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: Felt is artist Amy Everson’s dark, visceral attempt to turn her personal experiences with rape culture into conceptual art; writer/director Sarah Adina Smith’s The Midnight Swim is a “psychological family drama with horror touches” that follows “three sisters returning to their childhood home on the occasion of their mother’s disappearance”; writer-director Jennifer Phan's Advantageous is a disturbing and incisive look at a future where “a cratered economy has drastically turned back the clock on women in the workplace and society at large”; Dana Nachman’s Batkid Begins is “the feel-good documentary of the year”; Liz Garbus’ What Happened, Miss Simone? charts singer and civil-rights activist Nina Simone’s life from beginning to end.
- Ava DuVernay, whose Selma was famously snubbed during last year’s Oscars, will challenge incumbent Michael Mann to become one of the representatives on the Academy’s board of governors. As THR explains, “DuVernay is one of an unprecedented number of women and minorities in the running this year for seats on the board. Of 67 candidates, 27 are women (spread across across 13 of the Academy's 17 branches) and seven are minorities (vying for seats in six of the branches).” Naturally, “The Academy declined to confirm or comment on the list, which the organization does not make public.” Let’s hope this one works out in our girl’s favor.
- Inside Out, guys! The Pixar flick had the highest-grossing opening weekend of any original film, and it centered on the feelings of a young girl. This in an industry that remains convinced that movies with female protagonists don’t sell. This is fucking awesome. More movies about ladies and feelings, please.
- Park Chan-wook has started production on Fingersmith, his adaptation of Sarah Waters’ lesbian romance set in Victorian England that is the spiritual sequel to Oldboy.
- French director Marie Noelle’s Marie Curie film will draw attention to the biases women still face in scientific fields. She told The AFP, “In Europe, while we know that girls are better at math, there are only 13 percent of women in high-level scientific research.” I hate math so much but this is great!
- Bloomberg’s half-hour documentary Celluloid Ceilings exposes the sexism and blatant discrimination against female directors in Hollywood, with heartfelt interviews with the likes of Martha Coolidge and Lexi Alexander. Check it out; feel appropriately enraged.
- Geena Davis is set to deliver the opening speech at the Global Symposium on Gender in Media on Oct. 8. The first panel at the London event will explore “the impact of film on global issues concerning women and girls, focusing on organizational strategies and interventions.” The event will be followed by symposiums in India and Brazil in 2016. Somebody bring this to the U.S., please?
- Rebecca Thomas will helm an adaptation of John Green’s Looking For Alaska. There’s a bit of a manic pixie dream girl sitch in this book, as is Green’s wont, but let’s at least celebrate the whole female director part of this news.
Harbinger of doom: Rose McGowan vs. the entertainment industry, a story told in three parts
It’s been a long week full of confusing, piecemeal news stories about Rose McGowan. Let’s break down what the hell happened:
Act 1: In which our fair heroine dares vaguely insult Adam Sandler
Last week, actress, director, and human woman Rose McGowan posted a tweet mocking one of what must have been eight million casting notices she’s been sent throughout her career:
casting note that came w/script I got today. For real. name of male star rhymes with Madam Panhandler hahahaha I die pic.twitter.com/lCWGTV537t— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) June 18, 2015
This tweet originally made our “sign of hope” section. It was particularly brave for McGowan—an actress whose career is still recalibrating a bit—to publicly call out one of our generation’s most “successful” (financially) racist, sexist male stars, rather than demean herself for a paycheck. This was a small but significant act of rebellion: A woman who not only refused to be objectified, but went so far as to speak up about it, almost certainly knowing there would be fallout career-wise.
Act 2: In which our heroine is unceremoniously dropped from her agency
Roughly a week later, McGowan tweeted again, this time letting her followers know she’d been fired by her agent because of her Sandler-related comments. Which is utterly batshit, and a perfect object lesson in Hollywood sexism: Women in the entertainment industry (and in the world) are afraid of speaking up about the shit they go through, because when they do, they’re all too often punished for it.
