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: Spy marks the “thus-far best Melissa McCarthy/Paul Feig collaboration” and creates “the best role of McCarthy’s career, and one of the best comedic roles, female or otherwise, in recent memory”; Testament Of Youth, written by Juliette Towhidi, is an “exceedingly well-made, deeply respectful biographical glimpse” at writer Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander); Dawn Patrol, co-written by Rachel Long, is a “dour indie revenge drama”; and Insidious: Chapter 3 is an “effectively chilling sequel” that centers on high-school senior Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) being haunted by some pissed-off spirits.
- The trailer for Suffragette made me cry at least 11 times.
- Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore’s British dramedy Miss You Already, directed by Catherine Hardwicke and penned by Morwenna Banks, centers on a close female friendship that’s tested when one woman gets pregnant and the other gets cancer. So much Female Stuff in this one: A female director, two female leads, and a female writer.
- The Babadook’s Jennifer Kent is set to direct Alice + Freda Forever, a “lesbian romance-murder-tragedy.” The rest of my life is now just a countdown to this movie.
- Jennifer Lopez and Viola Davis seek vigilante justice in the Lila & Eve trailer.
- And Zoe Kravitz will do something not dissimilar in Shana Betz’s western Black Belle.
- Disney, Marvel, Visa, Dolby Laboratories, and Raspberry Pi (?) have teamed up for a contest that “encourages girls aged 14-18 to create micro-technology based DIY projects…built using readily accessible and found materials.” What does this have to do with movies, you ask? Well, it’s called the Ant-Man Micro-Tech Challenge, lest we forget Ant-Man is a thing that’s happening. The winner of the contest will be flown out to the Ant-Man premiere and also attend an “evolution of technology” workshop and meet Disney Imagineers. What does Ant-Man have to do with encouraging young women to make small things out of found materials? Literally nothing, but here we are.
- Army Reserve Capt. Rebecca Murga, a filmmaker, photographer, and writer, is working on her latest short film, “American Girl.” It’ll follow a young women’s experience in becoming a soldier who eventually serves in Afghanistan. Military Times profiles Murga, who is one of 10 applicants participating in the AFI Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women; she hopes to turn the film into a full-length feature in 2016. Should you forget how difficult it can be for women in the army, and why art like this is so important, please consult this recent Amy Schumer skit.
- The 2016 Athena Film Festival is accepting submissions. Criteria include films that “reveal the diverse narratives of women leaders from all walks of life,” and “a female in a leadership position at the center of the story,” but the pieces can be directed by people of any gender.
- Here’s another thing to enter that doesn’t require absurd, tiny DIY! New York Women In Film and Television is now accepting applications for its four 2015 grants for women filmmakers. The Loreen Arbus Disability Awareness grant will be awarded to a woman filmmaker “for a film on physical or developmental disability issues”; the In-Kind Post Production grants will go to documentary films directed and produced by New York-based women filmmakers; the Nancy Malone Marketing and Promotion grant will award a dramatic feature film directed by a woman; and the NYWIFT Ravenal Foundation Feature Film grant will support a second-time woman director over 40.
- Miss Piggy has received the Sackler Center for Feminist Art’s First Award, for “embodying overtly all the characteristics that women need in order to really succeed. We’re talking about tenacity, strength, intelligence, stragey, and a sense of humor…She also believes that who you are is all you need to be and to really go for it.” Moi likes this.
- Writers Christina Hodson and Lindser Beer have joined the Transformers “brain trust,” which was previously all-male. Now women can write shitty movies, too! Seriously, this is sort of? good news, I guess, but also, 1) Why did this only happen after people expressed outrage about the testosterone-drenched “brain trust”? (I can’t write it without quotes I just can’t) 2) We’re still talking about Transformers movies. 3) The group is still made up of seven dudes. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Harbinger of doom: Women aging in movies (...in that they are not)
A few weeks ago, Maggie Gyllenhaal spoke out about how she’d recently been turned down for a lead role because, at 37, she was “too old” for her 55-year-old male co-star. At the time, I placed her quote—which was inspiring in its resilience and good humor, and in the fact that it incited such outrage—in the “sign of hope” column. Gyllenhaal’s story was a microcosm of a well-known, industry-wide issue—“The Last Fuckable Day”—that we’ve all been bemoaning for years, and one that, hopefully, by bemoaning, we’re slowly helping to erase. I was optimistic that Gyllenhaal’s quote and the rippling rage it induced was a sign that we were already heading in that direction as a culture.
