Black Women in Film

Black Women as Cultural Deities

A Review of “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85”

When the Combahee River Collective gathered in 1977 for their annual retreat, the Black feminist thinkers, writers, and scholars decided to write a statement of intentionality. The exclusion of women of color from Lesbian Art and Artists, a feminist art journal organized by the Heresies Collective, prompted the response. The collective’s statement explored the erasure of Black women in the Women’s Movement and the Black Liberation Movement. More importantly, the Combahee River Collective pushed for the visibility of Black women.

“We have spent a great deal of energy delving into the cultural and experiential nature of our oppression out of necessity because none of these matters has ever been looked at before,” the collective concluded. “No one before has ever examined the multilayered texture of Black women’s lives.”

Forty years later, Black women are still fighting to be seen. That’s the theme woven throughout “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85,” an exhibit currently housed in the Brooklyn Museum. It’s one of the final parts of the museum’s “Year of Yes,” a year-long commitment to exploring feminism through art. The exhibit, like Solange transforming lives at the Guggenheim, allows Black women to center ourselves in spaces that pretend we don’t exist. “We Wanted a Revolution” also serves as a course correction. A sign at the entrance of the eight-panel exhibit states that many of the artists included aren’t feminists because of the movement’s exclusion of Black women. The dovetailing of second-wave feminism and the Black Arts Movement merely serves as a historical map of the figures and organizations at the forefront of the exhibit.

Elizabeth Catlett Malcolm X Speaks for Us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a push to make Black women visible. For instance, Emma Amos, the sole female member of Spiral, a Black artists’ collective, is featured at the beginning of the exhibit. Flower Sniffer (1966) is Amos’ self-portrait, which shows her looking at a couple who are in mid-embrace. She’s in the photo, but not of the world it inhabits, a clear indication of how Black women were positioned at the time. We were peripheral, invisible, and overlooked. Invisibility continues to be a theme as the exhibit progresses. Artist Faith Ringgold is prominently featured throughout the eight-panel exhibit. In 1970, she and her daughter, Michele Wallace, forced the Whitney Museum of American Art to include two Black women artists—Betye Saar and Barbara Chase-Riboud—in their Sculpture Annual for the first time.

Now, the Brooklyn Museum is honoring Ringgold’s struggle for equity. Her oil painting For the Woman’s House (1971) shows an array of women at work. Female inmates at Rikers Island used to be able to purchase the painting, though the jail later banned it. Just as she advocated for Saar and Chase-Riboud, Ringgold created the painting to honor Angela Davis, after she was arrested for a crime she was later acquitted for.

“Angela Davis was in jail at the time, and I was very concerned about her,” Ringgold told the New Yorker in 2010. “I thought, One thing’s for sure: I’ll have a captive audience.”

Audre Lorde and James Baldwin Brooklyn Museum

The ways that Black women have historically fought for each other shows up in the exhibit, like the inclusion of Carrie Mae Weems’ photo series Family Pictures and Stories (1978–1984). It depicts Black people in Portland, Oregon, to combat the 1965 Moynihan Report, which suggested that Black women were responsible for the destruction of Black families. Betye Saar’s Liberation of Aunt Jemima: Cocktail (1973) is also featured. It places Aunt Jemima imagery on a Molotov cocktail as an illusion to the bottling of Black women’s rage. “We Wanted a Revolution” also includes Saar’s Colored Spade (1971), a painful video that shows tropes of Black people transformed into imagery of Black empowerment.

There’s also a glass case full of classic magazine covers and newspaper clippings, like the iconic conversation between Audre Lorde and James Baldwin, a copy of Toni Morrison’s seminal 1971 New York Times Magazine piece, “What the Black Woman Thinks About Women’s Lib,” and a profile of Shirley Chisholm during her historic presidential run. The entire exhibit positions Black women as cultural deities deserving of recognition and respect. We should no longer be invisible when we’re in museums.

Catherine Morris, senior curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, told TIME that was her goal for the exhibit. “An exhibition like this is years in the making, so over the course of producing the exhibition, the pertinence and necessity of it seems to have only increased. It certainly speaks to the need people have to talk about the contributions Black women have made to our culture.”

