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Set 'em up and knock 'em down: Undercutting women in Hollywood genre film

Barbara J Williamson, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation examines the ways blockbuster Hollywood genre cinema constructs images of contemporary women, creating paradigms that may limit the ways women are viewed in the wider culture. The theoretical framework uses bell hooks and Noël Carroll, whose readings of film answer Annette Kuhn's call for more formal textual analysis in feminist film criticism. Looking at films in the action-adventure genre, targeting a male audience, and the romantic comedy genre, targeting a female audience, I examine how contemporary women's stories emerge from the celluloid world, establishing that while the women in these films appear strong, their strength is largely undercut by the films' subtexts, regardless of intended audience. Chapter One studies various permutations of the action film through examinations of Eraser (Chuck Russell 1996), True Lies (James Cameron 1994), The Long Kiss Goodnight (Renny Harlin 1996), and Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow 1995), contending that within these films, even the strongest women are collapsed under the weight of hero-as-rescuer. Chapter Two focuses on action films with a superhero bent: The Mummy (Stephen Sommers 1999), Mission: Impossible (Brian de Palma 1996), Mission: Impossible 2 (John Woo 2000), and Batman Returns (Tim Burton 1998). Here, we see the danger presented by women who refuse to collapse into the “damsel in distress.” Chapter Three begins examining romantic comedy with a study of Pretty Woman (Garry Marshall 1990), There's Something About Mary (Peter Farrelly 1998), My Best Friend's Wedding (P. J. Hogan 1997), and Notting Hill (Roger Michell 1999), all films which establish women as unable to define themselves successfully independent of traditional relationships. Chapter Four focuses on romantic comedy films with outwardly strong career women, You've Got Mail (Nora Ephron 1998), Runaway Bride (Garry Marshall 1999), and Miss Congeniality (Donald Petrie 2000), films which ultimately deconstruct the strength of these women. This dissertation argues that despite gains toward equality in a wider culture, contemporary Hollywood genre cinema erases the seemingly more powerful positioning of women, reducing them to ancillary roles. ^

Subject Area

Women's Studies|Cinema

Recommended Citation

Williamson, Barbara J, "Set 'em up and knock 'em down: Undercutting women in Hollywood genre film" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3055296.