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: Writer-director team Robin Blotnick and Rachel Lears’ documentary The Hand That Feeds, which centers on the struggles of undocumented immigrants at a New York restaurant chain; the Dakota Fanning and Emma Thompson-starring period romance Effie Gray; and post-World War II drama Woman In Gold, starring the ineffable Helen Mirren.
- Soon, we’ll be getting a live-action version of Mulan. How do we feel about this? Personally, I’m conflicted. Disney’s recent live-action Cinderella, as Tasha so passionately expounded upon, ended up emphasizing the fairy-tale’s worst possible messages, so I’m scared that Mulan might do the same. I’m just so scared.
- Oscar-winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim tells the story of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who won the Nobel Peace Prize for being a leading proponent of women’s rights after she was brutally attacked, in the documentary He Named Me Malala. This week, Fox Searchlight acquired the movie’s rights and revealed it will release it in theaters this year. This is peak Female Stuff and really fantastic news.
- French luxury holding company Kering is teaming up with Cannes to inaugurate a new “Women In Motion program.” The project will include a “series of talks on the place of women in the film industry and the way they are represented in movies.” “Leading female members” of the film world will be on hand to “discuss their careers and the role of women in cinema, exchanging with the public during several conferences to take place on the Croisette.”
- Nicole Kidman, Ava DuVernay, and my idol Jill Soloway are among Women in Film’s 2015 Crystal + Lucy awardees. What does this mean? They’ve helped expand the roles of women within the entertainment industry, and have “forged sustainable careers that are emblematic of the positive and long overdue change that is taking root for women in Hollywood.” All right, let’s not get ahead of ourselves on that “positive change taking root” thing, Women In Film. We’re not there yet. But I like your optimism and your awardees.
Harbinger of doom: Harvey Weinstein
All-powerful male person Harvey Weinstein was questioned by the NYPD this week about whether he groped a 22-year-old model in his office. The New York Daily News broke the news, reporting that after Weinstein “coaxed her to his Manhattan office on the pretext of talking business,” “the woman informed cops that Weinstein, a married 63-year-old father of five, groped her breasts and reached up her skirt around 6 p.m. Friday in his third-floor office at the Tribeca Film Center on Greenwich St.” Weinstein has thus far been silent about the accusation, but he skipped the premiere of Woman In Gold on Monday.
Things have spiraled from there, with New York magazine writer Jennifer Senior tweeting about “the despicable open secret” of how Weinstein’s treated women over the years. “At some pt., all the women who have been afraid to speak out abt Harvey Weinstein are gonna have to hold hands and jump,” wrote Senior. John Podhoretz tweeted back, “Shouldn’t the story be to find a single human being with whom he wasn’t inappropriate?”
Gawker now has an open call on its site, asking women to step forward with their own stories of how Weinstein (allegedly, and all that) tried to trade sexual favors for movie-biz ins. For instance, writer Jordan Sargent shares, “A New York-based tabloid journalist told me recently that a model friend of his encountered Weinstein at a North American film festival a few years ago. According to her story, Weinstein told her that if she wanted to act, she should come to his office—at which point he proposed a threesome between the two of them and Olivia Wilde. (The model declined both the threesome and the meeting, and, fearing retribution from the famously vindictive Weinstein, has so far declined to go on the record with the story.)” UH, there’s no way Olivia Wilde was on board for this, either.
There’s more: “Another journalist we spoke with had heard similar stories, all secondhand—an indie film producer had told her that stories of Weinstein’s behavior will ‘make Bill Cosby look like a monk.’ People in the film industry, she said, understand Weinstein's M.O. to be the following: he holds ‘casting sessions’ at his office on Friday evenings when he can be alone, and that he greets women in his bathrobe.” Jesus.
If this is all true (and it sounds like a “where there’s smoke, there’s fire and Harvey Weinstein in a bathrobe, being horrible” situation), it’s despicable and disturbing. Rumors about Weinstein’s unacceptable behavior have persisted for years, but, as Sargent writes, “have tended to remain unaired, confined to hushed conversations and seedier gossip-blog comment threads.” Hm, I wonder why. Maybe it's because he’s one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, and the women he’s (allegedly, allegedly, allegedly, etc.) abused know that if they speak out, they’ll be sued, threatened, or black-balled into submission.
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:
- Keira Knightley, in the new issue of Violet, asks important questions about women in film: “Where are the female stories? Where are they? Where are the directors, where are the writers? It’s imbalanced, so given that we are half the cinema-going public, we are half the people [who] watch drama or watch anything else, where is that? So yes, I think the pay is a huge thing, but I’m actually more concerned over the lack of our voices being heard…I don’t know what happened through the ’80s,’90s, and ’00s that took feminism off the table, that made it something that women weren’t supposed to identify with and were supposed to be ashamed of. Feminism is about the fight for equality between the sexes, with equal respect, equal pay, and equal opportunity. At the moment we are still a long way off that.”
- Dakota Fanning, in Variety, on why the story of Effie Gray matters: “(Effie) really has no voice and no authority over her own life for a good portion of the story. And I am fortunate I’ve never completely felt that way. I’ve been very lucky to have grown up in a family that always said I could do whatever I wanted and be whatever I wanted, and so I’ve learned to use my voice, which I think is such a wonderful thing, and so I hope that this movie can highlight that, and maybe some people in these modern times will take some courage from her.”
