September 5, 2008

Women at the Box Office This Weekend

The date might read September 5 on the calendar but it still feels like summer in a variety of ways. It's been hotter in NY this week than it was all through August, and at the box office, there is one last gasp of mindless summer flicks before we get to more serious fall fare. None of the new releases this weekend look worthy of anyone's money.

In thinking forward towards fall, for those interested in seeing women on screen, the rest of September and October look good with releases like: The Women; Hounddog; The Duchess; The Family That Preys; The Secret Life of Bees; Rachel Getting Married; Towelhead; Happy-Go-Lucky; I've Loved You So Long and Changeling. It slows down in November and December with Twilight; Doubt; Wendy and Lucy and Nothing But the Truth. Other films like The Reader and The Time Traveler's Wife are still jockeying for dates. I'll keep you informed as best as I can. Please let me know if I am missing any releases.

Women-Centric Films in Theatres
Trouble the Water -
Frozen River
A Girl Cut in Two (LA)
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl
Mamma Mia! -
sing along version is playing in a variety of cities
The Longshots
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
Sex and the City
American Teen

Women & Hollywood friend Judith Light stars in Save Me.

Coming Next Week
The Women -
will have interview with Diane English
Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys -
starring Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates

I'm A Survivor!

Happy two year anniversary, Katie. Keep fighting the good fight!

Katie Couric marks second anniversary at CBS
Photo: Janet Mayer/PR Photos

Interview with Judith Light

I spent a lot of time with Judith Light when I was growing up. It seems that Who's the Boss was always on in my house. Do you remember that awesome show? Tony Danza took care of the house while Judith Light worked? Loved that show. you think a show like that would be on TV today?

Ms. Light now plays Claire Meade on Ugly Betty. She's also a prominent outspoken advocate on HIV/AIDS issues. She's put her money where her mouth is and appears (and produces) a new film Save Me about the crazies in the ex-gay movement. The film opens in NY today. (It will roll out in other cities over the next few weeks.)

She answered some questions about her new film and the upcoming season of Ugly Betty which premieres on September 25th on ABC.

Women & Hollywood: Your new film Save Me about the controversial ex-gay movement opens in limited release this weekend. Why was being a part of this film so important to you.

Judith Light: As actors, we feel blessed when a project comes along that is actually "about something important." This one was important to me (and also why I am a producer on the film) because I see how much suffering is created in the GLBT community by religious bigotry and prejudice. We all also saw it as an opportunity to tell a story in which no one, or no "side", is demonized or caricatured. We want to start a conversation about this issue and that is very important to me. As a side note, at our premiere at Sundance, the Christian bloggers were very generous toward us and really understood what we were trying to do. It was very validating.
W&H: What is the message of Save Me?
JL: Be courageous, be who you are, honor that, own that because it is your truth. Being who you are creates a powerful, creative, joyful society. As religion teaches, love is the answer, but it has to experienced and lived not lectured about or used as a basis for judgment or condemnation. Also, there is nothing more important than love. Love is not to be dictated by one group of people dictating to another group of people who they can love. Let no one define you but you!
W&H: You've done a lot of work in the HIV/AIDS community. Women are the largest growing segment of people affected with HIV/AIDS. Why is working on this issue so close to your heart?
JL: We are still dealing with this pandemic here and abroad after all these years. It is time to take a stand with passion to end it and to educate the society that AIDS, even though it is not on the front page of our newspapers everyday, has not gone away. As we have all said from the very beginning, we are all "people living with HIV/AIDS". Truly, I think there is an enormous need for literally everyone to be working on this issue.

It is devastating that women are the largest growing segment of people being affected, however, women are so powerful that when women are educated and take a stand on this issue, HIV/AIDS will most definitely transform. I do believe it is the women who can make this change.

