A White Guy on Women in Hollywood and Feminism on Film

I’m a privileged white guy in America and, as patron saint of comedy Louis C.K., that makes a huge difference. What I find detestable as a person is when other men (and sometimes even women) are ignorant of the forces greater than themselves, who even deny the effect of class/gender hierarchy, patriarchal violence, and systemic discrimination. People living in the bubbles of reality, thinking their bubbles is the ONLY bubble. It is as frustrating as a paper cut on the fingertip for me.

So why do I, a human with a Y-chromosome, who got culturally, ethnically and genetically lucky, feel so compelled by this issue? Well, the one thing that unites us all are our shared emotions. You could call it our shared consciousness. We float in an ocean of it every day, heads bobbing above the surface. Larger and more expansive and connected than we can ever know beneath the water, like icebergs. It is only our eyes, seeing the other heads above the waves that convinces us we are separate and alone.

I’ve felt very separate and very alone (i.e. clinical depression) and I’ve had the defense of my privileged socioeconomic luck. I had good parents. Things that others don’t, who have to rail against even more powerful forces and become successful as a result. I empathize first and foremost in this world with the oppressed, the bullied, minorities and the downtrodden. They are our huddled masses and they should be all of our focus.

No matter how cynical we can be, we’re fortunate to live in this progressive American age. Like a spoiled teenager, we watch it painfully growing up before our eyes. Women are gaining more and more power in the marketplace. There is actually a race between studios to make the first successful female superhero film. D.C. gets there first with Wonder Woman in June 2017 while Marvel isn’t far behind with Captain Marvel in November 2018.

Meanwhile, such films are cockblocked by dicks like Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter who, in leaked Sony emails published by WikiLeaks, cited movies like Supergirl (set to become a CBS series this fall), Catwoman and Elektra as evidence that female superheroes don’t work in the marketplace. Yeah, but Ike, those were, like, awful, awful films. Maybe make a good one made by women for women and people will flock.

Finally, like the Hip Hop Movement of the late 70s/early 80s so brilliantly described by Killer Mike on Real Time with Bill Maher, they found economic power through their art. He cited Jay Z and Outkast as performers who uplifted communities through their successful music careers.

Economic power, in our supremely capitalist, consumerist culture, is the surest and quickest way to make anyone listen. Whoever has the money has the power (which is why the dipshit Supreme Court decision on Citizens United is so, shall we say, problematic). Now women, too, are finally having that moment as well.

Still, the people fight and struggle against change a.k.a. encroaching equality and impending doom. But change is inevitable. These anxieties about the change in American consciousness can most readily be seen and analyzed in pop culture.

I’m working on a future column concerning how media and storytelling is a two-way street and how much of what we take from art depends on who the viewer is, as much if not more than what the creator intended. What we bring to art is a reflection; what we see a glimpse into our subconscious. Which is why it’s interesting when people have such visceral reactions to women on film, either in their glorification as, wouldn’t you know it, capable human beings who shouldn’t be boxed in like products, or news that, behind the camera, shit is even less pretty.

Wonder Woman had a public director kerfuffle that was elaborated on in The Hollywood Reporter (THR) about Warner Bros. unusual approach to their D.C. properties. Beloved TV director Michelle MacLaren, who had helmed episodes of acclaimed dramas like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, was originally announced in November to fan approval. However, she exited amid rumors of talking tigers and disagreements with Zack Snyder, the current de facto D.C. creative maestro.

Patty Jenkins, who helmed Charlize Theron to an Oscar in 2003’s Monster (more on Charlize below) had her own brush with being the first woman to direct a superhero feature. She was announced for Thor 2 back in 2012, exciting female lead Natalie Portman. However, it was not to be and her exit disappointed fans, Portman, and ultimately led to the worst Marvel film produced (I dislike The Dark World more than Iron Man 2. Your mileage may vary).

