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: Movies about, by, and/or starring lots o’ ladies
There are plenty of female-centric movies in theaters, in your home, and/or aiming to be in theaters or your home sometime before we all die. Here are a few:
- IndieWire posted its weekly update of women-centric films in theaters. The best options include The Duke Of Burgundy, an erotic love story between two women that takes place in a world devoid of men (see our link roundup below for more on this), and though it isn’t on the list, Girlhood, which, as Mike D’Angelo put it, “speaks powerfully about marginalization and the difficulty of overcoming it.”
- Earlier this week, PBS Independent Lens debuted a three-part documentary series called A Path Appears, from the team behind Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide. It looks at the global impact of gender oppression through a variety of lenses: sex trafficking, poverty, domestic violence, teen pregnancy, child slavery, and more, speaking to people who are working to eliminate these problems. The first episode will be online through February 14 at the above link; the next two segments will air February 2 and February 9.
Harbinger of doom: Dianne Wiest’s New York Times interview
Dianne Wiest and Tonya Pinkins recently spoke to The New York Times to promote their new play, Rasheeda Speaking, a dark comedy about racism, and they both talked about instances in their respective careers where they’ve felt marginalized. Alexis Soloski writes, “In their work on the play, both women can draw on decades of experience in the entertainment industry where they have often felt limited — if not precisely discriminated against—by appearance and type, with race being only one factor. After her early work with Woody Allen (which resulted in Oscars for Hannah And Her Sisters and Bullets Over Broadway), Ms. Wiest said that she felt she was typed as ‘a nice mom and that’s it. That’s all that ever came, except in theater.’ She also described instances of being silenced or ignored while male colleagues were praised for speaking their minds.” Wiest also admits she’s found it difficult to find enough work to pay her rent, saying, “I have to move out of my apartment soon.”
Wiest’s story isn’t unique, and it certainly isn’t as harrowing as the stories of non-famous women across America who can’t pay their rent. But it’s a microcosm of a much larger problem, and a story that matches up with those of many actresses over 40, who worry—rightly so—that they’ve aged out of most available parts that aren’t “nice moms.” It reminds me of a disturbing passage in Charles Bramesco’s wonderful Anita Ekberg’s obituary: “But as her dizzying beauty began to fade, so too did Ekberg’s life gradually fall to shambles. She virtually disappeared from the film world over the course of the ’70s, but took a much harder hit in 2011. While she convalesced from the broken hip mentioned above, robbers ransacked the actress’ home and set her villa aflame, leaving her nearly penniless. She was forced to turn to the Fellini Foundation of Rimini for financial assistance, but remained destitute until her death.”
It’s not unfair to partially blame our culture’s problem with aging women on Hollywood’s problem with aging women. (Also, Hollywood can absolutely handle that blame, so don’t feel bad about yelling at it.) If there’s anything hopeful here, it's that we seem to be hearing more stories like this—meaning the media is taking notice, and women are more emboldened to speak out.
Sign of hope: Sundance
If the Oscar nominations disappointed you with their white-washed men-washing, feel comforted by what’s happening at Sundance. It’s not a coincidence that the indie film fest is more inclusive of voices that are usually left out of the conversation—after all, indie does stand for “indignant,” which all of the people who have been systematically ignored most definitely are. This year’s fest has already seen an onslaught of work by and starring women and people of color. To name a few: The Hunting Ground, a look at rape culture on college campuses; the Nina Simone doc What Happened, Miss Simone?; The Bronze, written by and starring Melissa Rauch; the critically acclaimed horror film The Witch, centered on a woman in 17th-century New England; Diary Of A Teenage Girl, about a teen’s coming of age in 1970s San Francisco; and Sleeping With Other People, another edgy comedy from Bachelorette’s Leslye Headland.
Behind the screens, Women in Film awarded more than $33,000 in grants to filmmakers, and several smart-as-fuck ladies gathered to share their takes on women and the film industry. Emily Nussbaum moderated a panel that included Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling, Jenji Kohan, and Kristen Wiig. (Watch the whole thing here, it’s fantastic). Some standout quotes:
- Dunham on speaking out about campus assault: “One of the reasons it is important to talk about campus assaults is that these women in positions of incredible privilege are still being forced every day to fight for their truth and that is indicative of the fact that sexual assault is an epidemic and so many people are voiceless. I think campuses are a great place to start because that's where we’re being educated and that’s where we’re told we’re going to be safe.”
