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: Sunshine Superman, a documentary directed by Marah Strauch that follows BASE jumping’s founding father Carl Boenish, “captures the irrepressible energy of a man who never tired of taking flying leaps”; The Farewell Party, co-directed by Sharon Maymon and Tal Granit, is an Israeli black comedy about assisted suicide; Tomorrowland, which was not Tasha’s favorite, follows a “gifted teenager” (Britt Robertson) on a mystical mission with George Clooney; When Marnie Was There, which WAS Tasha’s favorite, is the last movie on Studio Ghibli’s animation docket, and follows an “asthmatic girl who meets a strange friend in the country”; Sandy McLeod’s Seeds Of Time is a wide-ranging doc about seed preservation; and Claudia’s Llosa’s Aloft received 1 1/2 stars for “withholding a crucial piece of information,” badly and for no reason.
- Pitch Perfect [insert singing-related pun] the box office last weekend, making over $70 million—the second-highest opening ever for a female film director. (The highest opening, of course, was Sam Taylor-Johnson’s historical epic Fifty Shades Of Grey). Both movies were also penned by women—Kay Cannon for Pitch Perfect, Kelly Marcel for Fifty Shades. In other words, two of this year’s biggest movies were written, directed, and centered on women. Debatable quality of these movies aside, that’s really fucking awesome. (And, of course, Mad Max: Fury Road, an undoubtedly feminist film starring a cadre of badass women, came in second this week with $44.4 million. Nothing to shake a pole-cat at.)
- The Mohamed S. Farsi Foundation and the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television are “opening up a new avenue for Arab woman filmmakers with a partnership and fund that will include three new four-year full-ride graduate scholarships for UCLA TFT’s Master of Fine Arts in Directing,” according to Variety. It’s a program designed to “give voice to the unique perspective of Arab women.” As the piece notes, Arab women face far more barriers to entry in the filmmaking industry than their male peers; it’s high time that they were specifically targeted and given a leg up.
- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is reviewing last week’s A.C.L.U. letter asking federal agencies to look into biased Hollywood hiring practices. The org is “carefully considering its contents,” but is unable to confirm whether or not an investigation has been opened. Read quickly, guys! We’re all hovering over your shoulder (but like, not creepily).
Harbinger of doom: Cannes, part 1
Cannes: It’s been happening. And totally dominating the news cycle. Which is why I’m going to continue that tradition and dedicate two separate sections—a harbinger of doom and a sign of hope, respectively—to the goings-on at the French film fest. There’s been a lot going down on the Croisette, and I’m not just talking about Champagne and various controlled substances. (Zing!) Let’s break down the dark part first: something the media’s been calling “Flatgate,” which, fine, I’ll bite.
Numerous women were denied access to the gala premiere of Carol for wearing “fancy flats” (i.e, topped with rhinestones, which are fancy as fuck) instead of high heels. That’s right, that Carol—the movie about a repressed, 1950s-era lesbian romance. At first, official fest reps stayed silent on the matter, but several actors spoke out, as they are wont to do. Emily Blunt was one of the first, declaring during a press conference for her new film Sicario, “That’s very disappointing. We shouldn’t wear high heels anyway. I prefer wearing Converse sneakers. You kind of think that there’s these new waves of equality and waves of people realizing that women are just as fascinating and interesting to watch, and as bankable. [But] it was interesting, with this film, I think you [director Denis Villeneuve] got asked early on if you’d rewrite my part for a guy.”
A sidebar harbinger of doom (that ends in a sign of hope): Villeneuve clarified that, over the three years Taylor Sheridan shopped his Sicario script, he was asked to “rethink” the gender of the lead. “It was a screenplay that people were afraid of in part because the lead was a female character. And I know that the screenwriter was asked to rewrite the part,” Villeneuve said, adding that he and the producers embraced the script as it was. “But the pressure came before those guys [signed on]. I can’t believe — it’s crazy that I’m saying that right now.”
But back to #Flatgate. Valeria Richter, a Danish producer who has had part of her foot amputated, had trouble entering The Sea Of Trees screening because of her flats, as well. Though Variety reports that she was eventually let in, this is pretty goddamn horrifying. Cannes must have realized this too, as festival director Thierry Fremaux tweeted about the controversy on Tuesday, writing “For the steps (red carpet), nothing has changed. Smoking (tuxedo), black tie. No mention of heels,” then later blamed the whole thing on “one security guard’s excess of zeal.” I am going to use that excuse for every mistake I ever make for the rest of my life.