Speaking of Portman and female empowerment, the new comics’ female Thor’s identity has been revealed to be none other than . . . Jane Foster, Portman’s character from the films. If Hemsworth decides to give up Mjolnir anytime soon, I would love to see Portman pick up the mantle. Hell, she should fight alongside him in Thor: Ragnarok and the two-part Avengers: Infinity War. How badass would that shit be?

Director Ava DuVernay and lead David Oweloyo were shut out by the Oscars for Selma, the MLK-Civil Rights drama film that dominated conversation in early January with the Twitter hastag #OscarWhiteout. Actresses like Portman and Angelina Jolie had to leverage global fame to become directors, each starting with indie passion projects in their early 30s after more dominating the screen since youth. Women directing superhero films or blockbusters, however, are practically non-existent. The only previous one I can recall was 2008’s Punisher: War Zone with Lexi Alexander.

The X-Men franchise lucked out big with casting on its 2011’s prequel X-Men: First Class, particularly in picking up Jennifer Lawrence for three films as the shapeshifter Mystique before The Hunger Games and her Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook – both before the age of 23 – made her the biggest female star in the world. But this year she announced she would exit the franchise after the final film on her contract, the currently-filming X-Men: Apocalypse.

What happened? Well, getting painted blue for six hours a day is certainly a factor when she’s pulling down $15-20 million for other roles where she’s not third fiddle to the bromance between James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender (a worthy bromance, to be sure).

But Lawrence has largely disappeared from the spotlight after last fall’s nude photo scandal, when so many female stars’ privacy were breached and their private photos leaked. Since then, she’s receded, another actress subjected to the worst instincts of the American public. Lawrence rightfully labeled everyone who viewed the photos sex offenders.

America’s Madonna-Whore Complex is not new; it goes all the way back to our Puritanical roots, which was all about denying desire and blah blah extremist bullshit. We tell ourselves we want our women pure, virginal. But men, especially the supposedly “pious” ones, can never deny for too long the primal desire for boobs and pussy. The best men find ways to recognize their own pre-programmed behavior and actively fight it, to go against it in a rebellious act of courage that says: I will not be dictated by discrimination because it’s easy. I will fight for equality even though it is hard. In fact, because it’s hard.

Feminism and how women are portrayed on film has been on entertainment’s mind lately, and thus the audience’s mind. It’s not an easy conversation, as Sunday’s Game of Thrones showed.

SPOILERS FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN THIS WEEK’S GAME OF THRONES!!!!

The character of Sansa, a princess whose perception of a classically chivalrous court was shattered the brutal reality of being engaged to a psychopath, has taken a narrative turn completely different than her book counterpart – by marrying her to the show’s SECOND most notable psychopath. On her wedding night, he rapes her while forcing her former childhood friend Theon – who has been horrifically tortured into submission as a servant named Reek – to watch. The episode ends with the sounds of Ramsay brutalizing Sansa and Theon’s portrayer Alfie Allen‘s face contorted in pain as he witnesses the act of sexual violence.

The amount of controversy this engendered is, again, indicative of the two-way-street of entertainment. Women and equality are on people’s minds lately as our culture confronts our historical misogyny through the prism of Hollywood, a sexist place if ever there was one. And yet, these difficult conversations are the exact ones we need to have to effect any change. By its nature, it will be fought, it will be criticized, but only through faith that the accomplishment will change the lives of our future daughters and raise a human race that utilizes both sexes to their utmost potential.

The irony of these protests – from websites like The Mary Sue to U.S. Senators like Claire McCaskill (D-Mi) – is that they ignore what the show has accomplished when it comes to female characters in favor of hopping on a bandwagon of reactivity.

As one of my favorite film journalists, RopeofSilicon founder Brad Brevet, said in a post questioning the same, what did you expect? Fans say the creators could have written the scene in anyway they wanted that didn’t have Sansa getting raped. But Brevet’s response, one I endorse, is when you put someone as depraved and monstrous on screen as Ramsay Bolton, and you give him absolute authority as heir to the realm and you put him in a room alone with his bride in a world where bedding ceremonies are not only a thing, but enforced, then combine that with the fact that

Sansa believes the best way to reclaim her agency as a woman is retake her place as the Lady of Winterfell, no matter the cost, suddenly the context becomes clear: Sansa becoming a player in the game did not exempt her from the violence of the patriarchy. In an episode that made us understand Cersei as well, we can see how these two enemies are not so different – women who reacted to circumstance by trying to usurp the violence of masculinity to ill effect. Sansa believes that violence visited upon her is part of how the world works. It is warped but it is warped because of her bubble; she has only known violence.

