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 women-centric projects were green-lit or celebrated, and women-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: Heaven Knows What, an Essential-Viewing-tagged film based on the true life of and starring Arielle Holmes as a homeless, drug-addicted young woman living in New York City; Barely Lethal, which, um, stars Hailee Steinfeld as a teenage assassin, let’s move on; Gemma Bovery, directed and co-written by Anne Fontaine, is a “glib” adaptation of an English graphic novel that adapts Madame Bovary; I Believe In Unicorns, Leah Meyerhoff’s feature-length writing and directing debut, follows a young woman’s coming of age; Tu Dors Nicole is a French-language “tale of post-graduate malaise” centering on two young women in 1990s-ish Quebec.
- Our fair leader Amy Schumer will write and star in an action-comedy produced by Paul Feig. If ever a more beautiful sentence was written, I have not read it. Oh, except how about: Amy Schumer and Jessica Chastain will co-star in a comedy penned by April Prosser.
- The first red-band trailer dropped for Felt, artist Amy Everson and director Jason Banker’s dark exploration of rape culture and sexual trauma. Watch this one somewhere that is not your office.
- As did the trailer for the much lighter, but still relatively twisted, Diary Of A Teenage Girl, starring newcomer Bel Powley as a young woman coming of age/sleeping with her mom’s boyfriend.
- Belle director Amma Asante has lined up A United Kingdom, a racial drama based on a taboo-smashing interracial relationship, starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike. Take my money, Asante.
- Tilda Swinton may play a gender-swapped Ancient One in the upcoming Doctor Strange. Tilda Swinton playing anything is fantastic news, but Tilda Swinton getting the Hollywood Powers That Be to swap a major character’s gender is cause for celebration. Tilda, I now pronounce you Female Stuff, er, Secretary? What’s left, guys?
- In Chicago, where The Dissolve lives and breathes, Chicken & Egg Pictures is accepting applications for its Accelerator Lab for first- and second-time female filmmakers. Five first-time and five second-time documentary filmmakers, who are selected through the 2015 open call, will each receive a $35,000 grant for the production of a film to be created and launched over a 12-month program. Submit your apps by June 10, y’all.
Harbinger of doom: The future for women in animation
The L.A. Times’ Deborah Vankin wrote an article this week looking at the surge of young women studying animation around the country. Like the industry itself, notes the piece, college animation programs in the U.S. have historically skewed male, but female enrollment at top schools has significantly increased over the last five years.
Take CalArts, for example, which has a blind admissions process, meaning administrators looked at students’ applications without knowing their genders or the size of their teeth. When CalArts debuted its character-animation program in 1975, it had two female students; today women make up 71 percent of its animation student body. This month alone, 16 women and 10 men graduated from the program. That’s six more women than men! Math is fun, guys. Similarly, USC’s John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts is now 65 percent women.
It’s fucking awesome to see women entering and even dominating a traditionally male-centric area of study. But here’s the dark heart at the center of this piece (and the world, basically): There are very few jobs available to these women. “That swell of young women studying the craft is generally not mirrored in the workforce,” writes Vankin. Women make up only 21 percent of the artists, writers, and technicians employed under an Animation Guild contract this year; as Marge Dean, co-president of the nonprofit advocacy group Women in Animation, explains, “They come out of art school and aren’t hired for the creative jobs. They end up being PAs [production assistants] or on the production management track, the housekeepers and the organizers as opposed to the creators.”
Brave co-director Brenda Chapman says this is because “women bring a different sensibility into the mix. And I think the majority of male studio executives and producers are still expecting what they’re used to—the traditional, male-driven, comedy-heavy stories.” Welp. Color me (then animate me) enraged. And gird your animated loins for more hilarious animated dude comedies, my friends.
Sign of hope: Smart, influential people speaking out about feminism
There were several women and a couple men willing to throw their hats in the feminist ring this week. Here are a few great quotes from around the web:
- Eve Ensler, via the BBC, on whether Mad Max: Fury Road is a feminist film: “People sometimes don't know what feminism means. To me feminism is not that complex. It means women are equal. We have equal roles, equal rights, equal pay. If you look at this film from an objective point of view, women are equally capable of fighting. Women have equal desires. Women are independent and have agency over their own lives. They exist without men. To me, what was very exciting about this film was the range of women characters and the range of ages. They weren't relegated to one role. To me that's feminism. What do you think of the way women are portrayed in other films? I haven't seen many films in my life where women are portrayed as equally capable of defending themselves and other people. This is an action movie. Do I go to action movies? No. But I do believe those films have an enormous impact on mainstream culture. To see a film where women are capable fighters and capable of determining their own destiny to me is significant…I’ve already heard from so many women who are happy to see women not portrayed as pathetic. I also love the older women in that film - that was brilliant. When do we even see older women in movies? The older women get, the more amazing they get. And in culture, they get more and more erased. So that alone was significant.”
