July 18, 2008

Women at the Box Office This Weekend

Opening today in wide release is the Meryl Streep musical Mamma Mia.
Here's my brief review: Just keep in mind when you see this movie -- and you should -- that the whole point of it is to let go and have fun. If you go in looking for anything serious you will be disappointed. I had a brief moment at the beginning of the film when I held my breath because it seemed so cheesy, but after a couple of minutes I just let go, relaxed and had a great time. The cast is first rate and Meryl does sing well. I loved Julie Walters as one of Meryl's best friends and former backup singers. To me, the highlight of the movie was when Meryl bared her soul to ex-lover Pierce Brosnan in The Winner Takes it All. I got a little misty. Don't leave before the credits because the whole cast does a hilarious music video all in 70s clothes. It is beyond hysterical.

Other Women-Centric Films in Theatres:
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl
The Last Mistress
Brick Lane- continues to expand in CA, FL, Atlanta, MI, Las Vegas, Cincinnati, Austin, and Milwaukee
Sex and the City
Falling for Grace- opens in Palm Springs

Prejudice and Discrimination Against Women Artists

In another no surprise moment it seems that women painters, sculptors and other artists don't get sold for the same amount of money as their male peers.

Iwan Wirth who represents sculptor Louise Bourgeois said: "An artist's gender should have nothing to do with their market value. I see this happen with the major artists we represent, such as Bourgeois, Joan Mitchell and Eva Hesse, who are exceptionally high-ranking artists."

Love this idiot statement from art critic Brian Sewell:

"The art market is not sexist," Mr Sewell said. "The likes of Bridget Riley and Louise Bourgeois are of the second and third rank. There has never been a first-rank woman artist.

"Only men are capable of aesthetic greatness. Women make up 50 per cent or more of classes at art school. Yet they fade away in their late 20s or 30s. Maybe it's something to do with bearing children."

Can't believe this man is allowed to have a fucking job as an art critic. We have so much work to do.

'There's never been a great woman artist' (The Independent)

July 17, 2008

Did Hollywood Get the Message About Women?

Film historian Marjorie Rosen, author of Popcorn Venus, wrote an optimistic commentary in yesterday's Women's eNews saying that this summer the women onscreen are outshining their male counterparts.

She argues that the successes of Sex and the City, Angelina Jolie in Wanted, Kit Kittredge (not seen as a success at all) and Mamma Mia! (fingers crossed that it will do well) will hopefully make the male executives realize that women can be successful at the box office.

One can only hope. The most important point she makes is trying to get Hollywood to analyze the guy film flops in the same context as the women film flops. Wouldn't that be nice?

To put the situation into perspective, did any studio executive ever muse, after the shocking failure of last fall's Brad Pitt vehicle, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (domestic box office: $6 million; worldwide: $15 million), that it would be a smart idea to stop making movies featuring man-centric stories?

Did anyone have misgivings about boys-will-be-boys flicks when Wes Anderson's testosterone-drenched "The Darjeeling Limited," with Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and the Oscar winner Adrien Brody, opened the New York Film Festival last September, then broke down before ever gathering steam (worldwide: $15.5 million)?

And, on assessing the rotten global returns of George Clooney's "The Good German" ($6 million), Ryan Gosling's "Lars and the Real Girl" ($10 million) or Johnny Depp's "The Libertine" ($11 million), did even one among the new breed of female executives dare to whisper in the ladies room of that upscale industry watering hole, the Ivy: "Nix the guy pix. And bring back the women?"

George Clooney and Brad Pitt smaller film flops don't get the same scrutiny because they still make the bigger films like the Ocean's trilogy that bring in the bucks. Women don't have the same opportunities so their failures get scrutinized differently.

I wish I were as optimistic as Rosen that the successes this summer will lead to change.

Could It Be? Did Hollywood Execs Get The Memo?

