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: Get your female gaze on with Magic Mike XXL, the sequel to Steven Soderbergh’s hit film about male entertainers; Mala Mala is an “intimately sketched portrait of several members of Puerto Rico’s trans community”; Terminator Genisys, co-written by Laeta Kalogridis, marks the fifth entry in the Terminator series, which has “exhausted its creative energy”; Amy is an Essential-Viewing-tagged documentary that “exposes the toxic influences around [Amy Winehouse] and the mysteries at the core of her music”; Ami Canaan Mann’s Jackie & Ryan is a “refreshingly mature, tender romance between two musicians”; and Debra Granik’s Stray Dog is a portrait of “gruff biker” Ron “Stray Dog” Hall.
- The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences unveiled a record 322 invitees late last week; this week, president Cheryl Boone Isaacs told Variety that the new members list “reflects a push for normalization in its demographics.” Put in less corporate terms, she’s working hard to add women and people of color into the mix. It’s about damn time, Academy. “It’s been gratifying to see big increases in expanding color, gender, age, and national origin in our membership this year,” she said. She also acknowledged that TV is ahead of film in terms of gender and racial diversity—“We’ve seen changes through the years; it might be a little slower, but I feel strongly it’s going to pick up speed”—and added, “Every step we take, we are stepping toward the goal of normalization — I love that word. This is a continuum. The goal is the normalization in having artists and films rep society as a whole. Each year we take steps, and sometimes the steps are smaller, but we are committed to continue with that goal.”
- Claire Denis is directing her first English-language movie. It will be set in space and written by Jamaican-British novelist Zadie Smith. This is already my favorite movie.
- IndieWire’s women-centric crowdfunding projects this week include baartman, beyonce, & me, an hourlong doc from Natalie Bullock Brown that “unpacks the impact of white supremacy, racism, sexism, and patriarchy on black women’s feelings of beauty and self-worth.”
- Carrie Henn will return to acting in an Aliens fan film, one that “takes place 14 years after the events of Jim Cameron’s 1986 blockbuster Aliens, and continues the story of Rebecca ‘Newt’ Jorden, the little girl we all loved, but despised to see perish in vain.”
- The first U.S. trailer dropped for Melanie Laurent’s Breathe, which follows two French teenagers dropped in a codependent relationship but with typically fantastic French hair.
- So did the first trailer for Tig, which sees comedian Tig Notaro grappling with her mother’s death, an intestinal virus, and cancer all in one year. I’m not crying watching this trailer. You’re crying.
Harbinger of doom: Female superheroes are making us all feel shitty about ourselves, gender equality
In a piece titled “The Problem With Female Superheroes,”Scientific American’s Cindi May weighed in on a new study by Hillary Pennell and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz at the University of Missouri that suggests that, for women, the influence of female superheroes is “not always positive.” No shit, right? But it’s not only that these characters are often marginalized, sidelined, undercut, victimized, or given embarrassingly stereotypical traits or storylines. May explains that, above all, even when female superheroes are portrayed as powerful heroines, they’re hypersexualized, creating negative feelings of self-worth and and self-esteem for the young women who admire them.
“Pennell and Behm-Morawitz suggest that women may admire the power and status of superheroines and consequently desire to emulate them,” writes May. “Because these sexualized superheroines have unattainable body dimensions and engage in unrealistic physical feats (e.g., saving the world in spiked heels), it’s not surprising that female viewers are left feeling dissatisfied with their own physical appearance and prowess.”
This isn’t the only issue—the study also found that, after watching a 13-minute reel that “either featured female victims from the Spider-Man series or female heroines from the X-Men series,” women both reported less egalitarian gender beliefs, i.e., disagreeing with statements such as “men and women should share household work equally” and agreeing with statements such as, “Men are better at taking on mental challenges than women.” So not only did women feel shittier about their own self-image after being exposed to these films, they felt stupider, and less worthy of equality. Oy.
