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-centric projects were green-lit, and female-centric movies landed in theaters or your home (or will be in theaters or your home sometime before we all die). Here are a few:
- New and notable this week in theaters: The Duff, starring Mae Whitman, engages with teen-movie cliches about beauty and popularity; Gloria, which chronicles the life of international pop star Gloria Trevi; Amanda Rose Wilder’s Approaching The Elephant, an immersive doc about an experimental New Jersey school that got our Essential tag; and Drunktown’s Finest, written and directed by Sydney Freeman about her hometown of Gallup, New Mexico.
- Universal has optioned the best-selling children’s book The Princess In Black by Shannon and Dean Hale. The series follows Princess Magnolia, who “by day wears the obligatory flouncy dresses, but by night becomes the Princess In Black.” It’s billed as a “wish-fulfillment tale for contemporary young girls who like their pink dresses and tea parties with a side of combat boots and riding into battle on horseback.” Hm. This could go either way in terms of engendering actual empowerment for young girls—has anybody read these books with their kids (or by themselves, with a beer, no judgment)?
- Michelle Williams and Kelly Reichardt have reunited for an “untitled indie drama.” The women have previously teamed up to make Meek’s Cutoff and Wendy And Lucy.
- HB Studios has just been launched in order to create digital content for women of color. It’s kicking off with “Women On Top,” a 14-minute documentary directed by Leigh Davenport chock full of influential women, including Soledad O’Brien, Anika Noni Rose, and Eve.
- A new film series, Immigrant Women: Sharing Our Voices Through Film, has just been launched in Queens. It’s been organized by New York Women in Film and Television, and funded by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs. Among the documentaries to be screened are Judith: Portrait Of A Street Vendor, Claiming Our Voice, and Living Quechua.
Harbinger of doom: The industry’s unchanging dearth of diversity
This week, The Chicago Tribune published a story called “Best Picture nod for Selma caps big year for black women.” The piece kicks off with this fact: “Three black women released movies in 2014, more than ever before in a single year. And one of them is a contender for the Motion Picture Academy’s top prize.” A triumph? Not really. That’s three out of 373 films that came out in theaters. The piece also notes that, over the past seven years, only three black female filmmakers were connected to the top 700 movies; over the past decade, more than 95 percent of the directors of top-grossing films over the past decade were made by men; and almost 90 percent of those filmmakers were white.
Selma’s Ava DuVernay, Beyond The Lights’ Gina Prince-Blythewood, and Belle’s Amma Asante all weigh in on the so-called “big year for black women.” “Three is not enough,” says DuVernay. “While we celebrate the three, we’re talking three in the hundreds of films that came out last year between the U.K. and the United States. Unless (our success) equals more women being able to do the same thing next year—which legacy says is probably not going to happen—then we’re still at the same place.” All three insist that the number of female filmmakers of any ethnicity working in Hollywood has remained basically unchanged for the past 20 years—hovering around 5 percent—and cite financing and marketing (specifically, studios looking at women as a “niche market”) as their primary roadblocks.
The AP’s Jake Coyle makes a similar point about this year’s Oscar race. He recalls the progress made last year when Lupita Nyong’o won her Oscar for Twelve Years A Slave—specifically during her speech, in which she talked about the importance of on-screen representation of what she called “dark beauty”—and looks at this year’s white-washed nomineee pool as a setback. It’s a pattern, says Coyle: “Whenever change seems to come, a frustrating hangover follows.” Spike Lee agrees, telling Coyle, “Every 10 years we have the same conversation.”
Some troubling stats follow: An Associated Press survey of the Academy’s voting history since the first Academy Awards in 1929 shows that in those 87 years, nine black actors have won Oscars, four Latinos and three Asians, a record that doesn't even speak to other categories like best director, where only one woman (Kathryn Bigelow) has won. The number of non-whites to be nominated for Best Actor or Best Actress has nearly doubled in just the last two decades, but the 9.4 percent of non-white acting nominees over the Academy’s history is about four times less than the percentage of the non-white population.