- Chris Pratt told Today Online he doesn’t mind being “objectified” in Jurassic World: “In terms of equality that we’ve been advocating for, it’s less objectification of women, it’s more objectification of men,” he said with a smile. “And I’m not offended at all. My body is an object! It is!…So go ahead, objectify me all you want. I’m telling you. It’s funny and I’m glad. We have a long way to go in terms of creating real equality socially, economically, politically. We have a long way to go. I’m just doing my part; and this is probably the part I pre-apologised for.”
- George Clooney, on BBC Radio 4, talked about how awareness of gender discrimination was the only good thing to come out of the Sony hack: “One good thing that's come out of [the Sony hack] is the conversation in very liberal Hollywood that women aren’t being paid the same and ... there’s something like 15 female directors in a town of directors. I think it’s a very good conversation that they’re starting to have.”
- As Kaye Toal put it, “TOM HARDY’S FACE IN THIS IS THE STANDARD TO WHICH ALL MEN MUST NOW BE HELD WHEN FACED WITH SUCH A QUESTION”
- Frances McDormand, at Cannes, on how to fix Hollywood’s gender-based pay gap: “So that ‘having it all’ was taken completely out of context. Having it all is not what the movement was saying was going to happen, the movement was saying we have the right to experience everything that we choose. But the main point was equal pay for equal work. I haven’t been given that,” she said. Earlier in the conversation, when one audience member cited Meryl Streep as an actress that can command a male-sized salary, McDormand countered: “I doubt that she has ever been paid commensurately with the male movie stars she’s worked with.” She also noted that as an actor, she has received her going quote only once, on Transformers 3, and even that was less than a male actor of similar status’ rate. “I worked very hard for that money, I’m very proud of my work. I’m glad I did that film and I’m proud that I finally got paid what I was told I was worth by the industry,” she said. “But that is nothing. That is a tenth of what most males my age, with my experience and my reputation as a film actor make. We’ve never been paid commensurately and that has to change…It has a lot to do with how we’ve ghettoized females, and we’ve allowed ourselves to be ghettoized and marginalized. ... We don’t need a lot of initiatives for women in film, what we need is money. We’re keeping the conversation back a little bit by saying we need help. We don’t need help, we need money. We need platforms, we need voices, but we don’t need help.”
- Eternal badass Jessica Lange addressed issues of ageism and sexism in Hollywood with The Wrap: “Hollywood is run with this male point of view. Even if a woman runs a studio, she still does it with a male point of view. And as long as that exists, you’re still going to have this wish fulfillment,that men continue to be fascinating and attractive and virile, and women age and are no longer sexual or beautiful — it’s a fantasy that has nothing to do with reality….Why would a 37 year old want to play opposite a 55-year-old man? When I was in my thirties I wasn’t fascinated by 70-year-old men. But then, I didn’t have to be. It’s classic Hollywood. I’m glad the media has picked up on it, but it’s certainly not a new phenomenon….I think a lot of it is fear of mortality. One’s mortality, one’s youth and virility… now they have Viagra, they’re humping away on their deathbeds. Hollywood is a perfect expansion of that idea that permeates our society.”
- Gemma Arterton, in Metro, on the lack of good roles for women: “No, there’s not. I mean, it’s sad. And if there are it’s always going to go to the Oscar winner or the very, very famous person. But even those parts aren’t that interesting. [Laughs] The woman is usually the accessory. That’s why I started my production company. I have this list of all these amazing women that no one’s ever heard about. I think it’s the beginning of a new era for women in cinema. Every interview you read with a female director or a female actor, they’re talking about that. It’s only a matter of time before people put things into their own hands and do it themselves. Personally, I can get the most interesting part in the theater. Why can’t I do that in film? In Ibsen and Shakespeare, most of the interesting parts are for women in their 40s. Why isn’t that translating in cinema, in Hollywood? I feel like every time I talk to a female director or female actor I’m always asking about this, especially since Patricia Arquette’s Oscar speech. It’s great, though. It’s such a movement now. It’s exciting now because there’s new producers — women who are producing and even men who are saying they want to tell [women’s stories]. A producer I’ve worked with a lot [Stephen Wooley], who just produced Carol, most of his films are about women. He develops scripts with strong women. That’s what he does. I think that’s brilliant. We need more people like that.”