I just got fired by my wussy acting agent because I spoke up about the bullshit in Hollywood. Hahaha. #douchebags #awesome #BRINGIT— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) June 25, 2015
The awesome thing about being an artist? You can't be fired from your own mind. #FREEDOM— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) June 25, 2015
That latter tweet is encouraging, though, and smart; clearly, McGowan knew it’d be better to double down on her remarks rather than apologize to her agency or Sandler. She said as much in an ensuing interview with Entertainment Weekly:
“[The casting call] was just so dumb. I was offended by the stupidity more than anything. I was offended by the fact that went through so many people’s hands and nobody red flagged it. This is normal to so many people. It was probably even a girl that had to type it up. It’s institutionally okay…The wardrobe part was dumb enough. The part that made me laugh was where it said, ‘Make sure you read the script so you understand the context of the scene.’ [laughs] That was the part that made me laugh the hardest. I’m not trying to vilify Adam Sandler. Although someone did tell me that when he did his Netflix deal, he said, ‘I signed with Netflix because it rhymes with Wet Chicks.’ I mean, what? What in the f–k is going on? No!…It’s just the institutional stupidity and the institutional infantilization of actresses. Like an actress isn’t going to look like her A-game. We need to remind her. My favorite part was the parenthesis: ‘push up bras encouraged.’ ”
Act 3: In which the public outcry from our heroine’s “firing” causes the firer to become the firee, maybe? This part is weird.
This is where shit gets confusing. Soon after McGowan’s second tweet, news broke that McGowan’s agent, Sheila Wenzel, had been let go from Innovative Artists due to the fact that she’d fired McGowan. But McGowan took to Twitter again to clarify:
Sheila Wenzel is a wonderful agent that ceased working with Innovative before my firing. She's a good, strong woman I'm proud to know.— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) June 25, 2015
Variety is now reporting that “Wenzel’s absence possibly had something to do with the agency’s decision to let McGowan go”; in other words, Wenzel may have left when she realized other agents were conspiring to drop McGowan in light of her comments.
It’s hard to gauge exactly what’s going on here, but what is clear is that while this is a moral victory for McGowan (and, to get cynical for a sec, is garnering her a lot of publicity), she's now without an agent, and her agency felt more strongly about defending the Adam Sandlers of the world than standing by McGowan—sending a strong and unmistakable message that it’s not okay to speak up for yourself, for women, or for what’s right, if it gets in the way of The Biz. What’s also clear is that Adam Sandler remains an unrepentant dick. McGowan’s directorial debut, Dawn, is available for free on her YouTube channel. Pull that up next time somebody suggests watching Big Daddy.
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:
- Meryl Streep sent a letter to each member of Congress on Tuesday “urging them to revive the battle to add the equal rights amendment, guaranteeing parity for women under the law, into the US constitution.” “I am writing to ask you to stand up for equality – for your mother, your daughter, your sister, your wife or yourself – by actively supporting the equal rights amendment,” she wrote. Each packet included a copy of Equal Means Equal, a book by Jessica Neuwirth, president of the ERA Coalition, which campaigns to update the US constitution to include the amendment prohibiting discrimination against women and girls under the law.
- Jessica Chastain, on the set of The Martian, about women in STEM and superhero movies, respectively: “I like this view of the future because right now a little less than 10 percent of astronaut are women and on our crew there’s six of us and two are women, so already the odds are better for women in the future in this film and in this book…There are some female characters I do not like, and sometimes in some superhero movies of the past now—I love superhero movies—where a female character that’s supposed to be a badass, her main attribute is her sexiness, usually that fails like Catwoman or whatever, it’s a disaster. But when a female superhero—to me she is a superhero—her sexiness is not the most important thing about her, it’s her mind, her spirit, and when I look at that character, that to me is an example of characters that I like to play and I think it does a great thing for women.”
