Hollywood Sausage Fest

Anyone who has been tortured by some of the really bad movies getting way too much play at the local theater these days probably wasn’t surprised to read the New York Times story yesterday about the shortage of female power in Hollywood. Despite the fact that women make up 51% of movie goers, three of the four women who held top jobs at Hollywood’s major studios have left in the past 14 months. All have been replaced my men.
I’m no fan of essentialism (i.e. women always make movies other women like because they share some innate sensibilty a.k.a bad romcoms), but there is something unarguably frightening about one of our nation’s most powerful messaging industries being in the hands of only men. There seems to always be a heavy line up of unnecessary sequels, horror and violence at the box office, usually with a little sprinkle of objectification of female bodies throw in for misogynistic measure. Certainly this has something to do with who is holding the purse strings.
I want less Steven Seagal and more Jane Campion, Kimberly Peirce, and Zana Briski. Is that too much to ask?

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38 Comments

  1. EG
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I agree that it’s bad to have Hollywood controlled by men only, but I don’t the opposition you set up, between mindless action/horror/violence movies, and high-falutin’ fare like Jane Campion is really an accurate way of representing the gender break. For one thing, I will always infinitely prefer a low-brow action flick to a thoughtful meditative piece myself; I don’t think that’s a gender split. If you look at the woman they were talking to in the beginning, she was talking about greenlighting the kind of trite romantic comedy stuff that you mentioned earlier on. Hollywood is always going to choose the mass-appeal stuff over the intellectual niche-market. Gender equity in Hollywood would not, I suspect, produce a glut of Jane Campion-like films (which I don’t particularly want to see anyway); it would produce mass-appeal crap directed at women. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t like to see gender confused with high-brown/low-brow.
    And come on, when was the last time Steven Seagal made a movie?

  2. justin
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Yeah, I was going to mention Seagal’s ten year drought in moviemaking. In fact, I don’t the problems are the sequels, which are just going to happen because they’re the safest bet, but that, as you say, K. Peirce hasn’t made a movie in eons. This isn’t me blaming her, but me saying that we should worry more about the little movies than the giant ones, as those are actually seen by nearly as many women as men.

  3. justin
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Yeah, I was going to mention Seagal’s ten year drought in moviemaking. In fact, I don’t the problems are the sequels, which are just going to happen because they’re the safest bet, but that, as you say, K. Peirce hasn’t made a movie in eons. This isn’t me blaming her, but me saying that we should worry more about the little movies than the giant ones, as those are actually seen by nearly as many women as men.

  4. Posted April 27, 2007 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Don’t forget Mira Nair and Mary Harron.
    Take a lesson from the golden age of the American Director (late 60s/early 70s): the importance in making quality films rather than innumerable sequels or TV/video game adaptations is not the ratio of male to female directors but in existing in a time between the bloated studio system and the blockbuster system.
    But, to be fair and to recognize certain pioneers, many of those great movies were made possible by women’s participation: Thelma Schoonmaker as Martin Scorsese’s editor, Joan Tewksbury as Robert Altman’s screenwriter, and Polly Platt as Peter Bogdanovich’s production designer.

  5. EG
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    See, I far prefer the movies that came out of the studio system. I’ll watch any random movie from the 1940s at least once, but for me, the 1960s and the 1970s are the great wasteland when it comes to movies worth watching. And you can’t deny that the studio system put out some truly quality movies: The Thin Man, Singin’ in the Rain, The Wizard of Oz, The Big Sleep.
    And actually, the studio system produced whole rafts of immensely popular and successful movies directed at women: the weepies. Stella Dallas, Mildred Pierce, Imitation of Life, Now, Voyager–these were all movies directed at women, about women’s concerns and relationships, and extremely successful with women. Were they sexist? Some of them, to a certain degree (racist too, expecially Imitation of Life), but not necessarily any more so than movies are today.
    I caught the last half hour of a 1953 movie on TCM the other night that really surprised me, Miss Sadie Thompson, with Rita Hayworth. (SPOILERS TO FOLLOW) It concerns Sadie Thompson, a good-time party girl who’s living in Samoa, on the lam from what seems to be some kind of robbery she did in San Francisco (like I said, I came in late to this one). There’s a moralistic, nasty missionary, Mr. Davison, there as well, and also a bunch of sailors. Thompson and one Sgt. O’Hara fall in love, and O’Hara decides to help Thompson get to Australia, where she’ll be safe from the long arm of the US law, and then he’ll join her there and they’ll live happily ever after. And then (duh-duh) he finds out…that she used to be a prostitute back in SF. And he pretty much flips out and storms off, and Mr. Davison steps in and moralizes at Sadie and she finds God and decides to abjure her chance of escape and happiness and go back to SF to face the music. O’Hara comes back and says the he was wrong to flip out, and he loves her, and they can go to Australia and start over together.
    And then things get unpredictably interesting. She rebuffs him, determined to go back to SF now that she’s found God through Mr. Davison’s moralizing Bible readings. And then…Mr. Davison rapes her (and it’s pretty explicit–there’s no two ways about it). And then kills himself. And then some other people try to make excuses for him. But Sadie doesn’t buy it–she realizes that he was a hypocritical, nasty, rapist pig, and she goes to Australia with Sgt. O’Hara and lives happily ever after (OK, not so realistic depiction of the aftermath of rape, but the scene itself is horrifying, and we’re meant to understand it as horrifying).
    I was quite surprised by the sexual politics of the film. I really didn’t expect it to end like that.