Bad news, guys. We’re not. At least not yet. This week brings the cold, hard proof that things are still as bleak as ever in terms of double standards when it comes to aging—and romance—in Hollywood. After Gyllenhaal’s remark, IndieWire's Stephen Follows crunched the numbers, looking at 422 romantic films (“rom coms” and romantic dramas) that grossed over $1 million at the box office and were released between 1984 and 2014. Here are the highlights…er, lowlights:
- At no point in the past 30 years has the average annual age of female leads been older than the average age of their male counterparts.
- On average, males leads in romantic films are 4.5 years older than their female co-stars
- The age gap is slightly smaller on films directed by women
- Women have directed 12 percent of romantic films between 1984 and 2014
Those last two are unsurprising, but still troubling. Stephen notes that 88 percent of the movies he looked at were directed by men, and that the average age gap was 4.53 years—Sydney Pollack, that dirty dog, had the largest average age gap in his movies at 16 years and five months. But in films directed by women, men were, on average, 4.16 years older than their female co-stars. Which is only slightly better. Clearly, nobody’s immune to the pressure to pair young women with old dudes.
Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan unpacks the problem more specifically looking at how three of today’s most in-demand actresses—Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, and Scarlett Johansson—are almost always paired with men old enough to have fathered them. The most recent standouts: At 40, Joaquin Phoenix will romance a 26-year-old Stone in Woody Allen’s Irrational Man; in the upcoming Joy, Edgar Ramirez, age 38, will play the love interest of 25-year-old Lawrence; a 47-year-old Mark Ruffalo just smooched a 30-year-old Johansson in Avengers: Age Of Ultron.
As IndieWire’s Follows puts it, “Art and culture influence how we live our lives and what we regard as ‘normal,’ and the film industry is a big part of that.” He illustrates this briefly by looking at OKCupid data, which shows that as women grow older, they seek out men their own age (or a few years younger), but as men grow older, they never stop seeking out those 21-year olds. Guess almost all of us are past our prime, ladies. Better pack it in.
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:
- At the Produced By Conference, held at the Paramount Lot, Reese Witherspoon and producing partner Bruna Papandrea took everyone to church: “Don’t ask Pacific Standard founders Reese Witherspoon (Hot Pursuit, Wild) and Bruna Papandrea (Warm Bodies, All Good Things) to define what a film for women is unless you are ‘trying to kick the hornets nest.’ As Witherspoon explains, ‘the films we make aren’t just for women.’ It’s about an accurate portrayal of the society. She continues, ‘Women make up 50 percent of our population, they should make up 50 percent of the movies that we see,’ which the audience greeted with thunderous applause.During the discussion moderated by producer Will Packer, Witherspoon and Papandrea made it very clear that they’re in the business of making films with strong female leads. Witherspoon attributes their successful partnership to the fact that they share the goal of ‘creating movies with the woman at the center.’ So it’s probably not a good idea to send them material where the female lead is just a wife or a girlfriend.”