All of this might seem silly, on its face (or feet, as it were) (thank you, thank you). And in a way, it is—who cares what minor issues the rich and famous have to deal with in order to get into their fancy-ass film premieres? But, as Jezebel points out, the whole thing is really an extended metaphor for the industry’s inherent sexism. Moreover—and I realize how hypocritical this may sound—it’s bleak as hell that so much of the Cannes-related press has focused on this policy, rather than the fact that, say, only two of the films in Cannes’ main competition are directed by women. Can we get angry about that, instead? Or how about, on the flip side, can we celebrate the dozens of women rallying together at Cannes and calling out Hollywood for being a misogynistic hellhole? Let’s talk about them (after this quick commercial break).
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:
- Maggie Gyllenhaal, on The Wrap, discussed being turned down for a recent movie role because she is aging and decrepit: “There are things that are really disappointing about being an actress in Hollywood that surprise me all the time. I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55. It was astonishing to me. It made me feel bad, and then it made feel angry, and then it made me laugh…A lot of actresses are doing incredible work right now, playing real women, complicated women. I don’t feel despairing at all. And I’m more looking with hope for something fascinating.”
- Jill Soloway, currently helming Amazon’s fantastic series Transparent, gave an incredible, almost literally ball-busting speech at the AFI Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women in L.A. Read it all! Here’s an excerpt: “Don’t expect the industry to change. Guys are holding on so tightly to male protaganism because it perpetuates male privilege. From their subject seats they can POINT—‘She’s old, SHE’S hot, she’s not, she’s old, she’s fat, she’s someone I want to bone, she’s past her prime, that person’s black, queer, fat.’ (I’m not pointing to you guys.)That pointer is a powerful thing. That white cis male gaze is like a lifeguard chair, it’s a watchtower—I’m way up here naming things. And they are NOT GIVING UP THOSE LOOKOUT SPOTS EASILY, in fact they won’t even cop to the fact that they have that privilege. Wait what? We’ve had the voice too long? We’re not doing it on purpose… So yeah, instead of waiting for these guys to change, instead STORM the gates, grab hands with each other, RUN like red rovers at the lifeguard chairs, snarl at the bases like wild starving beast dogs, boost each other up those watch towers and pull those motherfuckers down.”
- Disney Animation Studios/Pixar chief John Lasseter, at a press conference on Monday, on the push he’s making for more diverse characters and stories: “It’s very important to us … to have female and ethnic characters. It’s grown in importance over time. As you’ll see in future films, we’re really paying attention to that.” Lasseter revealed that when he started in animation, it was an industry that mostly employed men behind the camera. “We have been seeing more and more women, and more and more people from all over the world starting to work with it. That’s exciting. I think it will get reflected in the characters.”
- Rebel Wilson, via Twitter, in response to claims she lied about her age: “OMG I'm actually a 100 year old mermaid formerly known as ‘CC Chalice’ ....thanks shady Australian press for your tall poppy syndrome x.” (Yeah, I didn’t know either. Urban Dictionary helped me out with this one: “Australian slang for the tendency to criticize highly successful people and ‘cut them down.’”)
- Elizabeth Banks, in Time, about whether she thinks opportunities for women in Hollywood depend on her success with Pitch Perfect 2: “I felt ready and wanted to do it of course, but I also felt like once I said yes, I couldn’t screw it up. There was definitely that pressure. It is very rare, and because it’s rare, I unfortunately—whether I like it or not—am taking on a role here. I remember reading about Diablo Cody talking about Jennifer’s Body. Diablo, who is a friend of mine, was saying she felt like the comments on the script were, ‘Wow, a girl can write in this genre! Women don’t write horror movies!’ She represented all women all of a sudden. Whether her entire gender could write in that genre was based on whether or not she could write in that genre. If a boy wrote a sh—y script, you would never say, ‘Well, boys can’t do it!’ It’s never an option. But I’m very rare, and if I didn’t do it well, they would absolutely say, ‘If she couldn’t do it, I guess women can’t do it!’ I’m not very interested in representing my entire gender. I think it’s very unfair. But I do understand the responsibility, and hopefully I deliver.”
- Ed Helms, in a UVA commencement speech, slammed Rolling Stone over its recanted rape story: “It has been said that a rolling stone gathers no moss. I would add that sometimes a rolling stone also gathers no verifiable facts or even the tiniest morsels of journalistic integrity. Rolling Stone tried to define you this year. As a result, not only was this community thrown deep into turmoil, but the incredibly important struggle to address sexual violence on campuses nationwide was suddenly more confusing than ever and needlessly set back.” He also aim at the broadcast networks for using labels like “thug” in covering the Baltimore riots. “The reductive labels aren’t helping and we better stop applying them, because there are a lot of Americans in a lot of pain. We try to define others with simple labels because it makes the world easier to understand.”
- Anna Kendrick, via Twitter, cleverly sent up public response to her her own film, Pitch Perfect 2, and Mad Max: Fury Road: “PP3 idea: The Mad Max girls save us from the apocalypse. They are still super hot and kicking ass. We are still singing/otherwise useless.”