- Kaling on confidence: “I have this personality defect where I’m unable to see myself as the underdog. My parents raised me with the entitlement of a tall, blonde, white man.”
- Kohan on industry sexism: “An old comedy writer told me if God had meant for women to be in a writers’ room, he wouldn't have made tits so distracting.”
- Dunham on the REVOLUTION!!: “We stalk every woman who works in television and force them to have long dinners with us. Actually, that would be nice, if guys complained, ‘It’s so hard to break into Hollywood, there’s such an old girls’ network.’”
- Kaling on inspiring her fanbase: “So many girls who look up to me or are interested in me are young girls of color who have been told they’re ugly and who feel that they are not normal. It’s so important for women who look like me—or who look different than me—can find themselves beautiful and be objects of love and attention and affection. I feel sad when people say, ‘You were the first person who made me feel like that was possible.’”
Harbinger of doom: Twitter’s response to the Ghostbusters cast
While we were over here celebrating the all-female Ghostbusters cast, the terrible people of the Internet were over there, shitting all over it. A fair amount of vitriol was spewed regarding the casting news, including, but not limited to: mocking McCarthy’s weight, gender, and unfunniness; calling the film “period busters”; deeming the leads unfuckable; and claiming that Feig was destroying the original film’s legacy—oh, and everyone’s childhoods—by retelling the story with women.
Here are a few fun round-ups with actual examples. Here’s an actual quote from Ernie Hudson (from the original Ghostbusters), which is particularly egregious: “I love females. I hope that if they go that way at least they’ll be funny, and if they’re not funny at least hopefully it’ll be sexy. I love the idea of including women, I think that’s great. But all-female I think would be a bad idea. I don’t think the fans want to see that.” And here’s an awesome tweet from Saladin Ahmed that nicely sums up the problematic response. We’ve come so far, guys, but also, not far at all.
Sign of hope: Celebrities speaking out
Meanwhile, back in the land of the (relatively) civil, several celebs stepped forward and voiced their support for feminism and their opinions on gender bias; rallied for more female stories; spoke out about stereotyping; and called out the industry for its sexism. Here are some select quotes:
- Jane Fonda on “shaming the studios” at the Women at Sundance brunch: “The studios are run by men and they have the bottom line to meet and they give jobs to people like them. It’s a matter of gender, not that we don’t have the experience. We have to shame the studios for being so gender-biased… We have to fight real hard to get women in positions of power and remember there are no set rules.”
- Keira Knightley, on the need for more women’s stories, in the LA Times: “‘Do you think we're in an upswing for unexplored female stories?’ ‘No. There are very, very few stories told. Female stories and female voices are very often missed out on, completely. Very often in every section of culture women are lost; every actress will say the exact same thing to you. We're all looking for these interesting, inspiring, complex creatures… but they’re very difficult to find… It’s got to come from female writers, from female producers, from female directors—they’re the ones with the passion to tell stories and go out and get the money. Possibly I should be throwing my hat in that ring…’”
- Keira Knightley in the LA Times, redux: “I think it's very important to raise boys who are feminists and very important to raise girls who don’t expect Prince Charming and allow men to be emotional and weak at points and strong at points. We’re looking for equality and not gender stereotypes. But the real answer is… I don’t know. It’s one of the thousand million intimidating things I’m thinking about lately.”
- Joss Whedon, on the “genuine, intractable sexism” in the comic-book-movie industry, at DigitalSpy: “It’s a phenomenon in the industry that we call “stupid people’… There is genuine, recalcitrant, intractable sexism, and old-fashioned quiet misogyny that goes on. You hear “Oh, [female superheroes] don’t work because of these two bad ones that were made eight years ago’, there’s always an excuse… Marvel is in a position of making a statement simply by making [a female-led] movie, which I think would be a good thing to do.” [He clarifies his comments further in an interview with Buzzfeed.]
- Dan Aykroyd, lovingly stepping into the Ghostbusters fray in The Guardian: “The Aykroyd family is delighted by this inheritance of the Ghostbusters torch by these most magnificent women in comedy. My great grandfather, Dr Sam Aykroyd, the original Ghostbuster, was a man who empowered women in his day, and this is a beautiful development in the legacy of our family business.”
