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 and films 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 Hunting Ground, a documentary by Kirby Dick that explores the problem of rape on college campuses; Ana Maria In Novela Land, about a young women who finds herself transported, Pleasantville-style, into her favorite telenovela; Farewell to Hollywood, co-directed by fatally ill teen Regina Nicholson; Maps To The Stars, David Cronenberg’s Hollywood satire starring Julianne Moore; My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn, a doc by the filmmakers’ wife, Liv Corfixen, that looks at their life and marriage; and Wild Canaries, a screwball comedy starring Sophia Takal and Alia Shawkat.
- This week, we showcased trailers for two women-centric documentaries premiering at SXSW: She’s The Best Thing In It, which follows Mary Louise Wilson as she teaches the “YouTube generation” to act; and T-Rex, which documents the gold-medal-winning journey of the youngest woman to box in the Olympics.
- Marisa Tomei is set to star in a miniseries about Gloria Steinem, Ms. If you’ve ever read a sentence more appropriate for this column, I don’t believe you.
- How I Got Over, a doc that chronicles how 15 homeless women put on a play based on their life experiences at the Kennedy Center, will premiere on VOD on March 6.
- HBO has announced a writing fellowship for “diverse and female writers 21 and older.” The program will give “emerging writers from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to attend a week of master classes held at the HBO campus in Santa Monica,” and later, “begin an eight-month writing phase where he/she will be paired with an HBO development executive.”
- Film and TV students at NYU’s Tisch School Of The Arts are planning to gather to celebrate emerging female talent in the entertainment industry, and to hear from women like Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, Rizzoli & Isles creator Janet Tamaro, and HBO exec Doris Casa, at the 13th Fusion Film Festival. “Festivals like Fusion may not need to exist forever,” Natalie Erazo, a Fusion co-director and a junior at NYU, told Variety. “One day we may just call them all inclusive festivals or festivals with great work in them.” ONE DAY, NATALIE.
- Sylvia Chang’s Murmur Of The Hearts will open the Hong Kong Film Festival. She’s also been named the Filmmaker in Focus at the fest, which will screen 14 of her films.
Harbinger of doom: Scarcity of female directors
Ready for our installment of “this week in depressing stats”? According to an L.A. Times analysis, the number of major studio films directed by women has been “stubbornly low” over the past five years, hitting a “high” of 8.1 percent in 2010 and falling to 4.6 percent last year. You might recall that last Sunday at the Oscars, all of the directing nominees were men; no woman has been nominated for directing since Kathryn Bigelow won for The Hurt Locker in 2010. The studio with the highest percentage of films directed by women over the past five years was Sony Pictures, specifically Sony Pictures Classics (but, you know, now Amy Pascal’s gone); the lowest was Warner Bros., which actually has “bros” in its name, so.
Seems like it’s sort of a catch-22: The studios want to hire somebody with experience, but they’re not giving women the chance to gain that experience. Their best bet is independent film, where, as director Lynn Shelton puts it, “You can buy a camera for $1,500. It’s insane how easy it is to make an independent movie. You’re not dependent on other people allowing you to do it.” That’s partly because, according to the piece, “risk is considered a masculine activity,” and “women are perceived to be less trustworthy with resources.” So true. I lost all my tampons and hairdryers just last week.
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:
- Gillian Jacobs, who recently directed the short film “The Queen Of Code,” about United States Navy rear admiral and early computer programmer Grace Hopper, in Elle: “Listen, if you just look at the number of roles for women versus the number of roles for men in any given film, there are always far more roles for men. That’s always been true. When I went to college, I went to Juilliard. At that time—and I don’t know if this is still true—they always selected fewer women than men for the program, because there were so few roles for women in plays. That was sort of acknowledgment for me of the fact that writers write more roles for men than they do for women…I hope that writers will write more women and maybe question why they unthinkingly make, you know, every single supporting part male.”
- Rookie Mag founder, actress, and all-around badass Tavi Gevinson tells Michael Ian Black she wants to make feminism accessible to everyone: “There’s a stigma around [feminism] that many of us have bought into, and I think the only way to remove that stigma is for more and more people to identify with it, which is why I think something like the Beyonce VMAs performance was so radical. At the same time I think so much of my job is figuring out a way to do that without watering it down. I want something that’s accessible. I have to know that I grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, like, progressive, super-liberal – these tools were available to me. I have to remember there are girls who are reading Rookie who are – I don’t want to stereotype – but they didn’t grow up in that way. They didn’t have my Jewish liberal parents and stuff. I don’t want them to feel like feminism doesn’t need them or they shouldn’t learn about self-esteem and self care through a feminist lens just because they don’t have the jargon down.”