One of the rather mind-boggling and strange things about this disease is how often it seems to have some of what I call "metaphorical aspects." At the outset, it was allowed to grow worse and worse until we started to respond to the underlying homophobia that had been previously denied. Women (and African-Americans particularly) tend often to pay a price for the choices made by the men in their lives. AIDS will continue to increase in these groups until they stand up and claim their own self worth and their own control over their individual destiny. It is our job to support them in that process.
W&H: You've played some strong women on TV including the recurring role as the head DA of the sex crimes unit on Law & Order SVU. What draws you to these roles?
JL: I like to portray characters that make a difference in the world in some way, or that people can understand, empathize with or use the information being expressed about that woman, to affect change in their own lives.

I believe the true nature of women is powerful. It may be a quiet power, it may take different forms, different jobs and different expression but we are powerful, nonetheless. These women I portray know, understand and use their power well to affect change in their world or the world at large.
W&H: Your character on Ugly Betty, Claire Meade is a complicated woman struggling with issues like aging which we are beginning to see more of on TV but not in film. Why do you think that TV is more welcoming to fully realized female characters while film seems to struggle with this issue?
JL: You have defined Claire very well. Through television you reach a huge population of people who are interested in seeing this issue. Television has always led the way in breaking ground with any issue. The powers that be recognize that people want to see other folks like themselves, so they are responding to the desire of their viewers. They also know that it is the baby boomers who are dealing with this issue now that have money! So if they are liking what they are watching, this supports the advertisers.

The truth is that television has always had a tendency to lead the culture as opposed to film. Television already has an audience so, with skill and courage, it is possible to push the boundaries. To do that in film, in something like Brokeback Mountain, is a huge risk and therefore an equally enormous achievement. So if you want to change the culture, bring up an issue on television. Magically, all of a sudden, it will be all the talk around the water cooler!

Hollywood Feminist of the Day: Charlize Theron

I couldn't be more psyched to see her new film The Burning Plain that is now in competition at the Venice Film Festival which stars Theron and Kim Basinger. She produced the film and in a press conference stuck up for the pathetic lack of opportunities for actresses as the age.

Theron recommended Basinger for The Burning Plain and explained: "Right from the beginning we had a discussion about who we thought would play this role. There was a list, because there are only nominal actresses of that age. They are great actresses.
"Kim is amazing. There is a strength about Kim now, at her age, more than when she was working in her 30s. She has a left-over vulnerability from her 20s that you can really see."
Venice Film Festival 2008: Charlize Theron salutes film actresses over fifty (The Telegraph)
Theron embraces producing role (BBC)
photo: Albert L. Ortega PR/Photos

September 4, 2008

Women Don't Rate on Vanity Fair's New Establishment List

Vanity Fair loves its lists. Next month's issue covers the "new establishment" those mostly men folk who are the "leaders of the information age" and are reaping in the bucks while most of us plebs struggle. Out of 100 entries (there are a bunch of entries that include more than one person) there are only 9 women on the list and several of them are listed with husbands. Can't they do any better and why are most of the women on the list in fashion?

9- Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt
18- Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg
30- Miuccia Prada
43- Oprah Winfrey
50- Diane Sawyer and Mike Nichols
57- Oscar and Annette de la Renta
64- Anna Wintour
75- Donatella Versace
90- Arianna Huffington

New Establishment

Successful Girl Writing Team

Congrats to Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith on getting their new movie The House Bunny made. But really, The House Bunny? These are the women who gave us Legally Blonde, 10 Things I Hate About You and Ella Enchanted and now we get The House Bunny? I haven't seen it, but a story about an aging playboy bunny who gets kicked out of the mansion because she's oh my god, aging, really doesn't interest me.

The good news is that they are quite busy, and their upcoming films look to be better than their current one -- The Ugly Truth starring Katherine Heigl, and Smith is producing the new Drew Barrymore directed roller derby film Whip It.

Even though I don't have a bit of interest in The House Bunny I'm interested in their future projects. Here's quote from a recent NY Times profile on the writing team:

Their mission, “to make movies we want to see,” as Ms. Smith put it, resonates with their current star. “I don’t always want to be the straight girl to the zany guy,” Ms. Faris said. “It’s unfortunate that studios shy away from female-centered movies because there’s a huge audience for them. And what Kirsten and Karen are doing is part of our solution, I guess.”
Ms. Faris laughed. “I’d love to continue this, be a part of what they’re doing. The boys are doing it. Why not us?”
I agree, why not us?