Our contributions are innumerable, immeasurable, and, certainly, not to be disregarded.

“We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85,” will remain at the Brooklyn Museum until September 17, 2017. It will then move to the California African American Museum in Los Angeles from October 13, 2017 through January 14, 2018; to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York from February 17, 2018 through May 27, 2018; and at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston from June 26, 2018 through September 30, 2018.

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Everything, Everything…

‘Everything, Everything’s Women Of Color Aren’t Stereotypes, According To Star Anika Noni Rose

Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Over the course of her career so far, Anika Noni Rose has played every kind of role under the sun, from a Disney princess (The Princess and the Frog) to an aspiring singer (Dreamgirls) to a fierce, uncompromising lawyer (The Good Wife). And in her newest film, the adaptation of the YA bestseller Everything Everything, she switches gears yet again, playing a loving mom who puts her daughter’s needs before, well, everything else. Rose has a resume filled with complicated, fascinating parts, but that’s not the norm for non-white female actors, a fact of which the actor is very well aware.

“I think very often women, in particular black women, are only shown a certain amount of things that they are welcomed into by the industry,” Rose says, speaking via phone in late April. But, she adds, “I’m hoping that that’s changing now. I think that [Everything, Everything] is very different, and not the way that you would generally see young women of color, including not just Amandla [Stenberg], but both my character and the nurse. You’ve got three women of color here who are not seen in the way that we generally are on screen, and I think that that’s a beautiful thing.”

Indeed, Everything, Everything features a cast that’s actually reflective of real life, with, as Rose notes, the three lead female roles played by women of color, and the majority of the parts in general being played by women. Nick Robinson’s Olly, the teenage love interest to Stenberg’s Maddy, is one of the only men to appear on-screen, and this reversal of the Hollywood norm is due in part, Rose says, to the film having both a female director and a female writer behind the source material.

Paras Griffin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

“It was wonderful to be on a set working directly with women and having conversations within the film, real conversations, with another woman, which so often does not happen,” the actor recalls. “There’s a statistic, just speaking on television: only 10 percent of those speaking roles are women of color, and that’s not even necessarily a conversation. You know: ‘Dr, your patient is here,’ or ‘Hi,’ or ‘Did you get the bread?’ That is considered speaking, and that’s not life on screen. That’s not real life. ”

“It was really amazing and wonderful to be able to have true conversation, not only with Amandla, but with Ana de la Reguera,” she continues. “It’s a gift.”

With a script full of roles that gave its female stars actual material to work with, Everything, Everything certainly stands out from so many of its big-screen peers. Its plot, as well, is unique; about a teenage girl who suffers from a condition that makes her allergic to the outside world, the film is a drama, romance, and suspense story all mixed in one. Rose, who plays Maddy’s mother and doctor, was drawn to the film’s originality — “it’s tender, it’s romantic, it’s intimate without being highly, overly sexual, as sometimes teenage films can be,” she explains — as well as its story of Maddy’s personal and romantic growth. “I’m interested in showing all facets of who we are as women, growing and morphing and changing and being affected by the world,” Rose says.

And luckily, she’s picking projects like Everything, Everything that allow her — and the many women of all different races and ages around her — to do just that.

 

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The Female Gaze

Thanks to the opportunities created by Peak TV, the once-elusive female gaze is beginning to emerge on the small screen. Below, directors, writers and producers reflect on the female gaze in their work and the challenges of working in a medium in which the male perspective has reigned for so long.

Melissa Rosenberg, creator, “Jessica Jones”

On not writing “female characters:” “It’s not like Jessica is a ‘female detective’; she’s a detective. When it’s a guy, you don’t say ‘male doctor.’ That’s really how I approach this. Certainly, her character is informed by her gender. You go through the world as a woman, you have a different experience, but I never approached it as ‘this is a female character.'”

Rashida Jones, executive producer-director, “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On”

On absorbing the male gaze: “We all have this internalized, unconscious bias because we live in a world that has primarily been seen through a male gaze. So we have also inherited a lot of that, and it’s really hard to break that habit. We live in a patriarchy and it’s really hard to escape that.”