- Viola Davis, in The Wrap, on playing realistic female characters: “I didn’t want to be the Vogue woman. I didn’t want to be the woman who came in with the sexualized–I say sexualized, not sexy, because sexy is a certain self-consciousness to sexuality–I say that Annalise is sexual. Every time you see that sexual, mysterious, kind of cold woman, she always looks like she has that blow-dried hair and that dewy skin and, you know, those double-zero clothes. I did not want to be that woman because I don’t know that woman. And I’ve been watching that woman in movies for several years. And I felt like this was my chance to woman up. Because I think that how we are as women, just in real life, is very interesting. And I think that in the hands of a woman–and I’d like to think that, in my professional life anyway, I have a certain braveness and boldness–I want to present women as they really are. I remember one woman wrote me after that scene when I take the wig off, ‘That’s me except I still have the retainer in my mouth.’ It’s not always about being pretty. But it is about uncovering and feeling comfortable with the way we are and the way we look when we’re in private. You know, as soon as you walk through the door, what do you do? You take off your bra, you let your titties sag, you let your hair come off–I mean my hair. I mean, I don’t have any eyebrows. I let my eyebrows be exactly what they are. And it’s me. And I wanted that scene to be somewhere in the narrative of Annalise. That who she is in her public life and who she was in her private life were absolutely, completely diametrically opposed to one another. Because that’s who we are as people. We wear the mask that grins and lies.”
- Julie Taymor, in The Guardian, on why female directors have less room to fail: “‘There are still very few women directing in theatre—more in London, but not in New York. And still not so many in movies. I think it is so much harder for women to get the opportunity. You know that I’ve only ever done one show [The Lion King] in London? I’d be happy to direct here but I’ve never been asked.’ The dominance of male directors is often attributed to sexist producers or the difficulty of combining work and family life, but Taymor, provocatively, thinks it may also be because women have better artistic taste. ‘I know a lot of women who won’t do schlock. People say: ‘Why don’t they give women the big Hollywood blockbusters?’ But I think it takes so much for a woman to get to that place that they have to have a passion or a story they really want to tell. When women fail, they don’t get another chance as easily.’”
- Author Chimananda Ngozi Adichie, whose incredibly wonderful novel Americanah is being made into a movie starring Lupita N’yongo and David Oyelowo, gave a trenchant speech on feminism to the graduating class of Wellesley College. Here are a few highlights: “Write television shows in which female strength is not depicted as remarkable but merely normal. Teach your students to see that vulnerability is a human rather than a female trait. Commission magazine articles that teach men How To Keep A Woman Happy. Because there are already too many articles that tell women how to keep a man happy. And in media interviews make sure fathers are asked how they balance family and work. In this age of ‘parenting as guilt,’ please spread the guilt equally. Make fathers feel as bad as mothers. Make fathers share in the glory of guilt. Hire more women where there are few. But remember that a woman you hire doesn’t have to be exceptionally good. Like a majority of the men who get hired, she just needs to be good enough.”
- Whoopi Goldberg, on The View, handed her resume to Jason Schwartzman and called out what she sees as Wes Anderson’s whitewashed casting: “I want to do this right because you know I love all the Wes Anderson movies and you starred in, like, almost all of them, Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom and Rushmore and all of those. So I noticed there’s not a lot of folks of color and I thought I would like to give you my résumé to give to Wes Anderson and just to let him know I’m available. As you see, I’ve interned on The Late Show.”
- Jennifer Coolidge, in The Hollywood Reporter, on aging in Hollywood: “The same script does tend to show up at my house over and over, and this play [Marisa Smith’s Saving Kitty] is like nothing I've ever been offered. I’ve never been able to convince Hollywood to give me a part like this. Ninety percent of the scripts I get are about women with lots of plastic surgery married to rich men, or women with weight problems being ridiculed. It’s never the lead. Now it would be Reese Witherspoon's dumpy mother. You get the older version of women that you've played before.”
- Daryl Hannah, in The Guardian, on the sexism that plagues young women in film: “But, actually, I did a lot of films where I wasn’t playing that [sexualized] role. And, come on—every 20-year-old actress is installed in that way. It’s a male-dominated industry. It’s just a bunch of guys saying: ‘Let’s make the girl younger, and sexy, and hot.’ So, yeah, of course it’s exploitative. And that’s unfortunate because it has the potential to be really transformative in expressing the human condition.”
