Hollywood cuts out female directors while planning ‘pink razor’ remakes

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From left, Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon star in Paul Feig's "Ghostbusters" remake. Photo provided

From left, Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon star in Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” remake. Photo provided

I have a confession to make: I’m one of those women who uses a pink razor.

It’s not because I’m a fan of unnecessary gendering of products, it’s simply because I share a shower with my husband and it’s much easier to tell a pink razor from a gray or black one when I’m half asleep and trying to get ready for work.  (Plus, he does the shopping in our household, and he tells me the pink ones he gets for me are cheaper. Since I don’t want to have to do the stopping and the razors get the job done, I kind of roll with it.)

But movies are not razors, and unnecessary gendering of them is not only unnecessary, it also can be much more harmful than a cheap razor.

Read Alexandra Petri’s hilarious but heartbreakingly true-sounding commentary for the Washington Post about the trend I blogged about last week of studios turning to all-women remakes as a quick and easy shortcut to cranking out more female-centric movies. (You know, since the suits finally figured out that movies about women actually do make money — and that not making movies by or about women will make you look like misogynistic jerks.) Women-version, or what we might call “pink razor,” remakes already announced include Ghostbusters, Ocean’s Eleven and Road House. 

Petri uproariously imagines a conversation between a “Shadowy Hollywood Executive” and a “Lackey” named Susan as the suit brainstorms ideas for the all-female version of The Avengers, The Three Musketeers, Transformers and more.

The conversations start as the executive proclaims, “I like this idea of Movies: For Her. It seems to me that we could make DOUBLE the money if we make every movie twice, once for her and once for him. Like they do in the razor industry. Man, those guys are smart.”

Here’s just a short excerpt from the imaginary exchange that I really must insist that you read in its entirety:

Executive: But if a movie has a woman in the lead, it stops being a movie for everyone and becomes a movie just for ladies that I will get cooties if I touch.

Lackey: Seriously, sir? JUST BECAUSE A MOVIE HAS A WOMAN IN IT DOESN’T MEAN IT’S JUST FOR WOMEN. WOMEN’S STORIES ARE HUMAN STORIES. JUST TELL MORE STORIES ABOUT WOMEN AND MARKET THEM THE SAME WAY YOU WOULD STORIES ABOUT GUYS.

This is one of the few occasions in which I’m going to heartily advocate the use of all-caps.

Women’s stories, when told well, can be stories for everyone. My family and I had a church function to attend on Monday, so we set the DVR to record the second episode of Supergirl. And it was my son the next day who wanted to know when we were going to get to watch it. He loved the pilot as much as his sister, and he wanted to find out what happened next with his new favorite hero. The storytelling was so fun and relatable — both my little ones could relate to the idea of being new at a skill and struggling to master it — that Kara Zor-El’s gender is irrelevant to my almost-9-year-old boy.

Hollywood has always prized remakes for their relative ease, low risk and built-in audiences, but we don’t need more of them — and we especially don’t need them as a quick fix for Hollywood’s ongoing gender issues. What we need is an opportunity for more women screenwriters and directors to tell stories that are meaningful to them — and logically and statistically speaking, those stories are more likely to feature women. When are women going to get the chance to share their own original stories instead of just doing “the female-version” of “insert the big-name title with franchise potential here”?

But it looks like many of those women directors simply aren’t getting opportunities to make meaningful mainstream movies, even after scoring significant critical and box-office success. If you want to be simultaneously outraged and encouraged, check out Vulture’s new list of “100 Women Directors Hollywood Should Be Hiring.”

Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan points out right at the top that 20th Century Fox, Sony, Paramount, and the Weinstein Company have all failed to put out even a single film this year that was directed by a woman, which is terribly depressing.

But it’s inspiring to see quantified all the incredibly talented women working behind the cameras in films and television. And it’s awful to see how many of them have gotten a raw deal by Hollywood. Like Debra Granik, who discovered Jennifer Lawrence and scored four Oscar nominations including best picture with Winter’s Bone and five years later has no other features and only one documentary on her filmography. Or Phyllida Lloyd, who helmed the highest-grossing movie-musical of all time with 2008’s Mamma Mia!, which earned a mind-boggling, $609 million worldwide, and followed up with the 2011 biopic The Iron Lady, which won two Oscars (including Meryl Streep’s third acting prize) – and currently has zero projects listed right now.

