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, 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: A Girl Like Her, a look at girl-on-girl bullying that bills itself as “based on a million true stories”; Israeli comedy-musical Cupcakes, fronted by five women; English thriller The Riot Club, written by Laura Wade and directed by Lone Scherfig; Apartment Troubles, starring writer-directors Jennifer Prediger and Jess Weixler as best friends who… have apartment troubles; White God, which follows a 13-year-old Hungarian girl moving in with her emotionally distant father (and a wandering dog); and 52 Tuesdays, about a teenage girl dealing with her mother’s plans for gender transition.
- Sony bought a female-fronted teen sex comedy from Kelly Oxford, who is a damn delight. It’s called All The Way, and it’ll be produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and it will be wonderful.
- Sony’s also picked up the right to adapt the Tony Award-winning musical, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Sony! You’re killing it this week re: Female Stuff.
- Grace Jones will finally receive the documentary treatment; continue to be fierce as hell.
- If you’re in L.A., you can (dream)catch Dreamcatcher, which follows the work of advocate-activist Brenda Myers-Powell, a former prostitute who works with women and young girls to deter them from a life of sexual exploitation and drugs.
- This year’s GLAAD Media winners included The Imitation Game, The Normal Heart, and Roland Emmerich, all of which were recognized in L.A. for their contribution to positive LGBTQA representation.
- Cinedigm will release It Happened Here on VOD on May 12. Directed by Lisa F. Jackson, it explores sexual assault on campuses through personal testimonials of five survivors, who’ve “transformed their experiences into a springboard for change.”
Harbinger of doom: Deadline and its “ethnic casting” piece
Let’s all just take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds in preparation for this item. Everybody got a beer or a Klonopin or something? Okay.
If you’ve been on the Internet at all over the past couple of days, you’ve likely seen at least one person angrily tweeting or angrily lighting trash cans on fire about a Deadline piece published Tuesday night and actually, ACTUALLY titled “Pilots 2015: The Year Of Ethnic Castings – About Time Or Too Much Of Good Thing?” If you haven’t seen the story yet, don’t worry, because despite the (more than justified) outrage over it, Deadline’s kept it up, oddly doubling down on it, racist warts and all. The piece, by Nellie Andreeva—who is either a) terrible at satire? I don’t know? or b) just terrible—covers the trend of casting “ethnic” actors during this year’s pilot season, then quotes several “anonymous insiders” who bemoan the lack of parts available to white actors as a result. Here is a real pull-quote:
“But, as is the case with any sea change, the pendulum might have swung a bit too far in the opposite direction. Instead of opening the field for actors of any race to compete for any role in a color-blind manner, there has been a significant number of parts designated as ethnic this year, making them off-limits for Caucasian actors, some agents signal. Many pilot characters this year were listed as open to all ethnicities, but when reps would call to inquire about an actor submission, they frequently have been told that only non-Caucasian actors would be considered. ‘Basically 50 percent of the roles in a pilot have to be ethnic, and the mandate goes all the way down to guest parts,’ one talent representative said.
Does your expression now look like Kerry Washington’s does up top? K, good. Here’s another one, because oh my God:
“While they are among the most voracious and loyal TV viewers, African-Americans still represent only 13 percent of the U.S. population. They were grossly underserved, but now, with shows as Empire, Black-ish, Scandal and HTGAWM on broadcast, Tyler Perry’s fare on OWN and Mara Brock Akil’s series on BET, they have scripted choices, so the growth in that fraction of the TV audience might have reached its peak.”
Scroll down a bit for a second and read Kerry Washington’s speech about intersectionality. Nellie Andreeva and whoever the fuck she interviewed for this tone-deaf, racist, nonsensical clickbait nightmare are not here for intersectionality. They’re not even here for general human decency. No, Nellie Andreeva and co. are genuinely concerned that the upswing in casting racially diverse actors threatens the very foundation of Caucasian actors (who, let’s remember, have been all over the goddamn screen for the history of time), and believe that this is a completely acceptable sentiment to express out loud.
Let’s put aside the fact that this has been a groundbreaking year for TV, and that this is a great thing. Let’s put aside the fact that we are still nowhere near where we need to be in terms of representing diversity on screens, both big and small. Let’s put aside the fact that white people are doing more than fine in terms of both representation and finding work in Hollywood. Let’s put aside our cries of, “How the fuck are you gonna use the phrase ‘ethnic casting’ in 2015, Nellie?” And let’s imagine, for a moment, that Andreeva’s “cautionary” tale does come true, and we all wake up tomorrow and every single Caucasian actor is out of work and destitute and our TVs are rife with non-white faces.
First of all, that would be pretty awesome; second of all, this would not even begin to make up for the decades—nay, MILLENIA—of oppression that our country—nay, our WORLD—has subjected non-white actors—nay, non-white PEOPLE—to. As Shonda Rimes so poetically put it, “1st Reaction: HELL NO. Lemme take off my earrings, somebody hold my purse! 2nd Reaction: Article is so ignorant I can't even be bothered.” Good point, Shonda. Let’s move on (but never forget). Bye Nellie.
