This Was a Record Decade for Women’s Friendships On Screen
From “Bridesmaids” to “Girls Trip” and “Broad City,” the 2010’s were a renaissance decade for women’s friendship.
The 2010’s were a renaissance decade for women’s friendship in pop culture as beloved duos were given refreshingly realistic air time on big and small screens.
After the 2011 film “Bridesmaids” became a smash hit, the decade experienced what some call the “Bridesmaids” effect — more women-led films with bigger budgets and more writing opportunities. Pair Hollywood’s apparent awakening with television’s new Golden Age, and women’s friendships got record screen time in the 2010’s.
To be clear: the women’s buddy or ensemble comedy has a long lineage. The film “9 to 5” starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton, was one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. But in the 2010’s, the genre multiplied and got far more diverse. That uptick gave us a whole reel of women’s friendships, which for some, are the most important relationships of their lives. Women appeared traveling together, getting stoned, and paving their own paths in life.
So what are some factors that led to the many depictions of women’s friendships on screen?
1. Pressure For Diversity And Inclusion Mounted.
Although #MeToo and #TimesUp exploded late in the decade, more women became directors, producers, and writers. Take “Hustlers” director Lorene Scafaria, who cooked up a delicious portrayal of the early 2000’s, from the style to the music. At its heart, the movie starring Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez was a post-Recession fight for survival between two fast friends, and a rare, humane depiction of sex work that we don’t see enough.
Older women also got some much overdue portrayals beyond typecast roles as grandmothers, mothers-in-law, or divorcées. The Netflix comedy “Grace and Frankie” portrayed a modern connection between two women over 65 whose husbands left them after coming out later in life. The series “Dead to Me”darkly followed two friends, one a widow and the other learning to recover from grief.
2. The Bechdel Test Became More Mainstream.
A film or show passes the Bechdel test if two women characters talk with each other about something besides a man. Cartoonist Alison Bechdel first established the metric in the ‘80s, but it’s since become more mainstream. As shows about relationships between women became more diverse and interesting, so did their conversations.
In the 2010s, the generation’s most formative years also appeared on screen, with shows and films like ”PEN15,” “Euphoria,” and “Booksmart” opening up a window into life as a teenager. The theme of women’s friendship even extended to other species, including Lisa Hanawalt’s animated series “Tuca and Bertie,” about two 30-something women birds. The longtime friends endured a transition when one of them moves out to live with a partner, along with other issues such as sobriety and anxiety.
3. The Media Landscape Changed.
As streaming platforms including Netflix and Hulu launched original programming, viewers had more choices than ever, and traditional gatekeepers lost some power. Creators had the opportunity to experiment with their show concepts and distribute them online without asking for permission.
Comedy Central’s “Broad City” originally began as a popular YouTube web series. Stars Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson caught the attention of comedian-turned-producer Amy Poehler, who mentored them into the “yas queens” they’re known as today. Issa Rae, another now-mainstream icon, co-wrote and created the HBO series “Insecure” after building her own audience on the web series “Awkward Black Girl.” Even one of the saddest, most inventive comedies of our time, “Fleabag,” began on the Fringe Festival stage. It centered around a 30-something woman mourning the loss of her best friend and trying to keep the cafe they started together open.
This year, some headlines have also cautioned the overselling of women’s success in TV — noting that women created only about 20 percent of shows that aired on HBO in 2019. In many of the shows or films that made it, hedonism wasn’t shameful, relationships were multidimensional and shapeshifting, and the narrative arc was filled with surprises, detours, and less conventional endings. While this decade gave us so much on friendship to watch, there’s certainly room for expansion in race, sexuality, ability, and more. This genre is only getting started.