Mamma Mia -- Feminist Creative Power on Film

I've been following the press leading up to the opening of Mamma Mia! this week and I have to say, while there have been some negative reviews (and I will be very interested to see if it is mostly guys who hate the film), the overall tenor of the press has been much kinder than it was to Sex and City. There are no nasty articles about any of the women's appearances, or the shallowness of American women for liking the film.

Some of the reviewers have questioned Streep for taking on this type of "light" role, but she has embraced it wholeheartedly, and clearly enjoyed the experience of working with an all female team.

So I can't help but wonder, did we conquer film sexism in the last month? Are women's movies going to be welcomed differently because of how nasty the treatment of SATC? Why is it that this movie --the second one this summer-- which seems poised to have women getting ready to see it with friends and daughters alike getting different treatment?

One reason I think is that most of the critics and blogger are distracted this weekend. When SATC opened it was the dominant film on its weekend (and we don't like women to be dominant at anything); Mamma Mia will be counter programming against the Batman flick.

But I am still wondering -- is Mamma Mia less threatening to the movie industry and the culture than Sex and the City was? Is it that Sex and the City had, well, sexy women and sex while asking some serious questions about our culture, while Mamma Mia comes off as a fun musical about a wedding?

The irony is that this fun musical about a wedding bucks every Hollywood convention, and it makes Mamma Mia one of the most feminist movies of the year. Way more feminist than SATC. It's got women power -- mature women power-- written all over it.

  • All the creatives are women over 50.
  • It stars women.
  • Is written by a woman -Catherine Johnson.
  • Is directed by a woman - Phyllida Lloyd.
  • Is produced by a woman -Judy Craymer.
And, it's already a success overseas having made $24 million since its release a couple of weeks ago.

I think its going to open pretty big here. Hopefully at least $25 million this weekend. It already has a built in audience (just like SATC), the show has been running on Broadway for years, has played all over the world, and Abba has got to be the world's most well known band.

It's amazing that Universal Pictures gave these women the power they did to make this film, but not surprisingly, it was another woman, Donna Langley, the president of production at Universal who made the call to trust these women.

Here's some great info on the film's history from a recent NY Times piece:
Ms. Craymer said that she hadn’t been trying to make a feminist point when she first enlisted Ms. Johnson and Ms. Lloyd to help realize her notion of an Abba musical or when she started hiring people for the film. But somehow, as she sought to fill the movie crew with others who “got” the “Mamma Mia!” factor, she ended up with even more women, including the production designer, Maria Djurkovic; the costume designer, Ann Roth; and the editor Lesley Walker.

Ms. Lloyd agreed that “the female team thing” resulted from “personality and talent rather than, ‘Oh, we’re going to have an all-girls team.’ ” But, she added, “I think it was fundamental.” And she reminded Ms. Craymer of something that happened when they first started thinking about the show: “I remember you saying that you asked Benny and Bjorn what they felt about having a woman director, and they actually said they actively liked collaborating with women.” Ms. Lloyd went on to surmise that the men’s Scandinavian ease with women in positions of power informed the whole project.
So I guess it's progress that this film has escaped the sexist overtone of Sex and the City. But I'm still wondering why Sex rubbed people so bad.
The Mamma Mia Factor Times Three (NY Times)
photo credit: Fred R.Conrad/ NY Times
from left to right- Catherine Johnson, Phyllida Law, Judy Craymer

Vanity Fair = Girls and Women in Underwear

I'm a big fan of most of the writing in Vanity Fair but I get pissed off at how they dress -- or don't dress -- the women and girls in their photos. Each month they feature an up and coming young actress in a 50s style pose in their "vanities" section and lately I've noticed that each month the picture is quite provocative. Here's their description of the section. No wonder I have a problem with it.

Since 1992, the magazine’s Vanities section has opened with a full-page portrait of a promising young star. In September 2006, we tweaked the format: the Vanities opener now features an up-and-coming actress in a 50s-style pinup shot. These shapely ingĂ©nues are on the cusp of fame or have just hit it big; they have names you need to know and faces you won’t have trouble remembering. Here’s a look at all the bombshells who’ve struck a playful pose in the new retro style.
This month's cover on the "new" Hollywood put me over the edge. The young women of the new wave were featured on the cover in their underwear, and were featured inside in lovely dresses. The young men of the new wave were fully clothes at all times. Let's remember that these young women by default get to be role models for other young women and girls.