  6. ccall
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    It’s a shame that so few women call the shots in Hollywood. The Directors Guild is something like 94% male, worse than the U.S. Senate.

  7. dckatiebug
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I agree with previous commentors; there are two issues here. One is the mass entertainment/high art divide. The other is the gendering of filmic tropes.
    During the summer, lots of masculine, mass entertainment films get released (which inevitably many women attend; there isn’t essentialist division of taste). At the same time, fewer and fewer feminine films of any conception get released each year.
    Richard Corliss had a pretty good article about this in Time Magazine two weeks ago re: Grindhouse. He thinks that the issue is that young men, not families, now make up the largest part of the viewing audience. (Whereas during the studio era, everyone went to the movies every weekend and so films reflected a wider range of interests, viewpoints, etc.)
    I wonder if it is a what came first question. Why did families stop attending movies together? Was it because most were plotless action films? Or did that result from the demands of the market?
    I guess this also begs the question of how Hollywood determines what people want to see. If they are catering to their own taste, the fact that studio execs are largely male and largely white is a huge issue. Or do they do some sort of research and make decisions based on that? (I think it is probably more the former than the latter.)
    I guess I think am concerned about the lack of feminine films, period. Both the mass appeal ones and the high art ones. While I haven’t gone to see a romcom in theaters in who knows how long, it bothers me that only 6 get released a year. And of course I am also bothered by the lack of more serious films about women. When is the last time you saw a mainstream Hollywood release in which a woman had significant agency or acted like anyone you know in real life? I can’t even begin to think of one.
    When The Hours is the most significant women’s film of the past 5 years, something is definitely, definitely wrong.

  8. dckatiebug
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I agree with previous commentors; there are two issues here. One is the mass entertainment/high art divide. The other is the gendering of filmic tropes.
    During the summer, lots of masculine, mass entertainment films get released (which inevitably many women attend; there isn’t essentialist division of taste). At the same time, fewer and fewer feminine films of any conception get released each year.
    Richard Corliss had a pretty good article about this in Time Magazine two weeks ago re: Grindhouse. He thinks that the issue is that young men, not families, now make up the largest part of the viewing audience. (Whereas during the studio era, everyone went to the movies every weekend and so films reflected a wider range of interests, viewpoints, etc.)
    I wonder if it is a what came first question. Why did families stop attending movies together? Was it because most were plotless action films? Or did that result from the demands of the market?
    I guess this also begs the question of how Hollywood determines what people want to see. If they are catering to their own taste, the fact that studio execs are largely male and largely white is a huge issue. Or do they do some sort of research and make decisions based on that? (I think it is probably more the former than the latter.)
    I guess I think am concerned about the lack of feminine films, period. Both the mass appeal ones and the high art ones. While I haven’t gone to see a romcom in theaters in who knows how long, it bothers me that only 6 get released a year. And of course I am also bothered by the lack of more serious films about women. When is the last time you saw a mainstream Hollywood release in which a woman had significant agency or acted like anyone you know in real life? I can’t even begin to think of one.
    When The Hours is the most significant women’s film of the past 5 years, something is definitely, definitely wrong.

  9. Grandjester
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    “more Jane Campion, Kimberly Peirce, and Zana Briski. Is that too much to ask?”
    I dunno, do they blow shit up?
    The Seagal Ouvure is still going strong in the direct to video aisle.

  10. Posted April 27, 2007 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    I just saw This Film Is Not Yet Rated last night, the American film industry is in a pretty shadowy and scary place.

