To Break the Glass Ceiling, Simply Blow it Up Blockbuster Style

How can women break the glass ceiling? Today’s guest author has the answer: simply blow it up! Cassandra Brooksbank is a commercial director currently in pre-production on her first action film, Thieves Die Alone. Find out more about, and contribute to, Cassie’s break the glass ceiling kickstarter project. She says . . .

Hollywood action films seem like an unlikely platform to promote gender equality, but to really change the way women are viewed in our culture, Hollywood Blockbusters must showcase more heroic women. By challenging the stereotype of women as the “damsel” instead of the “hero” in fun, popcorn flicks, we can change the way women are viewed in society. 


by Cassandra Brooksbank

Imagine you’re watching a Hollywood blockbuster and the following unfolds on screen: The love interest is suspended over a tank of man-eating piranhas. Suddenly, the hero bursts onto screen.

They fight the villain and when all seems lost, the hero delivers a kill stroke and saves their one true love. FIN.

That’s not going to win any Oscars, but some version of this scene is in every popcorn movie this summer.

You could probably see it play out in your head — the damsel is some rockin’ blonde babe, the hero looks like Brad Pitt and the villain is an ugly (but talented) character actor.

But why assume the hero was a man and the love interest was a woman?

Nowhere in the description above did I specify… what if the damsel was the dude and the hero was the chick? We have been conditioned to see men and women in predetermined roles.

Why does this matter?

If blockbusters movies that most people see reinforce the idea that women aren’t heroic, it only perpetuates that idea in real life.

Representation matters. It defines our culture and right now, it’s not happening. A 2017 study by the University of Southern California found leading female roles rarely drive the action in film. Of the top 100 films in 2016, only 34 had a woman lead or co-lead. Action movies by far had the smallest percentage of female speaking characters at only 23 percent.

Obviously gender disparity is a problem that has upset the cultural apple-cart.

From the news-cycle to twitter, debates and outcry rage, yet no one really seems to know what to do about it.

There are serious crimes caused by power discrepancies between the genders (Harvey Weinstein and the men committing sexual assault named in the #metoo movement, for instance).

There is a very clear lack of women in positions of power and influence (we still haven’t had a female president from any political party).

Why aren’t there more women writers? Why aren’t there more female directors? Why are there so few girls who grow up to run Fortune 500 Companies? Why? Why? Why?

It’s clear as a society we think this is a problem, yet no one seems to know what to do about it. I think the answer is, in fact, rather simple:

We just need more women blowing shit up.

Now, before you roll your eyes and click off to look at cats dancing on youtube, hear me out.

Social norms are defined by pop-culture.

We can push “female-filmmaker programs” and “women’s initiatives” as much as we want, but in reality it’s not going to do much until we change the way society thinks about women.

And what society thinks about women is driven by popular entertainment. In Ancient Greece, that was theater and mythology. In Elizabethan England, that was Shakespeare.

And today, it’s what’s playing on 40,000+ movie screens.

Unfortunately, what all of this entertainment shares historically is putting women in subordinate roles.

Imagine a world where humanity grew up on stories where Hercules, Hamlet and James Bond were all women. It’s hard to imagine, right? We can’t even comprehend a person who’s both feminine and heroic. And there, ladies and gentlemen, is the problem.

If little girls grew up hearing stories where the best versions of themselves were expected to save people instead of being saved themselves, we might have a lot more women in positions of power.

Instead, we have a history of storytelling where women who have any personality at all are punished severely for it. Medusa. Antigone. Lady Macbeth.

Literally every femme fatale ever… come on. It’s like there are only two options. Be a dutiful wife and get captured and saved, or try to take a little power for yourself and end in despair and tragedy. Oh, and be hot. Always be hot.

With this message shaping our social consciousness, it’s no wonder there is a gender disparity.

Girls have to go against the grain to make something of themselves as individuals. The vast majority of movies, books, and otherwise tell them that becoming a powerful woman only ends in tragedy and despair. And for men, they’re conditioned to think women are merely beautiful objects to be won. We can change this by changing the stories we value as a society.

Today, fun, entertaining action movies get the biggest audiences.

It’s arguable that Star Wars has done more to shape popular culture than the US Constitution. If we had more versions of feminine Luke Skywalkers and Han Solos, we could start making a huge impact on gender inequality. And that doesn’t just go for heroes, we need some female Darth Vaders too! People are flawed. Bond, Indiana Jones, and Batman all have issues. Guess what! So do girls! That’s good. We want women to be seen like men — with complexity. It’s what makes us human. Until men and women are portrayed equally on screen, they won’t really be seen as equals in real life.

So, how do we fix this problem you ask?

Support female filmmakers (and any filmmaker for that matter) working to flip the gender stereotypes. And if these filmmakers make fast, fun and light-hearted blockbusters, even better! Action speaks louder than words.

Women leading armies, fighting aliens, stealing the diamond, and saving the guy… that’s what’s really going to change things.

Contribute to Cassandra’s kickstarter to break the glass ceiling

Cassandra Brooksbank is a writer/ director originally from Nevada.

Growing up in the glitz of the  Entertainment Capital of the world helped carve out her iconic visual style, coined “Extravagant Pop.”

Starting out as a commercial director, Brooksbank has created projects for companies such as Porsche, Sony, Microsoft, Eckstein Biokosmetik, Chevrolet and USC among others. She’s also directed several music videos, including Todrick Hall’s music video feature film, Forbidden. Her production company, The X Collective, was named by All Digital in their list of “The Top 20 Production Companies in Southern California Doing Great Work.”  

Brooksbank started her film career by attending the USC School of Cinematic Arts. While in school, she was selected as the General Manager of Trojan Vision, heralded as the Best College Television Station in the World. The films she made are still shown to all incoming students and feature industry notables such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Robert Zemeckis.

Currently based in Los Angeles, Brooksbank is the writer of several feature films and a television pilot. When she has free time she spends it racing bikes, painting pop art and playing a mean jazz piano. 



Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *