AWFJ Women On Film – The Week In Women, May 1, 2009 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Ugly men rule (but not ugly women), girls wins awards (but not the big ones), and growing into one’s artistry (but not for gals).

SEEING OURSELVES ONSCREEN (NOT). Danny Leigh in the Guardian today writes about ugly actors and the cinema that needs them… as long as they’re ugly male actors, of course:

[F]or all film’s eternal pursuit of the perfect face, it also has a long history of employing (male)actors whose features place them on a scale somewhere between the workaday plain and the frankly disturbing.

And Leigh goes on to sing the praises of these actors, and wraps it all up thusly:

[E]ven with The Wrestler disappearing into the cultural rear-view mirror, we should be grateful to Mickey Rourke not just for his performance, but also for reviving the role of the (very) imperfect movie visage – for in seeing these blemished and misshapen faces up on screen, we see, of course, ourselves (I know I do). All this is, it should be noted, of little use to women, still lumbered with a filmic scale of beauty where Christina Ricci can be discussed in terms of being “fugly” – but for men at least, it’s a small but important blow against the cruel jackbooted hegemony of Zac Efron. And no, he wouldn’t care – but then, once upon a time, Mickey wouldn’t have either…

The Guardian’s film coverage is possibly without peer in the English language press, and that I’m not particularly picking on Leigh here. He is at least aware of the double standard, and of how unfairly women — those onscreen as well as those in the audience — are treated by Hollywood. But where is the small but important blow against the cruel jackbooted hegemony of unrealistic beauty for us women? Why do the Danny Leighs of the world get to see themselves onscreen while half the human race is denied the same opportunity?

GIRLS WIN AWARDS (NOT). The Tribeca Film Festival has announced its awards, and — unsurprisingly — there’s not a single woman among the major categories. (I exclude the Best Actress category, of course, though I’m sure the day is coming when a man in drag wins that award.) A few women did win in the minor categories. In the New York competition, Danae Elon’s Partly Private won Best New York Documentary. And in the Short Film Competition categories, Liz Chae’s “The Last Mermaids” earned a Special Jury Mention, and Anna McGrath’s “Small Change” won the Student Visionary Award. How likely are these women to use these awards as a steppingstone to larger success in the industry? The odds, alas, are not good.

GOING GRACEFULLY INTO THAT GOOD NIGHT (NOT). The goddess Juliet Stevenson will debut later this month in the West End in a new production of the play Duet for One, as a musician afflicted with MS, and she talked to the Telegraph about trying to maintain a satisfying career as an actor, what with her being female and all:

“It is intensely frustrating.” There is a jagged edge to the famously honeyed larynx. “The longer you live, the more interesting life gets, and yet many of the parts involve carrying trays and putting lamb chops down in front of the leading man.”

Ah, she hits it right there: “The longer you live, the more interesting life gets.” But that’s hardly ever how women’s lives are represented onscreen.

More from the Telegraph:

The bane of the middle-aged actress’s life afflicts even the best. Juliet Stevenson has been accepted as the best more or less since her early years as an RSC lead. That river of tears and snot she shed so winningly in Truly, Madly, Deeply brought to a wider audience an ability to draw on a deep well to bring a character to life. But opportunities to see her at full tilt have lately been rare. The impact of Duet for One, therefore, has been as pronounced on its 52-year-old female lead as it is on audiences.

At 52, a male actor is considered in his prime. At 52, a female actor is lamenting that her career as an artist may be over. That’s disgusting.

OPENING THIS WEEK. It’s mostly a testosterone fest at the multiplex this weekend, with X-Men Origins: Wolverine slashing its way into theaters and sure to be a huge hit. Girls who like boys will appreciate all the Hugh Jackman beefcake on display, of course, but girls who want to see stories about girls will be disappointed…though the film does feature Lynn Collins in a smallish role as the woman Logan (aka Wolverine) loved and lost. I was astonished by her Portia in 2004’s big-screen Merchant of Venice, and continue to hope that she will one day headline her own film, instead of playing second fiddle to the boys.

You might think that Ghosts of Girlfriends Past would feature some kick-ass women — perhaps one or two who’d actually kick Matthew McConaughey’s ass for being such a meatheaded manwhore — but no: they’re all simpering crybabies to a one, overemotional dunderheads simply incapable of not falling in love with him after 10 seconds of the blatant propositioning that he thinks is seductive and flirtatious. If McConaughey’s playboy had gone through as many women as we’re supposed to accept he has, he should have run into one or

two who were as rapacious and as uninterested in any kind of relationship beyond a sexual one as he is. But doncha know, all women feel exactly the same way about love and sex!

The only female of any prominence this weekend is the teenaged alien Mala of the animated Battle for Terra. Voiced by Evan Rachel Wood, she spunky and adventurous and actually gets to save her world. Of course, she’s a cartoon, but I guess we can’t have everything.

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MaryAnn Johanson

MaryAnn Johanson is a freelance writer on film, TV, DVD, and pop culture from New York City and now based in London. She is the webmaster and sole critic at, which debuted in 1997 and is now one of the most popular, most respected, and longest-running movie-related sites on the Internet. Her film reviews also appear in a variety of alternative-weekly newspapers across the U.S. Johanson is one of only a few film critics who is a member of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the Webby organization), an invitation-only, 500-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities. She is also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. She has appeared as a cultural commentator on BBC Radio, LBC-London, and on local radio programs across North America, and she served as a judge at the first Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the 2003 I-Con, the largest SF convention on the East Coast. She is the author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride, and is an award-winning screenwriter. Read Johanson's recent articles below. For her archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).