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 or celebrated, 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: After The Ball, co-written by Kate Melville and Jason Sherman, is a, um, “shoddy new teen rom-com from Sean Garrity”; 24 Days, co-written by Emilie Freche, Antointe Lacomblez, and Alexandre Arcady, depicts the kidnapping and torture of Parisian Jewish man Ilan Halimi from the perspective of his parents; Unfriended, a horror film told exclusively from the laptop screen of high-schooler Blaire; The Age Of Adaline, which follows Blake Lively in a million different outfits as a woman rendered immortal by a magical car accident; and Adult Beginners, co-written by Liz Flahive, Nick Kroll, and Jeff Cox, features “explosive comic talents (Kroll, Rose Byrne, Bobby Cannavale) moping their way through a bleary depression.”
- Meryl Streep has funded a screenwriting workshop for women over 40. I repeat, Meryl Streep has funded a screenwriting workshop for women over 40. Please genuflect accordingly.
- Rose Byrne, Gracie Otto, Shannon Murphy, Jessica Carrera, and Krew Boylan have teamed up to form The Dollhouse Collective, which will aim to “develop theatre, film and television together and tell stories with a strong female presence.” I repeat…never mind, that’s too long to repeat. Still, women supporting other women! We need this now more than ever (see below…).
- Three female indie-film directors will receive the San Francisco Film Society’s inaugural Women Filmmaker Fellowship, “a first-ever suite of services that supports emerging women writer/directors who are working on their second or third feature.” This year’s fellows are Jennifer Phang (Advantageous), Nikole Beckwith (Stockholm, Pennsylvania), and Stewart Thorndyke (Lyle).
- Freida Pinto hosted screening of India’s Daughter, which chronicles the brutal 2012 gang rape and murder of 23-year-old student Jyoti Singh. At the screening, she spoke out about the necessity of championing for change, and called the film a tool to start a global conversation about women’s rights.
- All three finalists for this year’s Pulitzer Prize in criticism were women writing about visual media. This is pretty big, y’all.
- Barbie made an Ava DuVernay doll! I’m not crying. I just have tears all over my face.
Harbinger of doom: Lots of Marvel bullshit
Oh, guys. Where to begin. So much non-comical comic-book bullshit this week. (Sorry, I had to.) First up, we have Disney and Marvel, which have a long and storied history of “forgetting” their female action stars when creating merchandise. (Check out the Tumblr “But Not Black Widow” and you’ll see what I mean.) Earlier this week, as HitFix reports, Marvel released the list of merchandise available for the upcoming Avengers: Age Of Ultron (ever heard of it?). Black Widow, arguably one of the biggest stars of the franchise, shows up three times. That’s it. Once in a “videogame starter pack,” once on a men’s shirt, and once on a shopping bag. Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch shows up approximately zero times.
Hot Topic, meanwhile, has teamed up with Her Universe and Marvel for a fashion collection called Marvel By Her Universe, which features designs by winners of a “Geek Couture” fashion show held at last year’s Comic-Con. It includes a Captain America halter dress, a Thor sailor dress, a Stark Industries bomber jacket, a Black Widow jacket, and a handful of other items. Essentially, here’s the world according to Marvel: Women can identify with, relate to, and proudly wear clothing emblazoned with both female and male characters, but dudes will only fork over cash for movies and merch featuring fictional dudes. (DC’s new “Super Hero Girls” universe—billed as a “superhero franchise exclusively for girls”—advances the same principle.)
Ready for round two? On Wednesday, in an interview as part of the Avengers press tour, Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans were asked what they thought of fans who “shipped” Black Widow with both of their characters. “She’s a slut,” replied Jeremy Renner. Chris Evans burst out laughing in his Chris Evans-y way, but did look a little uncomfortable, sort of like your younger brother looks when you ask him to hold your purse while you burn down your childhood home. “She’s a complete whore,” added Evans, traces of fear still in his eyes. “A trick, man,” said Renner. “She has a prosthetic leg, anyway. Leading everybody on.”
Yes, I know Black Widow is a fictional character, and yes, I know the two were “only joking.” But here’s the thing: These two men, for better or worse (jk, obviously it’s for worse), have a massive public platform and millions of fans. By calling Black Widow a whore for having been romantically involved with two men, not only were Evans and Renner bolstering and normalizing institutionalized misogyny, they were suggesting to their female (and male) fans—many of whom are young and impressionable—that women should feel ashamed of their sexual histories and identities. Moreover, in mocking Black Widow’s prosthetic leg—by suggesting, even sarcastically, that its presence makes Black Widow less attractive—they’re bolstering and normalizing institutionalized degradation and dehumanization of differently abled people. Think about all the high-school boys, starry-eyed and sporting those Captain America T-shirts, who watched this interview and thought, “Okay, it’s clearly still acceptable and funny to make fun of a woman for being ‘slutty,’ ” or, “It’s acceptable and fucking hilarious to mock my peers’ appearances.”