- Melissa McCarthy, on Ellen, criticized a reporter who called her “hideous” based on her appearance in Tammy: “According to McCarthy, the reporter said that she ‘is only a good actress when she looks attractive, and that my husband shouldn’t be allowed to direct me because he let me look hideous in this movie.’ She said she felt the reporter was asking, ‘How dare women not look beautiful, perfect and attractive in a movie?’While talking to the reporter at the Toronto Film Festival, McCarthy asked, ‘Would you do this to a man?’ Well… you really looked bad,’ McCarthy said he responded. McCarthy then asked him if he had a daughter: ‘If she comes home and someone says, “You can’t have a job because you are unattractive,” are you going to say, “That’s right?”’ ‘Just know every time you write stuff, every young girl in this country reads that, and they just get a little bit chipped away,’ McCarthy said. ‘I just think we tear down women in this country for all these superficial reasons, and women are so great and strong.’”
Sign of hope: What’s up at Cannes, part 2
Let’s head back to Cannes, y’all. And let’s go ahead and celebrate those women I mentioned above, who are banding together to fight an industry that just wants them to shut up and look pretty.
- Jane Fonda, as she accepted the Women In Motion Award, urged the entertainment industry to make sure that “the narrative of 51 percent of us is represented.” “This industry, our industry, is without doubt the most important cultural force in the world. It knows no boundaries. … It’s critical that women are at the heart of the international film industry, not just as glamorous icons but as creators, as artists, as decision makers, ensuring that the narrative — of not just half but 51 percent of the world’s population — is fully represented. We women we see things differently, we experience things differently, we express things differently, we just do. And if our stories, our truths, are not respected on that big silver screen, then the women in those dark theaters are going to risk feeling that they are not seen and that they don’t really matter that much. And the half of the world that is male will be robbed of half of reality.”
- Last week, Variety published a piece that ran a quote from Cate Blanchett implying she’d had sexual relationships with women. During a panel for Carol, the actress addressed it. “For memory, the conversation ran, ‘Have you had relationships with women?’ And I said, ‘Yes, many times. If you mean, “Have I had sexual relationships with women,” the answer is no.’ But that obviously didn’t make it to print. Not really. But in 2015, the point should be, who cares?” Blanchett went on to remind the conference that homosexuality is still considered illegal in some countries, noting, “We’re living in deeply conservative times and if we think otherwise we’re being very foolish.”
- Blanchett also spoke out about Cannes 2015 festival being dubbed “The Year Of The Women.” “They say it’s the ‘year of the women.’ You hope it’s not just a year — not just some fashionable moment.” Director Emmanuelle Bercot, whose La Tete Haute made was the first female-directed film to open Cannes, similarly rejected the notion that her film opening the festival was a “victory for female empowerment.” “It’s the selection of the film that’s an honor,” she said. “I don’t feel I’ve been a given a gift because such a prestigious slot went to a woman.”
- Natalie Portman, unveiling her directorial debut, A Tale Of Love And Darkness, told reporters that the she thinks the movie industry is dismissive of female filmmakers. “I remember as a kid when Barbra Streisand would make movies that she was in and people would say, 'Oh it's vanity, it's a vanity thing. I think there was a shyness about being a woman and putting myself in it (the film) that it would come off that way…[Lena] Dunham’s first feature Tiny Furniture was a revelation to me because—just the credits—I was crying because it said written by Lena Dunham, starring Lena Dunham, directed by Lena Dunham. I was overwhelmed because I was like, look at this young woman... who has no fear about people thinking she's vain. But it's totally about women—no one has ever said about a man who puts himself in his films that it's vanity.” She said she was hopeful about the "completely imbalanced" movie industry would eventually getting past the prejudice that kept women making only a fraction of the year's pictures. "Women have a problem with the word bossy," she said. "We're still supposed to be caring about everyone else around us and putting other people first. I think it's really changing for the younger generation.”
- Salma Hayek, Parker Posey, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, and producers Christine Vachon and Elizabeth Karlsen took down the patriarchy together at a panel hosted by Variety and the U.N. Women’s HeForShe campaign. “For a long time they thought the only thing we were interested in seeing were romantic comedies,” said Hayek. “They don’t see us as a powerful economic force, which is an incredible ignorance. “The only kind of movie where women make more than men is the porno industry. It’s simple ignorance….They don’t know what we want to see. When women don’t direct and women don’t write and tell our own stories, we stopped going to the movies and started watching them on television.” Posey talked about how she loved to watch Turner Classic Movies from the ’40s, where, the female characters were fully fleshed out and multi-faceted. “It’s so rare that I see that in movies now. We’re in very masculine times. We’re at war. The culture is eating nature, it’s overpowering storytelling.” Hayek added, “What gives me hopes is that we are in a position of power. And I am so grateful to gay men. If it wasn’t for Tennessee Williams and Pedro Almodovar, it would be even worse.”
