Michelle Monaghan Discusses The Lack Of Roles For Women In Film & TV


While roles for women in film and TV are certainly getting better and more interesting, we still have a long way to go until Hollywood recognizes that audiences want to see something other than the stereotypes which have been forced down our throats for too long. The bitch, the wife, the background pretty wallflower, the secretary, the mistress etc etc. All these roles do is enforce the notion that women aren’t valued for anything other than their physical appearance, and that film executives don’t trust female actresses with complex roles and leading a project.

It’s a shame, but it is perhaps why crowd-funding and indie films have become such a popular area for female filmmakers to get their projects off the ground. These shouldn’t be the only avenues for them to have their work shown, but what will it take for women to be able to break through in a big way in the mainstream industry?

It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen, and every person’s contribution counts. What helps a great deal is when high profile men and women advocate greater roles for women on screen and behind the scenes.

Actress Michelle Monaghan spoke with The Daily Beast about her role on ‘True Detective’ and a critically-acclaimed new film she stars in called ‘Fort Bliss’ which is a startling look into a wounded female medic who returns home to the US after serving a 15-month tour in Afghanistan and battles with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the very thing that many military veterans suffer with in real life. We’ve seen stories from a male perspective, but to see a decidedly female point of view is important.

Coupled with the news that the US military’s ban on women in combat roles is no longer valid, thanks to a group of women who banded together to challenge the outdated law, ‘Fort Bliss’ is one of the more accurate representations of the progression of military women. The ban on women in combat roles is also being lifted elsewhere around the world.

Aside from PTSD, the issue of sexual assault in the military is also explored in ‘Fort Bliss’. It is a taboo topic which was recently explored in the documentary ‘Invisible War’.


“I spent a lot of time with female vets at Fort Bliss, and every single one shared an experience with me about some level of sexual assault. It’s incredibly prevalent, and it’s a huge problem,” she said.

‘Fort Bliss’ was shot in only 21 days, and had a meager budget of $5 million. In the interview she expresses her frustration at feeling relegated to the indie film world to explore such an interesting and complex female role.

“It’s crazy. These sorts of roles only live in this indie world. I would love to see more mainstream movies about complicated women, and I wish they didn’t have to be labors of love.”

While there is certainly nothing wrong with making an indie film, it just sucks that the industry is essentially saying it doesn’t want to pay women for anything other than stereotyped roles because that’s what puts butts on seats in theaters. However this is a gross misconception, as the success of films such as ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Maleficent’, and ‘Lucy’ have proven in recent years that a female-driven major motion blockbuster taking home top honors are not a fluke. It makes us wonder how much longer studio executives can ignore this changing trend before they realize how to actually listen to their audiences?

“It must be because we only represent one percent of the population,” says Monaghan, rolling her eyes. “It’s ridiculous, and it’s such a shame. People ask me, ‘How did you play such a tough woman?’ and I tell them, ‘I am a tough woman!’ I’m tough, I’m vulnerable, I’m independent, I’m strong, and I’m nurturing, and most of the women I know are, but unfortunately you only see a couple of sides of women reflected in most films.”

Monaghan talks about how ‘Fort Bliss’ subliminally subverts gender roles, where her character Maggie Swann is the tough, “macho” soldier, and her husband is the nagging ex-husband. The fact that these are roles traditionally seen to be specific to make and females is really sad. We NEED more films with challenge and upend the traditional gender roles and which portray outdated versions of what men and women are like in real life.

It’s slowly moving toward the right direction, but it is a fight which women can’t afford to give up just yet says Michelle. Her success of playing varied roles is a testament to what perseverance can do.

In another interview with Huffpost Women, Michelle talks about the importance of playing a female medic in the army, saying stories about female vets are largely absent from entertainment, even though over 200,000 women serve on active duty in the US, and 40% of those are moms whose stories deserve to be told.

“When these women come home from combat society overall is judging them. Society says, ‘Well if a woman decides to leave home and leave her child, she’s a bad mother. But if a man decides to serve his country or leave home then he’s honorable and he’s doing a good thing because he’s providing for his family.’ And that’s the double standard that I think permeates all of society — not just the military. That’s something that I think has to change. We are judging women and saying that they’re not good mothers if they’re not making their children’s lunch every single day or tucking them in at night. It’s not realistic and it’s a complete double standard.”

And as for her take on feminism, like many others, she can’t understand any person, male or female NOT wanting to identify as one. She also feels it is her duty to identify as one to break down stigma.

“I think it’s so crazy that that word still has to exist in our society, to be quite honest. The fact that we even have to have that question — shouldn’t everybody, every female, every male, be a feminist? I’m always floored when women are afraid to say they’re feminists. It’s almost like you’re apologizing for being a woman and I could never apologize for being a woman — I’m so grateful. I shouldn’t be allowed to tell other women’s stories if I can’t say that I’m a feminist. I have to be a feminist in order to represent other women.”



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