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: Projects about, by, and/or starring lots o’ ladies
This week, plenty of female-led projects were green-lit, and female-led movies landed in theaters (or will be in theaters sometime before we all die). Here are a few:
- New and notable this week in theaters: Did you know? Fifty Shades Of Grey is finally here! It’s directed by a woman (Sam Taylor-Johnson), based on a best-selling book series by a woman (E.L. James), and, ultimately, is an erotic female fantasy. Whether or not the story is empowering for women is an entirely different question, one that’s been answered by approximately 6 million journalists over the past week (more in the links at the bottom of today’s column). Somewhere Only We Know, also directed by a woman (Xu Junglei), follows a young Chinese student who discovers herself while exploring her grandmother’s past in Prague. The Trial Of Viviane Amsalem is the third in a series of movies that follows an Israeli mother trapped in a loveless marriage—it was co-written and directed by its star, Ronit Elkabetz. Check out IndieWire’s regularly updated list for more.
- The Bechdel Test Fest! Glorious. Enough said (by the lovely Kate Erbland on Monday)!
- Based on the financial success of the first few Hunger Games movies, Lionsgate is champing at the bit to come up with sequels, prequels—any way to extend Katniss’ reign over the box office. Are film studios finally wisening up to the appeal of a female protagonist? No. No, they’re not (see the first Harbinger Of Doom for proof). But this is, hopefully, a start.
- Lionsgate will also release the Julianne Moore/Ellen Page LGBT-rights drama Freeheld. The film tells the true story of couple Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree, who fought government officials for equal treatment when the former was diagnosed with cancer.
- The Hollywood Reporter has a round-up of quotes and awards from the Athena Film Festival, including excerpts of a speech from Beyond The Lights’ Gina Prince-Bythewood.
- Angelina Jolie—who’s been in a movie or two—announced that she’s opening a center to combat violence toward women in war zones. The center will support the goals of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (P.S.V.I.), which Jolie co-founded with U.K. First Secretary Of State William Hague in 2012, “by bringing academic expertise to bear on preventing crimes of sexual violence, holding perpetrators to account and protecting the rights of survivors.”
- Texas Tech Women’s Studies program, The International Film series, and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema are sponsoring a local film series called “Sexism in Cinema,” which will look at how misogyny is “embedded, endorsed, or challenged by movies.” The series will screen films like Foxy Brown, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, and Fargo. Somebody do this in every city, please! Kay, thanks.
Harbinger of doom: The drop in female protagonists
Major film roles for women dropped last year—only 12 percent of protagonists in the 100 top-grossing films were female. That’s four points less than 2002, and three points less than 2013. Dr. Martha Lauzen, the executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, summarizes the issue nicely: “The chronic under-representation of girls and women reveals a kind of arrested development in the mainstream film industry…Women are not a niche audience and they are no more ‘risky’ as filmmakers than men. It is unfortunate that these beliefs continue to limit the industry’s relevance in today’s marketplace.”
Unfortunate is a kind way to put it, my girl Martha. In terms of diversity, only 11 percent of protagonists were black women, 4 percent were Latina, and 4 percent were Asian. Another fun fact: Most female characters tended to be younger than their male counterparts, and identified as wives, mothers, or girlfriends. The cruel irony is that, as we reported a few weeks ago, women-led movies are making the most bank. So, what the actual fuck, Hollywood? The (only) good news: A lot of people are pissed off about this. Like me.
Sign of hope: Smart, influential people speaking out about feminism
As usual, there were several women and men willing to throw their hats in the feminist ring this week. Here are a few great quotes from around the web:
- On The Meredith Vieira Show, Patricia Arquette slammed the media’s coverage of Bruce Jenner’s alleged transition from male to female: “[The media] should be ashamed because they really are on the unforgivable side of history and what they are doing is pathetic and immature and repulsive… You have to be so brave to live this truth of who you are. If Ms. Jenner is transitioning I give all my support to her and love and appreciate everything she has given to America and her bravery, because she is fighting a fight for a lot of kids that are being kicked out of their own homes, society turns their back on these kids. It’s really brutal.”
- At the Athena Film Festival, Jodie Foster spoke about women’s on-screen representation: “The studio executive’s job is to make money, and there’s a consistent and persistent narrative that movies about women don’t make money, and it’s a false narrative. If they keep buying into this false narrative, then they’re not going to make movies about women. But what we’re trying to do with…the Athena Film Festival is to show that movies about women make money…[So] why do we have to walk through the dessert for the manna? Don’t just make us an appetizer. Make us the meal!”
- Over at Slate, directors Kris Swanberg, Crystal Moselle, and Chloe Zhao discussed their experiences working in an industry where only 7 percent of movies are directed by women. Click the link to watch each interview.