As May puts it, “While the roles for women in superhero movies have evolved from the helpless, easy mark to the commanding, mighty protector, the central appeal of these characters as sexual goddesses is the same. As a consequence, the superheroines, like their victim counterparts, are undermining rather than improving women’s perceptions of their own bodies and physical competence. And they are doing nothing to improve beliefs about women’s roles in society.”
She concludes the piece by reminding readers that these new findings “add to a growing literature demonstrating that the gender-related information conveyed in popular media can affect personal perceptions and cultural standards about gender.” In my humble opinion, female superheroes’ portrayals in films will only start to change when women are allowed to get behind the camera and fix things. God, if only there were more female directors looking for work…
Sign of hope: Smart, influential people speaking out about feminism
There were several women willing to throw their hats in the feminist ring this week. Here are a few great quotes from around the web:
- Ava DuVernay, on Twitter, cleverly references those Black Panther rumors while also propping up activist Bree Newsome:
- Cara Delevingne, in Empire, on superheroes and sexism: “There are only three girls in [Suicide Squad] but in my opinion they have the best roles. Generally though, superhero movies are totally sexist. Female superheroes are normally naked or in bikinis. No one would be able to fight like that. Wonder Woman, how the hell does she fight? She would be dead in a minute.”
- The L.A. Times’ Rebecca Keegan talks to five female directors—Zoe Cassavetes, Marya Cohn, Daphne McWilliams, Renee Tajima-Pena, and Delila Vallot–plus LA Film Festival head Stephanie Allain about Hollywood’s gender gap. Read the whole piece! Here’s an excerpt:
“What's the stupidest reason you've ever heard for why women can't direct?
Vallot: That we're not ambitious, that there aren't enough female directors, that our content isn't something the larger audience will respond to. That doesn't make any sense. Fifty percent of the population is female.… We do show up to the theaters, and a lot of the times we make the household decisions of what the family's going to see.
Cohn: It's partly about being the leader, being the father, being the person in control, and partly it's about trusting women with money and people don't want to do that and film costs a lot of money.
Allain: I don't like to repeat stupid things because people repeat them and somewhere along the way it becomes true.”
- Jada Pinkett Smith and Andie MacDowell, in Reuters, on the female perspective in Magic Mike XXL: “‘Any time you're dealing with sex, it's really important to have an authentic female perspective included because men can't really know how we live in this space and how we relate to this space and what we really need,’ said [Pinkett Smith]. Andie MacDowell, who plays fun-loving southern woman Nancy in the film, said XXL slyly tapped into women being able to enjoy male entertainment without feeling shame. ‘I love the fact that it's a feminist movie in that we are out there enjoying our sexuality,’ she said. ‘People are surprised (Magic Mike) was a success and that just shows how little people understand about women.’ ”
- Ellen Page, in Variety, on the commercial challenges faced by her upcoming lesbian drama Freeheld: “Page saw the 2007 documentary short ‘Freeheld: The Laurel Hester Story,’ and had been circling a scripted adaptation since then. ‘It’s always tough trying to finance an independent film, particularly when it’s about two women,’ says Page, who is also a producer on the picture, along with her manager, Kelly Bush. ‘There’s this awful bias that women can’t carry films, which is being proven not true. Hopefully that will start to change.’ ”
- Jacqueline Bisset, in the Boston Herald, on her stint in the Hollywood boys’ club: “I produced a movie in the ’80s, which I did not enjoy. It was very much a boys’ club at that time. There was a lot of attitudes and a lot of tension. I was used to being ‘good old Jackie.’ I was a good sport. I got along with everyone, never had any problems with crews. But when I was producing, people had different attitudes towards me. There was some duplicity. Some lack of truthfulness. Backstabbing. It was horrible…It toughened me up, but it also made me not want to be involved in that kind of situation again. Life is too short.”