- Producer Megan Ellison, the woman behind Annapurna Pictures who rarely speaks to the press, gave a rare speech at the inaugural Women In Motion Awards. An excerpt, courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter: “Ellison admitted that her work so far in the film industry has had an emotional impact on her. ’It has made me feel less alone in the world, and for that, I will always be grateful,’ she said. ‘I don’t believe in very many things, but art is definitely one of them. And at the top of that list, film and art, influence our world’s culture much more than many of us understand and fully respect. Art does not belong to the few, but to the many.’ She continued to say that the perspectives filmmakers are putting out in the world should not come from such a small subset of people because that would be a disservice. In closing, she quoted iconic American scribe Kurt Vonnegut, proving that her artistic inspirations also include literature. ‘As Kurt Vonnegut said, the arts are not a way to make a living, they are a very human way of making life more bearable. And that’s what I believe. And that’s what I want to be a part of.’ ”
- Rachel Weisz and Emily Blunt spoke out about gender inequality at a “private party feting notable women having an impact in the industry” that sounds awesome, why can’t we go? “It's very sad that such an event as tonight has to happen, but we do need to draw attention to women in film,” Weisz told Reuters. “We're just very disproportionately represented in terms of directors and writers—people in charge of the story-telling. So we just need more films from women's point of view.” Blunt added, “It's always a good thing to push people's minds that women can be tough and cool and lethal. I do feel things are changing. Women are proving themselves time and time again to have an amazing tap of what works in cinema.”
- Lastly, but not leastly, our Twitter pal Thierry Fremaux spoke out, very Frenchly and angrily, about how the industry as a whole has a long way to go in terms of gender parity. He got a little defensive, but also made a good point. As The Guardian tells it, “At a Women in Motion talk this morning, Fremaux said that he was angry about the debate over women, not only from the ‘heelgate’ scandal but to the selection of female directors. But he believes that Cannes is being unfairly targeted and in response to any allegations of misogyny, he said people should ‘attack the Oscars’ and the same level of scrutiny is not given to the Berlin and Venice festivals. ‘The debate always takes place around May,’ he said. ‘Why not talk about this issue in November?’…Despite the improvements in gender equality with regards to directors, Frémaux did concede that there are still changes to be made behind the scenes. ‘When I first got to Cannes there were more women in the selection committee,’ he said, to the small crowd, ‘Cannes is but a mirror.’ ”
Overall, was this a good, bad, or neutral week for women in movies, Rachel?
I’m so glad you asked. I’m gonna call this week neutral. Since everybody in the entire world except for us was at Cannes, that’s where most of the Female Stuff went down. And it was…a mixed bag. #Flatgate, that whole “two women in competition” thing, women feeling a bit of a “separate but equal” vibe: not great. But the fact that there were several panels devoted to the issue of gender parity—and that the festival’s director got all riled up about women in film, admitting Cannes could be doing better—is a positive sign. And, of course, we’ve got last weekend’s box-office record to celebrate, plus a record seven films opening this week with female protagonists, female writers, or female directors, which is pretty dope. Let’s call it even and reconvene next week, after we’ve all spent the weekend wearing fancy flats to various galas.
Further takes on the film and feminism front from around the web:
- The AP’s Lynn Elber on why TV holds more potential for female directors than film
- The Mary Sue’s Sasha James on George Miller’s uber-feminist Mad Max: Fury Road
- Forbes’ Natalie Robehmed on why Pitch Perfect 2’s success means Hollywood should stop ignoring women
- Refinery29’s Vanessa Golembewski asks: Why are badass heroines almost always bald?
- Mother Jones’ Inae Oh says Taylor Swift is the feminist hero young girls need today
- Anna Kendrick pokes fun at the all-female reboot trend with an Indiana Jones sketch (via Vanity Fair)
- Cartoonist Kate Leth shares her take on Mad Max: Fury Road at Comics Alliance
- Buzzfeed’s Susan Cheng shares her story of being on the receiving end of sexist remarks and behavior during an interview with Mad Men’s Paul Johansson
- CriticWire asks film and TV critics to name their favorite ass-kicking ladies of cinema
- ScreenCrush’s Jacob Hall on the “bitter pill” of feminism in Mad Max: Fury Road and Ex Machina
- IndieWire’s Melissa Silverstein on the DGA’s critical moment: Will they stand up for women?
- Mic’s Marcie Bianco has five reasons why Hollywood’s gender problem can’t just be solved by putting more women on screen
- The Hollywood Reporter’s Gregg Kilday on how women are driving the Oscar buzz at Cannes
- Buzzfeed’s Anne Helen Petersen on how Hollywood taught Rebel Wilson to lie about her age