- Supermodel-turned-actress Cara Delevingne spoke to Time Out London about how she’s fought for better female roles: “Every movie I’ve done I’ve had to fight for lines and fight for point of view. Usually it’s a male director, male producers. It’s all very much a man’s point of view. I speak up and say ‘Girls don’t do that.’ Or ‘That’s not something a girl would say in that situation’ It’s about how men perceive women and it’s not accurate, and it annoys me! I don’t think people speak up enough. Even if I’m wrong, even if I get shut down, I know that I’ve done my part to get a woman’s voice out there. It’s important that when girls watch movies they’ve got strong female role models.”
- Michelle Rodriguez, on NJ.com, about the difficulties she’s faced as a woman in Hollywood: “I have such a strong sense of self, there are certain lines I just won’t cross. I’m really picky about the parts I choose. I can’t be the slut. I cannot be just the girlfriend. I can’t be the girl who gets empowered because she’s been raped. I can’t be the girl who gets empowered and then dies…I just said to myself, look, you’re going to just have to create your own archetype, doesn’t matter if you go broke doing it. And I almost did go broke, twice! But people finally got it: OK, Michelle is not malleable, you’re not going to influence her by shining fame and money at her, and they stopped offering me that sort of stuff. But you know, it’s a catch-22. It’s helped me and it’s screwed me. I’ve stuck to my guns and I’m proud and people get it. But I also haven’t carried a movie since Girlfight.”
- Shirley MacLaine, at the TCM film fest, expounded on some of the best—and worst—moments of her career: “Annie [Bancroft] was a little aloof. But with Herb Ross being the director [on Turning Point], that was the way to go. He could be sarcastic… The women on Steel Magnolias got together against Herb Ross. Herb was cruel to Julia Roberts, and to Dolly Parton. He would say, ‘You know, you should take some acting lessons.’ So we didn’t like that, and we basically stuck together, and still have—girlfriends from that movie. I loved my part, because I love playing a bitch.”
- Helen Mirren, in Radio Times, on how it’s difficult to forge a film career as a woman: “I’ve been lucky, but if you look at any drama it’s still five-to-one men to women. There are a few women in main roles and although it’s changing it’s still difficult for most to earn a living. Many I grew up with are immensely talented yet can’t. It’s much easier for men.”
Harbinger of doom: The social-media response to the outcry over female representation in film
Let’s get meta for a minute. Over the past few weeks, stories like the ones we often cover in Female Stuff—about the lack of female directors, the dearth of female protagonists, and the general shittiness of Hollywood’s attitude toward women—have been getting more coverage than usual. I’d like to say it’s all because of Female Stuff, so I’m going to say that, but it’s not true, so just ignore me. Most sane, rational humans read stories like these and think, “Wow, how sad. That’s got to change.” But some people have had… darker responses. And it should come as no surprise that a lot of these people are sharing their thoughts on Twitter.
Shannon Hale, the best-selling author of books like Ever After High and Austenland (which, full disclosure, I haven’t read), has done a great job summing up the social-media response to the problem of female representation. Of course, she has done so on her Twitter feed. You must approach the monsters where they sleep. Here are a few of her thoughts, which I’ve put into longform because Twitter is annoying:
“Here’s a representative response I got to my post reporting that in 6 decades, movie characters average 17% women & it's not improving: ‘I love the idea of more females, as long as the pendulum doesn't swing back & the girls don't try to be dominant or be a larger majority.’ [Ed note: How Nellie Andreeva of them!] Is that really a legitimate concern? In every single year of filmmaking, men have held 80% of the roles. Are we really worried that if we even talk about it, that suddenly the absolute reverse will suddenly happen and all the men and boys will be banished? Really? EVERY SINGLE MAJOR ANIMATED US MOVIE in the past ten years averages 11.5 male characters, 3 female characters, but your response to that is to worry that suddenly women are going to push out all the boys? This seems like a valid concern? This is where you put your energy? The longer I live, the more I am allergic to either/or choices. Either men are dominant or women are dominant. Fallacy!”
Girl. I’m with you, and it’s depressing to realize that so many people aren’t. If you want your own dose of some of this nonsense, just type “women and movies” into the Twitter search-box and have a ball, so to speak.
Overall, was this a good, bad, or neutral week for women in movies, Rachel?
Pre-Weinstein, I was all prepared to tentatively say it’s been an okay week. Yes, we had some Twitter screeds from men worried women are going to take over the universe if we get too much screen-time, but otherwise, there were several things to be thankful for. Namely, the column on women speaking out about feminism grows weekly—including women like Chelsea Harris (see below), who’s part of a movement to encourage young black women to love themselves. But Weinstein had to go and fuck up the week (and probably the lives of countless women) with his (allegedly!! ad infinitum) filthy, deplorable behavior. It’s another bad week for women, y’all.
Further takes on the film and feminism front from around the web:
- IFC looks at the 20 most badass women from Tarantino movies
- Vulture’s Dee Lockett covers Deadline’s editor’s apology for the “ethnic castings” article
- MTV’s Shaunna Murphy talks to TV execs about how they tackle “complex female characters”
- USA Today’s Maria Puente wonders whether Angelina Jolie’s candor about her health will help save lives
- The Guardian’s Dorian Lynskey looks at the new wave of feminist superheroes
- Vogue’s Erica Wagner talks to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about everything from Beyonce to Selma’s Oscar snub
- Io9’s James Whitbrook on the long and terrible history of DC Comics mistreating Batgirl
- Not film-related, but important: NY Mag’s Annie Lowrey on Ellen Pao and the sexism you can’t quite prove
- Variety’s Brent Lang on the future of women at the box office
- The Hairpin’s Ashley Gallagher on her “queer-os” in comic books
- The Guardian’s Kevin Lincoln on why “dadsploitation” films shut out women
- Buzzfeed’s Chelsea Harris on how she’s doing her part to help women in Hollywood leave the “weave protection program”