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:
- Wonder Woman Gal Gadot laughed off criticism of her body in YNet News: “They said that I was too skinny and my boobs were too small [Laughs]… After they asked me here, In Israel, if I have eating disorders and why am I so skinny—they said my head was too big and my body was like a broomstick—I can take anything. It’s just empty talk. I understand that part of what I’m doing means being exposed. And part of being exposed is being under fire. When I was younger I would take criticism really hard. But now it mostly amuses me. The true Amazons had one boob so it wouldn’t bother them in their archery. So it’s not going to be like real Amazons. We always try to make everyone happy but we can’t.”
- Sean Young spoke to the Guardian about how she was treated by Hollywood post-Blade Runner (read the whole piece, too; it’s great): “Of course if I were a man I’d have been treated better. Duh…Why are the dudes that run Hollywood incapable of honouring the women anymore? Maybe it’s because all these dudes were not the first choice of the women of their youths […] But they can make it in tinseltown and perpetuate the desperate delusion that they are powerful.”
- Gillian Anderson spoke with Robot Overlords about the misnomer of “strong female characters: “I was asked recently to be on a panel at a Comic-Con that I was attending about that. About having that conversation. That it’s become not necessarily an insult, but a placating descriptive to use for a woman. It’s a lazy term in a sense. Isn’t it better at this juncture to find other words that are more accurate and applicable? I think we need to stand to be a bit more conscious about how we describe a woman in literature or film who brings more to the table than two dimensional characterisations.
- Emma Watson, during a live Facebook Q&A, spoke about how she was threatened for speaking about feminism—and how it motivated her: “…the minute I stepped up and talked about women’s rights I was immediately threatened. I mean within less than 12 hours I was receiving threats. I think they were really shocked and one of my brothers in particular was very upset. It’s funny, people were like, ‘Oh she’s going to be so disheartened by this.’ If anything, it made me so much more determined. I was just raging. It made me so angry that I was just like, ‘This is why I have to be doing. This. This is why I have to be doing this. If they were trying to put me off, it did the opposite.”
- Kim Cattrall spoke with the Irish Times about addressing middle-age and menopause with her new series, Sensitive Skin: “I just felt this is a story that is not being told. The original Sensitive Skin came out in 2006 and I just thought: ‘Wow, the fact that this exists is amazing’. Because I’m starting to have these physical manifestations and I don’t know what’s going on. Shit is happening here and nobody is talking about it. Well, I want to talk about it. Women my age have something to say.”
- In an interview with Variety, Sally Field talked openly about the lack of roles for women: “Hello, My Name Is Doris marks the first time in nearly two decades that Field has headlined her own movie, and she uses the spotlight to fully reinvent herself at 68. ‘I’ll never have a similar character offered to me again, I know that,” Field says. ‘’They don’t write roles for women anyway, and they certainly don’t write roles for women of age and women of color. It is the way it is. There are a lot of theories about when that started and why. In the ’30s and ’40s, when women were under contract, the studios saw them as a viable commodity, and they wrote films for them — like Bette Davis or Rosalind Russell, whoever. They knew they made money off these stars, so they put money into them. They don’t have that anymore…Since the industry is run by men, men have a tendency to want to make stories about themselves and things they identify with. Then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
- Cate Blanchett talked about inequality in Hollywood in Vogue: “Tina Fey wrote in Bossypants that any woman in Hollywood who’s no longer considered f--kable is ignored,” interviewer Anna Funder began. ‘In the era of Judi Dench and Meryl Streep and other actresses we love, can this really be true, or are they exceptions?’ ‘Female audiences are driving the change, I think,’ replied Blanchett. ‘Women don’t stop consuming cultural product once they stop menstruating.”
- Kerry Washington brought down the house at the GLAAD Awards with her speech on intersectional feminism: “You would think that those kept from our full rights of citizenship would band together and fight the good fight. But history tells us that no, often, we don’t. Women, poor people, people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, inter-sex people, we have been pitted against each other and made to feel like there are limited seats at the table for those of us that fall into the category of ‘other.’ As a result, we have become afraid of one another. We compete with one another, we judge one another, sometimes we betray one another…We can’t say that we believe in each other’s fundamental humanity and the turn a blind eye to the reality of each other's existence and the truth of each other's hearts. We must be allies and we must be allies in this business because to be represented is to be humanized and as long as anyone, anywhere is made to feel less human, our very definition of humanity is at stake and we are all vulnerable.”
Harbinger of doom: 2014 failed the Bechdel Test
The Bechdel Test, while not a perfect system, is a pretty solid metric for measuring just how horribly women are sidelined in any given movie. Here’s the test, in its entirety, as laid out in Alison Bechdel’s original comic:
1) The movie must feature a minimum of two female characters
2) Those female characters must talk to each other
3) They must share at least one conversation about something other than a man
That’s it! Seems simple, right? Apparently, it’s the most difficult thing in the world, because about half of the film industry is failing at it. According to the Silk, only 55.4 percent of films last year passed the test. Over the past two decades, only three other years saw similarly low rates (1998, 2002, and 2009); most years see pass rates between 60 and 65 percent. (How demoralizing, though, that this is the best it gets.)
