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: Alex Of Venice, co-written by Jessica Goldberg, Katie Nehra, and Justin Shilton, is Chris Messina’s directorial debut and follows Alex (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as a woman rebuilding her life after her husband leaves their family; and The Human Experiment, from writer and co-director Dana Nachman, chronicles the battle to protect consumers from untested products
- Emmanuelle Bercot’s La Tete Haute, starring the ineffable Catherine Deneuve, will open the Cannes Film Festival this year. While many outlets reported that this was the first Cannes opener from a female director, that honor in fact went to Diane Kurys’ A Man In Love in 1987. Either way, this is great. I mean, don’t get me wrong: It sucks—a lot—that this is only the second time in Cannes history that a women director has opened the festival. But hopefully this is the beginning of a new tradition and not an outlier. I said “hopefully”!
- The Tribeca Film Fest kicked off this week, and 33 percent of the feature filmmakers screening at the fest this year are women. Not perfect, but it’s the highest percentage in Tribeca’s history. (This doesn’t get its own sign of hope section because we’ve got a ways to go.) IndieWire breaks it down further.
- Karachi, You’re Killing Me—called the “Pakistani Bridget Jones”—is being adapted for Bollywood. It follows the exploits of a “progressive-thinking writer whose drinking and smoking putting her at odds with the traditions that surround her in Karachi.” I love Bridget Jones’ Diary so much, and God knows the flagrantly sexist Bollywood needs a Bridget Jones.
- More than 30,000 Disney fans have signed a petition against the potential “whitewashing” of characters in Mulan. It’s not a crazy notion that Mulan would be played by a caucasian actress instead of an Asian actress—only 4 percent of female roles in recent films were played by women from Asian or Latino backgrounds.
- It looks slightly nuts, but Claudia Llosa’s first English-language feature, Aloft, dropped a trailer this week. Keep an open mind!
- Susan Sarandon, American hero, will executive-produce Radical Grace, which follows three American feminist nuns whose work for social justice sets them against the conservative hierarchy of the Catholic church.“I was raised Catholic,” Sarandon said, “and while I couldn’t stay in a church that sidelines women and the LGBT community, spirituality is still an important part of my life. I feel a deep connection to the women featured in Radical Grace, and this film will hopefully build a movement toward a more inclusive and just church, and world.”
- The Polish Film Commission has announced that it’s producing the very first movie about Marie Curie, the Polish-born scientist who was a stone-cold badass.
- Meryl Streep BLED for her art. Then she made us all want to riot in the streets with the Suffragette trailer. I love you, Meryl.
Harbinger of doom: Women groped by Harvey Weinstein, Cookie Monster
Earlier this month, Female Stuff reported that a 22-year-old model had accused Harvey Weinstein of groping her in his office. The story temporarily cracked open the can of worms that is Harvey Weinstein’s history of despicable behavior toward women—Gawker put out an open call for stories, and several media outlets published pieces condemning him, suggesting that justice might finally be done. But two weeks later, that can of worms is already resealed. (But it’s still full of worms. We won’t forget the worms.)
Variety reports that Harvey won’t be charged in the groping incident. “This case was taken seriously from the outset, with a thorough investigation conducted by our Sex Crimes Unit,” said Joan Vollero, spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. “After analyzing the available evidence, including multiple interviews with both parties, a criminal charge is not supported.”
Oh, okay. So it’s a he-said, she-said, and he’s a “towering figure” and she’s just, you know, a woman. In other words, Harvey will continue to (allegedly, I know, I know) hurl himself on women and see approximately zero consequences. In the (nonexistent) wake of this, there’s this demoralizing headline from Variety: “Big Softie Harvey Weinstein Opens Finding Neverland on Broadway At Last.” So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
In a fun, related tale of absurd sexual harassment, A Times Square street performer dressed as Cookie Monster has also been arrested for groping a teenage girl. You know what? At least he was fucking arrested.
