The fairer sex. That's what women get referred to a lot and in many cases, it's what men prefer. Not just that we're more diminutive than they are, but that we're literally fairer. Playboy spreads more than 65% of the time feature blondes than any other hair color. The top selling porn titles feature Caucasian blondes (whether real or bottled) 9 times out of 10. And in the mainstream movie business, it is the blonde that rules the roost.
Ava: Timeless Hotness
How often do you hear the term "Brunette Bombshell"? Never mind the fact that some of the hottest women that have graced the silver screen have been of the raven-tressed variety. It is the blondes that get remembered as having been the sex symbols. Marilyn Monroe is still one of the best known actresses from her era, despite the fact that she died at the age of 36 having played only sex pots and bimbos. GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, indeed.
How many people do you think remember Jane Russell as often as Marilyn Monroe? She was the brunette who starred next to her the above mentioned title, snagging the honour of being considered the intelligent catch rather than just the pretty one. I'll bet even less people remember (I know I didn't until I started doing some digging) that there was a sequel released a couple years later, entitled GENTLEMEN MARRY BRUNETTES. Different director, same writers, no Marilyn. Same concept, same set-up (musical, hot women, men chasing them around) and yet people rate it lower than the first and that's if they can even remember it to begin with.
Sure, brunettes weren't always given such a bad rap. After all, they're remembered as being the smart ones, the sensible ones, the ones that the guys wise up and chase after (always with them waiting not far away). They're also cute as a button like Audrey Hepburn, tottering about in MY FAIR LADY, SABRINA, and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S. Hepburn was embraced by the movie going nation but never with the same kind of devotion that accompanies that of the smoldering blonde. Instead, actors were afraid to be cast as the villain antagonizing America's darling in WAIT UNTIL DARK. (Thank you Alan Arkin, for stepping up to the plate with that one.)
Or what about Ava Gardner? If there ever was a woman who could make you hear sizzling sounds in your ears whenever she would appear, Ava would be that woman. Despite landing such scorching hot roles as Kitty Collins in THE KILLERS, Venus in ONE TOUCH OF VENUS, or Honey Bear Kelly in MOGAMBO, when I asked people to name off their favorite classic brunettes, her name came up only once. I don't even want to blame it on her time being before most of the internet users of late, considering that Vivien Leigh's name came up a few times and she was in films at the same time as Gardner (she just got lucky to have been given the distinction of being cast in the hottest brunette role ever written, Miss Scarlett. I don't know nothing about castin' no blondes, Massa Fleming!).
Through my research, I've learned that the movies see brunettes as being one of three things:
The Smart Chick: Able to cut down any man at the knees with a raised eyebrow and a well-placed cynical remark.
The Girl-Next-Door Type: The one that stands by your side with a diabetically sweet smile on her face, biding her time until you see the error of your ways and come flying back into her arms.
The Evil Bitch: She's the one that's colder than dogshit on winter's sidewalk. She'll either kill you with her bare hands, her mad martial art skills, or her wicked way of being too sexy for your delicate male ego to handle.
Some of the best actresses of earlier generations were relegated to these roles. Lauren Bacall, Jane Russell and Katharine Hepburn are the best known from the first category. Audrey Hepburn, Dorothy Lamour, and Olivia de Havilland are a few from the second category. Ava Garner, Anne Bancroft and Vivien Leigh (don't let that sweet Southern Belle accent fool ya) were just a few from the last category.
Being smart in Hollywood didn't get you a lot of roles. It narrowed your field considerably and left you fighting for the few worthy left and trying to stave off for as long as you could the ones that weren't. True to its nature, once Hollywood typecasts an actress into a certain type of role, that's what she ends up getting stuck with. While it's possible for a blonde to be given a chance to show that she's got range (oddly enough it normally includes "uglifying" themselves and dying their hair darker, although with movies like LEGALLY BLONDE both embracing the inner ditz and glorifying that being ditzy doesn't mean you're stupid, it IS possible to remain light-haired and above it all), unless a brunette actress goes the to the lengths of adding highlights to her hair to the extent where you're not comfortable referring to her as being a brunette (Keira, I'm looking at you), she's pretty much stuck with the hand that she's been dealt.