The breakout categories of the Silk’s study are even more distressing. (Be sure to visit the site; you can slice and dice the data however you want, like a mad surgeon.) In 44 percent of movies released in 2014, women talked only about men. Animated movies, which are primarily targeted at children, are worse on average—40 percent of those films over the past four years have failed the Bechdel Test. Parents: Please teach your young girls to talk about shit other than boys! And only show them The Tale Of Princess Kaguya or Rio 2. K, thanks.
Sign of hope/Harbinger of doom hybrid: Women have delivered the three biggest live-action openings of the year
There’s a great New York Times piece this week by Brooks Barnes called “At The Box Office, It’s No Longer A Man’s World [but just at the box office, lol].” Barnes calls out a “startling” trend: “Women are driving ticket sales to a degree rarely, if ever, seen before,” Barnes writes, “while young men—long Hollywood’s most coveted audience—are relatively AWOL.” Thanks to last week’s Insurgent release, women have now helped deliver—and headline—the three biggest live-action openings of the year. A 60-percent female audience helped Insurgent gross $54 million last weekend; the opening weekend crowd for Fifty Shades Of Grey was 67 percent female; and women made up 66 percent of the audience for Cinderella.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “What’s Fifty Shades Of Grey? Also, women just saw these movies because they’re about lady shit.” Barnes addresses that, too. “It would be easier to dismiss those percentages as a fluke—three big female-oriented movies just happened to arrive in proximity—if a parade of movies aimed at young men had not bombed over the same period. Among the carnage: Jupiter Ascending, Seventh Son, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Chappie and, over the weekend, Sean Penn’s The Gunman.”
Apparently, the shift has been “noticeable enough” to prompt movie execs to “ruminate about the causes and consider whether the big film factories should recalibrate their assembly lines.” YES. COME ON, WHITE DUDES. One white dude, Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros., asks, “You can never put your finger on it entirely, but you have to ask the questions. Is this just the cyclical nature of the movie business? Or does it point to a more serious shift in habits?” Hm, yes, it seems dangerous to make any sudden movements here.
Also, Insurgent’s star, Shailene Woodley, has doubled down, Deadline-style, on her assertion that she’s not a feminist. She told Nylon, “The reason why I don’t like to say that I am a feminist or I am not a feminist is because to me it’s still a label. I do not want to be defined by one thing. Why do we have to have that label to divide us? We should all be able to embrace one another regardless of our belief system and regardless of the labels that we have put upon ourselves.” Shaileeeeeene. I love you, but you’re kind of killing me here. Feminist doesn’t have to be your “one thing” and also it’s not divisive. Everybody’s welcome! Bring your dog, even!
Overall, was this a good, bad, or neutral week for women in movies, Rachel?
A VERY bad week in a series of bad weeks. When a massive trade publication (for God’s sake) can publish a whoppingly ignorant, racist article and not even feel enough shame to take it down, we’re in trouble. When women are flocking to the movies in droves and the Powers That Be are like, “Eh, but maybe we still don’t need to make movies for them, they probably just came here for the 25-cent tampons,” we’re in trouble. Oh, and, to top it all off, we’re coming off one of the worst years for female representation of the past two decades. So, yeah. This week was not good. I’m looking at you, Nellie Andreeva. And sort of at you, Dan Fellman. And not at you, Shailene, because you’re very famous and you scare me a little.
Further takes on the film and feminism front from around the web:
- Indiewire’s Laura Berger gives us a history lesson: Female superheroes were not created to excite men
- Variety’s James Rainey wonders whether producer Shivania Rawat of Danny Collins is the “next Megan Ellison”
- i09’s James Whitbrook looks at Marvel’s new anthology collection, which gathers stories from its most prominent female-led comic series
- Al Jazeera’s Christopher Vourlias looks at how, in Ghana, Shirley Frimpong-Manso is carving space for women in film
- Vox’s Alex Abad-Santos on how It Follows disproves the notion that sex is “easier for girls”
- Forbes’ Emily Canal on the rise of the female action hero
- The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday argues that violence against women in movies lets filmmakers indulge “toxic fantasies”
- Time’s Lily Rothmans says the Buffy The Vampire Slayer is proof that Joss Whedon was “ahead of the pop-culture feminism curve”
- Bustle’s Lara Rutherford-Morrison has “eight surprisingly feminist moments” in Old Hollywood movies
- Medium’s Valeria Ryrak argues that pop culture is welcoming feminism with open arms
- The Hairpin’s Sarah Sahim on how Bollywood helped her get in touch with her culture
- Time’s Eliana Dockterman on 11 movies starring women that will “rival summer blockbusters”
- The New York Times’ Parul Sehgal on how “flawless” became a feminist declaration
- Entertainment Weekly has a supercut of “women who kick ass”