AWFJ Women On Film – The Week In Women, June 19, 2009 – MaryAnn Johanson

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On tap: Not all women see themselves in romantic comedies, how to be fat and ugly in Hollywood, and the inevitable and imminent arrival of the young buck in love with Grandma…

I’m a little happier this week, because all of a sudden, a whole buncha fabulous girls (and one guy) are getting mad about how Hollywood treats women.

OH, JEZEBEL, WHY MUST YOU MAKE US WEEP? At the fierce femininst blog Jezebel, hortense like totally takes down the “romantic comedy”:

So just to recap, here’s your romantic comedy life in a nutshell:

* You’re born in wacky circumstances

* Your life sucks for approximately 25 years, mostly because of a man

* You meet another man (maybe even the heartbreaker!) who will help you see that your life sucks because you’ve spent too much time working and achieving things, and that is like, so boring

* You will fall madly in love before the age of 35

* You will then disappear, only to make sporadic appearances in cameo roles as “Mom” or “Wacky Granny”- a completion of the “women are wacky!” circle of life

* Bonus: You will sing into a hairbrush at least 487 times.

Oh, oh. I don’t even own a hairbrush. Does that make me a man or something?

I AM NOT A POLITICAL ANIMAL. I AM A HUMAN BEING. Monika Bartyzel at Cinematical insists that “A Desire for Varied Female Protagonists is Not a Political Agenda”:

Ask for a certain type of female protagonist, discuss inequalities, gripe about the proliferation of poorly developed female characters, and in a flash, comments will pour in with a myriad of political catchwords like: feminist agenda, feminist rants, equality of the sexes, affirmative action, sexist conspiracy, and political correctness. These will be joined by painfully inaccurate sentiments that equate a desire for female success with wanting “every unfulfilled desire,” Hollywood bending to charity and catering to specific audiences, wanting to exclude men from film, a lack of acceptance at the equality already reached, and of course, that including strong female protagonists is somehow sacrificing or tainting good work. (All of the reactions mentioned in this paragraph can be found in the comments on Dawn’s two posts.)

The fact of the matter is: Wanting interesting and diverse female protagonists is not a political agenda. It’s a widespread human trait found in both sexes: the desire to find camaraderie and others who are relatable and recognizable.

It’s truly bizarre, the notion that some men appear to have, that their desire to see men on film engaging in the full spectrum of human experience — a desire that is fulfilled without those guys having to ask for it — is just normal and ordinary. And yet when the other half of the human race asks for the same, we’re derided from every possible angle. It makes you wonder what these men are so afraid of. What do they imagine would happen if we suddenly started seeing more realistic women on the big screen?

MALE CRITICS: IT’S ALL THEIR FAULT. Mark Brown at The Guardian reports on a British conference this week that highlighted how lightly women are represented in film and TV:

Female actors, especially those over 40, are still under-represented on TV, film and in theatre and when they do get a break it is often in a stereotypical role, a conference on the subject heard today.

Hundreds of women, from actors to directors to writers, gathered at the National Theatre to hear depressing statistics reeled off: 17% of playwrights are women; 38% of stage roles are for women; 35% of TV roles are for women; of the top 250 films last year only 9% were directed by women.

Could part of the problem, perhaps, be the predominance of male critics?

The actor and director Janet Suzman rounded on the predominantly male critics who hold so much power in theatre. “It’s a very, very male club. On the whole it’s boys,” she said. “And they look up at women characters on the stage for the spark of sex that’s going to make their evening less tedious for them.”

Interestingly, this week American critic Michael Wilmington appears to suggest — probably unwittingly — that film criticism is exclusively the domain of men:

[Woody Allen’s latest film, Whatever Works] has been damned by some for not giving us anything new, but that strikes me as ageism disguised as a love of innovation or novelty. Critics who keep demanding that moviemakers blaze new trails: Aren’t they a little like the Woody of their nightmares, forever chasing younger women and fresh affairs?

Doesn’t that suggest that Wilmington is unable to conceive of a young, female critic who might complain about Allen in the same way? I, a female film critic 34 years younger than Allen, am not forever chasing younger women. Does that make me invisible as a critic of Allen? (For what it’s worth, I like Whatever Works as much, it seems as Wilmington does. But in no way can my overall criticism of Allen be likened to a horny old coot chasing skirt.)

SIENNA MILLER ON THE VERGE OF BEING FAT AND UGLY. This is what Hollywood’s unrealistic standards do to women:

Sienna Miller is racked with insecurities about her body – she fears she’s losing her good looks as she heads towards 30.

The British beauty dons a skintight leather outfit in upcoming action film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, but admits she tries to cover up in real life.

The 27-year-old actress says, “I’m lucky I’ve got a good metabolism. I’m very grateful for that. But I’m not toned at all. I think I’ve reached an age at 27 where it’s time for me to start working out a bit. I can’t get away with it any more.

“I used to be quite firm and tiny and, as I hit 25, things started to change. Now I’m 27 I’m noticing more changes – bare legs at the top and back is not a pretty sight. I’m lazy and if I wear clothes, it’s hidden well.

As she hit 25. The ancient hag!

Meanwhile, The Guardian points out yet again how Hollywood’s hottest leading men are downright pudgy these days:

[M]any of Hollywood’s leading men appear to be getting fatter — and older — they don’t seem to be starving for roles. Unlike their female counterparts who are struggling to find work as they hit their 40s and 50s.

Because pudgy guys are adorable. Pudgy women are fat.

Gimme a cookie.

OPENING THIS WEEK. The Proposal is utter crap! But it stars a woman — Sandra Bullock — in a sort-of romance with a younger man (Ryan Reynolds). And it’s directed by a woman: Anne Fletcher. Too bad its retrograde misogyny means it might as well be the work of clueless men. I’m emphatically not of the mindset that we must support female filmmakers or female performers or female anything merely because they’re female. We need a word for the Uncle Toms of feminism. And I’m thinking “Aunt Anne [Fletcher]” might not be a bad place to start. (Her previous film, 27 Dresses, made me want to vomit for its celebration of female docility as charming and desirable.)

Year One, on the other hand, is the work of clueless men, in which the few women onscreen are mere eye candy, and one is offered by her fathers for the sexual enjoyment of other men. Just like in the Bible!

Whatever Works is Woody Allen’s return to being charming. See, it’s not that all movies about men romantically paired up with women young enough to be their granddaughters are automatically dismissable. Now, I await the movie about the 19-year-old idiot jock who falls hopelessly in love with a sexy 65-year-old woman. I’m sure it’s coming along any day now…

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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).