- Kathy Bates, on Larry King Now, talked about the evolving nature of her career: “Bates said it’s hard for women in the entertainment industry, especially for ‘women who traded on their beauty years ago and now can’t get hired. The shoe is on the other foot for me, because I was always a character actress, so this is my time.’ ”
- Andie MacDowell, in The Guardian, on why she’s not a fan of the word “cougar”: “How does she feel about the cougar tag? ‘Hmm hmm,’ she says, but her eyes don’t smile along with her mouth. Does she see her character [in Magic Mike] like that? ‘I guess so, I think it’s unfair that we don’t have a male equivalent. There was a cougar line; I took it out. I didn’t wanna say it.’ So she has a problem with the word? ‘I have a problem with the word.’ Did she bristle when I said it? ‘Yeah. I just think it’s unnecessary. It’s demeaning. I think the idea that men get more handsome and sexier as they get older is a fallacy. There’s no difference. We’re the same. It was a way to empower men and disempower women. And that’s changing, because if I wanna date someone that’s 20 years younger than me, I can do that now.’ ”
- Greta Gerwig, in the Huffington Post, on the types of movies she hopes to make and the concept of “likability” in female characters: “[When making Mistress America,] we said, ‘Let's write a story mainly about women that has nothing to do with romantic intrigue.’ I hope to make dozens of movies about relationships between women in different ages and times and configurations that are only about that, and not who they have sex with or don't have sex with…..”Of course, I live in this culture and I think likability is not just an issue for characters, it's an issue for women in general. It can be a real straightjacket limiting life. It can feel like you're operating outside of social norms when that's your highest value: to be liked. I think it's really tricky. Even now, when I'm talking to you or doing an interview, I'm aware of coming off a certain way or not wanting to be too strident or say something too "out there," because of the potential for it to be taken out of context and become a pillory for me. I mean, I don't think that's specific to women. The world is capable of doing that to men too. But I think it's true moreso for women. Especially if they're artists, writers or creators of characters, it's at a pitch and a level that is somehow much more than what is directed at men.”
This week in hilarious women sending up sexism: Amy Schumer and Margaret Cho mock Disney princesses and the white-male-dominated entertainment industry, respectively:
Overall, was this a good, bad, or neutral week for women in movies, Rachel?
This was a light week overall, but a bad one, to be sure. This Rose McGowan thing is unacceptable—I’m hoping the story takes a turn for the better next week, and some badass feminist agent hires McGowan and the two take the entertainment industry by storm, calling out sexist bullshit and tearing down the Adam Sandlers of the world one by one. Until then, though, we’ve got an actress who’s been punished for pointing out the obvious (and obviously terrible); meanwhile, Adam Sandler’s still pulling in millions of dollars for his tossed-off, unfunny, racist fare. Oh, and this isn’t technically Female Stuff, but it deserves a mention: Stan Lee has mandated that Peter Parker always be a straight, white dude because “we originally made him white. I don’t see any reason to change that.” He went on to say “I have no problem with creating new, homosexual superheroes.” O RLY? Get to it, then, bro.
Further takes on the film and feminism front from around the web:
- Marie Claire’s Mehera Bonner asks: “Why is Hollywood still so sexist?”
- USA Today’s Brian Truitt thinks Hollywood has a “woman problem”
- Refinery29’s Lauren Le Vine wonders whether movie critics have a female director bias
- Flavorwire’s Sarah Seltzer wonders why there aren’t more depictions of birth control in pop culture
- Time’s Eliana Dockterman on why it matters that Inside Out’s protagonist isn’t a princess
- The New York Times’ Erik Piepenburg talks to transgender actors about Hollywood’s changing tides
- Forbes’ Monika Bartyzel on white Spider-Man and Marvel’s “diversity deflection”
- Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey presents a “children's treasury” of male readers telling female film critics what they can and cannot review