- Laverne Cox, in Bust, on self-acceptance, smashing the patriarchy, and her documentary film, Free CeCe: “I love CeCe. Her case came to me because violence against trans women has always been something that hits me in my gut…I think ‘bullying’ is almost a nice word for being beat up, held down, and kicked by groups of kids. ‘Bullying’ makes it all sound nice when it’s straight up violence. So I have a history. I’ve dealt with a lot of street harassment, so violence against trans women is something that’s terrifying..How do we really begin to dismantle a culture of violence, of rape culture? What does that look like?”
- Rashida Jones addressed Cannes #Flatgate on Comedy Central’s Nightly Show: “It’s part of a larger problem, which is heels are the worst. Mainly it’s men designing them … and setting these rules. If they make a rule where that I have to wear heels on the carpet, then I’m making a rule that I’m going to wear flats. It’s a snobbery thing … it’s sexist.”
- Vanity Fair has video of Natalie Portman’s very honest and heartfelt Harvard commencement speech: “Portman told the crowd that she had had some kind of imposter syndrome when she arrived on the Harvard campus in 1999, that she ‘felt there had been some mistake,’ and that, despite how much she had achieved over her high-school years, she still worried she ‘wasn’t smart enough to be in this company.’ She wanted to prove to everyone on campus, she said, that she ‘wasn’t just a dumb actress.’ She spoke quite bluntly about her insecurities on campus, reflecting, ‘When I got to Harvard just after the release of Star Wars: Episode 1, I feared people would assume I had gotten in just for being famous, and not worthy of the intellectual rigor here.’ But while she ended up acclimating and thriving, receiving a degree in psychology, Portman said her time spent in Cambridge was not without its challenges. ‘It's easy now to romanticize my time here, but I had some very difficult times here, too,’ she said. ‘Some combination of being 19, dealing with my first heartbreak, taking birth control pills that have since been taken off the market for their depressive side effects, and spending too much time missing daylight during winter months led me to some pretty dark moments, particularly during sophomore year.’ She went on, ‘There were several occasions I started crying in meetings with professors, overwhelmed with what I was supposed to pull off, when I could barely get myself out of bed in the morning.’ ”
- THR hosted a roundtable for six of Hollywood’s most hilarious women—Amy Schumer, Ellie Kemper, Gina Rodriguez, Lena Dunham, Kate McKinnon, and Tracee Ellis Ross. The entire piece is worth your time, but here’s a highlight:
“What’s the most overtly sexist thing that's happened to you working in Hollywood?
DUNHAM I heard a guy on my show say into his microphone: ‘I hate this job. I can't wait to be back on a show where there's a man at the helm.’
SCHUMER I hope you sent [Girls actor-comedian] Colin Quinn home for that. (Laughs.)
DUNHAM Colin is actually the world's biggest feminist! Later, that same guy came up to me at lunch and said, ‘You're really enjoying that buffet, aren't you?’
SCHUMER Who the f— is this?
DUNHAM He's the worst person alive. I hope he reads this, which he won't because he's drunk.”
Harbinger of doom: The serious barriers to real industry change
THR has a long piece this week on the barriers that’ll inevitably be faced by the ACLU call for government investigation of Hollywood gender inequality. It’s pretty disheartening overall—essentially, after speaking with “legal experts,” THR believes that while “widely used recruiting practices in Hollywood could easily have discriminatory effects…it would be hard to hold studios, networks and talent agencies liable.”
An example: Directors aren’t usually hired via websites or search firms, but rather via word-of-mouth or talent-agency lists, meaning that the hired workforce “mirror the decision-makers,” i.e., white dudes. And, as one lawyerly male, Douglas Farmer, puts it, “word of mouth is not in and of itself unlawful”; even if someone sued an agency or a studio for allegedly preferring male clients, “the defendants in such suits would likely prevail.” As another lawyerly dude, U of T law professor Joseph Fiskin explains, it would be “challenging for plaintiffs and for the government [to challenge such hirings because] courts are more reluctant to second-guess the hiring of high level, highly skilled employees.”
Moreover, employers aren’t required to use “diverse pool recruiting methods,” and, as Yale professor Zev Eigen explains, “failure to hire cases are much harder to win than discipline or firing. There’s a problem of proof—you don’t know how many women would have applied.”
In other words, even if it’s proven that Hollywood is one massive boys’ club (which it is), it’ll be hard to find any legal footing to stand on in order to challenge said club. Typing this item has made me really pissed off. Who wants to go to law school, graduate, pick up some women directors as clients, and take down the patriarchy with me?