- Anna Kendrick in The Edit, on feeling constant pressure to stay “pretty” to get parts as a younger actress: “I know that things will be more complicated as an older actress in ways that I can't anticipate, but I would really enjoy getting to the point where the reason I’m getting roles or not isn’t based on if somebody thinks I’m hot enough. I feel like I’ve always been a character actress, and this is a blip in my career where I’m playing the ingénue. I'll be a lot more comfortable and get excited when I’m playing women who aren’t supposed to be pretty.”
- Halle Berry, in the Guardian, on the pigeonholing of films starring people of color (or “colour,” because British): “I’m inspired, though, when I see how many people of colour are doing such good work out there. The quality and value of our work isn’t determined by an award. I would like to see more of them recognised, absolutely, but we all need to find the win in the work, and doing our craft. The real win is when we’re not just selling stories of colour, that people of colour can be in everyday stories. Where we’re not saying: ‘These are the movies for black people.’…I’ve always had a hard time getting roles, being of colour, so I’ve got as many available to me as I’ve always had – there’s no difference for me. When I was 21, it was as hard as it is now when I’m 48. For me it’s the same [laughs grimly].”
- Monica Bellucci, in the Sunday Times, illuminates just how ageist the industry is—she was shocked when she was cast as Bond’s love interest in the forthcoming Spectre: “Bellucci recalls flying to London to meet [director Sam] Mendes to discuss a part in Spectre, the 24th Bond film. ‘I just blurted out: I’m not a girl, I’m a woman, I’m a mature woman,’ she said. ‘I’m 50 years old – what am I going to do in James Bond?’ According to Bellucci, Mendes laughed and said: ‘For the first time in history, James Bond is going to have a story with a mature woman. The concept is revolutionary.’ Bellucci says she then told the Oscar-winning film-maker he would be a ‘hero among women” for delivering a Bond who becomes attracted to someone his own age.’ ” (Note: This almost made it into its own “harbinger of doom” section, but I think it’s ultimately positive that Mendes cast her—depressingly enough, he’s right that it marks a revolution for the overtly sexist Bond films.)
- Margot Robbie in RedEye on being called a “bombshell” and an “ingenue”: “I really hate that you can do a project with people like Martin Scorsese and some of the best filmmakers in the world, and some of the DPs I’ve worked with and editors and things that, and the whole thing gets completely swept aside with one comment like, ‘Blonde Bombshell Sizzles the Screen!’ It’s like, ‘Wow, I just had the experience of a lifetime, and you summarized it to that.’ Which always happens to everyone, and it really pisses me off.”
- On CNN Tonight, Monique fired back at Lee Daniels, who said the Oscar-winner fell from grace for making “unreasonable demands”: “ ‘It wasn’t that I was blackballed like Mr. Daniels said… the phone was ringing and the scripts were coming but the offers that were associated with them made me say ‘I can’t accept that,’ she explained, adding that taking such offers would have sent a negative message to other African-American women. ‘If we continue to accept these low offers, how do we make a change?’ ”
Harbinger of doom: Amy Pascal’s replacement is a white dude
Remember several paragraphs ago, when we talked about how Sony did the best job of hiring female directors last year? One of the driving forces behind this was Amy Pascal, who’s now gone off to Spider-man-ier pastures. Is her replacement another woman, perhaps even—dare I say it—a woman of color? Hell no. It’s a white dude. How imaginative, Sony.
In an attempt to predict how things might go under Tim Rothman’s reign, I did a Google News search on “Tim Rothman” and “women” and found this lovely quote, from a New Yorker piece about What’s Your Number, in which Anna Farris plays a “hard-partying 30-something who reads in Marie Claire that if a woman sleeps with more than 20 men, she’ll never get married.” “I voted for a lower number, like one,” said Rothman. “There’s an innocent quality to Anna’s sexuality, and an inherent kindness to her, that makes it possible to make a movie about sex and have it feel like she’s still a sweetheart.” Wait, women can have sex and still be sweet? Can’t. Compute.
