AWFJ Women On Film – The Week In Women, December 18, 2009

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Women get vocal about men’s Hollywood power, only 18-year-old women are actually real, princess porn, and

MEN STILL RULE HOLLYWOOD, AND WOMEN ARE PISSED ABOUT IT. The New York Times critic Manohla Dargis talked to Jezebel this week about the state of women in Hollywood, and she pulled no punches:

On why women in Hollywood aren’t faring any better: This business is really about clubby relationships. If you buy Variety or go online and look at the deals, you see one guy after another smiling in a baseball cap. It’s all guys making deals with other guys. I had a female studio chief a couple of years ago tell me point blank that she wasn’t hiring a woman to do an action movie because women are good at certain things and not others. If you have women buying that bullshit how can we expect men to be better?

And:

On male and female directors being held to different standards, as Dargis suggested in comparing Bigelow and Michael Mann in her piece: Do you think that a woman would have been able to get forty million dollars to make a puppet movie the way that Wes Anderson has been able to make, bringing to bear all the publicity and advertising budget of Fox? After two movies that didn’t make a lot of money? I think this is true for a lot of black filmmakers too – they’re held to a higher standard. And an unfair standard. You can be a male filmmaker and if you’re perceived as a genius – a boy genius or a fully-formed adult genius – that you are allowed to fail in a way that a woman is not allowed to fail.

And:

On why so many romantic comedies are so terrible: One, the people making them have no fucking taste, two, they’re morons, three they’re insulting panderers who think they’re making movies for the great unwashed and that’s what they want. I love romantic movies. I absolutely do. But I literally don’t know what’s happening. I think it’s depressing that Judd Apatow makes the best romantic comedies and they’re about men. All power to Apatow, but he’s taken and repurposed one of the few genres historically made for women.

Amen, sister.

There’s much more. Don’t miss it.

WOMEN: STRANGE, MYSTERIOUS FANTASY CREATURES. EVEN THE OLD ONES. “Can Anybody Make a Movie for Women?” asked The New York Times magazine last weekend… and instantly proceeded to demonstrate why we’ve still got a long way to go. Writer Daphne Merkin begins by describing director Nancy Meyers as a “60-year-old blonde.” (Ever heard, say, Peter Jackson described as a “brunet”?) And then it’s on to her clothes:

With her black-framed glasses and penchant for wearing clothes that seem like a softer variant of a man’s business suit — white blouse, yellow cardigan over slacks, low-heeled patent-leather pumps — the petite and attractive Meyers might pass for a lawyer or professor; there’s nothing about her that shouts V.I.P. She looks, rather, like the kind of woman who has always been cute and has always conveyed a certain approachability to men. Her jewelry is equally understated, as unblingy as can be, consisting of two gold rings and a gold bracelet. Everything about her suggests an innate tastefulness and the kind of self-image that isn’t based on making a grand impression.

That paragraph alone could take a year to unpack. Meyers dresses like a man, but not so much like a man that men are scared off by her; also, she’s cute, and men like that. (Got that, ladies? Make sure you are “approachable!”) On the other hand, have you seen pictures of male directors, on set or off? They dress like overgrown frat boys. Does anyone believe they’re worried about “making a grand impression”?

But it gets worse:

Meyers, then, has rushed in where angels fear to tread to rescue the middle-aged and manless woman from her lonely plight. She has taken this sorry creature, who is bombarded with reminders of her vanished youthfulness everywhere she turns, and placed her in an alternate universe, where she is not only visible but desirable just the way she is. (It helps, of course, if she looks like Diane Keaton or Meryl Streep, and if she gets to wear a carefully chosen wardrobe of flattering clothes.) “Feminism didn’t admit the longing for romance,” Barbara Probst Solomon, a writer and critic, says. “And it also didn’t admit that romance often didn’t go with success. Her movies give women their reward — you feel nourished, the way you used to feel about old-time Hollywood movies. You’re not just an old bag sitting with your laptop at the beach — you’ve got your prince. It permits you to have your fantasy.” It is not unique, of course, that Meyers’s vision of life is unabashedly romantic — call it retro or call it postfeminist — but what sets it apart is that she is putting it at the disposal not of unformed 18-year-old girls but of accomplished 50-something women for whom romance is generally no longer considered an option, either because they are too old or because they are too threatening.

See how that works? It’s not that women older than 18 and with a few wrinkles actually are attractive and that Hollywood typically ignores that. It’s that women older than 18 — and certainly older than 40! — must be transported to a “fantasy” land in order to feel attractive and desirable, because that doesn’t happen in the real world. Why would it? Older women are “threatening” — everyone knows this.

This bizarrity, we’re meant to understand, is what constitutes “a movie for women”? Cripes.

JAMES CAMERON, FEMINIST? While the bloggers and readers at Jezebel debate whether director James Cameron is a feminist or not, actress Zoe Saldana, currently starring in his film Avatar, talks to the Wall Street Journal blog Speakeasy about the director’s perceived feminism:

I don’t know if its something that he’s been consciously aware of, to be honest. What I do know is that he’s been impacted by interesting women all his life, because you can tell he’s in tune with his feminine side. I’ve learned this about men who write good roles for women — there’s a very beautiful sentimentality to them. Their exteriors are sugarcoated with this manly presence, but deep on the inside, there’s also this [fragility].

During the shortness of my career, I’ve managed to work with [Steven] Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, and now Jim — all directors who are known for having strong female protagonists. They don’t feel diminished by it as men; they can tap into the complexities of how woman really are.

What’s most fascinating about the question — Is James Cameron a feminist? — is that it’s being asked not just by a feminist blog like Jezebel but at decidedly mainstream publications like The Wall Street Journal. Maybe some progress is being made…

(Thanks to reader Chris Beaubien for the WSJ link.)

THE PINK! IT BURNS!

Remember, moms and dads, your daughter must get her RDAPS — Recommended Daily Allowance of Princess Shit — or she’ll turn into a boy.

SPEAKING OF PRINCESSES…

Offensive on so many levels? Or a wicked swipe at Disney? Maybe it’s both!

OPENING THIS WEEK. Avatar is the big news, of course, and regarding that Cameron question above, I think the director is a feminist… or if he isn’t, you wouldn’t guess it from his films, which regularly feature strong, competent women. Such is the case with Avatar, too. And while it is still very much a story about a man, with the women on the sidelines, the women are not mere props in his journey — they have journeys of their own.

For more, see the AWFJ’s regular weekly rundown of new releases.

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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 FlickFilosopher.com, 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 AWFJ.org archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).