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: Asghar Farhadi’s About Elly—deemed Essential Viewing—is a gripping moral drama about the implications of a woman’s disappearance; Olivier Assayas’s Clouds Of Sils Maria —also deemed Essential!—follows a veteran actress (Juliette Binoche) coming to terms with the modern-day film industry; Ex Machina, which sees Alicia Vikander as a female robot being tested by two men or is she TESTING THEM WHO KNOWS (I really want to see this movie); The Sisterhood Of Night, from screenwriter Marilyn Fu and Caryn Waechter, “gets straight at the heart of young female friendships”; and Meghan O’Hara and Mike Attie’s In Country, a documentary about a group of men who engage in Vietnam War reenactments.
- The Provincetown Film Society has launched a women filmmakers’ residency program, which will offer female filmmakers from around the world the chance to work among artists and writers in the outer Cape Cod area of Provincetown, Massachusetts. Wait, I want to go to Cape Cod and languidly write things. I am now a female filmmaker, please take me to Cape Cod.
- Gloria Steinem, a.k.a. the patron saint of feminism, and Whoopi Goldberg are among the 24 judges who will be adjudicating films at next week’s Tribeca Film Festival. And me. Because I’m a filmmaker now.
- Isabella Rossellini has been named the president of the Cannes Un Certain Regard jury. She’s already confirmed to take part in the festival’s tribute to her mother, Ingrid Bergman; now, she’ll preside over the judging panel for the sidebar, which is the companion to the Official Competition.
- The Willmette Theatre (outside of Chicago) will feature the Family of Woman Film Festival this weekend, “illuminating issues confronting women and girls globally by bringing those issues to the big screen via documentaries.” The Chicago Tribune took an in-depth look at it; founder Peggy Goldwyn tells the paper she founded the fest eight years ago to bring attention to the work of the United Nations Population Fund, the agency for reproductive health and rights of women. “Coming from a film background, I felt the best way to illustrate the obstacles women and girls face in today's society was by telling stories,” she said. “Giving a face to what might seem an abstraction.”
- IndieWire is reporting that there’s a new documentary about plus-size modeling in the works. Called A Perfect 14, it’ll explore the “issue of sizes in fashion and the larger world.”
- Ignore my ranting about Shia LaBeouf and focus on this: Andrea Arnold is filming her first U.S.-based feature, American Honey (starring Shia LaBeouf). She’s the director of the very fabulous Fish Tank, which is a Female-Stuff approved coming-of-age film about a 15-year-old London teen.
- Julianne Moore will star in Nicole Holofcener’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, about Lee Israel, a mischievous celebrity-letter-forger who sounds like she would have been pretty fun to hang out with.
Sign of hope/Harbinger of doom hybrid: Deepika Padukone’s feminist video for Vogue India and the Indian media’s response
The Washington Post’s Soraya Nadia McDonald has a piece this week detailing the feminist activism of Bollywood star Deepika Padukone, who’s been boldly speaking out about women’s rights in a country that still censors on-screen kissing. Most recently, writes McDonald, Padukone “is amplifying the feminist message in a country of 1.2 billion” with a video for Vogue India, directed by Homi Adajania. In the video, Padukone appears with 98 other women, including film critic and gender-equality advocate Anupama Chopra. Here’s the video, called “My Choice,” in which Padukone proclaims, “My choice: to lust temporarily, or to love forever…To have sex before marriage. To not have sex. My choice: to love a man or a woman or both…To have your baby or not…Remember, you are my choice. I’m not your privilege.”
As McDonald explains, Padukone has already made headlines by calling out for wage equality and for criticizing an article that objectified her in the Times Of India, but this is video “solidifies her commitment to gender equality.” This is the “sign of hope” part, of course—while it’s admirable for any woman to speak out about misogyny, the risk is inherently greater for Padukone, who’s inside an industry and a country that has historically mistreated and marginalized its female constituents. (Remember the story about the dude who used “But Bollywood told me stalking is how you get women” as a legal defense for stalking women?) It’s a bold move, and one that should be celebrated (even if, as McDonald points out, it’s a form of “corporatized feminism,” it’s better than nothing, especially in Bollywood).
Here’s the “harbinger of doom” part, though: The backlash Padukone (which, ironically, autocorrect keeps correcting to “Padrone”—even autocorrect is part of the patriarchy!!!) is now facing from the Indian community. Quartz India, for example, called the video “hypocritical,” proclaiming “[Padukone] continues to appear in movies or songs that objectify women in the worst possible manner. In her last film, Happy New Year, released in December 2014, she performed a pole dance for an item number. In the song, she is referred to as the ‘the hottest firecracker.’” A sample social-media response: “if a man would’ve said the same things about affairs outside marriage and walking naked, he’d be lynched.”
Both the general public and the media are missing Padukone’s point entirely; moreover, they’re suggesting that a woman can’t celebrate feeling attractive and empowered, own her sexuality, and also be a feminist. Major props to Padukone for her attempts to smash stereotypes and break down boundaries—but she’s got a long way to go.
