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: Hot Pursuit, a madcap women-driven comedy starring Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara that Keith did not enjoy; and 1001 Grams, a “bone-dry dramedy” that centers on a Norwegian scientist played by Ane Dahl Torp. Not great this week on the new-film front.
- The L.A. Times has a profile on Fandor’s Fix, a platform on the streaming site that “allows indie and experimental filmmakers the chance to connect with potential audiences,” and its recent efforts to spotlight female directors.
- IndieWire’s recent New and Noteworthy selections include Bounty Hunters, a three-part, “incredibly kitsch, feminist-leaning” short film created by and starring Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney that subverts male-centric buddy-cop tropes. “We knew we wanted to take on a genre that's not usually portrayed by women,” Dara told IndieWire. “We also just really wanted to dress like Dog the Bounty Hunter.” Full disclosure: Dara is a friend of mine. Fuller disclosure: She’s hilarious, so watch this immediately.
- Glamour showcased a new documentary, The Trouble With The F Word, from director Vanessa Pellegrin. Pellegrin says the doc, which explores why feminism became such an unpopular term, came about after she was “shocked” at a YouGov poll that showed 37 percent of the U.K. and U.S. populations didn’t want to identify as feminist.
- Ava DuVernay—who is now the official secretary of state of Female Stuff (I think Meryl Streep is president and Carey Mulligan is vice president, but it’s hard to remember because it’s so made up)—has launched her second-annual membership drive for the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM), which works to “empower black independent filmmakers with theatrical and multi-platform distribution.” If you want to support the cause (you do), visit AFFRM.com.
- Clark Gregg (a.k.a. Marvel’s Agent Coulson), among others, took to social media to help push a Change.org petition by Women’s PowerStrategy Conference founder Patricia V. Davis to get Black Widow featured on more merchandise. The petition reads, in part: “Girls need strong and capable female role models. Please sign my petition asking HASBRO to add more of the the female AVENGER movable action figures to the boxes of pre-packaged action figures for the growing number of girls for whom just dressing up a fashion doll doesn’t cut it anymore. Please promote the female action figure along with the other four Avenger action figures.”
- Lifetime has announced a new initiative called Broad Focus, aimed at “providing women with more opportunities to write, develop, produce, and direct content for the network.” I don’t know about y’all, but I cannot wait for Sexting In Suburbia 2: The Sextening.
- This week saw the start of Geena Davis’ inaugural Bentonville Film Festival, which champions female and diverse filmmakers. Our own Kate Erbland is there, and will send word soon as to whether she’s become best friends with Geena Davis and whether or not she has found the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.
Harbinger of doom: Marvel’s leaked female-superhero emails
Should I just start calling this section “this week in Marvel harbingers of doom,” or nah? Either way, this week in Marvel harbingers of doom, here’s the text of a recently unearthed (i.e., leaked) email from Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter to Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, dated August 7, 2014, with the subject line “Female Movies”:
As we discussed on the phone, below are just a few examples. There are more.
1. Electra (Marvel) – Very bad idea and the end result was very, very bad. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=elektra.htm
2. Catwoman (WB/DC) – Catwoman was one of the most important female character within the Batmanfranchise. This film was a disaster. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=catwoman.htm<
3. Supergirl – (DC) Supergirl was one of the most important female super hero in Superman franchise. This Movie came out in 1984 and did $14 million total domestic with opening weekend of $5.5 million. Again, another disaster.
First of all, it’s EleKtra, my dude. Second of all, how are you gonna use only three movies—released in 2005, 2004, and 1984, respectively—to make a point about female superhero films as a whole? Yes, these are particularly bad films. And yeah, they all happened to center on women. But the one thing I remember from high school is that correlation does not equal causation. (That’s all I remember, though.) If there’s any unifying factor here, it’s that studios (like Sony) don’t funnel as much cash or talent into women-centric films, because, ironically, they fear they’ll be box-office disappointments. Then, when they are disappointments, the female star or female director is blamed. It’s a vicious, misogynist cycle.
On top of everything else, there are plenty of male-centric superhero films that are shitty as hell. Should we make our own list? This particular line of logic—female superhero films are crappy and don’t make money—isn’t new. But it’s surprising to see it laid out so plainly, and so sloppily, in a “professional” conversation like this. I shudder to think of the off-the-record phone conversation.