- Paul Feig, over at Uproxx, talked about Spy and his all-female Ghostbusters reboot: “Yeah, everything [in movies] got completely testosteroned. I mean, all it really boils down to is who is getting to write and do the stuff. You only have the take on the world that you have, and all I can think of is comedy because that’s where I’m from. There are tons of funny guys and some I know were nerds in high school and didn’t have good relationships with the girls they wish they could date, or whatever. So, when they make it big, it becomes almost like you just latch onto sort of the revenge factor. I don’t know, you can only really write about what you know. And if you don’t just, in general, hang out with women and aren’t friends with women and your only thing is like, ‘Yeah, I have a girlfriend, but I still have all my guy friends and she goes out with her girlfriends and I go out with my guy friends and occasionally I have to stay home with her,’ you’re not going to get the most balanced review of a woman. Adverse, it’s the same with a woman writing guys roles sometimes. I mean, that’s why I think you need to have everybody in there working on stuff; it’s checks and balances against all of us doing a stereotype against the opposite sex or just somebody you don’t know…I got started out of the frustration of seeing all of these funny people who weren’t getting to work – and being really poorly used. Where an audience could watch a funny woman and not like her because he’s playing a mean character. It’s like, ‘Oh, this person is really funny,’ but now people are walking away, ‘Oh, she’s terrible and she’s so mean.’ I’m like, ‘that’s not good.’ So, that’s kind of where it started: just this frustration of being told, when I would want to do something with female characters, ‘Well, no, they can’t be in the lead because then we can’t sell it internationally,’ and that, ‘international markets won’t go see movies starring women.’ So, you’d hear that a bunch and go, ‘Well, that’s the business sense, I guess that’s right.’ And then you just eventually go, ‘Oh, so that’s it? For the rest of eternity women can’t star in stuff?’ So, let’s try to change that because the only thing Hollywood responds to is financial success. They are a business, so don’t look to Hollywood for altruism, because that’s not what they do.”
- Allison Janney, in the Irish Times, on the difficulty of being cast as a woman taller than many of her male counterparts: “It was really hard for me to get cast in anything for a long time. I would get cast as 40-year-old women when I was still in my teens. There just wasn’t a lot of work out there for people of my height…There’s still work to be done. But I like to think it’s getting better in terms of writing and roles. There’s still a ridiculous discrepancy in pay. That can’t continue.”
- David Oyelowo, on NPR, on why he won’t be shoehorned into roles based on race: “Don't send me your script if you want me to play the black best friend. I just won't do that. You can feel when it's literally an afterthought; you can feel when it's like, ‘Oh quick, let's get some color in here.’ That I won't do because it's disrespectful and, for me, I'm either part of the solution or I'm part of the problem.”
- Simon Pegg told the BBC 5 that women write women better than men (no shit): “And I think the truth is—and this is something I’ve thought about recently, and this’ll get me into trouble I’m sure, but I think women write men better than men write women. Cause men tend to write women as their fantasy, and women tend to write men as what they really are. And I also think women tend to understand men better than we understand women. It just means that the character Tess wrote for me in this movie is far more rounded. Whereas guys will tend to write the girl they want to date rather than the girl who’s really out there, who is flawed, who is a bit unpredictable. Why not celebrate that part of being a person?…Me and Edgar [Wright] always said that our Achilles heel was writing women. I think with Shaun Of The Dead, we worked so hard not to make Liz the voice of reason, or a drag, or an obstacle to Ed. Ultimately, the romance in Shaun Of The Dead was about Shaun and Ed and not Shaun and Liz.”
- Jamie King, in Elle, on why it’s important for women to band together instead of compete, especially in Hollywood: “The experiences I've learned by having very strong women around me—women like Lena Dunham, Taylor Swift, and Jessica Alba—is that there can be a group of strong, creative women without competition between us. The thing that solidifies us is this idea that, no matter what, we will always support each other. People find that fascinating about our friendships, like it's some sort of odd thing. And it really shouldn't be.”
- Rashida Jones talked to Marie Claire about Hot Girls Wanted, her documentary that explores the amateur-porn industry: “This is not to make any claims about the porn industry at large, or even the amateur porn industry at large. But there is certainly a certain population of girls who do feel taken advantage of––even though there is consent, even though they do have a choice, even though they do flock to Miami to pursue this industry. One of the girls in the film was talking the other day about how you get there and you're not comfortable doing something, but there are all these people and pressure. The coercion and the guilt overrides what they really want, which is to leave. Yes, it does feel like a subtle and progressive exploitation; but I can't make claims about it being impossible to feel empowered, because I do think that lots of women (especially women who are not teenagers) do feel comfortable and good about their bodies, and do feel that being sexual––whether it's on screen or in private––makes them feel empowered. I would never take that away.”
- Olivia Wilde pithily sent up Hollywood body standards on Twitter.
Harbinger of doom: SAG-AFTRA’s scrapped diversity study and its vague-ass plans to compensate for the cancellation
According to Deadline, The Screen Actors Guild—American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (also known as SAG-AFTRA—catchy!) has “scrapped its plans to conduct a comprehensive five-year survey of the employment of women and minority actors in the film and TV industry.” Oof.