- Lily Tomlin, in the Star Tribune, on roles for women, feminism, and gay rights: “Jane Fonda and I doing Grace and Frankie, we wanted to do something about women of our age who are in leading roles and who aren’t the object of the humor, and who make changes and survive and thrive and are just like younger people, except that they’re aging…A lot has changed, and not a lot. Especially in the last couple of years, it seems like there have been more and more roles for older women, and also better roles for women in general. But at the same time, there are plenty of roles that aren’t. More women are inching up into decisionmaking roles in the business, but the business is still going to reflect the culture to a large extent. I’ve been offered lots of [roles as] people’s grandmothers that are just the butt of a joke. Doddering with a track suit on. The object of humor, just as women or gay people were the object of humor through ridicule in earlier movies. That was an accepted target, use of someone of that age or that lifestyle. When you pull examples out and hold them up to the light, everyone begins to see — not all at the same time, but consciousness is slowly raised…I’m definitely a feminist, and I expect everyone else to be one. I’m always surprised that young girls don’t identify. Any progress that’s been made has been made because of all these movements, and people just absolutely determined not to be swept under the rug. But all the right-wing people who want to negate any other kind of female role, they’re powerful. They have radio waves. And somehow it just falls out of favor, just like the word ‘liberal.’ People on the left are somewhat more complacent, because they just don’t stick their noses in everybody else’s business. But the right wing does. They want very much to hold the line.”
- Director Aranxta Echevarria, in The Mary Sue, on women in horror: “I think that not enough women direct horror, and I think that we need to make all sorts of films in all kinds of genres. And whenever women direct small, socially aware films, intimate films, people say It’s a Women’s Film. Ugh. I hate female stereotypes. I’m very feminist, and I know all that we can offer. And if not enough of us are doing horror, I wanted to do horror…A woman’s experience of fear is completely different from that of a man. The things that scare us tend to be psychological terror, fear of being alone, fear of violence, which we’re more likely to suffer. We’re much more afraid of those very real things than of things like demons. Hell, fear of getting old! I have a friend who, when she was younger, was really attractive, and it genuinely scared her to watch that deteriorate. Fear takes many different forms, and requires different perspectives, and the feminine is missing from all of that. We need to make more horror films.”
- Rose McGowan, on Good Morning America (via IndieWire), doubles down on last week’s critical tweets: “Why she's speaking out: ‘The only way to stop it is to shine a light on it and reveal how ugly it is...I just want to make it better for the next girl coming after me -- to know she doesn't have to sell her body and soul just because she wants to be a creative person. That isn't the fine you pay at the gate, and it shouldn't be.’ Her reaction to getting the casting note: ‘It made me laugh and it made me sad. It made me really said -- like really? Still?’ How she describes Hollywood. ‘Old-fashioned -- we're the ones who are supposed to be at the forefront of making society and change happen.’ How she responded to being fired by her casting agency: ‘I wrote back to them, ‘You're hilarious.’ That was my response. Like, come on! Hollywood, get a better script. This is so predictable.’ Whether or not she is concerned about being blacklisted for her comments: ‘I don't care. Bring it. You want to play, let's play.’ ”
- Sandra Bullock, over at E!, opened up about the pressures of being a woman in the film industry: “I feel like it's become open hunting season in how women are attacked and it's not because of who we are as people, it's because of how we look or our age. I’m shocked—and maybe I was just naïve, but I'm embarrassed by it. My son is getting ready to grow up in this world and I'm trying to raise a good man who values and appreciates women, and here we have this attack on women in the media that I don't see a stop happening….You’d be surprised at the love that you have in our crazy industry. The women have bonded together and have sort of become this tribe of trying to take care of each other and be there for each other in a way, because the minute you step out it's an onslaught. And I laughed when [People] said they're gonna be generous and bestow me this wonderful privilege, but I said if I can talk about the amazing women who I find beautiful, which are these women who rise above and take care of business and do wonderful things, and take care of each other, then I'm more than honored to be on the cover of this.”