For proof, look no further than this week’s New York Magazine, which has an interview with filmmaker Leslee Udwin, whose documentary, India’s Daughters, centering on a fatal rape that took place in India, has been banned in the country for being “highly offensive” and creating “a situation of tension and fear amongst women in our society.” One of the most horrifying portions: During an interview with one of the convicted rapists, Udwin reports that he told her, “Why are they making an example of us? Why are they making such a fuss about us? Everybody’s doing it.”
Sign of hope: Smart, influential people speaking out about feminism
There were several women and one Whedon willing to throw their hats in the feminist ring this week. Here are a few great quotes from around the web:
- Tatiana Maslany, in Cosmopolitan (as interviewed by our own Kate Erbland), on the idea of “men’s stories” and “women’s stories”: “I don't think women’s stories have to exist without men, and I don’t think men’s stories have to exist without women, that they lose something about themselves if they’re a mixed story. The story will only be reinforced and strengthened and given something to compare to and bounce off and be at odds with.”
- Joss Whedon, one of our favorite Female Stuff contributors, tweeted about what he thought of Jurassic World’s first clip, in which a stuffy Bryce Dallas Howard lectures a fun-loving Chris Pratt: “I’m too busy wishing this clip wasn’t 70’s era sexist. She’s a stiff, he’s a life-force - really? Still?”
- Sarah Silverman filmed a video encouraging women to speak up about equality in the workplace, and shared her own experiences with gender inequality: “I was doing stand-up around town, and I did a show with my friend Todd Barry; we were doing sets around town together. I was pretty well-known already, and we both did back-to-back sets at the New York Comedy Club. [I was paid] $10, it was a Saturday night. I didn’t think anything of it, you know. And we were outside talking, and Todd somehow mentioned that he got $60. And I just got $10. We did the exact same time back to back on the show. So I went back inside and asked the owner, Al Martin, ‘Why did yo pay me $10 and give Todd Barry $60?’ And he goes, ‘Oh, did you want a $60 spot?’ It was symbolic. It was pretty shitty.”
- Kristen Stewart, in The Hollywood Reporter, on how Clouds Of Sils Maria would never be greenlit in Hollywood: “It’s two women sitting in a room basically talking about being women and movies and their lives and their perspectives, and it never really cuts away from that. That would never be greenlit in this country, especially at the level that it was [$6.6 million]. Maybe you could do that movie for, like, a million dollars [in the U.S.], but not with the honor that [the French] give to the stories that they tell, and how indulgent but completely unfrivolous they are, and how willing they are to take risks. They make movies because they have a compulsion to tell certain stories, they don't make movies to become rich and famous, and that is a huge, massive divide between European and American cinema. The people who I'd like to work with in the States share that — but you have to find them.”
- Zoe Kravitz, in Complex, on the undue pressures placed on women in the film industry, and how that contributed to her own eating disorders: “I think it was part of being a woman, and being surrounded by [fame]. I don’t think it was about the fame, but I think it was definitely about being around that world, seeing that world. I felt pressured.”
- Evan Rachel Wood, in Elle, on finding meatier roles: “When you’re a woman in Hollywood in your early twenties, it’s hard to find a role that’s not there to serve the leading man or that’s the sexpot. It can be difficult. I think that’s why I've done a lot of TV and why more people are doing TV because there seems to be more interesting roles—especially for women. That’s why I’m so excited about my new HBO show [Westworld]. And that’s why I love doing this role. I can be a tomboy. This is the closest to myself I feel like I get to be. It's hard to find androgynous roles. That’s why I love what Jodie Foster does: She usually reads every script and, even if it’s written for a man, she’ll just ask if she can do it. I hope that one day I’ll get to a place where I can do that.”
Harbinger of doom: The C.I.A. vs. Carrie Mathison
Last month, Showtime announced that Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes on the hit series Homeland, would be leaving the C.I.A. (but not the show) during the upcoming season. This week, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times spoke to real-life female C.I.A. agents about the news, and their response was… disheartening. The women were categorically thrilled about Carrie’s departure, because they believed her to be a total misrepresentation of female C.I.A agents, a “one-dimensional,” “a centerfold model in tight clothes,” and a “honey pot” who uses sex to get secrets.
All of this is true—Carrie is beautiful, troubled, and occasionally uses sex to get what she wants. But she’s also smart and incredibly complex, a believably written character, and an imperfect one, struggling with mental illness and dealing with consistent trauma. (Also, not that it matters, but she happens to dress in incredibly neutral, J.Crew-esque outfits on the reg—not exactly a “honeypot” in “tight clothes.”) That aside, it’s missing the point to criticize her for “misrepresenting the C.I.A.”