Am I being too harsh?

Hollywood Feminist of the Day: Holly Hunter

Men can continue to have vibrant, stimulating careers up into their 60s, and that’s not true for women,” she explained. “Once an actress gets to be over 37 or 38, then you really begin to see you’re being offered roles and cast opposite a big movie star. You’re playing his wife, and he’s cheating on you with someone else. The story doesn’t depend upon on your thoughts and actions.
Powerful TV women must face backlash (MSNBC)

July 16, 2008

Gurinder Chadha Directs New Film for Tween Girls Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging

I am a big, big fan of Bend it Like Beckham, the film that introduced us to Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley and made all my friends who know nothing about soccer appreciate it at least a little. The film was a huge world wide hit and was directed by Gurinder Chadha who has also directed Bhaji on the Beach and Bride and Prejudice.

Chadha spent a couple of years following Beckham in Hollywood trying to get a couple of films off the ground including the adaptation of Dallas starring John Travolta. Don't think we'll be seeing that one soon.

Chadha's back in England and is a new mom having given birth to twins at 47. She has just directed a tween comedy Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging about the ups and downs of a 14- year-old girl, based on the book by Louise Rennison. Film is financed by Paramount and looks to be like a Harry Potter for girls. It opens in England on July 25th.

Here's a quote from Chadha on her responsibility to the young women who love her films.

My films do have a big following among young girls, and I want to instill confidence in them, a sense of self-appreciation - to make them feel they can be spirited and say what they feel. It is important to say that the vast majority of 14-year-old girls aren't involved in knife crime. They're more innocent than we know. So now, becoming a parent, I want to make films that recreate childlike wonder. And I'm going to do it!'
Gurinder Chadha talks about Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (The Telegraph)
photo: Christine Parry

One Person CAN Make a Difference

Cynthia Good, founding editor of Pink Magazine, didn't just gripe to herself about the "Men Working" signs. She did something about it. She wrote complaint letters to the mayor of Atlanta and the governor of Georgia and SHOCKER! the signs are being replaced by "Workers Ahead."

'Men At Work' signs to disappear in Atlanta (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

July 15, 2008

Powerful Women on TV Get Called Names- Shocker!

We all know the mantra, women can play strong on TV, yet they are the girlfriend, wife or mother (if they are there are at all) in the movies. But, it shouldn't surprise anyone that powerful women on TV get called the same names that powerful women in real life do. We like our TV women tough, but not too tough to make anyone uncomfortable. The ones that push the boundaries (usually the ones on cable) get called the names.

In anticipation of the Emmy nominations this week some of the actresses who play strong women on TV like Glenn Close and CCH Pounder spoke out in an MSNBC piece talking about their characters (which both incidentally appear on FX.).

From Close: “That kind of language is prevalent for women in positions of power,” Close told msnbc.com. “They’re labeled bitches, spinsters, sexless. It’s still out there. There have been all kinds of studies that women are more attractive if they’re self-effacing and non-aggressive. Under those circumstances, I love playing this character.”
If you haven't seen Damages you gotta get season 1 on DVD (season two will premiere in 2009). Patty Hewes, Close's character, is tough and morally ambiguous -- well, she's actually rotten and mean but you can't really always tell. That's why I love her.

Power to you, Glenn!

I also love the quote from CCH Pounder who has endured the sexism and craziness as the new commander on The Shield. The final season of The Shield will begin airing later this year.
“When women appear to be taking positions that previously represented a man’s domain, men have to do everything, and I mean everything, to keep those women in their place,” Pounder explained. “It’s a struggle to keep the long-held tradition that it’s a man’s world alive, so the word ‘bitch’ is just a minor part of the many putdowns and undermining of women that goes on.”
Bottom line is that no matter if it’s national leaders or fictional characters, there seems to be a double standard when men and women act in power-seeking ways.

