Historically, the movie industry hasn’t done the best job of including or representing women. Female Stuff is a regular feature that examines how it’s improving (…or not).
Sign of hope: Movies about, by, and/or starring lots o’ ladies
A quick note before I start: It can be hard to wade through the endless op-eds and the rhetoric and the Fox News and determine whether calling out “female-centric” things—in other words, homing in on or celebrating the “female” aspect of a work of art or project—is ultimately helpful or harmful to the goal of creating true gender equality. Why do we have to point out that something’s made by a woman, or stars a woman, or is written by a woman? Why can’t we just lump it in with everything else being slung our way and consume it (or not) accordingly? Well, because even though the earth is getting older, as we established last week, female-centric, -directed, or -written projects are becoming more and more rare.
Hopefully, in the utopian future where all of us will be raised by robots, we’ll no longer have to draw these types of lines or write these types of pieces, because everybody—black, white, male, female—will have equal representation and a fair shot at success. But right now, we have to call out the women, make room for them and make an effort to seek out their stuff. We have to celebrate both their art and the fact that it got made in the first place. (And, like we discuss in this week’s podcast, once we’ve done that, we can go ahead and judge/scrutinize/criticize it like we do with everything else.)
With that in mind: A whole bunch of female-centric projects have been green-lit and/or pushed closer to our eyeballs this week. I like to think it’s all because of Female Stuff! But probably it’s not. Anyway, here are a few:
- Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures will produce Mike Mills’ (Beginners, Thumbsucker) 20th Century Women, which follows “three different women teaching a boy what men are, what women are, about love and freedom and finding your own form of sanity in Santa Barbara 1979.” I’m not sure I really understand what’s happening in this movie in any tangible way, but still, three women! Schooling some dudes! How’s that for a paradigm shift, 1979 Santa Barbara?
- Rose McGowan will make her feature directorial debut with the thriller The Pines, about a “troubled young woman’s dreams of stability” that are “threatened by a family of healers.” Ooh, that does sound threatening!
- Slamdance will première Female Pervert, Jiyoung Lee’s comedy about a videogame designer looking for love. Following Gamergate, which shed light on the deep misogyny of gamer culture, this is especially significant—here’s a woman who works in the gaming industry, and is also sexually free, self-expressive, and empowered. I do wonder if they’ll touch on Gamergate or its repercussions for women in the industry at all, though—if not, it may be a missed opportunity and/or reductive to treat it like a non-issue. (Relatedly: Gamergate target Zoe Quinn is currently forming an online abuse help network for victims of SWATting, doxxing, and other types of harassment.)
- Indiewire has a solid list of women-centric/directed/written movies playing near you this week. Support some brilliant ladies and check out Appropriate Behavior, about an Iranian bisexual woman getting over a break-up; Still Alice, following a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s; Veronika Decides To Die, which sees Sarah Michelle Gellar facing her own mortality; and Pretty Rosebud, about a woman crumbling under societal pressures. Outside of this list, there’s also Boy Meets Girl, about a transgender woman dealing with friendship, romance, and hate (so…life!) as she applies to New York Fashion Institute of Technology.
Harbinger of doom: Female protagonists? What do you mean?
More disheartening news regarding women’s representation in movies: Last year, only 37, or 15 percent, of top-grossing films featured female protagonists. And as IndieWire helpfully points out, this isn’t because men go to see more movies than women, or because male-centric movies make more money. In fact, women account for a higher percentage of moviegoers, and movies with female protagonists earned 20 percent more, on average, than movies with dudes at the forefront. And news broke just today that the Jennifer Lawrence-fronted Mockingjay—Part 1 was 2014’s top-grossing film—meaning it’s the second year in a row that a female-led film has conquered the box office. (Last year’s honor went to Mockingjay’s predecessor, Catching Fire.) So clearly, that whole voting-with-our-dollars thing isn’t exactly working.
Sign of hope: J. Lo and George Lucas chat publicly about gender equality
As annoying as it is to read yet another article in which a celebrity is asked, “Are you a feminist?” the movement—and the word—need as much propulsive motion and destigmatization as they can get. For better or worse, when Hollywood stars are asked to speak out about their position on gender equality—or, even better, start talking about it of their own accord—the impressionable men and women of the world will likely listen for at least 10 seconds, and, hopefully, learn something. This week, George Lucas and Jennifer Lopez threw their (stylish) hats into the ring, speaking about younger and older women, respectively.
- J. Lo told Ellen she bristles at being called a cougar and at being criticized for dating younger men, pointing out a double standard that’s as old and wrinkly and unsexy as Lopez herself: “I hate that they have a label for a woman who would date a younger guy. If a younger guy is interested in you, what’s the big deal? What’s the word for the man who’s after younger girls?”