Emma Frost, showrunner, “The White Princess”

On the male gaze: “The audience ought to be able to identify with a protagonist of either gender as long as that character is written as a human being. The problem has been, historically, the characters that have been constructed as human have always been the male characters. Female characters have been constructed as man’s other, a problem to be solved, a trophy to be won. Everything is about showing off the male prowess in relation to the woman.”

Jennie Snyder Urman, creator, “Jane the Virgin”

On objectifying men: “If we objectify anyone, we kind of make fun of ourselves for it. The humor is that we’re doing it to the men because it’s so often done to women. If we’re doing a slow-motion shot over [hunky male lead] Rafael’s body, it feels jarring because that’s something you normally see done to a woman. You’re so bombarded with what men think of beauty.”

On hiring women to direct 75% of this season’s episodes: “I always talk to the directors and I say this show goes through Jane. Covering Jane and how she reacts to everyone else is as important as what everyone else is saying because it’s filtered through her. … I hired the people who I felt understood that the most. A lot of them happened to be women.”

Moira Buffini, co-creator, “Harlots”

On sex scenes: “We feel a great responsibility towards actresses — and actors too. It is so intimate and invasive. You’ve got to be really careful and respectful of people. With female directors, we sort of knew without having to have the conversation that they would understand that delicacy.”

Ava DuVernay, creator, “Queen Sugar”

On the right way to think about women behind the camera: ”I can’t say what these women brought based on their gender. I just know that women have not historically had the opportunity to bring anything. The fact that they’re there and they’re bringing it is the story.”

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Black Panther Footage Reveals the Ferocious Female Warriors

…of Wakanda

April 18, 2017 12:13 pm

Update 7:35 E.T.: A Marvel representative reached out to say that the nature of the relationship between Danai Gurira’s Okoye and Florence Kasumba‘s Ayo in Black Panther is not a romantic one and that specific love storyline from the comic World of Wakanda was not used as a source.

Whether or not he had the approval of Disney when he did so, Beauty and the Beast director Bill Condon caused quite a stir in the April issue of Attitude—both of hopeful expectations and of conservative pushback—when he touted Josh Gad’s character LeFou and his “exclusively gay moment.” Though Condon surely had his heart in the right place, the phrase overpromised on what the film ultimately underdelivered: the moment comes when LeFou ends the movie by dancing, briefly with a man. O.K. However, early footage of Marvel’s upcoming Black Panther screened for journalists Monday night movie promises much more.

The scene in question features Walking Dead star Danai Gurira dancing on a boat with her fellow Dora Milaje, i.e., Black Panther’s personal female bodyguards. These women—first introduced to moviegoers in Captain America: Civil War— are the warriors who watch over Chadwick Boseman’s royal family. In Civil War, Uganda-born actress Florence Kasumba made an instant impression on audiences as one member of the select group when she curtly ordered Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow to “move” aside for T’Challa.

In the rough cut of this Black Panther scene, we see Gurira’s Okoye and Kasumba’s Ayo swaying rhythmically back in formation with the rest of their team. Okoye eyes Ayo flirtatiously for a long time as the camera pans in on them. Eventually, she says, appreciatively and appraisingly, “You look good.” Ayo responds in kind. Okoye grins and replies, “I know.”

This quick moment between two warrior women on their way to T’Challa’s coronation leans into a current very popular run of the Black Panther comic. A 2016 spin-off called World of Wakanda by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roxane Gay, and Yona Harvey is all about the relationship between two members of the Dora Milaje. The official description:

A Wakandan love story—its tenderness matched only by its brutality.

You know them now as The Midnight Angels, but in this story they are

just Ayo and Aneka, young women recruited to become Dora Milaje, an

elite task force trained to protect the crown at all costs. What happens when your nation needs your hearts

and minds, but you already gave them to each other?

Other footage from the film screened early for reporters centers more closely on T’Challa, including scenes of a traditional and elaborate Wakandan ceremony, and a shoot-out in a South Korea casino featuring Andy Serkis’s Claw and Martin Freeman’s Everett K. Ross. For fans of Lupita Nyong’o, there was also a pair of scenes showing her character dancing (she gets her own boat) and taking out several armed guards.

