Filminism: Why 'The Heat' Needs to Be a Hit

Filminism is a bi-weekly column about women in cinema. It runs on alternating Fridays. 

Anyone who watched the amazing filibuster in Texas earlier this week knows that change is slowwwww. As a native Texan, I wish I could be more dumbfounded at Rick Perry's bullheaded abortion legislation and continued attempts to undermine the rights of women, but alas, I am not. Instead, I'm proud of people standing up for what seems like the basics of human decency: Senator Wendy Davis, who quite literally stood up against a criminally restrictive abortion bill that plenty of Texans clearly do not support; Leticia Van De Putte, who left her father's funeral to be demeaned and ignored by the Texas Legislature, who finally gave words to what so many women feel on a daily basis ("At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues in the room?"); Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who has the audacity to stand against domestic violence and ask men to do better.

The fact of the matter is that whatever system you're operating in — the government, the studio system, the educational system — is dominated by white straight cisgender men. Everyone else, we're slowly hacking away at this system. It's not going to be over night. It's not going to be easy, and we're going to need the help of allies like Paul Feig to get us there. (That sounds a bit begrudging, like, well at least we've got that guy to help us, but no, Paul Feig is a genuinely talented person who is, for his own reasons, more interested in female-driven comedy than the more obvious and commercially viable alternative.)

Like "Bridesmaids," "The Heat" isn't going to create a sea change in Hollywood. Maybe we learned that the hard way; maybe that's why the numbers of women in front of and behind the cameras are more depressing than ever. Now we know that studio executives aren't suddenly going to rain down cash and prizes on vehicles that aren't based on tried-and-true formulas, any more than they'll be greenlighting a sequel to "Holy Motors" for a Memorial Day weekend.


Still, movies like "The Heat," besides being enjoyable for all sorts of people and quite profitable to boot, help us slowly chip away at these notions of what can sell and who can sell it. It also helps create a dialogue about women in media, and as we saw in Austin earlier this week, making noise and sheer stubbornness is sometimes what it takes to get the job done.

Producer and writer Lynda Obst told The Daily Beast, "What's interesting about the way they're selling this film is that they're selling it as a male comedy… You sell a movie to men because women will go anyway — you won't lose a single female viewer. The advertising is selling it as a classic buddy cop movie with only a couple winks at the fact that it stars women." Reporter Kevin Fallon concluded, "In other words, expect the only careers to get hot off 'The Heat' to be Bullock's and McCarthy's themselves. Obst says it best: 'It's pretty bloody depressing, isn't it?'"

Wait, what? Did we see the same trailers? It's being sold as a comedy actioner that stars women, period. Isn't that kind of what we're aiming for – movies that star people doing people things that are funny or violent or sad or exciting? Yes, I am excited to see a movie about two female cops who become best friends and make jokes about casual sex and the horrors of Spanx and albinos. Maybe other people will just be excited to see a movie about cops who beat people up. That's okay too. This isn't a matter of sneaking vegetables into your kid's brownies, as if something about or for women is so unappealing that we have to trick men into seeing it.

"Bridesmaids" might have created a glut in similar scripts, but it also raised the profile of McCarthy, made Kristen Wiig a bankable star and screenwriter, and helped Feig become an equally bankable director. In turn, "The Heat" introduces us to the hilarious Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo, comedians and writers that are friends and collaborators of Feig's, and screenwriter Katie Dippold, who's written for TV and probably has plenty more ideas where "The Heat" came from. And naturally, they'll bring their friends to write and produce and act in their projects, and before you know it, there's a big, funny, lady-centric media party happening. The success of "The Heat" will also show that women over 40 are still capable of bringing in box office bank, even without resorting to treacly Oscar bait or playing someone's mother.

How is any of this bad?

Any time a person like Feig or Mike White or Joss Whedon pops up and seems interested in telling the story of women – or just humans – better than they currently are, we all win. If they aren't afraid to call themselves feminists, full stop, so much the better.

Meanwhile, every time a Rick Perry or his filmmaking counterparts pop up, we've gotta put on our sneakers and back brace and get ready for a fight. If I've learned anything about being a woman (and a Texan), it's that we'll wear 'em down eventually.