As a palate-cleanser, here’s a hilarious, spot-on—and perfectly timed—spoof of Black Widow’s would-be solo film, Black Widow: Age Of Me, from this week’s episode of SNL:
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:
- Melissa McCarthy, in the Sydney Morning Herald, on the reaction to Bridesmaids and women in comedy: “Another part of McCarthy is irked by the view, held by some, that Bridesmaids somehow marked the moment funny women—‘suddenly appeared on the planet?’ McCarthy offers. ‘I was just perplexed that people were like, “What are the odds?! A movie with funny women!” Is that really shocking people? What is this, 1951? People kept saying, “women's comedy”, “women's humour”… It's not a movie “by women for women.” I certainly don't do it “for women.” It's just a funny movie, across the board….It still happens that a woman is given a part in a funny movie, and for some reason they want her to look perfect and be very pleasant. And then they say, “Now be funny!” With what? I don't know what the hell's left! You need your flaws. You need to be a whole human being to be funny. If you take away two dimensions of a person they're not going to be interesting, they're not going to be funny, because you've made them into a mannequin. They just want women to be dressed-up paper dolls. It's not that women aren't funny. It's that the characters stink.’ ”
- Charlize Theron, in Elle, on why Max Mad: Fury Road is a feminist film: “I remember there were these loud whispers going around town that [Mad Max director] George [Miller] was going to reimagine this world and he was going to create this female character and she was going to stand right next to Max. At first you're always like, ‘That’s awesome.’ And then you become a little skeptical, like, ‘I’ve heard that before and then I'm going to be the chick that ends up in the back of the frame with the push-bra and with a wisp of hair in my mouth.' I've been doing this for a while and I've made a real effort to veer away from those things. And then I met George, and there was something about him that I really believed. I believed him that he wanted to do something that felt really truthful. I think there's an equality in this role as opposed to just being a girl in these movies. I think women are just eager to feel like they're on an equal playing field. I don't want to be put on a pedestal. I don't want to be anything other than what we are. I want to be just be a woman, but an authentic woman, in this genre or any other genre…It’s interesting doing these press junkets, and having people come up to you and say, “Oh, what strong women.” No, we're just actually women. We had a filmmaker who understood that the truth is [that] women are powerful enough, and that we don't want to be made to be supernaturally strong and capable of doing things we're not capable of doing…That conflicted nature that is very much a part of being a woman is just so missed in film, and also just not celebrated enough in society... So when you come across that very rare filmmaker who just wants to embrace that and stick it through, it's really nice. And should there be more it? Hell yeah."
- Rose McGowan, in a speech to the Sisterhood of Traveling Producers, gives seven tips for fighting sexism in the film industry: “If you know certain directors (men) behave reprehensibly, fight against their hire and offer up alternatives. BE BOLD. If someone is a known dickhead, stop their hire. If they are misogynists, stop their hire. These are not the people we need to reward. Stand up and stop perpetuating the cycle. We are responsible. Stop protecting evil. We didn't join the Mafia when we joined this business. We owe no one our vow of silence.”
- Director Amy Berg, of Every Secret Thing, talks to Entertainment Weekly about the need for more female directors: “There’s a huge discussion that is going on right now about female filmmakers and female parts and I think it’s very important that you have to look at the type of characters that are being portrayed in film. To show that women have flaws and that we are multilayered characters is really important to me… I think we need to hear [the term ‘female directors’] because I think we need more jobs. I think we need more projects. I think we have to keep talking about it until it shifts. I think that the female voice is relevant, [that] it will change the audience’s experiences in movie theaters because it’s a very important voice that needs to be heard. So I’m not tired of [the term].”
- Maria Bello, in The Hollywood Reporter, on refusing to label her sexuality in order to fit in an industry “tribe”: “A woman came up to me at an event — and she's a producer in Hollywood, a well-known lesbian — and she was always a little bit rude to me. Like, not nice at all. She said, ‘Welcome to the club.’ I said, ‘I don't want to be in your club.’ The club I want to belong to is the people that come from their heart and are fighting for people they love and standing by people they love.”
- Out has a wonderful interview with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin about their new Netflix series, Grace And Frankie; it’s a font of feminist wisdom.
- Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara and director Anne Fletcher, in the L.A. Times, on Hot Pursuit and producing a female-driven comedy:
Witherspoon: “There wasn't a lot of development going on for female comedy. Whatever you want to do, you've got to sort of do it yourself. I was a big fan of Sofia’s, and I thought it would be a good idea just to talk and see if she even wanted to do a movie together. We talked about a couple of funny ideas, and this is the one we decided to develop together. It really plays on our differences. I feel Sofia brings a particular perspective and a huge Latin American audience that's rabid to see themselves on screen, and it's way overdue considering how much Latin audiences show up to see films. She knows herself and her audience better than any actor I've ever worked with. What you don't see you've got to make in the world. Nobody was developing a film like this.
