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: Inside Out, Pixar’s “energetic but ultimately tender and sympathetic trip through the mind of a young girl experiencing a traumatic life transitions,” got five stars and an Essential Viewing tag from Tasha Robinson; Eden, Mia Hansen Løve’s latest, is an “elliptical look at the rise and fall story that draws on the life of her brother, a French DJ who worked the scene with Daft Punk but never found much success”; Maya Forbes’ Infinitely Polar Bear is an autobiographical feature based on her own experiences growing up with a manic-depressive father; and Phantom Halo is Antonia Bogdanovich’s “wearying thriller about two brothers who get in over their heads in the L.A. criminal underworld”
- This week, Women In Film held their Crystal + Lucy Awards, where Ava DuVernay, Nicole Kidman, Jill Soloway, Toni Howard, Sue Kroll, and Kate Mara received awards for driving change in the industry. Seven female filmmakers won the Storytellers: New Voices Of The Twilight Saga award, and were presented with plaques by Stephenie Meyer and Kristin Stewart, who really did show up to this thing. Each of the women wrote screenplays that will be transformed into short films that’ll run on Facebook in July to help them get their feet in the door and help them meet very hot vampires.
- Sanaa Lathan is starring in a long-awaited Flyygirl adaptation. Let’s go listen to the Love & Basketball soundtrack on repeat to celebrate (seriously, I’m doing that as I type this).
- Amy Jo Johnson—the pink Power ranger!—is set to direct her debut feature, The Space Between, in Canada, starring Michael Cram as a proud new father “who discovers his adored baby isn’t his child.” Oops!
- Zoe Cassavetes’ Day Out Of Days held its premiere Sunday—it tells the story of an “aging Hollywood starlet attempting to survive in an industry that overwhelmingly values unrealistic ideals of youth and beauty.” “You can’t make up these stories,” said Cassavetes. “They all come from some seed of reality.”
- Turner Classic Movies has partnered with Women in Film Los Angeles for a three-year programming initiative designed to address the lack of gender equality in the film industry and highlight women behind the camera. As part of the deal, TCM will air programming in October for the next three years that will focus on work done by women outside of the acting realm.
- Seed&Spark, a crowdfunding platform for indie films, has joined forces with Tangerine Entertainment, a production company/community-builder for women directors, to fund and support “women content creators.” Their first collabo is called Keep The Change, and it’s a comedic story about two autistic adults who fall in love.
- Elizabeth Banks, who owned the box office a few weeks ago with Pitch Perfect 2, has signed a multi-year distribution deal with Warner Bros. TV; she and her producing partner, Max Handelman, will develop series for the studio under their Brownstone Productions banner. She’s really making that banks okay sorry I’m done.
Harbinger of doom: Does Hollywood pay for childcare or yachts? Yachts, of course.
While promoting Infinitely Polar Bear, Zoe Saldana shared a story that, yet again, revealed the dark heart of Hollywood. Speaking to USA Today, Saldana was unflinchingly honest about the issues that’ve plagued her as she tries to juggle motherhood with her film career. First, she shared that she’d almost been written out of a movie due to her pregnancy: “Let me tell you something, it will never be the right time for anybody in your life that you get pregnant,” said Saldana, noting that last year, “the productions I was slated to work on sort of had a panic. I heard through the grapevine there was even a conversation of me being written off of one of the projects…I was like, ‘Oh, my God, are you kidding me? It’s this bad?’ Right when I just feel super-duper happy, is that inconvenient for you? That me, as a woman in my thirties, I finally am in love and I am finally starting my life? And it’s (screwing) your schedule up? Really?”
Though she wasn’t written off the project, she was faced with another problem: The studio didn’t want to pay for childcare. Though USA Today points out that few parents have access to company-provided childcare—only 20 percent of large employers provide it and only five percent contribute financially toward it—Saldana went on illuminate a deeply fucked-up industry double standard: Studios “spend more money sometimes ‘perking’ up male superstars in a movie,” she said, paying for private jets, a coterie of assistants and bodyguards or booking “a really phat penthouse or them staying in a yacht instead of them staying on land.” Is everybody else just picturing Leonardo DiCaprio and his Pussy Posse right now? Cool, same.