Rothman sounds like he’s always been a perfect fit for the overtly sexist film industry, and I’m sure he’ll be quite happy at Sony.
Sign of hope: Proof that diversity sells
Just yesterday, UCLA’s Ralph Bunche Center released a report, called “Flipping The Script,” that can be boiled down to two words: Diversity sells. The study looked at theatrical film releases in 2012 and 2013, and all broadcast, cable, and digital platform TV programs from 2012-13, and concluded that audiences are demanding and more actively viewing programs with diverse casts and storylines. “Business as usual in the Hollywood industry may soon be unsustainable,” wrote Darnell Hunt, the head of the center. “Evidence from this report (and its predecessor in the series) shows clearly that America’s increasingly diverse audiences prefer diverse content created with the input of diverse talent.”
The center issued a report last year showing that women and minorities were “falling far short in making inroads into influential Hollywood positions compared with the actual demographics of the U.S. population.” Nothing speaks to Hollywood like money, so let’s hope that these results bring about actual change.
Middle of the column, middle of the road: The Oscars
There was so much Female Stuff going down at the Oscars, you guys. Let’s break it all down:
Patricia Arquette’s gender-based pay-gap comments. During her Best Supporting Actress speech, Patricia Arquette made an appeal for equal pay: “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else's equal rights,” she said. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.” It was simplistic, sure, but it was important nonetheless. Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez loved it, Twitter loved it for a few minutes, and then all hell broke loose when, backstage, Arquette clarified her comments further: “The truth is, right under the surface, there are huge issues that are at play that do affect women, and it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we all fought for to fight for us now.”
Oof. As RH Reality Check’s Andrea Grimes put it, this was a spectacular “intersectionality fail.” Arquette’s second statement implied that the LGBT community and people of color have already achieved equality; suggested that fighting for each others’ equality is a quid-pro-quo, charity-based game; and excluded women of color and LGBT women who still count as “women who deserve equal pay,” and who statistically make even less than white women do. What happened to “feminism is for everyone,” my girl Patty?
After the backlash, Arquette took up the conversation yet again on Twitter: “Wage equality will help ALL women of all races in America,” she wrote. “It will also help their children and society. Women have been basically paying a gender tax for generations. I have long been an advocate for the rights of the #LBGT community. The question is why aren’t you an advocate for equality for ALL women? If you are fighting against #Equalpay you are fighting for ALL women and especially women of color to make less money than men.”
I appreciate and understand Arquette’s intent, and chalk the goofs up to potential ignorance or an unintentional mishandling of her own message. That message, while imperfect and exclusionary, is still necessary; even more significantly, Arquette spurred a national conversation about feminism, intersectionality, and the pay gap. Isn’t it a little sad, though, that an Oscar speech advocating for simple gender equality shook everybody up so much? Discussions like these should be status quo by now.
The red carpet. Supporting a campaign called #AskHerMore, Reese Witherspoon put red-carpet reporters on blast for asking women about their fashion choices instead of the ones they make on screen. Did she succeed in changing the conversation? Eh, kind of? While some actresses took the opportunity to make empowering statements, others were directed in similarly stereotypical directions. Take Naomi Watts, who ended up talking about cooking—specifically, the frittata she’d made earlier—and how she’d “starved herself” until the ceremony. Like Arquette’s speech, #AskHerMore was an overly simplistic statement, and one that didn’t extend far outside of the insular Oscars ceremony, but it was an admirable effort on Witherspoon’s part. Let’s #DoMore and #DoBetter next year.
The transparent overcompensation for the lack of nominee diversity. Due to the pre-Oscars outcry about the ceremony’s lack of diversity (specifically, its Selma snubs and its whitewashed acting categories), the Academy bent over backwards on Sunday to prove itself inclusive. No fewer than 15 non-white presenters and performers took the stage, including Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Lopez, Viola Davis, Idris Elba, and Oprah. Even host Neil Patrick Harris seemed to zero in on black audience members, singling out Octavia Spencer for a painful bit involving a briefcase and forcing David Oyelowo to stand up and awkwardly demonstrate his British accent.
