Hed — Hollywood casts women

While most of Hollywood’s attention last week focused on the dominance of independent films in this year’s Oscar derby, another sea change appears to be unfolding one that, for movie-goers, could hold far more significance.

It’s the increasing presence of women stars in high-profile roles.

Studio executives have finally come to realize that action and adventure fare aimed at the male teen-age crowd can have its limits that women over 25 want a piece of the action, as well.

That realization began to take shape with “The First Wives Club,” last year’s smash comedy that grossed over $105 million and featured Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler playing three middle-aged women seeking revenge on their husbands.

But the new wave of women-oriented movie-making involves more than the usual romantic comedy stereotypes. For example, Sandra Bullock has the starring role in “Speed 2: Cruise Control,” while Sigourney Weaver and Winona Ryder get top billing in the upcoming “Alien Resurrection.”

“We’ve been in a testosterone-driven business for a long time. Now I’m looking more at an estrogen-driven business,” Laura Ziskin, head of a 20th Century Fox production division, told The New York Times.

It’s even noticeable within Hollywood’s executive suites. While movie-making remains largely a male enterprise, a growing number of women executives, including Ziskin and Paramount Chairwoman Sherry Lansing, have the power to “green light” major studio releases.

Of course, Hollywood tends to be a cyclical business, and all it takes are a few flops within a certain category for conventional wisdom about audience preference to be recast. But for now, women are very much in demand a development that is long overdue.

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