Saldana continued, “But then a woman comes in going, ‘OK, I have a child. You're taking me away from my home. You’re taking my children away from their home. And you’re going to make me work a lot more hours than I usually would if I was home. Therefore, I would have to pay for this nanny for more hours—so I kind of need that. And they go, ‘Nope, we don't pay for nannies.’” USA Today reached out to Paramount, who claimed that “the child care issue has been resolved prior to when this interview was conducted.” It’s not totally clear what’s going on here—maybe Saldana’s public call-out scared the studio into forking over the cash—but what is clear is that it’s more common for a studio to invest in a man feeling “perky” than for a woman to feel secure and sane while at work. Again, most women (and men) don’t have the luxury of company-provided childcare, but we also don’t have the luxury of company-provided yachts. Put in perspective, this is some troubling shit.
Sign of hope: Smart, influential people speaking out about feminism
There were several women and men willing to throw their hats in the feminist ring this week. Here are a few great quotes from around the web:
- Helen Fucking Mirren, at The Wrap’s Power Women Breakfast, on Hollywood ageism: “‘It’s f—-ing outrageous. It’s ridiculous. And ’twas ever thus. We all watched James Bond as he got more and more geriatric, and his girlfriends got younger and younger. It’s so annoying,’ she said. She said appearances can deceive and her stellar career comes with its share of jitters. ‘I’m frightened all the time, of everything, really,’ she said. ‘The point is not to be afraid of the fact that you’re afraid. You get on with it’… ‘I don’t like the word sexual. There are people who are sexual, and who are less sexual. But there’s got to be another word. Sexual is so limiting.’ When asked if she preferred being called hot, she said, ‘hot and cool. Being powerful is so much more interesting than being beautiful.’”
- At the African Union summit in Johannesburg, Angelina Jolie gave a powerful speech about ending sexual violence against women around the world: “There is a global epidemic of violence against women – both within conflict zones and within societies at peace – and it is still treated as a lesser crime and lower priority. Women and girls are bearing the brunt of extremists that revel in treating them barbarically. This is inextricably linked to our overall failure to prevent and end conflicts worldwide, which is causing human suffering on an unprecedented level. We need policies for long-term security that are designed by women, focused on women, executed by women—not at the expense of men, or instead of men, but alongside and with men. There is no greater pillar of stability than a strong, free and educated woman, and there is no more inspiring role model than a man who respects and cherishes women and champions their leadership.”
- At the Crystal + Lucy Awards, Nicole Kidman admitted she regrets turning down a role offered to her by Jane Campion when she was younger (then smooched Naomi Watts while wearing a shower cap, because…you’ll see): “Kidman took to the stage to deliver a speech about female empowerment, in which she described the time, when she was 14, when Jane Campion reached out to her with a role in a student film, A Girls Own Story. Kidman explained that she had been too nervous to take the part, because it would have required her to don a shower cap and kiss a girl on-screen. ‘My excuse was that I had final exams to study for, but the truth is the part would have required me to appear up on the screen wearing a shower cap and kissing a girl . . . I wanted to be the kind of actress with long flowing hair [who] kissed boys . . . I was not ready to do the kind of work that threatened anybody,’ she said. ‘Well, today I know better and I say, “Jane, if you're out there . . . I'm ready to don this cap.” And she meant ready immediately, as she then brandished a shower cap. She continued with her speech for a bit, discussing the need to support women in film (‘Let's pledge together today to be there for that girl, to support her artistically, emotionally [and] financially. Let us create opportunities for her and teach her to manage that inner voice that is trying so hard every day to hold her back. Let us show her that she is strong, smart, and talented and she deserves every part that might interest her and at equal pay, too’), before concluding, ‘Let's stand tall and never ever apologize for it.’ At this point, Watts joined her on stage and, re-enacting the presumed scene from A Girls Own Story that Kidman never got to play herself, the two women put on their shower caps and kissed.”