SAG used to release these types of reports annual, then every other year, then, in 2009, halted them altogether. Last year, the guild’s “top diversity official” Adam Moore (what a title, what a world) told Deadline the org was working on “the first truly comprehensive picture of the employment landscape for women and minority actors and hopes to release it within a year.” Now, he’s like, “Oh, just kidding.” “The short version of any numbers that SAG-AFTRA might put out would simply be that our information is consistent with what can be found in published reports,” he told the outlet in a statement. Translation: “Other people like Geena Davis already did sort of similar studies, and they seem expensive, so we’re just going to…not.”
There’s a much longer statement from Moore over at Deadline; the gist of it is that instead of spending the money on a study figuring out where the industry’s broken (hint: over yonder by the womenfolk and everyone who is not white), they’re going to look at existing info, then spend money finding “more and better jobs for all of our members.” How nice, but how vague, you say? The most concrete detail Moore offered is that the “EEO & Diversity department is in the process of hiring a Director of Policy Strategy & Analysis to better refine our ability to translate what we’re seeing on-screen – and what we aren’t – into the most effective action possible.”
This is all nonsensical corporate doublespeak, but cutting to the heart of it, I’m basically disappointed in this entire thing. It all feels a little hopeless, the equivalent of some massive corporation touting its Corporate Social Responsibility Efforts (TM). Sure, had SAG gone ahead and completed the study, there’s no guarantee that 1) anybody would listen or care or 2) it would affect real change. But at least it would give us more sprawling and concrete data to point to, things to Talk About When We Talk About Female Stuff. And while I do appreciate that instead of just ignoring the problem of gender and race parity altogether, they’re going to look at ways to “solve” it, but they’ll have to do a lot more than just throw cash and a Director Of Policy Strategy & Analysis in its general direction. I know nothing about the restrictions placed on SAG in terms of where they can hurl their cash, but if possible, why not hurl it in other, more tangible directions instead, like at female directors, or woman-centric films, or woman-centric screenwriting workshops, or Geena Davis, so she can do some more cool shit with it?
Sign of hope: Male directors responding to charges of sexism and whitewashing
Two male humans stepped forward this week and attempted to make amends for the wrongs they’d committed against the female population/everyone on Earth who is not white. Let’s review:
Cameron Crowe apologized for casting very white person Emma Stone as a woman with Chinese and Hawaiian heritage in Aloha, a choice that, as Charles put it on Tuesday, “rankled a moviegoing public tired of seeing nonwhite roles awarded to Caucasian actors.” On his blog, appropriately titled The Uncool, Crowe wrote, “far back as 2007, Captain Allison Ng was written to be a super-proud ¼ Hawaiian who was frustrated that, by all outward appearances, she looked nothing like one. A half-Chinese father was meant to show the surprising mix of cultures often prevalent in Hawaii. Extremely proud of her unlikely heritage, she feels personally compelled to over-explain every chance she gets. The character was based on a real-life, red-headed local who did just that.”
This is far from a perfect apology (is it even an apology?). In fact, it’s a really annoying way to explain it (“this once happened in real life, I swear, so my choice to whitewash the role is totally fine!”). All of it bugs me, and I’m still pissed off about the missed opportunity to cast criminally underused native Hawaiian actors. BUT. The public mea culpa does show that Crowe’s listening to his audience and, hopefully, learning something. At the very least, he’s being held accountable for this particular egregious error in Aloha, and maybe he’ll remember this the next time he’s writing a weird, bad movie. If nothing else, there’s a silver lining: The amount of thinkpieces and #hottakes this week centering on the problem of whitewashing. Let’s keep getting angry and let’s keep talking about this stuff.
Elsewhere, Colin Trevorrow publicly agreed with Joss Whedon’s #hottake on the first Jurassic World teaser. You’ll recall that, a few months ago, Whedon tweeted about the teaser, which saw Bryce Dallas Howard, arms crossed and brow furrowed, scolding a playful and sexually free 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?” (Whedon later apologized, calling the tweet “ungentlemanly.”)