Instead of forcing audiences to settle for remakes, how about the studios invest money in letting these creatives make movies that they believe in, especially since they’ve already had success crafting projects that either earned acclaim or won over big audiences? The women on this list have already proven themselves, and as Buchanan notes, there are more than 100 of them out there. (This is one instance in which I actually recommend at least skimming the comments. Yes, there be trolls, but there are also readers who suggested several other directors not on the Vulture 100, like Patricia Cardoso and Maggie Carey.)

The conventional wisdom is that women have to work twice as hard to prove themselves – but at what point have women directors proved themselves enough? Finally winning a best director Oscar (Kathryn Bigelow for 2008’s The Hurt Locker) or making $665 million worldwide (like Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s Kung Fu Panda 2 in 2011) didn’t seem to get it done.

At what point have women audiences proved their power at the box office enough? You’d think a $596-million-plus worldwide box-office haul for Fifty Shades of Grey would make that point, but Hollywood still seems skeptical. Of course, as The A.V. Club reported last year, women made up the majority of movie audiences for the fourth year in a row in 2013, and they like action-packed superhero movies, though they prefer them with female protagonists. And as I blogged last week, that doesn’t seem to be getting us a female-led superhero movie any faster.

And at what point have general audiences proven that they will see a movie led by a woman as long as the story is compelling enough? You’d think The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 beating Guardians of the Galaxy to become the top-grossing movie of 2014, as Deadline.com reported, would be adequate, but the suits still seem to believe they’ve got to retrofit previously successful movies — which nobody refers to as “men’s movies” — into these contrived all-women remakes that are still an unproven concept. And since it seems that women never get to stop proving themselves, we all know that if a couple of these all-female remakes tank, it will “prove” to Hollywood that movies about women aren’t worth it — and neither are women audiences.

Movies are not razors, and they do not gender color-coding (or racial color-coding, either, but that’s a topic for another day and one I won’t pretend to be an expert on). What they need to be is imaginative, interesting, relatable, relevant and illuminating. And it would really nice if every once in a while they were actually fair.

Melissa Benoist meets the Daisy Girl Scout Troop known as the “Super Girls” from the Girl Scout Council of Eastern Oklahoma. Photo provided

Melissa Benoist meets the Daisy Girl Scout Troop known as the “Super Girls” from the Girl Scout Council of Eastern Oklahoma. Photo provided

Quick hitters:

Supergirl meets Oklahoma ‘Super Girls’: Check out this uplifting feature by Matthew Price, my editor at The Oklahoman and NewsOK, about a group of girls from the Tulsa Daisy Girl Scout Troop 411 of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma who got to visit the set of CBS’ Supergirl in August.

The girls had already met President Obama after inventing a battery-powered page turner made from LEGO blocks that got them invited to the White House Science Fair. Once video of their visit with the president was shared across the Internet, the troop,  which goes by the name “the Super Girls,” were noticed by producers of the DC Comics-based show. They were invited out to meet Supergirl star Melissa Benoist, spend a day on the set and and visit the DC Comics vault, where they saw and held some of the very earliest Supergirl comics.

Kudos to the Supergirl producers for encouraging these super-smart “Super Girls.”

RIP Melissa Mathison: Melissa Mathison, the screenwriter behind what is arguably Steven Spielberg’s most heartwarming film, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, died Nov. 4 after a long illness. She was 65.

According to Deadline.com, Mathison also wrote Spielberg’s upcoming feature The BFG, her first screenplay in nearly two decades. Based on the Roald Dahl classic, it tells the story of a girl who encounters a fearsome-looking giant who turns out to be a kindhearted soul who is considered an outcast by the other giants because unlike his peers refuses to eat boys and girls. Disney will release the DreamWorks film July 1.

Our thoughts are with Mathison’s family, friends and fans.

Lizzie Borden story coming to big screen: According to The Hollywood Reporter, Chloe Sevigny will play Lizzie Borden and Kristen Stewart is in early negotiations to play the Bordens’ live-in maid, Bridget Sullivan, in a film based on the woman who was infamously tried and acquitted for murdering her father and stepmother with an ax in 1892.

Pieter Van Hees, who helmed the 2014 film Waste Land, will direct the new untitled psychological thriller about the grisly murders, and Bryce Kass will write the script.

Essence launches third short film contest: Essence’s Third Annual Black Women In Hollywood Short Film Contest is accepting submissions. Filmmakers have until Dec. 14 to to create a documentary, no longer than 20 minutes, interpreting the theme “Modern Black Family.” For information, go to Essence.com.

– BAM

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