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 in theaters this week: The, er, one-star Insurgent, starring a be-pixied Shailene Woodley, based on a novel by Veronica Roth; sexual-surrogate drama She’s Lost Control, written and directed by Anja Marquardt; period suicide-pact tragicomedy Amour Fou, from writer-director Jessica Hausner; and Susanna Bier’s two-star Jennifer Lawrence weirdness, Serena.
- Joan Didion’s famous essay, “Goodbye To All That,” will be adapted into a film by producers Megan Carlson and Brian Sullivan. This is not to be confused with the indie film of the same name that came out last year, which was, of course, about a middle-aged man discovering himself.
- Focus Features has acquired the North American distribution rights to Suffragette, starring Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan as cheerleaders just kidding they’re suffragettes obviously. I think this movie was invented solely for the purposes of this column, so thanks, Focus Features!
- Meera Menon will direct a “female-driven Wall Street drama” for Broad Street pictures. Called Equity, it will follow an investment banker who’s “threatened by a financial scandal and must untangle a web of corruption.” Women: Good at untangling shit. Broad Street was founded by Orange Is The New Black’s Alysia Reiner and Backwards’ Sarah Megan Thomas in order to produce films with “strong female roles before and behind the camera.” All-around good Female Stuff here.
- We’re getting an Angela Merkel biopic. She’s still alive and stuff, so it’s a little soon (what if she cures the common cold in a few years or something?), but it could be cool anyway.
- We’re getting a new Little Women! Sarah Polley will pen and maybe direct it. Ugh, we’re all going to cry so much.
- Warner Bros bought Variant, a “female-driven sci-fi action script” from Tony Jaswinski. I don’t know anything else about it. Tony, floor’s yours. Whoa, just kidding, Tony. I know you’re busy.
- Disney Channel, the venerable institution that brought us Zenon: Girl Of The 21st Century (seriously, this movie is the best) is developing Throw Like Mo, a movie based on Mo’Ne Davis, the young pitcher who rose to fame last year when her fastball helped the Philadelphia Taney Dragons head to the Little League World Series. She was also the first female player to pitch a shutout in LLWS history. I don’t know what that means, but the movie sounds great!
Harbinger of doom: Movies are even more sexist than real life when it comes to the workplace
FiveThirtyEight’s Walt Hickey did some number-crunching and found that the glass ceiling exists in movies even more than it does in real life. As he puts it, “Movies take place in a weird alternate universe where men outnumber women by more than 2-to-1, and where it’s strikingly rare for women to have a real conversation about something other than a man. This imbalance extends to how certain jobs are portrayed in movies, even in bit parts, and reinforces old gender stereotypes.” From 1995-2015, 89 percent of nurses in movies were women, 81 percent of secretaries were women, and 57 percent of teachers were women; on the flip side of the coin, only 10 percent of doctors were women, only 19 percent of jobs described as “business” (my official job title here at The Dissolve) encompassed women, and only 5 percent of engineers were women. And the vast majority, of course, were supporting roles. This is shitty in and of itself, but also, as Hickey points out, movies influence perceptions about gender—if every engineer on screen is a man, that sends a powerful message to men and women alike.
Another fun and related study, Gender Bias Without Borders, led by USC Annenberg professor Stacy L. Smith and released by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender In Media, revealed that the percentage of women who make up the on-screen workforce is even lower than it is in real life. Only 23.2 percent of employed characters depicted in American films are female. Davis’ institute is now conducting a second global study on the impact of limited female representation on boys and girls, as well as developing software to qualitatively analyze female screentime. Numbers in general are usually disturbing to me, but these are genuinely upsetting. Also, Geena Davis, I love you.
Sign of hope: Smart, influential people speaking out about feminism
There were several women and Feigs willing to throw their hats in the feminist ring this week. Here are a few great quotes from around the web:
- Paul Feig, who I will someday hug, talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the Ghostbusters reboot criticism on Twitter: “The Internet is really funny—I love it, but I hate it at the same time. The first wave when you make an announcement like that is overwhelmingly positive. Everyone’s so happy and you’re like, ‘This is great.’ Then comes the second wave and you’re like, ‘Oh my God. Some of the most vile, misogynistic s— I’ve ever seen in my life.’… I figure it’s some wacked-out teenager. But almost constantly it’s someone who’s bio says ‘Proud father of two!’ And has some high-end job. You’re raising children and yet you’re bashing me about putting women in my movie?”