Fletcher: “For me it was important not to take a male genre and slot women into it. One of the things in comedy now is making women act like men. That's not funny to me. Women need to act like women. We're very funny. We have a point of view. As a female directing a studio comedy you're in a very small group. Why aren't there more women doing what you do?”
Witherspoon: “I think at the fundamental beginning level we're not nurturing female directors and writers at the same level that we should be. It's incumbent on all of us to hire female interns, to let them come on sets to watch us work and we've got to encourage it. Also there's this weird phenomenon, I don't know if you've read Kirsten Gillibrand's book, Off the Sidelines, about how do we get more women active in politics and every field. There's an interesting phenomenon that women want to be asked instead of volunteering. We don't raise our hands 'cause culturally we see that as bossy.”
Harbinger of doom: Even more Jeremy Renner/Marvel bullshit
Welcome back! Time for round two of “how did something tangentially related to Marvel offend women this week”? This time, we’ve got repeat-offender Jeremy Renner back in the hot seat.
After calling Black Widow a “slut” and a “trick” for (arguably) demonstrating romantic interest in more than one of her male cohorts a few weeks back, Renner went on Conan to defend himself. Conan kicked off the segment by complimenting Renner for being “unguarded in interviews,” in essence setting the tone for the conversation, which was: “Bitches be crazy.”
“I got in a lot of Internet trouble. I guess that’s a thing now,” said Renner, charming as ever. “I was asked a question: ‘Black Widow’s been linked to Hawkeye, Iron Man, Bruce Banner, and Captain America, so what do you think about that?’ So I said, ‘It sounds like she’s a slut.’ [Audience laughter] Mind you, I was talking about a fictional character and fictional behavior. But Conan, if you slept with four of the six Avengers, no matter how much fun you had, you’d be a slut. I’d be a slut.”
Actually, the question was: “I have a very serious question to start with about shipping. I know a lot of fans were invested in the idea of Natasha with either of both of you guy, but now she’s with Bruce. What do you guys make about that?” I kind of hate Jeremy Renner right now.
But here’s another Marvel-related palate cleanser: Mark Ruffalo defended Joss Whedon this week against claims that his Black Widow storylines were sexist: “I think it’s sad. Because I know how Joss feels about women, and I know that he’s made it a point to create strong female characters,” Ruffalo said during a Reddit AMA. “I think part of the problem is that people are frustrated that they want to see more women, doing more things, in superhero movies. And because we don’t have as many women as we should yet, they’re very, very sensitive to every single storyline that comes up right now.”
Can we replace all the Jeremy Renners of the world with Mark Ruffalos? Or would that be too time-consuming?
Sign of hope: The Vagina Monologues’ Eve Ensler consulted on Mad Max: Fury Road
In a recent interview with Esquire, Mad Max: Fury Road star Rosie Huntington-Whiteley mentioned that Eve Ensler, writer of The Vagina Monologues, was hired as a consultant for the movie’s script. Specifically, Ensler was asked to come in for a week to help actors out in portraying abused female characters, including Huntington-Whiteley’s Splendid, who’s pregnant as the result of a rape.
“We were so lucky that George arranged for Eve Ensler, who wrote the Vagina Monologues, to fly in and work with us girls for about a week. We did extensive research with her,” said Huntington-Whiteley. “Eve herself has had a very intense life. She’s spent time in the Congo working with rape victims and women who have had unthinkable things happen to them through the power of men’s hands. We were able to pick her brain for a week. She told us the most tragic stories I’ve ever heard in my life, which gave us so much background to our characters. We really wanted to kind of showcase that. It was a privilege to have her around to make these characters something more then just five beautiful girls.”
The ethics surrounding the idea of exploiting real-world tragedy as “inspiration” for a fictional film role are murky. (I’m interested to hear what you guy think about this, so let me know in the comments.) On its face, though, this is encouraging—rather than attempt to mansplain female-specific tragedies to his female actors, Miller stepped aside and brought in a woman who was able to put it into perspective based on her own experiences.
Harbinger of doom: This stupid Star-Wars T-shirt being sold at Target
Buzzfeed had a brief post this week centering on Star Wars merch being sold at Target—specifically, a weird, pretend Star Wars yearbook printed on a kids’ T-shirt. Here’s the shirt:
As Buzzfeed put it, “Notice anything yet?” Uh, other than the fact that this shirt is stupid? Like, why are you giving yearbook superlatives to Star Wars characters? What is the joke there, exactly? Anyway. Here’s what they’re referring to: Darth Vader is labeled Most Likely To Be Your Boss. Han: Most Likely To Break The Rules. A Stormtrooper: Most Likely To Do What You Say. Princess Leia: Most Likely To Be Rescued.