- The Guardian spoke to Miranda July about her new book and her cultural reception: “July has been called ‘kooky’ and ‘whimsical’ so many times that she’s beginning to tire of it – and it’s hard not to think that these adjectives are designed to be patronising to women. ‘Yes, it’s pretty clear that ‘whimsical’ is a diminutising word,’ says July when I ask her about it. ‘I almost think asking the question is like I’m being asked to gossip about myself. I think it’s kind of a female thing, being asked to gossip about yourself. I think I’m maybe done with that.’ ”
Harbinger of doom: Amy Pascal’s response to the controversy over JLaw’s pay discrepancy
At Tina Brown’s Women In The World conference on Wednesday in San Francisco, Amy Pascal spoke for the first time about what she referred to as “getting fired” from Sony. Among the nuggets Pascal revealed: Angelina Jolie “didn’t care” about Scott Rudin calling her a “minimally talented spoiled brat” (of course she didn’t, she’s Angelina Mo’fucking Jolie); Pascal believes that “if we were all nice, [Hollywood] wouldn’t work.” When asked about the leaked Sony docs that revealed female stars like Jennifer Lawrence earned less than their male counterparts, Pascal responded, “I’ve paid [Jennifer Lawrence] a lot more money since then, I promise you. Here’s the problem: I run a business. People want to work for less money, I pay them less money … Women shouldn’t work for less money. They should know what they’re worth. Women shouldn’t take less. ‘Stop, you don’t need the job that bad.’ ”
She’s correct in that women should understand their own self-worth and speak up for themselves and women in general when possible. But this is overly simplistic, harmful, victim-blaming logic—taking women to task for being complicit in their own systematic oppression. Oh, we should just ask for more money? Huh! The patriarchy exists because we let it, guys! We’re just lazy and/or too shy to fix it! If we’d just ask, we’d get more money, more respect, more film parts, less street harassment, less rape, and more fun. Thanks for solving feminism, Amy.
Sign of hope: The Berlin Film Festival and its director
I wasn’t in Berlin for the film fest last week (I was there eating schnitzel), but the reports coming out of the Berlinale—including those from The Guardian and The Hollywood Reporter—are rife with stories of its women-led films. Isabel Coixet became the second female director in 65 years to open the festival, and plenty of woman-fronted, -written, or -directed films debuted, including Sonja Heiss’ Hedi Schneider Is Stuck, Benoit Jacquot’s Diary Of A Chambermaid, and Coixet’s Nobody Wants The Night. Oh, and that little indie about mustard, Fifty Shades Of Grey Poupon.
Still, only 116 of this year’s 441 films, or 26 percent, were made by women. Rather than celebrate this number, festival director Dieter Koslick said that the festival had a long way to go in terms of being all-inclusive. This is significant and atypical—Koslick could have easily ignored the issue altogether, or championed the paltry 26 percent as proof of progress, but instead, he took it as an opportunity to recognize the need for continued work and change (versus last week’s featured HuffPo piece, which lauded Sundance’s 36 percent of female-led films).
In mini Harbinger Of Doom news, only 19 percent of films at SXSW are directed by women. Let’s hope they understand they’ve got work to do, too.
Overall, was this a good, bad, or neutral week for women in movies, Rachel?
I’m going to give it a tentative “good.” The biggest blockbuster in theaters this weekend was written by a woman, directed by a woman, and designed to turn women on. (I have yet to see it, so I can’t fully speak to how, exactly, it represents women.) One of the most respected film festivals’ director spoke out about the work that needed to be done to correct gender imbalance in the industry, and though the news about the drop in female protagonists was staggeringly bad, the reaction has been, for the most part, “Wow, this is staggeringly bad. Let’s fix it.” Amy Pascal bummed us all out, oversimplifying a decades-long struggle for equal pay and the entire feminist movement, but maybe now that she’s got a little more free time on her hands, she’ll read this column and realize her mistakes. Hi Amy!
Further takes on the film and feminism front from around the web:
- Salon’s Tara Ison on what the movies taught her about sex and vulnerability
- The San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle looks at a century of double standards in on screen sex
- What Culture’s Jesse Gumbarge looks at 25 horror films directed by women
- io9’s Lauren Davis on 10 female spies who deserve their own film franchises
- PBS’s Wendy Thomas Russell says “skip the fairy tales” in favor of science
- Jezebel’s Tracy Moore unpacks the above essay
- Feministing’s Sesali B. talks to director Erika Lust about making indie porn for women
- Vulture gives other films the “Ghosbusters all-female remake treatment”
- The Wall Street Journal’s Sharon Marcus and Anne Skomorowsky on what Boyhood teaches us about girlhood
- The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg has 20 ways to fix Hollywood’s “woman problems”
- The Atlantic’s Emma Green on the “troubling sex” of Fifty Shades Of Grey
- Tech Crunch’s Sonya Teich looks at the gender bias behind the screen
- The CT Post’s Joe Meyers looks at when Hollywood studios “cared about female roles”
- Mashable’s Josh Dickey on the proliferation of digital alteration for women on screen
- The New York Times’ Cara Buckley on the revolt building over red-carpet pageantry
- The Guardian’s Eva Wiseman asks why creative women are saddled with the “quirky” label
- Jezebel’s Lindy West asks, “Can we stop Fifty Shades Of Grey from becoming a ‘woman thing’”?