It is a harsh, unforgiving reality, but that’s what happens when the character, so reviled in Season 1 for her endlessly naivete, has the kind of abuse piled on her. People say they don’t want to watch that, but that’s the beauty of Game of Thrones: you like the Princess in the Tower archetype, waiting for rescue? Well, here’s the psychological reality of that and guess what? It’s not fucking pretty. And, in our world’s actual Middle Ages, was much worse.

On the flip side, the progress of Daenerys Targaryen, arguably the show’s most famous character, and how her storyline has actually been changed significantly to cast her as a powerful figure despite circumstance, rather than the book version who more or less bumbled ineffectually through the Meereenese Knot. Rape, as horrible and despicable as the act is, is a prevalent part of our culture and even more so on an international level, as an instrument of war and weapon of oppression.

Not only that but it is a fact the show has been frank with since the beginning, as expertly described by The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg. This is another woman who, in Season 1, was initially raped by her Mongol-esque husband Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) in a marked difference from the books where Drogo is revealed to be a sensitive man behind his barbaric persona. Indeed, when watching, my girlfriend, who has experience with sexual violence, did not want to continue watching. We didn’t, for several months, until I assured her the experience did not occur in a vacuum. When Daenerys won over Drogo as his queen, she cheered. When she turned her dragons on the slavers in Season 3, she fell in love.

I despise movies that use rape as a device rather than an experience for a character that affects them in uncontrollable ways. Horror films that exploit rape like I Spit on Your Grave and The Last House on the Left are disgusting, in my opinion, and I wouldn’t be caught dead subjecting myself to them.

However, rape is a very real problem that needs real solutions. How do we address it, if not through the prisms of women who conquer it or depict accurately how it occurs? How loyal does entertainment have to be to reality? Shouldn’t art be responsible for keeping the public accountable, in times when the government does not?

Another great example is the recent R-rated action blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road (my review here) which debuted with $44 million in its opening weekend, second at the box office to female-orientated Pitch Perfect 2, which grabbed number one with $69 million. One, ostensibly a reboot of 30-year-old franchise by series mastermind George Miller, enraptured critics, film fans, and, surprisingly, feminists. The other, a sequel to a 2012 sleeper hit, enraptured audiences to the number one spot by a margin of $15 million. What does that mean, asks someone like me, a weirdo writer?

Despite Tom Hardy‘s Max being the titular protagonist, the real hero of the piece is Charlize Theron‘s Furiosa who, determined to be free of the tyrant warlord Immortan Joe, chooses to free his five imprisoned “wives.” Masked in this post-apocalyptic chase film is subtle commentary on how we treat women as resources to be harvested.

This frightens misogynists. Excuse me, I mean men’s rights activists for misogyny. Like dickless loser Aaron Clarey of the men’s rights site Return of Kings. I need not go into a long diatribe about why Clarey is a ball-less, dickless loser or why his opinions are worth less than 1920s German currency because We Hunted the Mammoth‘s David Futrelle already did expertly.

And, despite the feeble protests of eunuchs like Clarey, SlashFilm‘s Angie Han accurately contextualizes Fury Road as just as much a male fantasy as a female one. She cites the masculinity of its male leads is held to be heroic in every sense while the villains represent the destructive, controlling side of male energy.

The interesting question entering its second weekend: will the appeal of the film breakout? Or will it drop-off? Miller, who recently joined Twitter, has dropped hints about another coming Mad Max sequel titled The Wasteland.

https://twitter.com/GMillerMax/status/600060056592322561

Will Theron return? After an absence of 30-years, this coming weekend will decide how influential Theron’s Furiosa and the commentary regarding the film’s feminist slant is to the bottomline, unfortunately the only line that seems to matter. For her part, she seems reluctant, not surprising considering the tough production schedule.

