November 18, 2008

Must Read Post

The excellent Kim Voynar, now at Movie City News, has an excellent post up analyzing the reasoning as to why women's films don't get their due respect at Oscar time. I agree with every single word she says. Make sure to read the whole piece. Here are some highlights:

Sex and the City was fine for what it was, but I don't need to see another two hours of Carrie and the girls agonizing about men over drinks while wearing overpriced footwear. I want more of the raw, wrenching Anne Hathaway of Rachel Getting Married -- in fact, I never want to see Hathaway have to take a role in a crappy romantic comedy or badly-executed drivel like the Get Smart remake ever again.

I want to see more films with strong female performances like Kristin Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein in I've Loved You So Long, Michelle Williams in Wendy and Lucy, Melissa Leo and Missy Upham (who people seem to largely be forgetting about) in Frozen River, Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky, all great films with strong lead roles -- and two of them directed by women, too -- and none of them are in serious contention at this point for Best Picture.

Let's examine the list of films that are front-runners for Best Picture this year. Twenty-three films on the Gurus of Gold Best Picture chart and of those, not a single damned one is directed by a woman. That's just sad -- both generally speaking, and because I'm rather shocked that Frozen River, at least, hasn't managed to garner even a single vote in its favor. The only femme-helmed film even showing up on the Gurus' Best Pic chart is ... The Secret Life of Bees? Seriously? No offense to that film, but Dakota and the Bees above Frozen River? I honestly cannot imagine an objective version of reality where the former is a better film artistically speaking.

Admittedly, you could argue that there aren't more woman-directed entries in the Best Picture race because women directors just didn't make any really stand-out, Oscar-caliber films this year ... and sadly, aside from Frozen River and Wendy and Lucy (which is more of an end-of-year top ten pick than a Best Picture contender), you'd mostly be right.

But if we want to have a conversation about why more smart female films aren't made, and why more women don't get jobs directing awards-caliber films, we have to look beyond just the box office numbers to the people making the decisions at studios about which films get greenlit and who gets hired to helm them. Studios are businesses that will always be about the bottom line, and they need to wake up and realize that women are not a niche market. There are more women than men in the US now overall, so why are studios still targeting the vast majority of their filmmaking efforts at teenage boys?

There's a glass ceiling in Hollywood, just as there is in the business world everywhere, that serves to prevent more women from rising to positions where they have the power to control the money that gets spent. And that ceiling stays in place not just because the men who hold the power want to keep it there, but because there are broader societal issues that still make it more difficult for women to break through it.

But believe me when I say that I would love for an exec -- male or female -- at a major Hollywood studio to prove me wrong over the next couple years by being ballsy enough to focus primarily on the women's market; some smart young exec could build up a hell of a career by finding a way to both make smarter, awards-level films for women (directed by women would be swell, too) and effectively market them to a demographic that's pretty much come to expect a low bar of quality for films aimed in their general direction.

I think a lot of the Oscar conversation has to do with buzz and money and how these campaigns are done. Timing is also important. But let's look at the comparison of Frozen River and The Secret Life of Bees. I agree that Frozen River is a far superior film in every way. But it is about women on the economic margin and is a really tough story and film to watch. You have to actually watch that film to see the nuanced performances. Neither woman is really likable and for women in films, you need to have some redeeming characteristics. Daniel Day Lewis can play a bastard and win, but it's much harder for a woman. The Secret Life of Bees is an uplifting story that seems to be defying expectations at the box office. I really liked both films, but they are so different.

And the "Gurus of Gold" those Oscar prognosticators who fuel most of the speculation are -- shockingly -- mostly men. There are 3 women out of 14. We know that guys see films about women as "other" and "niche" films. That's just the way it is. The only way this all will change is to have more women EVERYWHERE so we cannot be dismissed as a niche.

Women are not a niche...we are the majority. (I'm getting a t-shirt made.)
Oscar and the Absence of Femme Films