Gender Watch: a reprint from Thompson on Hollywood

GENDER WATCH: The Telling Ignorance of THR’s Directors Roundtable

Featuresby Sophia Savage | November 17, 2011 | 2 Comments

THR Roundtable, “Pariah,” “We Need To Talk About Kevin,” “Circumstance”

We don’t blame Women and Hollywood for being outraged at THR‘s careless and condescending approach to their 2011 Directors Roundtable. While we agree that Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist”), Steve McQueen (“Shame”), Bennett Miller (“Moneyball”), Mike Mills (“Beginners”), Alexander Payne (“The Descendants”) and Jason Reitman (“Young Adult”) are well worth interviewing, there are plenty more who could easily be sitting there with THR’s Matthew Belloni and Stephen Galloway — including several women.

At the same time as THR’s Directors Roundtable should be thoughtfully curated, it should be representative of the year in film–whether it’s an Awards publicity tool or not. Consider this specific portion of the roundtable:

THR: You’re all men, and only one of you, Steve, is a minority — why is that?
McQueen: I must be in America.
Mills: Yeah, why isn’t there a woman here? My wife could be sitting here.
THR: Name a female director who made a major film this year.
Mills: Miranda July [“The Future”].
Payne: Lynne Ramsay [“We Need to Talk About Kevin”], Andrea Arnold [“Wuthering Heights”].
THR: OK, but you’re talking about small films that have been little seen in America.
McQueen: I mean, the question could be different. The question could be, “Why aren’t there more black directors?” because there are obviously more women directors than black directors.
THR: So what’s the answer?
McQueen: I have no idea. I mean, it’s opportunity, isn’t it? That’s what it’s about — opportunity. And access, because some people just give up. I’m always astonished by American filmmakers, particularly living in certain areas, when they never cast one black person, or have never put them in a lead in the movie. I’m astonished. It’s shameful. How do you live in New York and not cast a black actor or a Latino actor? It’s shameful. It’s unbelievable.
Reitman: Not stepping into that.
Miller: I don’t know.

First of all, the questions are uninformed and presumptuous. The directors themselves are better versed in the films of 2011 (too bad they couldn’t have interviewed each other).

Then, after getting three examples of women who’ve directed quality films this year (Women and Hollywood adds to that list with Maryam Keshavarz – “Circumstance,” Dee Rees – “Pariah,” Larysa Kondracki – “The Whistleblower”;  and so can we: Céline Sciamma – “Tomboy,” Julia Leigh – “Sleeping Beauty,” Sarah Polley – “Take this Waltz,” Andrea Arnold* – “Wuthering Heights”), THR contradicts and justifies itself by calling these “small films” that have been “little seen.” Perhaps, but as of right now the general public also hasn’t seen “The Artist,” “The Descendants,” “Shame” or “Young Adult,” which could also be called “small films.”

While McQueen may be a minority among these six directors, the focus of each of their films is on white characters, and only “Young Adult” features a female protagonist (and she’s a raging bitch). “Tomboy” focuses on a young girl who wants to be a boy; “Circumstance” is about female sexuality and sexism within the Iranian culture; “Sleeping Beauty” looks at the objectification of women; “Kevin” deals with an ugly side of motherhood; “Pariah” looks at race and female sexuality, “Wuthering Heights” is a gothic period romance with a black man replacing a white male protagonist. Not only are these films dealing with more diverse subject matter than the films of the six roundtable directors – they are all significantly more threatening to the comfort of white males, which is why they are dismissed as “small” and “little seen.” “The Artist” is about a man’s ego, “Shame” is about a man’s addiction to sex, “Moneyball” is about changing the rules of baseball, “The Descendants” is about a wealthy landowner (with some Hawaiian blood) seeking revenge on the guy who banged his cheating wife, and “Beginners” is about a man who’s trying to figure out how to grow up and deal with his dying gay Dad.

Let’s open our eyes. If the media is a filter through which the public digests the culture, we should serve a full buffet. Otherwise we’re part of the problem.

*”Wuthering Heights” played Venice, Toronto, and many other fests. While not being released this year, it is worth mentioning as the follow up to Arnold’s “Fish Tank.”

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