The numbers are a reflection of the film industry at large, but also a reflection of the 94 percent white and 77 percent male membership of the Academy, and of our culture’s lack of inclusiveness in terms of both gender and race. Please hold while I go cry into a giant bottle of wine.
Sign of hope: Smart, influential people speaking out about feminism
There were several women willing to throw their hats in the feminist ring this week. Here are a few great quotes from around the web:
- Is Fifty Shades Of Grey an empowering film that focuses on female pleasure, or a complete subjugation of women and a glorification of abusive behavior? It’s not that simple—you might say it’s a (wait for it) gray area—but Fifty Shades star Eloise Mumford says she’s happy people are asking these questions in Time: “I think it’s a really important debate. What’s always interested me about art in general is its ability to instigate conversations… I think the reason why this book connected with so many women across the world is that women want to be talking about their sexuality and their fantasies, and it’s been a taboo topic for a long time…The movie came from the point of view of empowering women, I think. That was really important to me personally. I have always considered myself a huge feminist, so I would never have signed on to something that I didn’t think women were being empowered. The reality is that power dynamics of relationships are complicated, and the movie deals with that complexity.”
- Kristen Stewart, in Wonderland, about the importance of proclaiming you’re a feminist: “I feel like some girls around my age are less inclined to say, ‘Of course I’m a feminist, and of course I believe in equal rights for men and women,’ because there are implications that go along with the word feminist that they feel are too in-your-face or aggressive … A lot of girls nowadays are like, ‘Eww, I’m not like that.’ They don’t get that there’s no one particular way you have to be in order to stand for all of the things feminism stands for.”
- Elisabeth Moss talks labels and undue pressures placed on women with Deadline: “A woman is asked to define herself over and over. Are you a feminist? Are you a career woman? Are you a wife or a girlfriend? Are you a mother? Are you a pacifist? Are you a superwoman? Heidi [her character in the Heidi Chronicles], just sort of by accident, sometimes refuses to… I had a drink with my girlfriend, one of my best friends, here last night, and I swear you could’ve put our conversation in the play. What am I supposed to do now, and when am I supposed to have kids, and when am I supposed to get married and is it okay if I don’t, and all of that. Nothing’s changed. We’re just more used to talking about it now.”
- At the International Women’s Film Festival Network event late last week, Belle director Amma Asante gave a riveting speech on the difficulties of forging a career in Hollywood as a black woman. Here’s a highlight: “We as women filmmakers struggle to be visible—as is often said, we have to work twice as hard and, sometimes, possess twice the talent. So when after many, many years of researching and writing my screenplay for Belle, my own perceived talent was literally CUT in half, when the American writing union decided to GIFT my writing credit and every word of my screenplay to someone I had never met, who had previously made her own attempts and failed to write a script on this history, I had a choice. I could either divorce myself from the film entirely in order to make a stand about the injustice and the treatment I had suffered, or accept that the value of my writing had caused a movie to be greenlit and released to box-office success and some acclaim.”
- Beyond The Lights director Gina Prince-Blythewood on the obstacles for female directors in the Detroit Free Press: “It’s so strange because in film school, half the people in my film class were female. Then I went to Sundance to the writers and directors lab, and half of the people were female. So what happens from there to the industry? Why do the numbers drop so shockingly low? Calling attention to it and shouting it out, I hope, will ultimately make a change.”
- In the Harvard Business Review, Goldie Hawn reveals why there was never a sequel to The First Wives Club: “We were all women of a certain age, and everyone took a cut in salary to do it so the studio could make what it needed. We all took a smaller back end than usual and a much smaller front end. And we ended up doing incredibly well. The movie was hugely successful. It made a lot of money. We were on the cover of Time magazine. But two years later, when the studio came back with a sequel, they wanted to offer us exactly the same deal. We went back to ground zero. Had three men come in there, they would have upped their salaries without even thinking about it. But the fear of women’s movies is embedded in the culture.”