Powerful TV women must face backlash (MSNBC)
Close photo: Remand Garr/PR Photos

Hollywood Feminist of the Day: Minnie Driver

I hate the idea of reaching a certain age and being put in this box that forces actresses to become these battle-axes who speak out against youth culture. F--- you! Every woman gets stronger and progressively more beautiful as she ages, and I swear that television is representing that as a direct countermovement to magazines and movies. On the other extreme, young women get squashed into hideous roles showing most of their bodies and become infantalized. We need to start celebrating who we are and where we're at instead of loading up on plastic surgery to survive.
Who knew Minnie was such a kick-ass feminist?

from an interview with the Hollywood Reporter
photo: Rounder Records

July 14, 2008

My Favorite Women Centric Shows Premiere Tonight

You gotta love the TNT. First, you can always watch Law & Order anytime. And tonight, in this pathetic sea of a summer, finally comes the premiere of two of my favorite shows -- The Closer and Saving Grace. Both shows totally rock and are led by two of the current TV greats, Kyra Sedgwick and Holly Hunter. I always knew that Holly Hunter was a great actress, but Kyra Sedgwick has just blossomed as Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson. The first two seasons she had a really hard time with the men under her command, but last season the team really came together and she leads them with authority and trust. I think her leadership style is quite interesting.

What I love about Brenda is that she is so kick ass as an investigator and a total disaster in her personal life. I guess disaster might be a little strong, but she has issues. Last season she got engaged to FBI agent Fritz Howard (played by Jon Tenney with a great sense of humor) and he really helps keep her calm. I love the fact that she hid her cat from her landlord because pets weren't allowed, but never could remember that the cat was a girl.

Saving Grace is a totally different story. Grace is just a whirlwind. She and the show never calm down. Holly Hunter is so skinny and little as dedicated cop Grace Hanadarko who loooves her booze and sex. She also has a guardian angel who is trying to help her deal with her ambivalence with God and her guilt over the death of her sister in the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing. Just like Rescue Me is so tied to 9-11, Saving Grace's soul is tied to the Oklahoma City bombing.

Anther interesting aspect of Saving Grace is the lifelong friendship between Grace and Rhetta, a deeply religious forensic scientist, played by Laura San Giacomo. They love each other in a non judgmental way which is rare in life, and rarer on TV. Last season they introduced Lorraine Toussaint (who starred in creator Nancy Miller's Any Day Now) as the new police captain who also has a long term friendship with Grace. All three women support each other and don't compete.

Check out my interview with Saving Grace creator Nancy Miller.

You gotta watch these shows. The Closer is on at 9 and Saving Grace at 10. Both on TNT.

More info:
Interview with Holly Hunter (Philly News)
Just a Minute with Kyra Sedgwick (Reuters)
Phot credits: Holly Hunter- Jeff Riedel, Kyra Sedgwick- Focus Hollywood/PR Photos

Interview with Nancy Miller, Creator and Executive Producer of Saving Grace

Nancy Miller has worked on some of the most female-centric shows on TV. The list includes Profiler, Any Day Now (which she created) and recently The Closer. Last year her newest creation Saving Grace premiered on TNT. Grace is one of the most interested and wild characters ever to appear on TV. She sometime looks like a train wreck waiting to happen but always manages to pull herself together. What's also interesting about Saving Grace is that Miller really questions issues of spirituality, in some ways challenges the audience to think uncomfortably about God, which is so rarely seen on TV. I love this show, and I love the incredibly honest and revealing answers that Miller has given below. This is one of the best interviews we've had.

Women & Hollywood: There has never been a character quite like Grace on TV before. The only other character in the same ballpark to me is Christine Cagney from Cagney & Lacey. Why did you want to write a character that threw out all the illusions and stereotypes so much so that some people have a hard time relating to Grace.

