Reporter’s notes: Susan, Sigourney on the screen

Chris Kallio

She instantly brought in laughs. A certainly nervous Scottish woman nearly 48 years old, she hadn’t tripped or told a joke, but that look – grayish hair, unpleasant teeth and humble attire – couldn’t not make the audience chuckle collectively, all several hundred of them.

“I’m gonna make that audience rock,” she told the camera, with an unequivocal sense of confidence and perhaps even prophecy.

This was Susan Boyle, the woman who apparently “made Simon Cowell shut up” on “Britain’s Got Talent.”

She strutted to the stage, tripping over an answer as she replied to Cowell. And the audience laughed at her “That’s just one side of me!” comment after being asked about her age. But the mocking only became more humiliating as “attractive” young girls rolled their eyes at her suggesting she wanted to be a professional singer. But then she sang.

The moment was surreal and, yes, certainly trite, but what success story isn’t? And it has apparently provoked a debate: Did she actually sing that well? To my untrained musical ears she definitely did, but that argument is incredibly irrelevant. Susan Boyle, an unattractive Scottish woman approaching the age of 50, showed them they were disparaging and judgmental.

So what then is the big thesis of this discussion on a Scottish singer? Susan Boyle has perhaps done a finer, more efficient job of educating the public on the image of women on the screen in less than 10 minutes than generations have tried before her. Women, statistically a majority, are in fact in the United States a minority – no Madame President, few congresswomen, a handful of recognizable female scientists and sports figures and one had better be willing to take off one’s top for a movie role.

While initially a vital aspect of Hollywood, women have unfortunately declined in the film industry as they become visible as victims, damsels in distress and sex figures on the screen. Rarely is a woman the lead role, and even rarer is the woman as capable as the man in the movies.

The most obvious example of breaking this trend was in an unusual place: Ridley Scott’s 1979 horror/sci-fi epic “Alien.” The film starred Sigourney Weaver – whose role as Ripley was originally intended for a male actor, until the creators cast a woman to distinguish the film in a male-dominated genre.

But that was 1979. Fast forward to 2009, and the women of the screen are not shining as brightly as their male counterparts. Women are not quite triumphant on the screen; if they are, they are borderline forgettable. Perhaps that will soon change. Susan Boyle may very well be the wake-up call.

Contact all correspondent Chris Kallio at [email protected].