- Amy Schumer’s “Night Of Too Many Stars” stand-up set is chock full of trenchant and hilarious feminist tidbits: “I assumed I’d just write [Trainwreck] and they’d cast, like, Kate Upton, or Kate Middleton, like, a Kate, you know. I assumed I’d just be on set as the writer with a laptop and a messy bun, and she’d be like, ‘Um, why is there a garden gnome talking to me?’ But they’re like, ‘No, we want you to be in the movie. But stop eating.’ And I was like, ‘Okay.’ And they were like, ‘You promise?’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t even like food, I was just bored.’”
- And more Schumer, this time at SXSW: “I wanna get [feminism] tattooed on my clit. I think people don’t know what the word feminism means.” “What does the word feminism mean?” asked interviewer Danielle Nussbaum. Schemer replied, “Well, I’m one of those people… No, social and political equality for women. I think if you’re against that, you’re crazy, you’re a crazy person.”
- Ava DuVernay, during her SXSW keynote, on the motivation behind Selma: “I went into that film with one thought, singular and clear: Serve this story. You have to. It wasn’t made with any sort of achievement in mind…The women of the movement never got their due…If your dream only includes you, it’s too small.”
- Indie producer Christine Vachon, during her SXSW speech, on the difficulty of getting investors for movies with female protagonists: “Female-driven dramas are tough. Even on Still Alice…when you get somebody like Julianne Moore [who won the Best Actress Oscar for her film], financiers are like, ‘Who’s going to play her husband?’ That seems to be endemic. It’s changing more rapidly in other platforms. TV has already left us in the dust. Women are extremely prolific in those fields.”
- Julianne Moore, in Refinery29, on how sexism isn’t just a problem within the film industry: “When people talk about sexism being endemic to show business specifically, I think that’s not true. It’s more of a global issue. I think the thing that we’re becoming aware of is that there are differences to the way genders are treated throughout the world. It’s not something that's happening just in my business.”
- Rose Byrne and my best friend Paul Feig talk to Vulture about the difficulty of making a female-led comedy (Spy) that succeeds internationally: “I wanted to figure out how to do a female-led comedy that could have a chance doing well internationally,” said Feig. “That’s always the excuse you hear from the studios and producers, why they can’t have more movies starring women, because they ‘don’t work internationally.’ But fuck that. Well, here’s all these elements, check all the other boxes and make it undeniable that it works. The more time you can crack through that wall, the better. They’re going to say it was a one-off, like with Bridesmaids, but the more things are successful, the harder those excuses become.”
Harbinger of doom: All Disney-Pixar women look the same
Intrepid Tumblr-er Alex of Every Flavored Bean found an unsettling pattern in Disney’s and Pixar’s movies: All of both studio’s female characters look the same. Round, youthful face. Button nose. Seriously. All of them. And the studios’ male faces, of course, range from chubby to hairy to big-nosed to—gasp—racially diverse. As Alex puts it, WHAT. THE. FUCK. Has there ever been a more on-the-nose representation (or on-the-nose pun than the one I just made) of the cramped, unforgiving beauty standards Hollywood places on women than the proof that, when given the chance, Hollywood gives all women the exact same face?
It’s likely that this has something to do with a quote from Frozen’s head of animation, Lino DiSalvo, last year: “Historically speaking, animating female characters is really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very — you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to—you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna (Kristen Bell) being angry.”
I thought we were always so pretty when we were angry?
Harbinger of doom/Sign of hope hybrid: Ashley Judd’s Twitter threats
On Sunday, Ashley Judd made a #MarchMadness (did I do that right?) sports joke on Twitter, accusing Arkansas of “playing dirty” against Kentucky. The dark, roiling underworld that is Twitter responded by lobbing threats of sodomy and death against her. Rather than stay silent, Judd began tweeting back. “When I express a stout opinion during #MarchMadness I am called a whore, c—-, threatened with sexual violence. Not okay.” After she was met with more mockery and resistance, she made an appearance on MSNBC, telling Thomas Roberts, “The way things happen on social media is abusive, and everybody needs to take personal responsibility for what they write and not allowing this misinterpretation and shaming culture to persist. And by the way, I’m pressing charges.” Naturally, Twitter responded again, making light of her situation and mocking her for daring to speak up for herself—for example, user @FJBar75 tweeted, “Pressing charges against people that shamed her on Twitter. LOL! Good luck with that, princess.” Used @katomart wrote, “What the hell is #onlinegenderviolence ? I can’t take this whiny feminist crap. Act like grown ups.”