One of my favorite examples in my conspiracy against brunettes theory is Selma Blair. An actress who can straddle the fence between being all three categories, showing
that she's beautiful in a non-conventional way (I always wondered why people called it "non-conventional." Then I started to notice that those who were labeled that were usually brunettes), smart in that narrowed brow, tight-lipped sneer kind of way and evil when you least suspect it kind of way. She's also Hollywood's favorite whipping post.
My Oh My, She's a Hot One
In LEGALLY BLONDE she was cast as the dowdy and angry Harvard girl that Reese Witherspoon's douche of a boyfriend dumps poor Elle for. Most women that I know who enjoy the movie see Blair as being an awful shrew, spiteful for no reason. I personally think that Elle Woods is a psycho for chasing down a guy who proved that it isn't you that he's attracted to. It's the illusion of what your hotness represents. But instead Blair is played for being a bitch, mean and hateful because she isn't blonde and tan. Vivian (oh, even her name isn't fun!) might have gotten the ring from the guy that Elle should really be mad at, but it just doesn't go with her sallow skin!
In THE SWEETEST THING, a movie that I hate admitting that I watched even if only in passing when there was nothing else on HBO in the middle of the night, Blair is once again the butt of a nasty joke. I can't believe that people would be torn over this movie, either claiming that it was refreshing to see a group of women humiliate themselves like the guys in the AMERICAN PIE movies do or that it wasn't funny at all (it's got Jason Bateman in it and no matter what the shit is around him, the man is always gold). The hard, cold fact of the matter is that it is the ditzy, sweet little numbnuts brunette who gets the guy's penis stuck in her mouth and has to sing Aerosmith (!!!) to get it out. Christina Applegate, you weren't fooling anyone by dying your hair darker for this one. And if you were really playing the brunette role, it would have been your vocal chords that needed the relaxing.
Gone are the days when Pheobe Cates managed to be the cute girl next door that you happened to get caught jerking off to (FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, for the shamefully ignorant out there). No more are the times when Winona Ryder was overlooked in LUCAS for the brainless red head cheerleader who was getting overlooked by the other brainless - but blonde - cheerleader. No more Jennifer Connelly looking thick and luscious LABYRINTH, CAREER OPPORTUNITIES, or THE ROCKETEER. (Although, to her credit, she did stay luscious for a time after that. It wasn't until the new millennium that she grasped the golden ring that the other lolly-pops are holding onto). We're now looking to take the sweet brunette and make her look foolish for her trusting nature.
Forget about being a sex-pot either. Even the blondes are getting frozen out of that genre in this Pilates world. Where there once was a place for women like Jennifer Tilly, dolled up with the heavily made up eyes and the big red bow of a mouth, looking to make or break a man simply in the way that she lets his name pass through her lips, we've replaced her with Rose McGowan. It's not good enough to simply be dark-haired and hot. You've got to lose a leg and shoot a motherf*cker if the time comes. No more Sherilyn Fenn when you can get an actress with a harder name to pronounce and a more provocative sneer with which to make the boys drool. (Think Eliza Dushku in just about anything she's been in. Well, save for TRUE LIES where she was in serious need of some wax and a magnified mirror.)
I will say one thing about time past and the politically correct nature of Hollywood. We're at least getting to see more color in our women. Factor in that most other races don't naturally carry the recessive gene for blonde hair color and you end up with a cornucopia of smart, sexy and wicked brunette movie mavens.
Where Lena Horne broke open the door for hot looking black actresses, Dorothy Dandridge wedged her long leg in further, Pam Grier stuck out her guns and made the boys pay attention and Halle Berry commanded the stage, we are fortunate enough to have more sexy black actresses featured in film nowadays. Think the gorgeous Sanaa Lathan in SOMETHING NEW or AVP: ALIEN VS PREDATOR. Remember Kerry Washington in I THINK I LOVE MY WIFE or the FANTASTIC FOUR movies. Vivica A. Fox, Taraji P. Henderson, Gabrielle Union, Regina Hall, Anika Noni Rose... the list is now endless.
I had difficulty growing up during the '80's, watching the women on the big screen look nothing like the women that I would see in every day life. In my neighborhood, the ethnicity of choice was predominantly Latina, to the extent that I was the only towhead coming out of my 6th grade classroom in the afternoons. There were Latinas on the small screen, mainly on telenovelas, the Spanish language equivalent of soap operas.
