Why Hollywood sucks: There’s no representation of a strong single father

By Angelina Halas
May 1, 2020

I grew up with just my dad and my sister. My dad raised us both the best he could possible. I might be a little biased, but I’d say he’s done a great job of raising (and handling) two girls who are seven years apart. He’s always been there whenever we need him. He lets us cry on his shoulder when we’re upset and takes us out for ice cream to feel better. He’s the one that loves going shopping with us so he can put his two cents in on what we buy, along with horribly failing at picking out clothes for us to wear. My dad is my superhero and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

My dad is the epitome of “the man, the myth, the legend.” Photo from Angelina Halas.

Something that I’ve noticed, even when I was younger, is the lack of representation of a strong single father in movie roles. To most, it’s probably something that is barely seen, or is just something so natural and reoccurring, that no one even thinks to pay attention to it. But I’ve noticed this problem. 

In most movies, if there’s not a mother in the picture, it’s because she died in some horrible way, like cancer, a car accident, etc. On the other hand, if there’s not a dad in the picture, it’s because he’s a dead-beat dad and just walked out, or he cheated, or any other negative reasoning. The dad doesn’t just die, he’s there, but barely around. Movies make it seem that a mother never walks out on her children, even though that’s a reality. 

According to Maria Cancian, Dean at the McCourt School of Public Policy, who wrote an article for the journal Demography, said, “the number of custodial fathers increased from 2.18 million in 1993 to 2.64 million in 2011.” Assuming there’s a steady increase, it might be safe to say that the number of 2.64 million has continued to increase as years have passed 2011. 

Cancian also found that “between 1986 and 1993/1994, the share of cases awarded mother-sole custody fell from 80 percent to 74 percent. By 2008, mother-sole custody declined further to 42 percent.” 

That’s a pretty intense decline. If it is declining by as much as was found, where is it presented?

Other research done by Jennifer Hoewe, an assistant professor at Purdue University, found that “the trend of father as primary caregiver continues to increase in the United States.” 

If this is the case, why is this not seen in movies? The statistics are pretty clear, so then why is that not being presented in something as prevalent and known as film? 

I know there are stereotypes out there about women having superior parenting skills. They are seen as being the stay-at-home parent and doing most of the work. I’m not going to say that some don’t, but there are men out there that have the same ability. But in society, they aren’t perceived as having that job. 

Looking at mothers as the ones who care more about their relationships is a stereotype. Assuming that dads are going to walk away from their children and aren’t good caretakers, is a stereotype. I thought Hollywood was all about breaking past stereotypes and creating controversy and discussion in what they produce. So then where is the strong single dad role? 

My concern with these stereotypes being presented in the media is that people will start to think that’s the norm. If you see the same image/scene over and over again, you’re bound to think, “Oh, that’s probably the way it should be, or the way it commonly is.” 

Young age children are so influenced through the media as it is something that they are always watching and paying attention to, especially as years go on. It begins to get ingrained in their minds that this is what the world looks like. 

If these types of portrayals are shown to children from the start, that’s what they’re going to believe is normal, and that’s not right. They need to know that there are a variety of families out there and it’s acceptable to be in any one of them. If this is how men are constantly portrayed, no one’s going to believe that a man could be a good father on his own.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the box office hit a little over $41 billion in 2018. Photo from Needpix.

This is something I’ve noticed a lot in Disney movies. In “Finding Nemo,” Nemo’s mom was killed in the beginning of the movie, and from that point on, it’s the dad that has to take care of Nemo. In that situation, why couldn’t the mother fish swim away to another ocean and leave her family behind? Is the only way that fathers become single and in charge of their children when their wife dies? 

In another typical Disney fashion, there’s the idea of the step-mother. In each Disney movie involving a step-mother, it is because the biological mother passed away. Again, never because she decided to pack her things and leave. 

This trend being presented in something as iconic and beloved as Disney really blows my mind, because of the audience. Children get their information from media and TV and movies, and Disney is a big part of it. So, what happens when a son or a daughter of a single father, never gets to see that single father figure, due to separation, not death, portrayed on a screen? 

Did you know that five out of the 11 Disney princess movies have only fathers in them because the mother died? 

Unfortunately, this trend isn’t seen in just Disney. It’s seen in movies produced by Warner Brothers, 21st Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, etc. 

One movie that my family loves is “Blended” starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler. Even though we love it, this movie is a perfect example of what I’ve been saying this whole time. 

Adam Sandler’s character is raising three daughters on his own because his character’s wife died of cancer. Meanwhile, Drew Barrymore’s character is raising two sons on her own because her ex-husband cheated on her and doesn’t put enough effort into being with his kids. Why does it have to be like that?

I wish I could say that was the only movie I’ve seen it in, but it’s not. If I gave a whole list of what I’ve seen in it, this would be way longer. 

It’s so important to care about how film represents single fathers because it’s something you’re always going to see, and it’s something that should never be the norm. Kids can’t grow up seeing that, because, especially if they’re a boy, they might think that’s how they’ll end up. 

According to Statista, 19 percent of U.S. adults claim to watch or stream movies everyday. An additional 26 percent say they watch movies multiple times a week. Photo created on Canva by Angelina Halas.

One of my biggest peeves with this is that many people talk about wanting equality or equal representation, but it’s not there. People have become so gung-ho on women empowerment, and that’s great, women deserve it, but it’s not fair to forget about the great men that are out there too. 

If a single father were to notice this trend, I think he would be crushed that there isn’t something out there he could relate to. That’s what movies are for! We find what we can relate to and we find something that we can hold on to. Movies are meant to show every part of life, and every type of person out there, and for the most part they do, but for some reason, the single dad is not typically portrayed.        

If the statistics mentioned earlier on hold to be true, why is it not seen in films? Movies are something everyone watches either as a way to escape their lives, to relate to something, or just to be entertained. Everyone watches movies. Everyone sees what is being produced, but no one’s saying anything about it. 

Again, having a mother and dead-beat dad has become such a norm for movies these days. Chances are, people aren’t picking up on it because it’s just what they’ve grown accustomed to seeing.

I hope the film industry changes. Film has come a long way with representing everyone who needs to be represented properly, everyone but the single divorced dad. Where is he at?

Angelina Halas

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