A lot of fans were outraged by the interview, and Renner and Evans were almost certainly ordered to clean up the mess they’d made. Both apologized quickly: Evans said, “Yesterday we were asked about the rumors that Black Widow wanted to be in a relationship with both Hawkeye and Captain America. We answered in a very juvenile and offensive way that rightfully angered some fans. I regret it and sincerely apologize,” while Renner wrote, “I am sorry that this tasteless joke about a fictional character offended anyone. It was not meant to be serious in any way. Just poking fun during an exhausting and tedious press tour.”
I accept Evans apology; it seems sincere. Renner’s apology, on the other hand, reeks of “sorry, MOM.” It’s passive-aggressive bullshit and it’s almost more regressive and harmful than his original comments. As my friend Shuhei put it in an impassioned GChat, “Chris Evans looks like he was being an idiot, and Jeremy Renner just looks like a dick.” And as Genevieve put it in a similarly impassioned GChat (we GChat a lot at The Dissolve), after sending me this very important photo, “Jeremy Renner reminds me of a potato in so many ways.”
Sign of hope: Smart, influential people speaking out about feminism
There were several women,and one Feig, willing to throw their hats in the feminist ring this week. Here are a few great quotes from around the web:
- Rita Wilson, Mamie Gummer, and more than 70 other women collaborated with the Make It Fair Project on a tongue-in-cheek video that’s makes a strong statement about gender equality in entertainment: “In the past few years, only 93 percent of popular films were directed by men. And only 80 percent were written by them. Women get to be naked in movies twice as often as men do. Twice. Sadly, only 70 percent of speaking roles in films are given to men. And in 2014, only 88 percent of box-office hits featured a man in the leading role.”
- Carey Mulligan pulled zero punches in Time Out: “In terms of the amount of interesting roles there are for women it’s obviously massively sexist. There’s a lack of material for women. A lack of great stories for women….The mere fact that it’s taken 100 years for [Suffragette’s] story to be told is hugely revealing. This is the story of equal rights in Britain, and it took years of struggle and women being tortured, abused and persecuted, and it’s never been put on-screen. It’s such a reflection of our film industry that that story hasn’t been told yet.”
- Jane Rosenthal, Jennifer Morrison, Lake Bell, Talya Lavie, Rachael Harris, Minnie Driver, and more gathered at a Tribeca Film Festival brunch to celebrate the women of Tribeca; Indiewire rounded up some of the best quotes: “I feel like women need to stop feeling so hamstrung by being women,” said Minnie Driver, who is on the Best New Narrative Director Jury. “I wish that women felt more confident in their voice as filmmakers and didn't feel like they had to tell ‘women's stories.’ This is something that Kathryn Bigelow talks about a lot, and arguably she makes ‘male’ movies, but I wish that there didn't have to be a differentiation. I wish we could just make fucking films and it not be: this is skewed towards women, this is a guy movie, this is a date movie. Can't we just be filmmakers and artists?”
- Olivia Wilde, in EW, on her adoration for female filmmakers: I think [financing] certainly was the biggest challenge [while filming Meadowland] in terms of being women, but in terms of how it really helped us is that I think women are natural multitaskers, and we handle crisis in a natural way. This was not an easy project to pull off but it felt like a very smooth set, like a very calm set, a very positive environment, and I credit that to our team. I think that has something to do with how women handle problems. That’s why women make great directors and great producers.”
- Alison Bechdel told Vulture she was surprised by the Bechdel test’s longevity, then clarified its parameters:“That, too, has been a very strange turn in my life. I feel sort of funny about that whole thing because it wasn’t like I said, ‘This is the Bechdel test, and now you must follow it.’ It somehow just got attached to me. I mean, I did write down the principles in a cartoon, but this younger generation of feminists and film-watchers has adopted it in this way that I think is pretty cool…It’s not conclusive or definitive. It’s not meant as a serious metric. You can certainly have a feminist movie where there’s only one woman — or no women.”
- Paul Feig, in Variety, on his “budding female empire”: “Can we please stop asking [if women are funny]? We are talking about a human being who has a different set of chromosomes than half of the world, and that’s it. It has nothing to do with their sense of humor or take on the world. When people look at my poster, they should say, ‘They’re funny.’ Not, ‘Oh, its ladies.’ … There’s this thing, especially in movies, where guys act like women are the ones breaking up a good time. It is a little boy’s version of what women are: ‘Oh boy, she’s calling. I can’t stay out tonight, she wants me home.’ It’s this guy bonding, combined with a world of insults and name-calling and talking about sex and sports that I can’t relate to.”