OH RLY? I’ve only seen the Star Wars movies once, and I was really distracted by all of the bad feelings everybody was having about things, but I do happen to recall Princess Leia rescuing the shit out of her male cohorts on a semi-regular basis. Also, Most Likely To Be Rescued isn’t even a real yearbook superlative, nor is it a good send-up of any real yearbook superlatives.
Target responded to Buzzfeed and said they’d pull the shirt from its shelves. Get it while it’s hot!
Sign of hope: Jennifer Lawrence being a motherfucking boss
THR dug into the drama surrounding the upcoming Passengers, an interstellar love story maybe starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt and maybe being directed by The Imitation Game’s Morton Tyldum. Behind the scenes, Passengers has seen shake-ups on the casting front, on the directing front, and on the producing front, now that Tim Rothman is taking Amy Pascal’s place at Sony. Apparently, Rothman sees the film as a risk, or, in THR’s words, “talent getting top dollar for an original idea with special effects that Rothman is said to see as a marketing challenge and that doesn't appear to have franchise potential.” In other words, it’s not a Marvel property.
Before Rothman officially took over for Pascal, Sony already had agreed to pay Lawrence $20 million to star, though her role is “actually somewhat secondary to Pratt’s,” who’s making $10 million, and maybe more, depending on the performance of Jurassic World. Though Rothman’s trying to trim the budget, Lawrence and her CAA reps are said to have held firm to the $20 million fee, threatening to walk away from the project with Tyldum in tow if she doesn’t get it.
Why is that such a big deal? Well, you may recall that earlier this year, it was revealed in the Sony hacks that Lawrence had gotten a smaller percentage of the profit from American Hustle than co-stars Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale and even Jeremy Goddamn Renner. Lawrence was getting seven points, while the men got nine each. At the time, even Sony president Doug Belgrad noted in an mail, “It's a joke that JLaw is at 7 and Renner is at 9.” Even if she weren’t the biggest star in the film back then (and she was), she’s definitely one of the biggest stars in the world now, and deserves to make as much, if not more, than her male counterparts (i.e., Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum who are asking for $20 million each to co-headline 23 Jump Street).
Fascinatingly enough, as THR points out, an unlikely source might be responsible for J. Law’s refusal to back down. Remember this quote from Pascal a few months back? “Women shouldn’t work for less money. They should know what they’re worth. Women shouldn’t take less. ‘Stop, you don’t need the job that bad.’”
This week in Amy Schumer: 12 Angry Men parody
The Female Stuff Gods have decreed that, for as long Amy Schumer keeps churning out incisive feminist satire, Amy Schumer shall get her own section at the tail end of Female Stuff. Here’s what Schumer—who’ll soon get her own HBO special—has for us this week: An episode-length parody of 12 Angry Men, starring Jeff Goldblum, John Hawkes, Paul Giamatti, and Nick DiPaolo, among others, as a group of dudes arguing over whether Schumer is attractive enough to have her own show. In an interview with HitFix, Schumer says she’s “more proud of it than anything I've ever done.” Vulture has several clips, but not the entire thing—girl’s gotta make a living.
Overall, was this a good, bad, or neutral week for women in movies, Rachel?
It’s a tougher call than usual, but I’m gonna go with bad. Why? All manner of men tangentially related to Marvel are trash-talking female superheroes (except for you, Joss and Mark—we love you). One of the biggest stars in the universe is standing firm, but still having to fight for, a payday equal to her male peers. Sexist stereotypes about women are still so insidious that they’re making their way onto children’s T-shirts. We’ve got a long way to go, baby.
Further takes on the film and feminism front from around the web:
- Flavorwire’s Sarah Seltzer looks at the “biggest sluts in action and superhero history”
- Entertainment Weekly’s Darren Frannich on the Black Widow Conundrum
- The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum on the “raucous feminist humor” of Amy Schumer
- E! Online’s Seija Rankin checks in on women in superhero movies; says they’re not doing any better
- The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg on Black Widow’s feminist heroism
- Variety’s Ramin Setoodeh asks: Will Bruce Jenner change Hollywood?
- The Daily Life’s Natalie Reilly wants to talk about the “dadbod” phenomenon
- Vulture’s Brian Moylan profiles Jessi Klein, “the brains behind Inside Amy Schumer”
- Black Millennial’s Michelle Jonas on how our culture has turned relationships with trans women into an ugly punchline
- (Spoiler alert) Salon’s Libby Hill on what Age Of Ultron got right about Black Widow and infertility