While it’s wonderful (though, again, depressing that it’s not yet the norm) to see an Oscars broadcast that isn’t a sea of white faces, the move reeked of Academy pandering and of “too little, too late.” How about next year, start actively seeking out and recognizing the work of people who aren’t white men, Academy? (Regardless, major props go to Common and John Legend, whose rendition of “Glory” was stunning, and whose speech, in which Legend lamented the number of black men in prison and stated, “Selma is now because the struggle for justice is now,” was incredibly important and powerful.)
Sign of hope: Young women taking up the feminist mantle
Io9 has a heartening story about a young girl who could basically be writing this column: 11-year-old Rowan Hansen, who wrote a letter to DC Comics asking why there aren’t more female superheroes. “It’s not like the male superheroes are better than the female superheroes, but there are just more of them,” she wrote. “If Batman gets to wear armor, then why doesn’t Wonder Woman get to wear armor? I know that she’s kind of invulnerable, but it would still be nicer if she didn’t have to wear a bathing suit all the time.” Did you know the word “invulnerable” at 11?
In response, DC Comics tweeted at her, “Thanks, Rowan. We agree, we're working hard to create more superhero fun for girls!” (“Superhero fun for girls” is now the comic-book equivalent of the Lego Movie’s “female stuff” that gave this column its name.) Hansen later appeared on the Today Show, where she was plied with gifts from DC, including a drawing showing her as a superhero. Apparently this—and that stupid tweet—merited an eye-roll from Hansen, too: “I don’t want people to think, ‘Oh yeah, they responded to her. Now it's over.’ I want people to keep trying to make this happen. Because it’s very important to me.” Damn, Rowan. You keep at it, girl. We need you.
Overall, was this a good, bad, or neutral week for women in movies, Rachel?
This week was just a hot mess, y’all. I’m exhausted from a) thinking about all of this Female Stuff and b) furiously typing about it. I’m gonna have to call it straight neutral—the good and bad weighed equally in the balance. On one hand, we’ve got stars like Patricia Arquette advocating for feminism; on the other hand, we’ve got stars like Patricia Arquette advocating for feminism quite poorly. While younger women like Rowan Hansen are eager to take up the feminist mantle, older women like (admittedly less-than-perfect) Amy Pascal are being replaced by old, slut-shaming white dudes. And while this week boasts a larger-than-usual number of female-centric projects and films, it also brings news that the women at the helm of these types of projects are getting less work than ever before.
Further takes on the film and feminism front from around the web:
- McSweeney’s Shannon Reed imagines if critic wrote about the male Best Director nominees the same way they wrote about Selma director Ava DuVernay
- In Fortune, Roxane Gay explains why—and how—we need to be looking at diversity differently
- Flavorwire’s Jonathan Diaz on how Marvel’s female Thor is striking back at critics
- The San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle digs deeper into the numbers for female roles in movies
- The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg on Hollywood’s frayed relationship with the left and the Oscars' flurry of political statements
- Hit Fix’s Donna Dickens on why Jupiter Ascending is the “sci-fi movie women have been waiting for”
- The Atlantic’s Katie Kilkenny on the Oscars’ renaissance of political activism
- Forbes’ Melissa Silverstein on why she can’t muster up excitement for the Oscars: lack of representation
- Slate’s Amanda Marcotte on why Patricia Arquette’s feminism is “only for white women”
- Vox’s Kelsey McKinney examines the numbers behind Arquette’s speech, and claims she’s “whitewashing feminism”
- Time’s Sarah Miller wasn’t into Reese Witherspoon’s #AskHerMore
- The Washington Post’s Michelle Goldberg looks at feminist writers who are so besieged by online abuse that they’ve begun to retire
- Bitch Magazine’s Aya de Leon on the trouble with celebrity feminism
- Jezebel’s Kate Dries unpacks a 1970s New York Times piece about female comedians, titled, “The Funny Thing Is That They Are Still Feminine”
- The Guardian’s Rory Carroll asks who’s to blame for Hollywood’s gender-based pay gap
- Buzzfeed’s Alison Wilmore thinks the conversations about perceived social progress at the Oscars were empty pandering
- At Variety, Dr. Martha M. Lauzen explains why studios need to start addressing diversity
- Flavorwire’s Moze Halperin confirms that Catwoman is bisexual now, so you guys can all stop speculating
- Vanity Fair’s Toni Bentley on her one problem with Fifty Shades Of Grey: Ana never orgasms