Harbinger of doom: Marvel movies may include an LGBTQ character… 10 years from now
During the press tour for Ant-Man, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige was asked if and when fans would see an LGBTQ character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Within the next decade?” asked Feige. “I would think so, for sure…in the drawing board going up to 2019 it remains to be seen. The comics always make the path that we get to have the fun of saying, ‘Yeah let’s choose this way or let’s choose this way’ and I think there are a lot of cool things happening in the comics now that—it’s usually a five-to-10-year cycle between when something happens in the comics and when we can do it in the movie, sometimes a little less, but Civil War is certainly about the 10-year mark. Winter Soldier, I think, was around that time. So we always look at stuff that’s happening in the comics and go, ‘Where could we do that?’ Sometimes it’s sooner, but there’s no reason why that couldn’t happen in the next decade or sooner.’”
Putting aside the fact that Feige answered this question in the most vague, irritating way possible—“I would think so, for sure” is corporate-speak at its finest—let’s address the fact that we’re going to have to wait at least a decade to see an LGBTQ character in the MCU. Feige is blaming this in large part on the comic books, which, according to the Marvel Wikia, contain more than 100 characters that “identify as gay or lesbian.” As for that “five-to-10 year” cycle he’s referring to? As moviepilot.com reminds us, Marvel’s first openly gay character, Northstar, came out all the way back in 1992 (though his rights are currently held by Fox). Sciencefiction.com breaks down some of the more recent characters, including Hulkling, Young Avenger America Chavez, and Runaways’ Karolina Dean, proving that Feige’s argument doesn’t really hold water—there are plenty of characters who could pop into the MCU, even in a smaller role, and provide some LGBTQ visibility and representation. Ten years is far too long to wait for one of our biggest franchises to reflect a single non-straight character. Will we even be alive in 10 years? What’s up with that bright shit on Ceres, you know?
All of this raises the question: Why is Feige stalling on this one? Is he worried his next movie won’t make billions upon billions if it’s got a gay dude in it, or features two women kissing (in a way that doesn’t pander to the male gaze, which may be tough for Marvel)? But then again, I suppose we shouldn’t be so surprised—this is the same studio that’s waiting until 2018 to give a woman and a non-white superhero their own films. And, of course, this isn’t just a Marvel issue: It’s endemic to the film industry, especially blockbusters, which shy away from telling stories that aren’t straight, white, and safe.
Overall, was this a good, bad, or neutral week for women in movies, Rachel?
Bad, and it’s mostly thanks to Marvel and its cohorts. Female superheroes are so hypersexualized—even when they’re “strong”—that it’s making women feel awful about themselves, and we won’t see a gay character in the MCU for at least 10 years. When the movies are more than 10 years behind the real world—what up, SCOTUS!—it makes me and Lily Tomlin sad. Do we think Channing’s available for a Fourth of July lapdance, or nah?
Further takes on the film and feminism front from around the web:
- Grantland’s Molly Lambert on Magic Mike, masculinity, and the real world of male strippers
- The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg on how pop culture’s white supremacists help us feel good about ourselves
- Flavorwire’s Sarah Seltzer on Magic Mike XXL and the rise of the female gaze
- IndieWire’s Vikram Murthi unpacks our list of the 50 most daring roles for women in film since Ripley
- The New York Times’ Salamishah Tillet: “Nina Simone’s time is now, again”
- Bustle’s JR Thorpe recalls six fantastic female directors from Hollywood’s past
- Variety celebrates the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling with a special report on the entertainment industry’s role in “paving the way”
- Vanity Fair’s Julie Miller on how Magic Mike XXL subverts Hollywood’s status quo of the sexes
- Over at Random Nerds, our own Charles Bramesco has a “guide for all of your LGBTQ cinema-viewing needs”
- The New York Times’ Michael Shulman profiles Parker Posey, who thinks our “masculine times” have negatively affected great storytelling