Women (Real and Fictional) Defying Expectations (NY Times)

Interesting Films at Toronto

The Toronto Film Festival is getting underway and there are a couple of films unspooling there that I can keeping my eye on:

  • I've Loved You So Long- starring Kristin Scott Thomas- opens in NY on October 24th.
  • Burning Plain- starring Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger
  • Girl from Monaco- directed by Anne Fontaine
  • Nothing but the Truth- the new film from Rod Lurie (creator of Commander in Chief) - loosely based on the Judith Miller reporting scandal and starring Kate Beckinsale
  • Hurt Locker- new film from the always interesting Kathryn Bigelow
  • Lovely, Still - starring Ellen Burstyn and Martin Landau. A late in life love story.
  • Skin- a dark skinned daughter is born to light skinned parents in 1955, South Africa. Written and directed by Anthony Fabian.
  • Wendy and Lucy - Michelle Williams directed by Kelly Reichardt. Premiered at Cannes and will be released here later this fall.

6 Female Writers Win Rona Jaffe Foundation Award

The 14th annual Rona Jaffe Awards winners which are given to female writers "of talent and promise in the early stages of their writing careers" was announced yesterday. Each woman gets $25,000. Nice. Awards will be given out on September 18th.

Winners are:

  • Jennifer Culkin, Bainbridge Island, Wash.
  • Amy Leach, of Evanston, Ill.
  • Joanne Dominique Dwyer of Santa Fe, N.M.
  • Jolie Lewis of Richwood, W.Va.
  • Hasanthika Sirisena, a native of Sri Lanka now living in New York City
  • Therese Stanton, Tillson, N.Y

September 3, 2008

DVD Alert: Itty Bitty Titty Committee

I love that name and I love the women who run Power Up the organization/production company behind Itty Bitty Titty Committee. They are the only LGBT non-profit film company. According to the women at Power Up money to make LGBT films in the US is being cut while it is increasing overseas. So, they've taken on the issue and are producing their own films. Itty Bitty Titty Committee is their latest film, and after playing the film fest circuit and markets across the US, it is now coming to DVD.

Directed by Jamie Babbitt (But I'm a Cheerleader) the film tells the story of a young Latina woman (Melonie Davis) who works in an LA area plastic surgeon's office who falls in with an underground radical group of women - CiA - Clits in Action. They are a hilarious group of rabid feminists who just are sick and tired of seeing women objectified on a daily basis and try to come up with actions to get their point across. Sometimes the film tries too hard and hits the audience over the head with the feminist rhetoric, but it's a fun movie, has great music, and I loved the politics. This is a lesbian film for Gen Y just like Go Fish was the lesbian film for Gen X.

Watch the trailer:

Buy the DVD and help support Power Up: Itty Bitty Titty Committee. If you can't buy it, you can rent it on Netflix.
More about Power Up

Helen Mirren Steps in a Big Pile of Poo

I'm a big fan of "The Queen", Helen Mirren because she actually embraces her age (did you see the recent tabloid photo of her in a bikini on vacation?), but in a recent interview with the UK's GQ she spouts off some pretty retro views of date rape. I admire her candor in admitting she was date-raped several times in her late teens and twenties, but shortsighted comments like this one are getting her into hot water.

"I don't think [a woman] can have that man into court under those circumstances," she continued, "It's such a tricky area, isn't it? Especially if there is no violence. I mean, look at Mike Tyson. I don't think he was a rapist."
Mike Tyson not a rapist? We went through that a long time ago and wasn't he convicted of rape? I mean, doesn't she know that every two minutes a person is sexually assaulted in this country?