Harbinger of doom: Matthew Vaughn decrees that the anal-sex scene in Kingsman is a “celebration of women” and tells “bloody feminists” to “lighten up”
Spoiler alert, I guess? I have yet to see Kingsman: The Secret Service, so I can’t comment on whether its final scene objectifies women or is the most hilarious thing the world will ever know. Apparently, the movie concludes with Eggsy (Taron Egerton) saving the world, and a princess (Hanna Alstrom) immediately offering him anal sex as a reward. This isn’t an inherently offensive plot point or sexual position—maybe this particular princess enjoys anal sex?—but it’s created a bit of uproar. It’s odd—the movie is co-written by a woman, Jane Goldman, which leads me to believe that something might be missing in translation here. But regardless of director Matthew Vaughn and Goldman’s intent, Vaughn’s defense of the scene has been belittling and patronizing.
He tells EW: “I actually think it’s empowering. Some bloody feminists are accusing me of being a misogynist. I’m like, ‘It couldn’t be further from the truth.’ It’s a celebration of women and the woman being empowered in a weird way in my mind, which will cause a big argument again I’m sure. It’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek and crazy… For the 20 percent who were offended by it, there are 80 percept who are rolling around laughing so hard. Those 20 percent of people just need to lighten up a little bit. It’s about pushing boundaries and having a bit of fun. It’s not meant to be offensive, and it’s definitely not misogynist or any attack on women.”
Oh, okay, Matthew Vaughn. We’ll just let you, a successful male director, mansplain feminism and female empowerment, and decide what is and what isn’t misogynist or offensive to women. Thanks for letting us know that the scene was just meant to be “empowering in a weird way” for us “bloody feminists.” Sorry some of us got offended by your anal-sex joke! We’re just really boring and stupid and don’t understand your high-level humor.
Harbinger of doom meets sign of hope: The reaction to Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck trailer
At the end of last week, a trailer was released for Trainwreck, which Amy Schumer’s writing, directing, and starring in. The end! No, of course it’s not the end. The reactions to the trailer ranged from positive and life-affirming to totally denigrating and terrible. See: Hollywood Elsewhere’s Jeffrey Wells’ post on the flick. Actually, don’t see it; I’ll just share it with you here so he won’t get more page views:
“With Trainwreck (Universal, 7.17), director Judd Apatow is once again introducing a chubby, whipsmart, not conventionally attractive, neurotically bothered female comic to a mass audience — first Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids (’11), then Lena Dunham in HBO’s Girls (’12) and now Amy Schumer, the star and writer of Trainwreck as well as the star of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer. She’s obviously sharp and clever and funny as far as the woe-is-me, self-deprecating thing goes, but there’s no way she’d be an object of heated romantic interest in the real world. And yet that’s the apparent premise of Apatow’s film. Schumer’s wide facial features reminded me of a blonde Lou Costello around the time of Buck Privates, or Jennifer Aniston’s somewhat heavier, not-as-lucky sister who watches a lot of TV. Don’t look at me—I’m not the one who made her the star of a film about a plucky, free-spirited girl that a lot of guys want to bang. You know who would be better in a film like this? An actress who’s nicely attractive, has the funnies and the soulful stuff besides? Jenny Slate.”
This is the harbinger of doom part. There’s not one sentence in this summary that isn’t wholly sexist, disgusting, small-minded, and deeply cruel. Who is giving this man a platform? Also, is anybody sleeping with him? If it’s you, please stop. For all of us.
The sign of hope part? Schumer responded in the most perfectly Schumer-y way ever: By posting a photo of herself sporting underwear on stage—looking great, obviously—with a caption that read, “I am a size 6 and have no plans of changing. This is it. Stay on or get off. Kisses!” She then spoke with USA Today, saying, “It was such an example of sort of the reason for trolling. It seems like a rewarding experience for people who do that stuff. From the bottom of my heart—I could not care less.”