Sign of hope: Smart, influential people speaking out about feminism
There were several women, and one Mark Osborne, willing to throw their hats in the feminist ring this week. Here are a few great quotes from around the web:
- Cate Blanchett, a dear friend of Female Stuff (what up, girl), blasted the media’s obsession with women’s fashion in Harper’s Bazaar: “Since I’ve been strutting the red carpet, things have changed a lot. The way women are asked about those red-carpet moments. Oh my God. It’s just a dress! [People] forget the fact that women are up there because they’ve given extraordinary performances. It’s a wonderful excuse to dress up and have F.U.N. But let’s not forget the work.”
- Shonda Rimes told the audience at the National Association of Broadcasters that she’s done talking about “diversity”: “In Shondaland, our shows look like how the world looks. Everyone can see themselves when they turn on the TV on Thursday nights on ABC. To me that was not some difficult brave special decision I made. It was a human one, because I am a human. It wasn’t something we had to bravely fight for, because ABC is also full of humans…This is not the Jim Crow South. We’re not ignorant, so why wouldn’t we [cast that way]? I still can’t believe I get asked about it all the time, as if being normal, TV looking like the normal world, is an innovation.”
- Blythe Danner, at the Dallas Film Festival, addressed how she landed her first leading role, at age 71, in I’ll See You In My Dreams: “Danner cited ‘old Hollywood gals’ Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck as her acting inspiration, admiring a time in Hollywood when ‘the thing to be was snarky, and not so sweet.’ Danner said her experience playing a widow in the film, when she is a widow in real life, was ‘cathartic.’ ‘I've never played such a three-dimensional person,’ she added.”
- Amber Tamblyn shared her views on feminism with Bustle: “Not embracing it is bullshit. When young girls tell me that, or I read that someone says they’re not a feminist, it’s like, well you actually can’t not be one, because you have a vagina. So I hate to break it to you, but you have to be, no matter what…You can define it however you want to…Feminism is like God. It’s totally subjective, it’s totally personal, and it’s none of anyone else’s business…No matter what, though, it should be embraced.”
- Director Mark Osborne, in the Vancouver Sun, on why he made the protagonist of his forthcoming The Little Prince adaptation a female: ‘“In animation, it always had to be boy-centric,’ Osborne says of most North American kid tales. ‘Right now there seems to be a changing of the tide but these things don't happen overnight. These movies take years to make, so back when I was first pushing to make the little girl the main character it was seen as quite revolutionary.’…Osborne hopes his film, expected this Christmas, helps remedy a gender imbalance he was alerted to by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.”
- Jemima Kirke, in a new PSA, speaks out about her abortion in hopes of removing stigma from the process: “I’ve always felt that reproductive issues should be something that women should be able to talk to freely, especially amongst each other. I still see shame and embarrassment around terminating pregnancies…It’s these obstacles and this stigma that make these things not completely unavailable, and that's the tricky part—we think we do have free choice and we are able to do whatever we want, but there are these hoops that we have to jump through to get them.”
Harbinger of doom/Sign of hope hybrid clusterfuck extravaganza: Superhero movie madness
Fun fact: I have rewritten this portion of Female Stuff at least twice because the news keeps shifting so quickly. Stop it, news.
We reported earlier this week that Michelle MacLaren dropped out of directing Wonder Woman due to “creative differences.” This was seriously depressing. MacLaren is a massive talent, and would have marked one of the only female directors to helm a big superhero feature. Plus, her departure hints at a troubling pattern: As Charles shared in his piece, this doesn’t mark the first time that a woman slated to direct a superhero movie exited early in the game due to “friction.” In 2011, Patty Jenkins was set to direct the second Thor installment; she and Marvel didn’t get along, and Alan Taylor took over. (As a happy aside, this move seriously pissed off Natalie Portman, who’s long been a proponent of women in film. I really like the idea of Natalie Portman getting angry about feminism.)
Faster than you can say “in your face,” news broke that Marvel picked up two female screenwriters for Captain Marvel, and was apparently looking for a female director for the film. THEN, Collider ran a report that Angelina Jolie was in the running for both Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel. But almost immediately afterward, it was revealed that Patty Jenkins would, in fact, be directing Wonder Woman. What the hell, you might ask? As Kate Erbland put it, “This is all bonkers.”