Harbinger of doom: Regressive bullshit
Elsewhere, other public personalities put their feet directly into their mouths.
- Anthony Mackie told Wendy Williams he genuinely believes that women’s and men’s roles are as follows: Women should “make daddy a sandwich”; if another man approaches his woman, a man should “smack him in his mouth”; men should mow the grass; women should “bring Daddy some lemonade.” Okay, Anthony Mackie. Let’s move on.
- At Buzzfeed, Eli Roth discussed his new film, Knock Knock, which premièred at Sundance. (I haven’t seen this movie yet, but I very much want to.) The movie follows Keanu Reeves’ Evan Webber, a married man who’s home alone for the weekend when two women (Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas), soaking wet from the rain, show up at his door and seduce him. As Buzzfeed puts it, “Knock Knock plays with the trope of the malevolent woman who uses sex as a weapon against men she feels are deserving of punishment.”
Speaking about Knock Knock's premise, Roth says, “I think it’s very much a feminist film. I think women are gonna love it… I liked these [female] characters that, something terrible has happened to them, and they believe that all men are the same, and this is just fucking bullshit.” Okay, we’re treading on some weird ground here, but nothing outrageous so far. He goes on to explain the central conflict as follows: “[Keanu Reeves’ character] is a man that’s been castrated in a strange way and emasculated, and instead of confronting his wife and going, ‘You know what? This is fucked up. You guys should be staying here with me,’ he doesn’t. He takes it in and buries it. And then these other girls come out and they go, ‘Hey, you are hot’… They’re just tantalizing him. And he goes, ‘Yeah, you know what? I’m a man. I am a man. I’m not just here like the dad. I’m a man. I’m a sexual being, and that’s OK. My wife doesn’t want to have sex with me. My kids were making fun of me. I’m gonna do this. There’s nothing wrong with that.’ ”
Listen, Roth is purposefully debate-bating (did I just make that term up? I'm okay with that), and he’s not necessarily saying he agrees with Reeves’ character’s logic. I’m fine with a movie that allows for moral ambiguity and plays with notions of gender roles; I’m more than fine with an awesome horror movie, which I hope Knock Knock will be. It's hard to speak on how feminist the film itself is without seeing it, but in the meantime, I’m not fine with Roth, a prolific director with a boatload of male fans, conflating a lack of total control over a woman with “emasculation,” or conflating “manhood” with “having sex.” This is lazy, regressive, and reductive.
I’m also not cool with this little exchange: “Buzzfeed: But the cheating is so contentious. I mean, they’re really pushing him. He’s telling them to stop. ER: Well, he does it, though. We talked about that. If you notice, Evan’s mouth says no, but his feet say yes…’” Dammit, Roth. We’ve been working against the “no means yes” defense for years. Can you not say stupid shit like this that hinders progress and re-enforces rape culture? Thanks.
Overall, was this a good, bad, or neutral week for women in movies, Rachel?
Bad. Sure, public figures spoke out on industry-wide sexism, but that doesn’t mean it’s been eliminated. Ghostbusters’ all-female cast was announced to the sound of thousands of sexist humans wailing; aging women are being ignored in Hollywood; and other public figures are proudly espousing regressive, sexist tropes with very little blowback. This week was disheartening, Hollywood. Let’s do better next week.
Further takes on the film and feminism front from around the web:
- Pop Insomniacs looks at how women are portrayed in the eight Best Picture nominees.
- KQED’s Tomas Hachard on how The Duke Of Burgundy creates a world sans men.
- io9’s James Whitbrook on Marvel’s problem with merchandising its female characters.
- The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg on why it’s so hard to fight for gender equality in Hollywood
- A Hysterical Man at Jezebel bemoans the “all-feminist” Ghostbusters.
- Vice’s Clarisse Loughrey on how the all-consuming female perfectionism portrayed in Black Swan made her feel less alone.
- Medium’s V.V. Ganeshananthan and Jess Zimmerman joke intelligently about “19 ways feminists will ruin Ghostbusters.”
- MTV.com’s Shaunna Murphy talks to LunaFest’s program manager about helping women in film get the recognition they deserve.
- Video editor Clara Darko created a supercut of women action heroes.