The best that I got to see was Maria Conchita Alonso, a Cuban-born actress who first was introduced to American audiences in 1984, starring opposite Robin Williams in MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON. She later appeared on screen with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1987's THE RUNNING MAN. What I admired most about her was that she dominated
the screen, not kowtowing to the stereotype of Latina actresses only being worthy of roles as maids and, well... maids. But she was one of the few out there who was able to gain mainstream recognition.
Alek Wek: Further Blurring the Definition of Beauty
Now there's a larger pool of Hispanic actresses dusting away the maid title but still having large groups of men fantasize about them. It's now more rare for these women to be associated with their Latin origins, owning roles that would have normally only been assigned to Caucasian women. News reporters, doctors, lawyers, mothers, firefighters, teachers... you name it and a Latina has played it. We've got Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Alba, and Eva Mendes all commonly thought of as being hot first and Latina second. Paz Vega, Catalina Sandino Moreno and Maribel Verdú are speaking their native tongues and getting men to wag theirs. Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek are two of the most respected actresses in film, Hayek even more so with her multi-tasking as a powerful producer, bringing "Ugly Betty" to American audiences and transforming a telenovela icon into a sweetheart for a newly enlightened America.
If there was ever a stereotype that was harder to break out of (and still is), it's that of the martial arts experts that all Asians, men or women, are supposed to be. This summer we get to witness one of the best examples in Maggie Q, a woman who was born in the United States to a Polish-Irish American father and a Vietnamese mother. She changed her birth name of Quigley to just Q when she became a break-out movie star in Hong Kong. Slowly she's transitioned to the American screen, starting with a cameo in RUSH HOUR 2, later adding MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III to her resume and then dominating this summer in the blockbuster LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (giving Bruce Willis more difficulty than the helicopter did) and BALLS OF FURY.
Probably one of my favorite dark-haired actresses of all time is the incredible Sandra Oh. While she was born to Korean parents, it was in a suburb of Ottawa, in Ontario, Canada. Possessing the look that most would assume would get her typecast into Asian roles (not that there are many to begin with) and yet a presence which is larger than life, Oh has managed to embody every personality under the sun. She's played a pregnant lesbian in UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN, an emotionally damaged stripper in DANCING AT THE BLUE IGUANA, a brutally driven real estate agent in WILBY WONDERFUL and the sexy single mother in SIDEWAYS. She completely defies any typecasting by managing to be powerfully different in all of her roles. She is as believable as a tough bitch as she is a caring mother. Oh is one of the few dark-haired actresses who understands that there are three categories of roles out there and laughs in the face of all of them by ruling everything she undertakes.
Tia Carrere is the woman that I like to attribute really nailing home that Asian women (in her case, she's actually Pacific Islander, born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and claims that her ethnicity is a mixture of Chinese, Spanish and Filipino) are hot and not just the docile little creatures shuffling their feet across the floor, trying not to make any noise. When Gary Wright's "Dream Weaver" starts playing as Mike Myers sets eyes on Carrere in 1992's WAYNE'S WORLD, all of America fell in love. Long dark hair, big brown eyes and a smile that reached from one side of her flawless face to the other, Carrere broke old standards and set a new one. One that screamed that a brunette could be hot, smart, talented and a loyal girlfriend, all in one package.
With it being more common for actresses to freely change their hair color these days (Scarlett Johansson, currently starring in THE NANNY DIARIES, decided to go dark for the role but is better known as a blonde bombshell of the new millennium), I wonder how much longer Hollywood will keep compartmentalizing the personalities that it believes certain appearances represent. It makes me think of the Dr. Seuss story about the Sneetches, where they kept going in and out of machines to get the stars put on their bellies, all to somehow become something that they didn't feel they were without them. Honestly, who says that a blonde can't kick your ass with kung-fu defenses? Why can't a brunette play an airhead? And dammit, why is the red head always getting cast as the coke-head passed out in the front seat of an SUV?
It was back in 1933 when the term "Blonde Bombshell" was first coined. Used to describe the blonde actress Jean Harlow in the movie BOMBSHELL, there were advertising blurbs which read, "Lovely, luscious, exotic Jean Harlow as the Blonde Bombshell of filmdom." The term stuck as a package deal, bombshells very rarely being referenced as being brunettes and blondes very rarely seen as being simply blondes. It was a high standard to set for both sides of the fence.
And really, "lovely, luscious and exotic"? Who says you even need to have hair to be described that way? Certainly doesn't seem to be stopping Alek Wek. Although she isn't an actress... yet.
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