- Jonathan Demme, at the L.A. Film Fest promoting Ricki And The Flash, talked about the importance of telling women’s stories: “ ‘As a moviegoer, I love rooting for the underdog, and in our patriarchal society, if you’re going to divide it into underdogs and overlords in a male-female equation, the patriarchy is still functioning very powerfully. Women need to try that much harder, they are up against … men aren’t up against.’ He referred to the film that won him a director Oscar as well as one for picture, when he noted, ‘In Silence of the Lambs, in Thomas Harris’ book he makes this stuff really manifest, in order for this one young woman to save the life of this other young woman, she has to traverse a landscape filled with every type of … man on the planet, including killers and bosses and cops. I think that’s part of what makes the movie for me so special.’ ”
- Star Trek 3’s Justin Lin, in THR, on diversity in Hollywood: “As an Asian-American, representation has always been a big issue…When I was starting out, there wasn't a lot of representation, but it was never an issue of talent—it was always an issue of opportunity…I’m excited about where it's going, but there's a lot more to be done. Working with Zhao Wei and Huang Xiaoming, they're not just Chinese stars, they're movie stars. Hollywood should be global.”
- Taylor Schilling spoke to IndieWire about The Overnight and avoiding stock female roles: “Well, I think there is very much a trend, and it's oftentimes easier. There are a few stock roles—it’s like a girlfriend or a mom or a best friend—and then sometimes I think there are more complicated leading roles. It takes time, I think, to sift through things, and also there's something very mysterious about a career, and almost magical about the way things line up. And I feel really fortunate that Piper's turned out the way that she has, and also there's so many facets of this character Emily to explore. I don't know, finding dynamic characters is tricky, and I do think that both of these women have more going on than just in relationship to a man or in relationship to a child, which is exciting. They have an inner journey happening.”
- Patricia Arquette, in the Sydney Morning Herald, on equality and visibility and the reaction to her Oscars speech: “The reaction has been incredible, really…A woman told me her boss pulled her in the next morning and gave her a raise. And yet, a woman in California I just met, she has two masters degrees, she teaches mathematics and she heard her colleagues made $20,000 a year more than she did…In America, we are not really making films that are at all reflective of the real balance of people in the world. We need a lot more minorities, because they're not really minorities. We need to have more women directors, producers, in front of and behind the scenes. I just won an Oscar, so you think at this moment I should be getting every opportunity in film for these parts, but there's just not very many of them. It’s still definitely the truth [that television offers women better roles] in my experience and I am grateful for it, and I love doing television.”
Harbinger of doom: Star Wars makeup
Hey, Hollywood, you know how we're always asking you to create movie-related merch featuring female characters? We didn't mean “sell us Star Wars makeup that’s just normal makeup with a Star Wars quote on it.” Unless you are literally going to give us the tools to make ourselves look exactly like Queen Amidala or Chewbacca on a Friday night, please don’t insult our intelligence by trying to shill basic CoverGirl mascara as “The Light Within.” You don't get it. We don’t want you to slap some shit on the same mascara we’ve been buying for decades. We just want you to make a goddamn Black Widow action figure without whining about it. (Fine, we’ll take the $5 coupon for a Force Awakens ticket, though.)
Sign of hope/Harbinger of doom hybrid: Badass women making totally rational demands, having them met, having them questioned
Natalie Portman and Jennifer Lawrence are two of the most famous women in the entire world, and this week, as they well should, they traded on that fame to get the Female Stuff wheels turning. First up, we’ve got Portman, who insisted that her forthcoming Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic have a female director, even at the expense of delaying the project. According to Ginsburg herself, “Natalie Portman came to talk to me about this, and we had a very good conversation. And one thing, interesting, that she insisted on, it held up the project for awhile. She said, ‘I want the director to be a woman. There are not enough women in this industry. There are many talented out there.’ And now they do have a woman director.” This is the perfect example of how things will get better in Hollywood: Badass women (and men, for real, c’mon dudes) using their powers for good. No director’s been officially announced yet; Deadline reported that Marielle Heller of Diary Of A Teenage Girl is in negotiations to direct.