The problem isn’t that Carrie is flawed, and the problem isn’t even really about Carrie. The problem is the way that our culture looks at female characters (something Think Progress' Jessica Goldstein looks at more in-depth here). The problem is, as always, lack of female representation and unfair double standards. Men get to be flawed on screen all the time—you don’t see high-school science teachers upbraiding Breaking Bad for its inaccurate portrayal of high-school science teachers, or the White House berating House Of Cards for its portrayal of D.C. as a Machiavellian hellscape. Carrie—and, as Dowd points out, the equally off-kilter Katherine Heigl on State Of Affairs—are two of a handful of women onscreen who play powerful, high-ranking female spies. And because they’re part of an onscreen minority, they’re expect to stand in for the entirety of the female population and uphold moral standards that are rarely, if ever, imposed on male characters. It’s disappointing that the women Dowd spoke to can’t see that—and, moreover, that they’re buying into the idea that a fictional female must be consistently well-behaved and sexually neutral to feel real or to gain the audience’s respect. (Which, of course, isn’t far at all from the expectations placed on women in real life.)
With a strange lack of self-awareness, the agents in the piece go on to bemoan that real-world expectation. They discuss the struggles they faced trying to find a work-life balance at the C.I.A., talking about how the job ruined their marriages (“I’m no longer married because of the wall [I built around myself]”) and made it difficult to relax (“When these two worlds clash, they clash really hard.”) They even complain about on-the-job double standards (“The truth is, when a man takes an overseas assignment and leaves his family, including his children, it’s seen as more normal than when a woman does that same thing”). But who’s their preferred onscreen representative? Elastigirl, the cartoon superhero from The Incredibles (?). “The entire concept for her was flexibility; she became a mom and a superhero at the same time,” one agent told Dowd. “Just think of us as a work force of Elastigirls.” Right. Because she’s not one-dimensional at all.
(In an apt companion piece: Nathan explores why “Mini Marilyn,” a new cartoon version of Marilyn Monroe, is exploitative and terrible.)
Harbinger of doom: Celebrating this summer’s lady movies
This week, Vulture published a preview of summer films titled “Finally, a summer movie season for women.” “Women are getting guns. And guitars. And emotional inner lives. And the ability to have no strings attached,” writes Kara Cutruzzula. “During the all-important, typically testosterone-soaked summer movie season, women are represented onscreen in roles besides Unidentified Love Interest No. 2.” She cites as examples Hot Pursuit, Pitch Perfect 2, Tomorrowland, Aloha, Spy, Inside Out, The Bronze, Tranwreck, Paper Towns, and Ricki And The Flash.
I want to see all of these movies—preferably in a row—but the logic here isn’t perfect. First of all, let’s not call it a “summer movie season FOR women.” That just furthers the idea that men don’t enjoy entertainment with female leads or directors. Movies packed with ladies are for everybody! And as Flavorwire's Jason Bailey points out, “Aloha is very much packaged as a Bradley Cooper vehicle with Emma Stone and Rachel McAdams as, well, Love Interest Nos. 1 &2” and “while Tomorrowland has a teenage girl as its protagonist, its trailers sure are positioning co-star George Clooney front and center.” Even if all these movies counted as female-centric, they’d still make up a pretty paltry percentage of the summer-movie pie. Yes, it’s progress—and a big step up from 2013, which saw a similar Vulture piece titled, “Do they ever make movies about women? A mathematical analysis from 1989-2013”—but we’re not even close to where we need to be. Let’s not break out the Champagne yet. Okay, we can, but not because of this.
Overall, was this a good, bad, or neutral week for women in movies, Rachel?
I’m gonna give this week a “neutral,” much like everybody would prefer women’s behavior to be. On one hand, we have harsh criticisms lobbed aimed at women who contain multitudes—one fictional, one real—representing a basic inability to accept that a female human might be sexual, or wear tight clothing, or make her own choices about her relationships, or challenge traditional notions of gender and sexuality, or have personality flaws, and also be a) a feminist and b) deserving of respect. But on the other, we have female filmmaker residencies and female-centric film festivals and female-helmed movies and women like Deepika Padukone, who are willing to speak out about gender inequality, even at a detriment to their own lives and careers. So I call it a wash this week. Everybody go home! No, don’t, we have more news and stuff.
Further takes on the film and feminism front from around the web:
- Film School Rejects’ Matthew Monagle on what Hollywood can learn from Michelle Rodriguez, Furious 7’s “woman warrior”
- Elle’s Anna Breslaw on 13 pop-culture stereotypes about women that “need to die”
- The New York Times’ Margalit Fox wrote an obit for Phyllis R. Klotman, an archivist of African-American cinema
- Bustle’s Aly Semigran on why It Follows’ Maika Monroe is the “feminist scream queen icon we deserve”
- The Telegraph’s Rebecca Hawkes looks at the history of women eating chocolate in film (and why it’s only women)
- IndieWire’s Dorothy Snarker asks, “Do we need another The L Word?”
- Wired’s Angela Watercutter says Ex Machina has a serious “fembot problem”
- The Atlantic’s Kameron Hurley on why hijacking the Hugo Awards “won’t stifle diversity in science fiction”
- The AP’s Sandy Cohen (Sandy Cohen?! Of pro-bono Orange County lawyer fame?) asks, “What happens to Hollywood’s push for diversity after the Oscars?”
- Forbes’ Dan Reed investigates the case of Nicole Kidman vs. Etihad Airways’ flight attendants
- The Hollywood Reporter’s Pamela McClintock on why Furious 7 drew such an ethnically diverse audience—and what that means for the future of film