In under 24 hours, Schumer managed to shame both Wells and the concept of fat-shaming altogether, likely empowering millions of women and embarrassing millions of Jeffrey Wells-esque assholes in the process. Amy Schumer, I fucking love you; never change.
Harbinger of doom: Michael Cimino and “the thing the girl made about the box.”
In other regressive comments of the week, The Hollywood Reporter talked to Deer Hunter director Michael Cimino, marking his first interview in 13 years. He talked about winning the Oscar for Deer Hunter and current war movies, including American Sniper. He also dropped this lovely quote. “There's got to be some extreme emotional reaction for the movie to be doing that well. It hasn't happened since Deer Hunter. I mean, all the movies that have been made about war, from Platoon to the thing the girl made about the box …” The interviewer interrupted him: “The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow.” Cimino’s reply: “The Hurt Locker, right. (Laughs.) There’s been none of that.” Cimino also decried rumors that he’s going through a gender transition, calling them an “insult” and “a personal assassination.” Seriously, dude?
Tim Grierson broke it down best on Twitter, pointing out that during Bigelow’s Hurt Locker follow-up Zero Dark Thirty, when Maya (Jessica Chastain) is finally in the same room as Bin Laden’s dead body, you can faintly hear someone in the background referring to her as “the girl.” “Even in her moment of triumph, Maya (like Bigelow) is still ‘the girl.’ Such a perfectly ironic capper to the raid sequence,” writes Grierson. And such a perfect way to encapsulate a large, sexist swath of Hollywood, Tim.
Overall, was this a good, bad, or neutral week for women in movies, Rachel?
Bad. Props to Ava DuVernay, Amma Asante, and Gina Prince-Blythewood for championing women of color and Amy Schumer for championing body acceptance. It’s important and difficult work, changing the narrative for women in Hollywood and pop culture, and, ideally, their status as second-class-citizens. But ultimately, the numbers are a clear indicator that we’re all failing, within that culture, to be inclusive of people of color and women, and high-profile male directors (and shitty male journalists) are running their damn misogynistic mouths all over the place. And there’s little sign of these things changing. At all. Oh, and we all know how the Oscars are going to turn out on Sunday (hint: white and male as hell).
Further takes on the film and feminism front from around the web:
- The Mary Sue’s Julia Alexander on the dangerous exploitation of female submission in Fifty Shades Of Grey and The Boy Next Door
- Forbes’ Scott Mendelson on how Fifty Shades Of Grey is a “break from damsels in distress, women in refrigerators”
- The New York Times’ Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply look at how the movie has stirred a “reflection on sex films”
- The L.A. Times' Saba Hamedy and Steven Zeitchik look at how its success was propelled by female ticket-buyers, and will hopefully cause a shift in the industry
- And Slate’s Amanda Marcotte has a helpful Fifty Shades Of Grey thinkpiece roundup
- The New Zealand Herald’s Rachel Cooke on “macho Hollywood’s gender crisis”
- Melissa Hunter’s Adult Wednesday Addams responds to catcalling
- The Mary Sue’s Susana Polo highlights artwork by Ming Doyle and Erica Henderson that gives us the “genderblended DC movie universe we always wanted”
- Marie Claire’s Lauren Valenti on the most common instances of “beauty blasphemy” in movies
- Daily Life’s Tegan Jones on why superheroes need to stop “fridging” their girlfriends
- Vulture’s Abraham Riesman on how Harley Quinn became the superhero world’s most successful woman
- Kim Kalish, Kimberley Dalton Mitchell and Susan-Kate Heaney sing “Hey Academy, I’m A Woman,” a little ditty about Hollywood’s sidelining of women
- The Hollywood Reporter’s Seth Abramovitch on how Hattie McDaniel, the Oscars’ first black winner, accepted her award in a segregated hotel in L.A.
- The New York Times’ Margaret Sullivan delves into how the Times will write about and identify transgender people in a two-part series
- Fusion’s Danielle Henderson on why Hollywood is “shooting itself in the foot” by not focusing on diversity