Then we’ve got Jennifer Lawrence, who insisted on getting $20 million to make Sony’s Passengers, again at the expense of delaying things. Girl knows what she’s worth—she’s one of the most bankable stars in the world right now. Apparently, Sony chief Tim Rothman wrestled with whether to green-light the project because of its budget, and pushed back on Lawrence’s demands, but she held firm, and THR confirmed that Rothman backed down this week—Lawrence will get an “exceptional $20 million against 30 percent of the profit after the movie breaks even,” while her human male co-star Chris Pratt will net $12 million.
A piece in Vulture from Kyle Buchanan this week outlines exactly why Lawrence deserves that cold, hard cash: “The 24-year-old stars in two of Hollywood's biggest franchises, thanks to The Hunger Games and X-Men, and has been nominated for three Oscars, winning one for Silver Linings Playbook. She enjoys sky-high likability, terrific recognition ratings, and four-quadrant appeal in an era where new young megastars are very hard to come by. She is the only first-billed actress who has made more than one movie that's grossed over $400 million domestically (the few men who’ve managed that significant feat are comic-book heroes Robert Downey Jr. and Christian Bale), and she may add a third to her tally if the final Hunger Games movie hits its expected number this winter. Simply put, she’s the most significant name that Sony could have possibly cast in this role.”
But, as the piece points out, the media scrutiny re: this decision points out yet another double standard. “I’ve noticed that many of the writers who’ve picked up Masters’s story over the last two weeks have done so with a can you believe that tone of incredulity, as though Lawrence might not be worth her rare payday. They’re not alone: Masters reported that even Rothman ‘was heard wondering aloud’ about Lawrence’s actual star power during budget meetings.” Buchanan adds, “Compared to Lawrence, other stars have gotten $20 million paychecks with much less scrutiny, and with far more meager results. Liam Neeson received $20 million for Taken 3, which didn't even crack $90 million domestically, and Sacha Baron Cohen got at least that much money (and by some accounts, even more once scripting and producing fees were factored in) for 2012’s dud The Dictator, which grossed a measly $59 million in the States. When Baron Cohen inked his megabucks deal, it was greeted with rah-rah, ‘go Sacha’ enthusiasm at Deadline; I can’t help but wonder if the difference in tone now has something to do with Jennifer Lawrence's gender. If, say, her frequent co-star Bradley Cooper had upped his quote to $20 million on the back of last year's megahit American Sniper, would his reasonable request have generated nearly the same amount of scoffing?” (Um, no. The answer is no.)
Overall, was this a good, bad, or neutral week for women in movies, Rachel?
Bad, y’all. That Zoe Saldana story is insanely frustrating, that Star Wars mascara is insanely stupid, and even though Jennifer Lawrence is raking in the cash she rightly deserves, studio heads and the media are both wondering whether she deserves it. I think we all need a Helen Mirren hug. Can somebody go find her?
Further takes on the film and feminism front from around the web:
- Wired’s Kelsey Snyder on how Hollywood sets its female superheroes up to fail
- USA Today’s Kelly Lawler: “Jurassic World has a mother of a problem”
- The New York Times’ Jason Zinoman covers Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck tour
- The Mary Sue’s Zina Hutton re-evaluates The Spy Who Loved Me
- The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney looks at Hollywood’s trans journey, from Crying Game to Caitlyn Jenner
- The L.A. Times’ Meredith Blake talks to Holly Hunter about her 35-year career
- Vox has a guide to Jurassic World’s “sexism controversy”
- Fusion’s Sarah Seltzer: “Sorry, Damian Lewis, but the next James Bond shouldn’t be a straight, white dude”
- A new study demonstrates that the Bechdel Test is a legitimate measure of female character importance
- Over at Random Nerds, our own Charles Bramesco says movies are kicking the patriarchy’s ass this week
- GoIntoTheStory’s Scott Myers on writing “strong female characters” and what most people get wrong
- IndieWire’s Liz Shannon Miller talks to Lexi Alexander about why women don’t direct more TV