- Charlize Theron, in People, about how her bygone fear of aging used to cause her to treat other women poorly: “I think, like many women, I was judgmental toward women as they aged. Women, in our society, are compartmentalized so that we start to feel like we're cut flowers and after a while we will wilt.”
- Jane Fonda, in Marie Claire, on the current state of feminism: “We’re not just struggling for women’s equality when we talk about gender equality. We’re also saying men are hurt along the way and men are a part of this whole struggle for humanity. Men’s humanity is damaged by this toxic masculinity…we have to help boys understand that they can also be tender just as women can also be strong; they can be emotional just like women can be resilient, that these are human qualities that men and women can share. Yes, men are different than women. In very beautiful ways and very profound ways. But the things that have been taken from men by the notion that they can’t be emotional, that they can't be tender and empathetic and show sorrow are damaging to them, because it’s not what they started out as.”
- The Hunger Games’ Amandla Sternberg took to her Tumblr with a video called “Don’t Cash Crop My Conrows,” explaining the problem with misappropriating black culture: “In 2013, Miley Cyrus twerks and uses black women as props, and then in 2014, in one of her videos called ‘This Is How We Do,’ Katy Perry uses Ebonics and hand gestures and eats watermelons while wearing cornrows before cutting inexplicably to a picture of Aretha Franklin. So as you can see, cultural appropriation was rampant…Appropriation occurs when the appropriator is not aware of the deep significance of the culture that they are partaking in. What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we loved black culture?”
- Amber Heard told IndieWire she’s done being a sex object: “I’ve been in this business for 12 years or something and it's incredible frustrating to be able to just now be trusted or given roles like this, because this industry's very hard on women, because you're constantly asked to choose between one of two archetypes: sexy or not. And within the ‘not,’ you perhaps can acquire for yourself a few different traits, but they're going to be severely limited. The story's not going to be about you. In the former, it's completely unfulfilling work to undergo and it's not fulfilling for an audience to watch. It's incredible frustrating that a system is in place where you have to choose one or the other. I should not have to choose to be taken seriously or to be beautiful. I finally get to do a role without any of that shit, it's about a character and her issues and her problems and her journey.” (Read the rest of this interview for a lot more.)
- Meryl Streep, who is now the official Female Stuff president, participated in a panel on Hollywood sexism moderated by Jon Stewart (video at the link).
Harbinger of doom: Jezebel published and mocked Amy Pascal’s private Amazon purchases
I won’t link to it here, but I’ll just share with you that this week, Jezebel published a “comedic” essay by Natasha Vargas-Cooper called “This Is Amazing Amy’s Cheap, Crotch-Intensive Beauty Regimen.” In the piece, Vargas-Cooper parses the beauty routine of Sony exec Amy Pascal, as revealed by a new round of leaked Sony emails that included Pascal’s Amazon orders. It’s a nasty piece, one that takes pleasure in shaming Pascal for buying feminine hygiene products, bleach, and body oil; it even goes so far as to publish and deconstruct emails in which Pascal is openly stressing out about her diet and weight. Reading it made my stomach turn; I felt horrified for Pascal, embarrassed for Jezebel (a site I read often and enjoy), and angry at the thoughtlessness of Vargas-Cooper.
Vargas-Cooper tried to write around the fact that she was invading Pascal’s privacy, and sidestep the fact that she was tearing down a woman for buying products designed to improve her appearance (something most of us do), for openly admitting that she wanted to look pretty—for striving, basically. “Amy Pascal is a treasure,” she wrote. “She is a camp goddess who should become a legendary drag icon.” But the piece is, essentially, a public shaming, a dressing-down, and a violation. Here’s a sample line, related to Pascal’s purchase of feminine hygiene products: “What does your snizz smell like at the end of a hard day of Leaning In and reading Cameron Crowe’s shitty scripts? Like a lavender meadow? Probably not! Amy needs to be fresh. Amy needs to be free. Maybe one of these smells like pancakes.”
As New York Magazine’s Jessica Roy put it, “Invading a woman’s privacy online is the digital equivalent of invading her personal space in public: Both are violations of a human right to autonomy that men are born with and women, too often, must fight for. Last year, when hackers leaked hundreds of nude photos of celebrities online, many (including Jezebel) stood up for women’s right to privacy, arguing that downloading and viewing the photos was tantamount to sexual harassment. Publishing the intimate, non-newsworthy purchases of a public figure would seem to be not all that different.”
Roy also compared the piece to a brand of “mean-girl behavior” that most women, myself included, are painfully familiar with: “The hardest I ever cried was during phone fights with my best friend in seventh grade: We gave away each other's secrets like sticks of gum — easily, without regret. This behavior, especially among teenage girls, isn’t rare, but it’s also deeply memorable, the kind of thing you’ll randomly recall years later and still feel immediately anxious about. That’s why so many women have such visceral reactions to girl-on-girl crime: We see it, we know it, we’ve done it, and we’re done with it.”