The costumes in Black Panther—especially the ones worn by the Dora Milaje—are truly dazzling, with a lot of bright colors and elaborate patterns. Angela Bassett, as T’Challa’s mother and Queen of Wakanda, sports a jaw-dropping coiffure of snow-white dreadlocks. According to the production team, director Ryan Coogler was interested in giving Black Panther—the star of which debuted in Civil War—an updated look that was more faithful to the current run of comics. And though Marvel didn’t screen any footage of Michael B. Jordan in costume—he’s playing villainous Erik Killmonger—concept art tacked to the Marvel office walls revealed a fearsome mask compete with horns and mane.

In other words: even if Marvel and superhero fatigue is setting in, rest assured that Black Panther isn’t going to look like anything you’ve seen from them before.

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See the Tony-Nominated Costumes from Eclipsed and the Sketches that Inspired Them

Photo: Left, courtesy of Clint Ramos; Right, courtesy of Joan Marcus.

Advocacy Documentary “Black Women in Medicine”

STEM advocate highlights women and people of color in documentary film

URU, The Right to Be, Inc.

Crystal Emery, a quadriplegic filmmaker and author, encourages women and people of color to defy the odds. Emery’s biographical photo-essay book, “Against All Odds: Black Women in Medicine,” profiles more than 100 African American women in medicine. It is used in her Changing the Face of STEM initiative to encourage people of color and women to pursue STEM careers.

Filmmaker Crystal Emery aired her documentary “Black Women in Medicine” Thursday, April 13, as part of her campaign to attract more people of color and women to careers in science, technology, engineering and medicine.

Emery, a quadriplegic who has directed two feature films, written a book, written and directed a play and founded a non-profit, encourages others to defy the odds. She has two odds in mind: African-Americans receive 7.6 percent of all STEM degrees in America, and less than one percent of all scientists and engineers are black women.

The film shows rarely seen footage of African-American women practicing medicine during critical operations, emergency care and community wellness sessions.

“It’s all about exposure. It’s crucial to introduce young people to ideas and careers early on so that they can begin thinking seriously about their higher education and work life during their formative years,” said Emery.


“We hope this film and Emery’s ongoing work inspires more minority students to pursue careers in medicine to help meet a growing demand for doctors across the country,” said Mary L. Wilson, executive medical director of Kaiser Permanente of Georgia.

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Celebrating Women Filmmakers

Urusaro International Women Film Festival

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Actress Antoinette Uwamahoro, best known as Intare y’Ingore, receiving the award. / Eddie Nsabimana

Poupoun Sesonga Kamikazi is the brains behind the Urusaro International Women Film Festival (UWIFF) that was held at the Umubano Hotel in Kigali recently.

In its second edition now, the festival celebrates the gains made by female filmmakers from Rwanda and Africa, although this year’s edition also saw movies from a few Asian nations screened.

This year organizers received a total of forty movie submissions, of which twenty three films were selected. Of these, eleven were from Rwanda, making the event a predominantly Rwandan affair.

Other movie submissions came from East and West Africa. One filmmaker from Gabon and another from Ivory Coast also flew down to Kigali for the festival.

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Poupoune Kamikazi Sesonga (left, in red dress), the festival director and John Kwezi (1st left) posing for a photo with the winners. / Eddie Nsabimana

The now annual festival was founded in 2015, but funding glitches left organizers with no option but to cancel last year’s event at the last moment.

New partnerships with Tele 10, 4GLTE and other sponsors ensured the festival bounces back bigger and better this year.

More support and goodwill also came from government through the Ministry of Sports and Culture, and the Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture (RALC).

“Urusaro International Women Film Festival is about movies made by women, be it local or foreign. I myself am a movie maker and an artist. I have made five movies, so why not inspire other women to make movies too?”, remarked Kamikazi, at a pre-event press conference at the 4G Square in Downtown Kigali.

“We have many workshops where upcoming filmmakers will be helped to know how to pitch for funding because making movies requires a lot of money. Filmmakers will also have a chance to network because we have invited people from government and embassies and filmmakers from abroad,” she added.

