AWFJ Women On Film – The Week In Women, February 5, 2010 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Vanity Fair can recognize sexism and unfair treatment of women in Hollywood as long as it happened 70 years ago…

WHAT A GIRL WANTS/WHAT A GIRL GETS. Emma Watson — aka Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films — is the highest paid female actor in Hollywood? So calculates Vanity Fair, with estimated 2009 earnings of $30 million. (VF looked only at those on the creative end, and ignored those who work primarily in television, thereby eliminating the likes of Oprah Winfrey).

That’s fantastic for Watson, of course, but it’s a sad commentary on what it takes to be a highly paid woman in Hollywood: You have to star in a blockbuster series with wide appeal. Men have a far wider range of options, if VF’s list is anything to judge by. Watson appears at No. 14 on VF’s list of 2009’s top Hollywood earners; the next woman on the list is Cameron Diaz, at No. 19, whose earnings are also primarily from franchises (Shrek, The Green Hornet) or from jobs with even higher-paid costars (she’ll appear with Tom Cruise in the upcoming Knight and Day). Above Watson and between her and Diaz, the men — are superstar actors (Russell Crowe, Nicolas Cage), multihyphenates who work on both sides of the camera (Tyler Perry, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller), writer-producer-directors (J.J. Abrams, James Cameron), and some guys who get huge paychecks just so studios can keep them on retainer (Jerry Bruckheimer, who receives $10 million a year for an annual first-look deal with Disney; that was about a third of his estimated 2009 income).

It’s another metric that shows where power in Hollywood resides: with men, and almost exclusively with white men. (Tyler Perry and Denzel Washington are the only nonwhites on the list of 40 names.) Even the high-paid women further down on the list earned their paychecks as hired hands. No matter how much they earned as a result of the popularity of their films, it’s impossible to imagine that Emma Watson exerted any substantive creative control over the Harry Potter films, or, say, that Kristen Stewart (No. 37 on the list) had any influence whatsoever upon the production of the Twilight films.

Of course, many of the men on the list also earned their millions solely as hired hands, but should they so desire to break into even more powerful ranks as writers-directors-producers, they’ll have a much easier time of it than any of the women on the list would. As this list just confirms once again.

HOLLYWOOD LIKES TO PLAY WITH DOLLS. Vanity Fair, in the same issue (March 2010), shows us what female power, such as it is, looks like in Hollywood:

The editors of VF make no pretense as to what they’re saying with this image of small, frail, pale, delicate, mostly blond women: these women are “dolls.” And the copy accompanying the image is replete with language that makes it plain that if you’re female and want even the limited kind of success Hollywood allows women, you’d better fit into a very narrow set of precepts not only regarding your looks but your life:

“Cupid’s-bow lips, the downy-soft cheeks, the button nose”

“patrician looks and celebrated pedigree”

“former Catholic-boarding-school student”

“full, dewy, wide-eyed loveliness”

“Jessica Rabbit looks”

Innocent. Chaste but alluring. Aristocratic. Fragile.

And in case you missed it, there’s another take:

One wonders whether anyone at VF was tempted to include any young actresses who aren’t made of bone china — Zoe Saldana? Gabby Sidibe? America Ferrera? — but couldn’t because it would throw off the photographic compositions by Annie Leibovitz. Or does VF honestly believe that the face of young female Hollywood is truly this restrictive?

CARTOON GIRLS. Perhaps Vanity Fair isn’t totally hopeless: In an article by Patricia Zohn about the mostly female teams of animators who worked on early Disney movies, we learn all sorts of things about how women were mistreated in the past:

Preparing the animators’ vision for camera required the inking and painting of thousands of fragile, combustible cels with perfect refinement. During Snow White, it was not at all unusual to see the “girls”—as Walt paternalistically referred to them—thin and exhausted, collapsed on the lawn, in the ladies’ lounge, or even under their desks. “I’ll be so thankful when Snow White is finished and I can live like a human once again,” Rae wrote after she recorded 85 hours in a week. “We would work like little slaves and everybody would go to sleep wherever they were,” said inker Jeanne Lee Keil…

and

The themes of the classic Disney films echoed their own hardscrabble journeys: owning your destiny came at a price. Girls got up in the dark, as early as 4:30 a.m., to make their way to the higgledy-piggledy collection of buildings on Hyperion Avenue, east of Hollywood, by streetcar or bus, to begin their shifts. “If you were there by nine you got the black pen,” remembers painter June Walker Patterson. “They’d change pens exactly at nine—when you got the red pen. I was in the red every time. I was docked for every minute that I was late.” (“A lot of us cheated and signed somebody in,” confessed painter Ruthie Tompson.)

and

The extent of Walt’s narrow casting—and prejudices—from political beliefs to religion to gender has been the subject of much conjecture. Rae, an outstanding high-school artist, like many of the girls, heard that “each time they were beginning to get good they’ve quit to get married or something. So now he’s thumbs down on girl animators.” “The consensus was that a man has a better feel for action, personality and caricature,” said a later story about Disney female employees in a Hollywood newspaper. But Ruthie knew better. “It was a man’s world all over the place,” she said with typically wry candor. “The stars were the beauties who sang and wiggled their fannies around—that’s all girls were useful for.”

The more things change… If only VF’s coverage of Hollywood today showed any appreciation of that.

QUICK PICKS.

The Guardian wonders if we’ll ever have a female-led film franchise and why there are so few female filmmakers

The Daily Show’s Samantha Bee takes on the terrible tragedy of male inequality

Jessica Biel and Jennifer Garner discuss, in Marie Claire via Jezebel, the boys’ clubs that are Hollywod movie sets…

AWFJ member Brandy McDonnell asks: Is “ex-wife” part of Kathryn Bigelow’s job description?

OPENING THIS WEEK. Dear John features a female protagonist (played by Amanda Seyfried) who is so agonizingly perfect, saints despair at ever measuring up to her example. This is not a positive example of modern womanhood — it’s scary and lonely up at the top of these kinds of pedestals. A somewhat more complicated portrayal of modern womanhood is on offer in From Paris with Love — Kasia Smutniak’s girlfriend to the hero gets to do some rather unexpected things… though it’s debatable whether how the film treats her in the end is entirely encouraging.

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).