The rape crisis community in England is pissed and rightly so.
"Dame Helen's comments are not only disappointing, but unhelpful and dangerous," says Katie Russell, from the Rape Crisis Federation of England and Wales. "In practice, only a tiny minority of women report to the police and this is in part because they fear not being believed or find themselves blamed for their experiences. Attitudes such as those attributed to Helen Mirren only serve to exacerbate this situation."
Since the shit storm broke Mirren clarified her statement saying that the interview was taken out of context and that people should judge the full remarks not just the salacious excerpts. The interview is not yet available on the internet.

September 2, 2008

What the Success or Failure of the Women Might Mean for Women

First things first, this piece is not about the actual content of the film The Women. I haven't seen it yet (will see it tonight) but I have been trying to see it and get information about it for months. I've been very patient through my stonewalling, but it's never a good sign when there is only one all media screening here in NY that occurs the day after Labor Day (and the invite is sent out in the dead of August) when most film people are on their way to Toronto and everyone else is trying to get back on track after summer.

But it could just be that it took a long time to edit (as I was told this summer) and it wasn't ready to be seen. Now, I'm not stupid or naive, and I hope that the dodging by Picturehouse (the studio) is unwarranted. That being said, I don't hear great things (there, I've said it) from people I trust, so I'm nervous.

Why am I nervous about a movie? It's just a movie, right? Yes and no. Of course, it's just a movie and there are so many other important things to worry about like recovering from a hurricane and getting Barack Obama elected, but this is the next big movie targeted at women and its success or failure has an impact on the next film targeted at women.

I wish that I didn't have to make that statement. No single film should be burdened with this, especially not a small budgeted, long-gestating film by a first time director based on a beloved classic.

But we all know that women and women's films are held to a higher standard. I didn't create this dynamic, I just call it like it is.

We had a great summer for women at the box office with the successes of Sex and the City and Mamma Mia!. These films soared beyond expectations. Both films are in the top 20 grossers of the year. As of last week, Sex has made $152 million in the US and $236 million overseas. Mamma Mia has made $126 million in the US and $250 million overseas. I guess that blows up the argument that people (i.e. men) won't go to see women onscreen outside the US.

Warner Brothers which subsumed Picturehouse last spring was smart to rethink its release pattern for The Women after the success of Sex and the City. Everyone (who works in the business) knows that there is no way that The Women box office will measure up to Sex and the City or Mamma Mia! and that's ok and TO BE EXPECTED. The film had a much lower budget ($16 million) and will open on less screens, and summer is over.

So, keeping things in perspective, when the media inevitably starts talking again about how maybe Sex and the City and Mamma Mia! were flukes and that women aren't a market because we don't rush out and see The Women in the same numbers that we saw the earlier films, we need to push back hard.

Honestly, I think the folks in Hollywood would be happy to write off this summer of success as another fluke just like it has done each and every year before. Because think about it, if Hollywood actually has to think about making movies for women then they actually might have to work much harder, hire more women writers and directors and create stories to appeal to this market.

So no matter how good or how bad The Women is (I'll let you know after I see it), we need to not let Hollywood use this film to push back on an incredibly successful summer for women at the box office.

Check out Missy Schwartz's piece on The Women in the current issue of EW.

Hollywood Feminist of the Day: Reese Witherspoon

For speaking out against domestic violence in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

“There isn’t a woman in the world that doesn’t have a friend or a partner who’s actually experiencing some sort of violence against them, so I think although domestic violence hasn’t happened to me personally, I certainly know women who are dealing with this struggle every day.”
Photo: ShowStalker

Women & Hollywood in the Arizona Republic

In anticipation of the release of The Women on September 12, Bill Goodykoontz put together this overview piece: Good year for women in film Will we look back on this year as a good one for women in film, or another year where we had some tremendous successes that get forgotten quickly? Hope not.

"Women directors, because there are so few of them, are held to a much higher standard," says Melissa Silverstein, whose popular blog, Hollywood & Women, examines issues of women and movies. "When a woman director fails, it reflects on other women directors. But when a male director fails, the standard is not the same. Men can fail and get the next job, whereas if a woman fails, she disappears."