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Awards reserved for winners. / Eddie Nsabimana

“This is the first film festival to approach us for partnership and for us as Tele 10 we have a lot of movie content so we decided to come out and familiarize our brand in the society. We need more local filmmakers. People have been watching movies from Hollywood and Europe but it’s now time for Rwandan movies to taken center stage,” explained Emmanuel Niyonshuti, the head of Sales and Marketing at Tele 10.

The festival closed on March 11th, with a special award ceremony for best movie makers.

Some of the local filmmakers who walked away with awards include; Antoinnette Uwamahoro for Best Actress, Ahadi Beni for Best Actor, while the Best Short Film Accolade went to Apolline Uwimana for her film, Bugingo. The Most Popular Film was Isaha, by Zaninka Joselyn.

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Joselyne Zaninka posing with the ‘most popular film’ award. / Eddie Nsabimana
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Apolline Uwimana won three awards in the International Women Film festival. / Eddie Nsabimana

Started as a joke

In July 2012, Kamikazi won her maiden movie award, courtesy of the short film, Kivuto at the then Rwanda International Film Festival, now Rwanda Film Festival. And she has never looked back since.

She was born in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi but is Rwandan. She attended Kicukiro Primary school in Rwanda, then left for Burundi for her secondary studies. It’s in Burundi that the inspiration for her first film manifested, although at the time she didn’t consider a career in film.

Kivuto is a film borne out of her childhood memories about children with disabilities arising from complicated birth.

“There’s a province called Kirundo on the Burundian side, and Bugesera district on the Rwandan side. Kivuto is the name that was given to a child who had a complicated delivery. Usually the infant would be pushed out of the mother and in most cases that infant would die and if they survived they would come with some disabilities. Growing up, I saw many such children and even adults. Some would not control their biological functions,” she explains.

Following her award, a TV crew from Tele 10 interviewed her family on her success. She was shocked to learn from their interviews that the movie maker in her had started to manifest while she was a little girl of five.

At that age, she started narrating films to her family, films that were merely figments of her fertile imagination.

“I would tell them I had watched the film and start to narrate it yet I had not watched it. My siblings would sit around me and listen. The next day I would do the same and narrate a film I had never seen or heard about. When it was bed time my siblings would come to me to narrate them a film before they would go to sleep. Sometimes they would cry and other times they would be overtaken by fear.

“My mum was so strict and tough, but I was so stubborn and would always break her rules. Every time I would return home I knew that she would beat me up. Because I always knew I was going to be beaten up, I would always come up with a story to calm down her temper as a way of covering my stubbornness. Instead of beating me, she would say welcome, sit next to me and tell me the story,” she explains.

“My mum was a staunch Catholic and she adored the Virgin Mary. To be sure that I had convinced her and her temper had cooled down, I would always add a story about the Virgin Mary. I would tell her that some people had had a vision from the Virgin Mary. That was always the final touch in convincing her.”

It took them about five years to realize she had been creating fictional films she had never watched.

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Beauty for Ashes on stage. / Eddie Nsabimana

In 2008 she returned to Rwanda to continue with school at Mudende Adventist University where she studied Computer Science and Networking.

Towards the end of 2009 she met an American film crew making a movie in Rwanda.

“I was assisting the casting director to cast the characters. I noticed he was so tired and stressed and offered to help him during the pre production of the film. When I did it, the director of film started taking pictures of me and asking me many questions.”

They thought her to be an experienced local movie director, which she was not.

“The casting director asked me to return the next day yet he had his own assistant. I returned for the next couple of days and he kept asking me many questions about movies but I did not know the answers. I had not even read the script of the movie we were casting.

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The audience. / Eddie Nsabimana

He asked how many times I had done casting in movies but I could not tell him I had never done it before because I knew they would not believe me. So I kept quiet, smiled and went away, hoping he would never ask me again.”

After the shoot she picked her allowances and headed back to school, the money having been her only motivation.

But even the Rwandan team from Almond Tree Films that had worked as extras in the film mistook her for an experienced American movie maker. Realizing she was Rwandan, the decided to engage her.

“They requested me to join Almond Tree Films and work with them but I told them I’m not a filmmaker but had just gone to make money.