Sign of hope: Women directors are busting their asses for gender equality anyway
Good news! Even though they’re well aware of the info I’ve just shared with you above, there are a whole bunch of women directors who are stirring shit up anyway. First up, we’ve got the Director List, a new website targeted at studio and network execs, producers, showrunners, agents, managers, production staffs, and assistants. It boasts a database of women directors, so that the following “common phrases and myths” will no longer be relevant:
“There aren’t that many female directors.”
“There are only two women I can think of that qualify for my list.”
“I don’t know many women directors.”
“Not many women want to direct– probably because it’s a pretty masculine/manly/difficult job.”
Hear that, everyone in Hollywood? You can’t say that shit anymore. So stop it. Here’s a list of ladies who want to pick up a camera and make a movie with you. Use it.
Next, we’ve got our old pal Ava DuVernay—who, if she doesn’t have a spot in the Female Stuff Cabinet yet, is now officially its Secretary Of Defense, write it down, Tilda—making moves on social media to bring black filmmakers together to spur a sea change within the industry. On Wednesday, DuVernay and more than 40 filmmakers participated in “Rebel-a-Thon,” taking to Twitter for 12 hours under the hashtag #ARRAY, where they doled out advice, discussed their experiences in Hollywood, and shared insights on filmmaking.
Everyone from Tyler Perry to Gina Prince-Bythewood to Justin Simien weighed in, tweeting things like, “The black experience is not limited to one shade, one class, or one side of being African American,” (Perry) and decrying the dearth of female DPs (Terence Nance). The bottom line of DuVernay’s movement? To raise awareness and money for the African American Film Festival Releasing Movement, particularly its distribution label, Array. If you haven’t checked out Array’s website, now’s a good time—maybe Secretary Of Defense DuVernay will tweet at you?
Lastly—and this one came in just under the wire for last week’s column— the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and the ACLU of Southern California have joined forces to circulate a petition that allows everyone on Earth, including you, to help end employment discrimination against female filmmakers “We believe that the failure to hire women directors and give them a fair opportunity to succeed in the field is a civil rights issue,” reads the petition. “Join us in asking our government to investigate this issue and stand with women directors.” Sign it! I’ll wait.
Overall, was this a good, bad, or neutral week for women in movies, Rachel?
Can’t believe I’m typing this again—what is this world??—but this week was good. The harbingers of doom are very real: Women are being held back from entering the film industry by some sinister fucking forces (boys’ clubs, aggressive gender discrimination, Voldemort), and it may not be possible to effectively battle these forces within the legal system. But these same women are also speaking out and fighting back in record numbers, taking to Twitter, freshly planted websites, online petitions, and good, old-fashioned news outlets to stand together in the face of some hardcore shit. Quite a lot hangs in the balance—will this ACLU investigation actually solve anything? Will any of this affect real and lasting change? Are enough people listening? Is this thing on?—but at this particular moment, it’s inspiring to see this type of work being undertaken. Anyway, don’t forget to sign the petition and don’t forget to talk about the patriarchy at all of your summer parties.
Further takes on the film and feminism front from around the web:
- Slate’s Kyle Buchanan: “Leading men age; their love interests don’t”
- The Guardian's Anne T. Donahue on Hollywood’s “love affair with old dudes romancing younger women”
- And The Guardian’s Benjamin Lee on why disaster movies are leading the way for age-appropriate relationships
- Vox backs up Maggie Gyllenhaal re: the Hollywood age gap
- The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg on Supergirl and the superheroine scarcity problem
- USA Today’s Donna Friedkin says “satan’s shoes” (aka high heels) are a must for most actresses
- The Mary Sue’s Zinna Hutton re-watches and reevaluates Diamonds Are Forever
- The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis looks at the attention Todd Haynes’ Carol received at Cannes
- Forbes’ Scott Mendelson on how women-centric films made up six out of 10 films at last week’s box office
- Flavorwire’s Sarah Seltzer on Michael B. Jordan’s Human Torch, Furiosa’s Feminism, and “new identity politics of super-mainstream cinema”
- The Feminist Mad Max Tumblr is just the best
- In Entertainment Weekly, actor Michael B. Jordan talks about how he’s “torching the color line” in Fantastic Four
- Forbes’ Melissa Silverstein believes there’s been a gender quake in the film industry
- MTV’s Tess Barker on the history of the term “chick flick” and how it marginalizes female filmmakers
- PS Mag’s Katie Kilkenny takes another close look at Mad Max: Fury Road’s feminism