But this week, during an interview with BadTaste, Trevorrow explained that sharing the clip out of context was a strange choice on Universal’s part: “I wasn’t bothered by what he said about the movie and, to be honest, I don’t totally disagree with him,” he said. “I wonder why [Universal] chose a clip like that, that shows an isolated situation within a movie that has an internal logic. That starts with characters that are almost archetypes, stereotypes that are deconstructed as the story progresses. The real protagonist of the movie is Claire and we embrace her femininity in the story’s progression. There’s no need for a female character that does things like a male character, that’s not what makes interesting female characters in my view. Bryce and I have talked a lot about these concepts and aspects of his character.”
Trevorrow went on to defend Joss against his Avengers critics, noting that he “was upset about people’s reaction to his film. Joss received an incredible amount of anger and vitriolic comments and he doesn’t deserve that, because if there is someone who has always paid due respect to the women of his movies that guy is Joss. I think he should be the last person in Hollywood to be accused of sexism and if you’ve seen something like that in his last movie it’s not his fault. We all know that Joss is too kind and polite to rise up and tell people to screw off, so I’ll do it on his behalf!”
The Mary Sue put it best and most succinctly: “Trevorrow and Whedon both benefit immensely from Hollywood’s systemic gender bias, to the point where Trevorrow’s gender has won him films that a female director with similar prior experience would never be considered for. (Previously Trevorrow had only worked on indie features; his ‘big break’ came when Brad Bird recommend him for the Jurassic franchise by saying ‘there is this guy who reminds me of me.’ Dudes beget more dudes.)” That in mind, it’s heartening to see both take sexism so seriously, and try to combat it in their work. We’ll have to wait and see whether Trevorrow was successful in doing so with Dallas Howard’s character.
Overall, was this a good, bad, or neutral week for women in movies, Rachel?
This week wasn’t great. Our biggest signs of hope should have an asterisk next to them that indicate they’re *not good enough. Yes, some dudes thoughtfully replied to charges of being sexist and thoughtless, but on both counts, the damage has been done. Aloha is currently terrorizing audiences all over the country, and Jurassic World will enter theaters soon; it remains to be seen whether Bryce Dallas Howard’s stuffy character is more than just a white background on which to project a colorful Chris Pratt. Yes, the Transformers writing room has women in it now, but only two, and also, it’s a fucking Transformers writing room. And our harbingers of doom are pretty doom-y—little is improving for women who have the gall to age in Hollywood, and SAG is scrapping its “state of the film industry” studies and making vague claims about how it’s working to affect change for women and minorities in the industry. Any of you women who are 21 or older, please spend the weekend reminding everyone you meet that you are no longer sexually viable. See you guys next week!
Further takes on the film and feminism front from around the web:
- The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg on the “uber-ization” of the porn industry, as showcased in Netflix’s Hot Girls Wanted
- Mic’s Sophie Kleeman calls Hot Girls Wanted “the most important porn film you’ll ever see”
- The Washington Post’s Kristin Page-Kirby asks, “Why is it so hard to interview women in film?”
- The Miami Herald’s Yvonne McCormack-Lyons on how women push back against damaging stereotypes in film
- Slate’s Aisha Harris on what Fury Road’s Furiosa really owes to Alien’s Ellen Ripley
- Buzzfeed’s Alison Wilmore: “Entourage is a movie about how great it is to be a rich white guy in Hollywood”
- Buzzfeed’s Anne Helen Petersen on the harmfulness of the “big swinging dicks of Entourage”
- IndieWire’s Jai Tiggett lists 115 by and about women of color, and explains what we can learn from them
- On her own Tumblr, Laverne Cox weighs in on Caitlyn Jenner and cisnormative beauty standards in entertainment
- BitchFlicks’ Brigit McCone explores the work of Germaine Dulac, surrealist theorist
- Buzzfeed’s Mary Ann Georgantopolous looks at why women are mostly shut out of directing TV’s most popular shows
- The Guardian’s Laura Bates tells the story of an 8-year-old Star Wars fan who’s forcing Disney to change its toy labels
- Vanity Fair’s Inkoo Kang wonders why the “Bridesmaids effect” took so long
- Time’s Daniel D'Addario on why Spy is such a triumph for Melissa McCarthy