One day they asked me to write them a script. I told them I had many stories but I didn’t have a computer and didn’t know anything to do with writing scripts. I just used to write my stories in a notebook.

When I gave them the story they said it’s a perfect script and they asked to shoot a movie out of it.”

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Hollywood women: They got respect

 

Never mind the criticism President Trump recently aimed at Meryl Streep: A new study has found that admiration and respect for Hollywood women such as Streep is at an all-time high, marking a shift in attitudes that crosses geographical and demographic lines.

So, good news to mark Wednesday’s International Women’s Day, according to the University of Southern California’s indefatigable Jeetendr Sehdev, the expert on celebrity branding and marketing who churns out regular examinations of Americans’ attitudes toward celebs and their doings. Example: His new book,The Kim Kardashian Principle: Why Shameless Sells (and How to Do It Right).

Sehdev’s latest survey (of 10,000 people in North America, Europe and Australia during February) found what he called an “extraordinary shift” in attitudes, especially obvious among Millennials and Gen Xers, in which strong Hollywood women such as Oscar winners Streep, Viola Davis and Patricia Arquette are perceived to have outperformed men in a variety of areas, including risk-taking, tenacity and digital savvy.

“Hollywood women have found their voice, are demanding attention and respect from their audiences, and are finally getting it,” Sehdev says.

Despite the routine and widespread criticism of female celebrities in the media — the recent body shaming of Lady Gaga after her Super Bowl performance comes to mind — “audiences have actually developed a greater compassion toward female celebrities through their public failures and insight about the ‘pain of fame,’ ” Sehdev says.

There’s “an overwhelming perception” among those surveyed that women have to work harder than their male counterparts to succeed in Hollywood, he says. Plus, female celebs get more respect than male celebs from those surveyed because they are perceived to show “less competition and more camaraderie” among themselves.

Whether it’s Adele’s shout-out to Beyoncé at the Grammys or the number of female celebrities seen marching arm-in-arm at the post-inauguration Women’s Marches, “a more open idea of sisterhood among Hollywood’s top stars has changed the perception of female celebrities,” Sehdev says.

Streep, Davis and Arquette, for instance, all have taken strong public stands in favor of more diversity in Hollywood, more women in positions of power and closing the pay gap between male and female stars. In the case of Streep, who has three Oscars and a record 20 nominations, she denounced Trump policies at the Golden Globes, which earned her one of his signature tweet insults as “overrated.”

On the issue of pushing for more women in leading roles before and behind the cameras in the entertainment industry, Sehdev found that 50% of the women he surveyed believe having more women-led movies would improve the overall perception of women within society, and another 28% of women say this would positively impact all women’s lives.

Compare this, he says, to responses by men he surveyed: Only 15% of men said that having more women in leading movie roles would do a lot to impact the perception of women, while 31% say this would improve women’s lives to a degree.

In terms of leadership, Sehdev says he found that most people surveyed (74%) perceive female celebs as the same as men in leadership qualities. Younger people are especially likely to hold those views.

“Millennials are the first generation to believe female celebrities are every bit as capable of being powerful leaders as male celebrities,” Sehdev says. “They are the most gender-blind generation we’ve seen. This in combination with the fact that more women in film are unafraid to speak up is causing an extraordinary shift in attitudes.”

Female celebs are also perceived to be more tenacious, more willing to take greater risks, more passionate and compassionate on human rights issues, even more intelligent about connecting with younger audiences.

“Female celebrities are seen to be more digitally savvy and more active in social media, and that increases relevance with younger audiences,” he says.

All demographics surveyed agreed that female celebs over 40 and female celebs of color can be considered desirable and sexy, but Millennials and Gen Xers were especially more likely to agree.

“A turning point for attractiveness, Hollywood women of color and those over 40 are perceived as increasingly desirable as definitions of what is considered sexy continue to change,” Sehdev says.

If these attitudes are increasing among audiences, why does the entertainment industry place the most emphasis on box office returns? Sehdev says it’s inevitably a losing position given the changing attitudes he has found.

“Strong female characters have always been good business at the box office,” he says. “Hollywood has no choice but to recognize this and reinvent itself or it will continue to lose relevance among younger audiences.”

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