women in action: emily blunt calls out Hollywood’s typecasting problem
Hey Hollywood producers, here’s a radical idea: did you know that women can be action movie stars? Over the last year or so on Lip, I have been exploring my favourite female action heroes in a regular piece called Kickass Feminists on Film. Apart from being an eye-opening exercise, it is becoming harder and harder to find characters to write about. It seems like Hollywood big-shots are still a little cautious about giving women top billing in action movies.
At the Toronto International Film Festival last week, Emily Blunt was promoting her incredible new action thriller Sicario, in which she plays an FBI agent fighting against Mexican drug cartels. In an interview with Indiewire, the English actress had some very interesting things to say about the role of women in action movies.
After appearing in last year’s action blockbuster Edge of Tomorrow, and then this year’s Sicario, Blunt’s name seems to keep getting attached to other action film projects, most notably Marvel’s first solo female superhero film, Captain Marvel. Although Blunt discloses that she has not had a formal offer for the part, she does have some idea why her name keeps getting attached to action roles.
‘I think it’s because the list [of possible actresses] is very short, because we don’t see women in these kind of roles. So I think as soon as you do a role like that… there’s like four women who are going to be considered for those kind of roles. So when I think that’s why when the rumours happen, they’re like “who else? Surely not another girl can wield a gun,”’ she says.
It wasn’t long ago that Blunt was considered the go-to actress for a romantic comedy (The Five Year Engagement) or period drama (The Young Victoria), yet since Edge of Tomorrow her name has been associated with action movies. That someone can go from being type-cast as an English rose to being type-cast as the go-to action woman is incredible.
It must be stressed that the character Blunt plays in Sicario is not an all-out action “hero.” Her character Kate is extremely flawed and struggles to keep her morals in check after being thrown head-first into the corrupt world of Mexican drug cartels. Blunt says of Kate, ‘she isn’t actually an action heroine, she’s a female cop.’
In the interview, Blunt name checks other actresses like Charlize Theron, Jenifer Lawrence and Angelina Jolie who are often attached to female action hero roles. Blunt’s suggestion is that for male actors, action roles are far more common and diverse than those written for women. From outlandish action movies (The Expendables, Die Hard), to gritty action movies (The Bourne films), to fun action movies (The Avengers), and to the intellectual action movie (The Dark Knight), there are a lot of opportunities for men to play the hero; and not just that, but an interesting and distinctive hero.
Compare that to female role in action films, where most people would struggle to name five truly female-led action films. As Blunt said, there are usually only a few actresses who Hollywood producers believe to be capable of carrying an action film. With the success of The Hunger Games series, female action heroes are becoming more popular, proving yet again that everyone wants to see women at the helm of a huge action movie: it’s just Hollywood that’s struggling to break away from its typecasting tendencies and see what’s wrong with their system.