- George Lucas claimed he made Strange Magic to help even the cinematic playing field: “I did Star Wars for 12-year-old boys,” he told anchors on CBS This Morning. “I have three girls, and I used to read Wizard of Oz to my daughter all the time, and I just figured I’ll make one of these [adventure films] for girls, because you’re not supposed to make movies for girls.” Okay, this is far from a perfect sentiment. Making a movie with a female protagonist doesn’t mean that movie is “only” for girls. And making a “movie for girls” doesn’t mean that the protagonist has to be female. This kind of logic is too binary, too divisive, the “separate but equal” of storytelling. I’m sure plenty of little boys loved Strange Magic, blissfully unaware they were soaking in a story designed to appeal only to girls (with cooties). But listen, George is kind of old, and I get what he’s trying to do—right the ship a little, and put Hollywood marketing execs on blast for thinking only male-centric movies will sell.
Harbinger of doom: Sacha Baron Cohen humiliating and demoralizing women/the political arm of the town of Grimsby for being completely offensive/the media for missing the point
Yeah, about that whole “propulsive celebrity feminism” thing? Somebody tell Sacha Baron Cohen. This week, a Daily Mail article shared that the comedian hired “six, 20-stone ‘revolting’ women” to play female football (That’s British for soccer!) fans from the seaside town of Grimsby for his forthcoming film of the same name. The outlet spoke to local politicians who were “outraged by the casting and the film’s negative portrayal of the town.” One of those local politicians said, “Why pick on us?… I know it’s a joke, but I haven’t seen these fat ladies anywhere. If they were so fat, they wouldn’t fit through the turnstile at the stadium. You can find fat ladies anywhere. We don’t have an accumulation of them.”
Y’all, Grimsby has it bad! They’re tired of being demoralized, unduly judged for their appearance, subjugated, and—wait, no. That’s women. Shut up, Grimsby politicians. You’re embarrassing yourself with your backward, medieval chatter. And Sacha Baron Cohen, shame on you for thinking that the best way to portray a town or a team as lesser-than is to represent it onscreen with women you personally find unattractive. You’ve got a legion of would-be comedians—mostly male—who quote your movies like they’re scripture. This is unfortunate for all of us; we’re all really, really tired of bad Borat imitations. But it’s the reality, and it means you have a direct line to a generation of fratbros. Don’t perpetuate this tired, misogynist bullshit.
Sign of hope: Female-centric film fests and fellowships
You know how some days, you’re like, “If I see one more movie about a middle-aged white man struggling to get over a breakup/his youthful notions of success/his frat brother’s wedding/losing his job/himself, I am going to just lose my shit completely”? Somebody is listening! Here are some female-centric fests and fellowships coming up:
- Sundance is stocked with movies that feature actresses over 40 (you know, the ones Russell Crowe said needed to “act their age”), including our good pal J. Lo, Viola Davis, Nicole Kidman, and Sarah Silverman. There are also plenty of movies that center on women, like Ronan, Diary Of A Teenage Girl, and Unexpected.
- In Canada, the MUFF (Monthly Underground Female Films) Society’s new screening series aims to “celebrate and champion all facets of women in film.” The most recent screening was of Clueless, which means the MUFF Society has fantastic taste.
- The upcoming fifth annual Athena Film Festival, which “celebrates women and leadership,” will host the premiere of Rosie O’Donnell’s doc A Heartfelt Stand Up and award Jodie Foster for her contributions to film.
- The San Francisco International Film Fest has launched the SFFS Women Filmmaker Fellowship, which will support female writer/directors working on their second or third narrative feature through financial backing, programs, events, mentorship services, and industry connections. Applications will open early next year, so there’s still time to quickly make one narrative feature and become eligible. Hurry!
Overall, was this a good, bad, or neutral week for women in movies, Rachel?
Good. Last week, we decided the industry was failing women—the numbers and Oscar noms were bleak—but this week, we’re seeing some forward motion in a few sectors of the industry. Men and women alike aren’t staring blankly at the problem, but rather, doing something about it: founding film festivals, creating art that doesn’t ignore an entire gender, and speaking out about gender equality in Hollywood. Together, sometimes! While there’s still a shit ton of work to be done (I’m looking at you, Sacha), we can rest easy for one hour before we start doing it.
Further takes on the film and feminism front from around the web:
- The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis on how women are working to combat their lack of representation onscreen (and here are further excerpts from her conversations with women like Ava DuVernay and Barbra Streisand)
- New York Magazine’s Marin Cogan asks, “Why can’t Hollywood get female journalists right?”
- Slate’s Dan Kois on what the Wild Oscar snubs mean for movies about women
- BuzzFeed’s Anne Helen Petersen on the trouble with “It Girls”
- The Telegraph’s Bryony Gordon weighs in on what she calls Hollywood’s “golden skirt sisterhood”
- Time’s Eliana Dockterman on 22 movies featuring women she’s excited to see in 2015
- Paste’s Regan Reid on female film collectives trying to increase the flow of women-written and -directed films
- Entertainment Weekly’s Ariana Bacle analyzes a chart that shows how rarely female directors win awards
- Gawker’s Dana Evans on making art while female