If Jenkins sees this one to fruition without compromising her artistic values, and if Jolie does get to helm Captain Marvel, this is all one big sign of hope. But what’s unsettling about all of this is the constant shuffling—what’s happening here? Are these female directors not getting the respect they deserve? Are they fighting back on scenes or characters or dialogue they see as sexist or problematic? Were they let go, or did they leave of their own accord? Is it just a coincidence that Jenkins and MacLaren have both stepped away from traditionally male-centric, male-helmed superhero franchises? (No.) My head is spinning here; let’s move on.
Harbinger of doom: Lack of LGBTQ representation
This week, GLAAD released the annual Studio Responsibility Index, which is a fantastically intimidating name for a study that looks at the releases from the seven major studios and determines which succeeded (and which failed) at representing characters that identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. This year marked the first time that GLAAD also looked at the work of smaller affiliated studios. Nobody is safe from the Studio Responsibility Index!
Unsurprisingly, the results were bleak. The study found that only 20 of the 114 movies (17.5 percent) that bowed last year had characters who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. This is slightly more than in 2013 (16.7 percent), but still paltry as shit. And as the report notes, these slightly increased numbers don’t necessarily mean that LGBTQ representation was “better” this year—the majority of these characters were gay men, while only a third were bisexual, and one-10th were lesbian. Oh, and almost all of them were white. So, that’s super great.
Shall we keep going? Exactly zero of these films included a character who identified as transgender. Oh, and there were several “overly defamatory” depictions in several mainstream movies, including Exodus: Gods And Kings, Top Five, The Other Woman and Horrible Bosses 2. I haven’t seen either of these movies but I have never been less surprised about anything.
Get Hard received a particularly rough (like prison sex, right, Get Hard?) calling-out in the report: “While we were pleased to see Warner Bros. show real improvement in its LGBT-inclusive films [i.e., Tammy] in 2014, they also recently released the comedy Get Hard, one of the most problematic films we have seen in some time. This glaring lack of consistency seems to be common amongst almost every major film studio, showing a need for greater oversight in how their films represent—or don’t represent—significant portions of their audience. Only when they make those changes and catch up to other, more consistently inclusive media portrayals will we be able to say that America’s film industry is a full partner in accelerating acceptance.”
Sign of hope: Tilda Swinton wrote a poem for Amy Schumer
Let’s take a deep and cleansing breath. I am now going to show you something that will act as a temporary salve for the deep wounds wrought by the rest of this column. Tilda Swinton wrote a poem for Amy Schumer for the Time 100, wherein famous and influential people pen loving odes to their famous and influential peers. Here it is:
Amy’s got your back.
She’s in your corner.
She’s an honesty bomb.
And she’s coming for you.
Overall, was this a good, bad, or neutral week for women in movies, Rachel?
Bad. This was a bad week. Harvey Weinstein is basically shoving his hands into women’s pants all over the world with zero consequences; some of the year’s biggest movies insulted the LGBTQ population or ignored them completely; Marvel and DC are transparently scrambling to fix the fallout from Michelle MacLaren’s Wonder Woman departure (which may turn out okay, but WE’LL SEE); and even Cookie Monster is now a disgusting lech. At least we have Tilda Swinton’s poem, guys. Let’s just repeat Tilda Swinton’s poem to ourselves over the weekend as we consider the utter shambles of this week’s Female Stuff.
Further takes on the film and feminism front from around the web:
- Gamenguide’s Donyae Coles ranks the top 10 female superheroes
- IndieWire republished a piece from the LA Times in 1990 called “Hollywood’s Female Stars An Endangered Species”
- The Boston Globe’s Loren King looks into the Provincetown International Film Festival’s residency program for women filmmakers
- The Mary Sue’s Lesley Coffin interview with women behind Farah Goes Bang
- Boing Boing’s Caroline Siede asks, What if we limited the number of white men in film and TV?”
- Mic’s Kate Hakala on how Amy Schumer is “giving us the female masturbation jokes we deserve”
- Flavorwire’s Moze Halerpin on Ex Machina’ and film’s new obsession with idealized, post-human women
- Bitch Flicks’ Rachael Johnson on Peace Pilgrim, a documentary tribute to an “American heroine of non-violence”
- Refinery 29 looks at the women who will step into the spotlight at this year’s Cannes