Nancy Miller: I think, I hope, that there are parts of Grace that people can relate to. I came very honestly to this character...not thinking about what she "should" be...not thinking about what Hollywood has often deemed female roles to be.... not thinking politically correct or any of that crap -- just total raw honesty, about a woman who leads her life with no illusions of perfection about herself - or anyone else. If there are extreme sports...Grace leads an extreme life... right to the edge of all those places most of us are too afraid to go. I well understand this show is not for everyone.
W&H: Did you create the character with Holly Hunter in mind?
NM: I did not create this role for Holly. I could never have dreamed so big. But what Holly has brought to Grace, has made her better, stronger, smarter, than anything I could have ever done alone.
W&H: Grace is clearly in pain on so many levels particularly related to the death of her sister in the Murrah Building bombing. What is it about the pain that fuels Grace?
NM: Yes, Grace feels pain in different areas of her life. If it fuels her, she does not run on this alone. Love, sex, humor, danger, fun, are all aspects of Grace's life that fuels her as well. The pain in her life hurts - but it also helps her to see the flip side of that, and crave the fun even more.
W&H: It's very rare to see a woman so comfortable with her sexuality. Have you gotten any push back on the starkness of Grace's sexuality?
NM: Grace is a very sexual creature. Again, not a show for everyone. But Grace, and I, make no apologies about Grace's sex life. Should she have an affair with a married man? In my opinion, no. And we may address that at some point. But Grace is a sexual being because of who she is -- not because of what happened to her by Father Murphy. Is that all mixed up in there? Sure. But it does not define Grace, or her sex life.

Grace is not a one-man woman. She doesn't lie about it, she is honest about it -- it is the men who can't handle that. People have said some stuff but I usually shut 'em up fast with something like: "Well, I never heard anyone talking about Tony Soprano and all the women he slept with." It is still a double standard in this and many things in our country when it comes to men and women. But Grace loves sex. Period.
W&H: I love the relationship between Grace and Rhetta. They love each other completely and are not in competition. You also created another female friendship in Any Day Now. As a person who writes women's relationships so well why are there so few series that show true female friendships?
NM: There are few shows about the friendships between women because mostly men buy the shows who get on the air. I don't think it's deliberate, I just don't think they realize the dramatic relationships between women, how much fun they can be. I also blame women writers.... We need to write more about this kind of stuff. Add it to our scripts, don't make it an afterthought that can be cut. Make it central to the story you are telling.
W&H: Why is cable so welcoming of female led shows?
NM: I think cable is much smarter on the whole about everything. Cable trusts the writers and creative talent they have hired. Cable allows us to bring more of our vision to the screen, without a ton of interference. Cable is much much braver. They know that their numbers, ratings, can be smaller, and that it may be easier to find that audience with women. I really don't know -- I just thank God for cable!
W&H: Women writers still make up less than a third of TV writers. Why do you think that the numbers are still so low and what can be done to improve the numbers?
NM: Women have to keep fighting and keep writing. Keep banging and knocking down doors. And when you get the chance to hire somebody -- remember diversity in color, religion, gender. When I watch the Emmys and a show wins a writing award and a bunch of white men get up there to accept the award - I am embarrassed for them. It tells me immediately that their show is very narrow-minded, and honestly -- run by some very insecure white guy. Until I had my own show, I was always the only woman in the room. Things are changing slowly. But women should not be given a freebie either -- work hard, prove you are as good as the boys, make them have to hire you because you have talent and a work ethic that will make them weep.
W&H: You are the creator, executive producer and writer of Saving Grace. What advice would you offer to women who have a perfect idea for a TV show and want to get into TV.
NM: You have to go for it -- and never give up. When people tell you no, keep looking until you find the person who will tell you yes. Build relationships. Nurture them. The assistant today is the studio executive of tomorrow. Know your craft. CRAFT. Different from talent. I didn't know story structure until I had my own show on the air...which is not a good thing. To sum it up: if you know you have a good idea, don't quit until you find a home for it.
Amazingly helpful insights.
photo credit: Erik Heinila