streep is the big star, and her character's best friends/former backup singers (Christine Baranski and Julie Walters) are at the heart of the story. Better still, three other women (just barely) over 50 -- writer Catherine Johnson, director Phyllida Lloyd and producer Judy Craymer -- who were behind the worldwide smash musical on which the movie is based, maintained creative control of the big-screen version. Reports The New York Times, "Having three women in these crucial jobs makes 'Mamma Mia!' a rarity in the movie business. According to Terry Lawler, executive director of New York Women in Film and Television, women directed only 6 percent of the top 250 films last year and wrote only 10 percent. And some 50 of those films listed no women at all among the main credits. For directors, Ms. Lawler said in a telephone interview, 'the numbers are basically in the same place they were 20 years ago.'"

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"Mamma Mia!" alone makes up for some of that gender gap this year, with a female production designer, editor and costume designer on board, as well as several other women in the crew. "Ms. Craymer said that she hadn't been trying to make a feminist point when she first enlisted Ms. Johnson and Ms. Lloyd to help realize her notion of an Abba musical or when she started hiring people for the film. But somehow, as she sought to fill the movie crew with others who 'got' the 'Mamma Mia!' factor, she ended up with even more women," says the Times article. And that "getting it" factor is what moved Universal Pictures to put their faith in the same team behind the musical, according to Donna Langley, president for production. After being so deeply involved with the original, "They just understand what it is and why it works."

Whether the movie will work as well as the theater production remains to be seen; the article reminds us that translating Broadway musicals to the screen can be tricky, and for every "Chicago," there's a "Producers." But if "Mamma Mia!" takes off, 2008 could be remembered as the year when Hollywood finally had to admit that women can both create and "open" money-making movies. My my, how could they resist that?


Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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