This isn’t to say women can never criticize other women, or that Amy Pascal is a paragon of feminism. She’s plenty flawed, and she deserves to be taken to task for the things she chooses to say publicly. But why waste energy and time—especially on an ostensibly feminist site—tearing each other down in this particular way, when the rest of the world is already doing it so well for us?
Harbinger of doom: Female directors face “strong bias”
In “no shit” news of the week, a three-year study of the marketplace for female directors has found that women are “far more likely to work in independent film than on mainstream studio pics” and “nearly half of the industryites [the alien race that populates the film industry] surveyed believe that female-directed films appeal to a smaller audience than pics directed by men.” Again, this isn’t surprising, but it’s still unsettling to read as a fact. The study also found that the ratio of male-to-female directed movies in competition at the Sundance fest from 2002 to 2014 was about 3 to 1. By contrast, for the top 1,300 highest-grossing pics released from 2002 to 2014, the ratio was a little more than 23 to 1.
Some other fun findings: Movies with a female director were more likely than movies with a male director to be distributed by independent companies with fewer financial resources and lower industry clout. Male-directed films were more likely than female-directed films to receive distribution from a studio specialty arm or “mini major.” And, of course, the gender gap is at its widest in top-grossing films—only 4.1 percent of which see female directors.
The survey of those aforementioned industryites was equally unsettling. Twenty-five percent cited “women’s perceived lack of ambition in taking on directing jobs.” Twelve percent cited the belief that “women can’t handle certain types of films or aspects of production, such as commanding a large crew.” Only because we’re so busy trying not to have ambition!
Sign of hope: Amy Schumer’s “The Last Fuckable Day”
I want to end this Female Stuff on a happy note, because we all deserve that, at the very least. As we did last week, let’s conclude with something Amy Schumer-related. Here’s a new Inside Amy Schumer sketch, starring Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Patricia Arquette, and Schumer. It’s called “The Last Fuckable Day,” and it is perfect. Please behold:
Overall, was this a good, bad, or neutral week for women in movies, Rachel?
Surprise! It’s a bad week in a string of bad weeks. We have Jezebel—a site that, in theory, rallies for feminism—invading the privacy of and publicly shaming a woman for trying to adhere to the beauty standards required by a punishing, sexist industry (and society at large). We have Marvel and Disney reinforcing the idea that everyone can relate to male characters, but only women can relate to female characters. Age-old stereotypes about women are preventing female directors from landing jobs. Amy Schumer, Paul Feig, Meryl, Ava DuVernay’s doll, et al. are doing their best to champion change, and for that, we can love them forever. But it’s clearly not enough. Will next week be better? Will I ever feel joy again?
Further takes on the film and feminism front from around the web:
- The New Republic’s Jeet Heer on how science fiction’s “white-boys’ club” is striking back via the Hugo Awards
- The Huffington Post’s Lily Karlin thinks rom-coms are failing women
- In honor of 4/20, Styleite rounded up their favorite female stoners in movies
- The Guardian’s Hadley Freeman on the trouble with makeovers (cinematic and otherwise)
- Marie Claire’s Chelsea Peng looks at the rise of the feminist zombie
- Everyday Feminism’s Ronnie Ritchie’s informative comic explains the difference between sexual empowerment vs. objectification
- Drunk Feminist Films screened Fifty Shades Of Grey to a sold-out crowd; She Knows’ Amanda Scriver lived to tell the tale
- Geek Rex’s Cal Cleary on why Wonder Woman doesn’t need a female director
- Variety’s 2015 Power Of Women issue includes profiles on Lena Dunham, Whoopi Goldberg, Rachel Weisz, Kim Kardashian West, and Glenn Close
- In Refinery29, Felix & Meira star Melissa Weisz shares her story of leaving a Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn, and an arranged marriage along with it
- Time’s Eliana Dockterman says we should expect “strong women” in future Star Wars films
- Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan asks, “Does Ex Machina have a woman problem, or is its take on gender truly futuristic?”
- Grantland’s Mark Harris on what Michelle MacLaren’s firing tells us about the state of female directors in Hollywood
- The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg asks, “Can Kathleen Kennedy use Star Wars to change Hollywood?”
- At Film School Rejects, our own Kate Erbland unpacks Bleeding Heart and Meadowland, two Tribeca films with darker roles for its leading ladies
- The Hollywood Reporter talks to Ava Duvernay about how she’s working to “magnify the magnificence of black people”
- The Guardian’s Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy wonders whether we’re at a feminist tipping point in the film industry