Credit: THR

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently announced it would be seeking a government inquiry into the sexist hiring practices of Hollywood when it comes to women for directorial jobs. Among those to endorse the ACLU’s investigation are the only woman to ever win a Best Director Oscar, Kathryn Bigelow (who won for 2009’s The Hurt Locker) and Beyond the Lights and The Secret Life of Bees‘ director Gina Prince-Blythewood.

“7%. Numbers don’t lie, and the numbers don’t change,” Prince-Bythewood told The Hollywood Report (THR) in a statement, referencing a statistic the ACLU used in its investigatory letters about how, in 2014, only 7 percent of the top 250 highest-grossing films were directed by women. “There is no acceptable explanation for it. Talent has no gender.”

Meanwhile, the Cannes Film Festival is in full swing in France. One of the most famous film festivals in the world, this year saw the premiere of Portman’s directorial debut, the Hebrew-language A Tale of Love and Darkness as well a panel for the serial “Women in Motion” talks, presented by THR and luxury group Kering. Moderated by Janice Min, president and chief creative officer of THR parent Guggenheim Media’s Entertainment Group, she talked with Salma Hayek about “gender disparity in Hollywood.”

Among things discussed were how only 4.6 percent of films were directed by women in 2014 and how none of this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominees featured a female protagonist.

“The only thing we can do is show them we are an economic force,” the Mexican actress-producer-director said when the numbers were brought up. “Nothing else will move them. … The minute they see money, things will be instantaneously different. … Show them the money.”

Hayek spoke about being passed over for roles because she was “born in the wrong country.” Later during the panel, she lamented, “The sad thing is the only two industries where women make more than men are fashion and pornography,” she said.

Entertainment Weekly spoke with Melissa McCarthy to promote her upcoming June comedy Spy, reuniting with Bridesmaids and The Heat director Paul Feig. Sexism became a topic of discussion and McCarthy had this to say:

“It’s an intense sickness. For someone who has two daughters, I’m wildly aware of how deep that rabbit hole goes. But I just don’t want to start listening to that stuff. I’m trying to take away the double standard of ‘You’re an unattractive bitch because your character was not skipping along in high heels.’”

BuzzFeed‘s Susan Cheng details a sexist encounter with D-List celebrity Paul Johansson, who’s fame seems to derive from his role as a father on the teen drama One Tree Hill. Sexism, Cheng says, is normalized in Hollywood and it is common for older men to prey on younger women. Cheng describes encountering Johansson for a story, being excited to meet a man she’d seen on screen, and being appalled when he made references to spiking tennis balls down women’s throats, manhandling her and others, and at one point saying he was “sweating like a rapist.”

Anybody who does not stop to think about the actual practices that not only they but others continually execute on a daily basis are just as responsible for their perpetuation of this inequality, no matter what they believe regarding their culpability for the system we are born into. It is our jobs to not only stop, but to recognize it, to not deny its existence. To be ignorant is the worst crime of all.

A lot of these ideas I was delighted and surprised to find that one of my favorite writers, Cracked‘s David Wong, had elaborated and contextualized in ways only he can in his monthly column, published today. It’s about how the white privileged guys (a perspective I inhabit) can avoid the traps of cultural apathy in this complicated maze of responsibility that is the human race on Earth.

I’m only really good at writing and the only way that I can bring about the world I want to see, to honor the world that was given to me by parents, ancestors, and the entire human race, is to use my gift to uplift others. And it is our responsibility as a society to uplift those who do not have the advantage of the privileged. Women, minorities, LGBTQ, everyone deserves a voice and an opportunity to be valued. That is progress. That is the future.

About Sam Flynn

Wasting oxygen since 1992, Sam thanks the gods he doesn't believe in everyday his parents didn't discard him as an infant. It would have been the sensible thing to do.
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3 Responses to A White Guy on Women in Hollywood and Feminism on Film

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