Undeterred, Judd took to Mic to speak even louder, penning a trenchant essay about violence against women online and off. It’s a powerful, personal piece that addresses how the Twitter incident was the norm rather than the exception (“My tweet was simply the convenient delivery system for a rage toward women that lurks perpetually”); how the response to her self-defense is a microcosm of the universal ways we talk about girls and women (“When they’re violated, we ask, why was she wearing that? What was she doing in that neighborhood? What time was it? Had she been drinking?”); her own experiences with rape and incest as a young woman (“I am a survivor of sexual assault, rape and incest. I am greatly blessed that in 2006, other thriving survivors introduced me to recovery. I seized it.”); and why she’s choosing to pursue charges (“I received a disturbing tweet with a close-up photograph of my face behind text that read, ‘I can’t wait to cum all over your face and in your mouth…’ I knew it was a crime. It was time to call the police, and to say to the Twittersphere, no more.”). She also used the piece to call other women and girls to action: “I am handing it back over to those of you who are unafraid to speak out against abuse like I have faced, and those of you who are righteous allies and intervening bystanders. You’re on it. Keep at it — on the Internet, at home, at work and in your hearts, where the courage to tackle this may fundamentally lie. We have much to discuss, and much action to take.”
Just a few weeks ago, I posted an article from the Washington Post’s Michelle Goldberg about how online abuse is turning women writers away from the industry; I myself have experienced nasty tweets in response to my writing that were directed solely at my gender. This isn’t just an issue that affects celebrities like Judd, and she’s right in that it represents the way women are treated at large. Hopefully—and this is admittedly an incredibly optimistic take—she’ll help change the way law enforcement looks at the online abuse lobbed inordinately at women. Either way, this is awesome and I will now watch all of Ashley Judd’s movies backwards in order to celebrate.
Overall, was this a good, bad, or neutral week for women in movies, Rachel?
So bad, you guys. Outside of the fact that the future looks, well, somewhat brighter—somewhere down the line, we’re getting biopics on Angela Merkel and feminist-focused features—this week, there was very little to celebrate. The movies we love are sidelining women, stereotyping women, and creating by-the-numbers templates for women’s appearances. Thank God for the likes of Ashley Judd, Geena Davis, Amy Schumer, et al., but their voices alone aren’t enough at this point. If only I could express my anger right now without looking so ugly!
Further takes on the film and feminism front from around the web:
- Vanity Fair's Joanna Robinson on why Amy Schumer's Trainwreck is a triumph
- Vanity Fair’s Kirk Honeycutt [best name ever? yes] on how the female stars of The Breakfast Club fought to remove a sexist scene, and won
- Grantland’s Donnell Alexander asks us to “consider the merkin” throughout Hollywood history
- Marie Claire’s Samantha Leal on movies that made her rethink women and sex
- MTV.com’s Shaunna Murphy on the woman behind Casting Call Woe, a site where women share their experiences navigating the sexist Hollywood casting landscape
- Bloomberg’s Emily Greenhouse talks to Geena Davis about about how she’s championing women in film
- The New Statesman’s Ryan Gilby says it’s time to celebrate female film critics
- Fusion’s Danielle Henderson reports that the new feminist Thor is selling “way more” comic books than the old Thor
- Flavorwire’s Judy Berman wants us to stop “rehashing, remixing, and subverting” fairy-tales and just “kill them”
- IndieWire’s Melissa Silverstein shares her experience traveling through India with the American Film Showcase, discussing women’s portrayal in film
- Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir on how “male angst” and fear of emasculation fuels Backcountry
- Fort Worth Weekly’s Kristian Lin argues that Insurgent’s terribleness is, in part, due to sexist industry politics
- Bustle has a list of 17 female-directed films that premiered at SXSW
- MoviePilot.com takes a look at the victimization of women in movies and TV