  11. Ninapendamaishi
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    “The Thin Man, Singin’ in the Rain, The Wizard of Oz, The Big Sleep.”
    I don’t know about you… and I haven’t seen all of those movies, but I do NOT like The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy is so whiny throughout it makes my skin crawl.
    I don’t think movies are sexist b/c they blow shit up (ok, I’m an action/horror-movie junkie myself). But movies directed by men definitely can have a tendency to have female actors that all look a specific way, and act in a certain (often 2-dimensional) sort of way. They also tend to have men that are stereotypically “masculine” and interact with women in particular ways (whether those be positive or negative ways). The whole fantasized man as protector of women thing is still terribly prevalent, for instance. I personally think a lot of the comedies are the worst. “40 Year Old Virgin” for instance…

  12. EG
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Really? I love Dorothy! She’s constantly losing her temper and standing up to bullies with more power than she has.
    Chacun a son gout, I suppose. Feel free to substitute whichever old movie you like best.

  13. Posted April 27, 2007 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    While we’re on a female director kick, let’s also throw Sofia Coppola, Becky Goldberg, Carolina Rivas, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, and Deepa Mehta into the mix!

  14. prairielily
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    What bothers me most is the tendency for children’s movies to have a male lead, unless the movie is explicitly for girls, like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
    I remember thinking this when I saw the movie version of “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” There was a scene in the book where Violet uses her inventor ingenuity to save her younger brother and sister, and it shows that she feels responsible for their well-being and safety now that their parents are gone. In the movie, her brother does the saving. What was the point of changing the scene, besides reinforcing that men have to protect and save women?

  15. Posted April 27, 2007 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of old movies, anyone ever seen The Children’s Hour with Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn?

  16. EG
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Ugh, I gotta say, I hate Sofia Coppola with a burning passion. I could not stand Lost in Translation–oh, the existential angst of being self-indulgent,wealthy and white! oh, the trials of having a wife who actually expects you to remember your children’s birthdays!–I found it quite racist, actually. And Marie Antoinette? It’s like making a movie about Nancy Reagan. People were starving, and I’m expected to care about her sense of style.
    Heh. Speaking of chacun a son gout…
    prairielily, I liked the change in the Snicket movie because it meant that those of us who had already read all the books were still in suspense about how the movie was going to end. I hadn’t thought of your point. I’ll have to rewatch it with that in mind.

  17. Ninapendamaishi
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    “Really? I love Dorothy! She’s constantly losing her temper and standing up to bullies with more power than she has.
    Chacun a son gout, I suppose. Feel free to substitute whichever old movie you like best.”
    I guess I don’t like many old movies. I understand where you’re coming from, in that in many old movies the characters may be /more human/ in some ways, and less likely to totally objectify women. I just don’t like the typical emphasis most of them have on traditional gender roles, and they have the common thing of pretty actress/soft or simpering voice/and really dopy about love. That’s just how I feel though.
    I actually prefer female characters who literally kick some ass to that more traditional-type actress, I guess.
    I think also sometimes male directors can make interedsting movies about women, of course. Has anyone seen “Dangerous Beauty”?

  18. EG
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I love Dangerous Beauty! That’s a great one. I taught a class once on Renaissance Women Writers and organized a viewing of it at the end of the term.

  19. blucas!
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    In the 80s and 90s, the movie industry spent a lot of time and money building ginormous movie theaters in every city and town in America. Now, in the days of Netflix, On Demand, TiVo, et al, those theaters are going half-empty, at best.
    So how do you make money? You take zero chances, and bet on the sure thing. This means lots of 1) Sequels, because they have a built-in fanbase. 2) SCI-FI/Geek/Comic movies of any sort, because, again, built-in fanbase. 3) Movies that appeal to bored teenagers, who are far and away reliable moviegoers, this means lots of horror, gore, exploitation, and low-IQ comedies with Dane Cook and the like. 4) “Family” films of any kind, because they’ll kill on DVD.
    It’s definitely shitty that there aren’t more women in positions of power in Hollywood. I’m just not sure if there were we’d see any better movies, given that green-light decisions are based 125% on economic viability and -25% on actual quality.

  20. Posted April 27, 2007 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have any objection to so many movies where the lead is played by men, so long as the men occasionally play female characters with hilarious results, a la Big Momma’s House.
    Or Steven Seagal could play a female Aikido master who single-handedly takes on a sex slave ring with explosions. Actually, that is the most insulting idea I’ve ever had about women. Sorry.

  21. Posted April 27, 2007 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have any objection to so many movies where the lead is played by men, so long as the men occasionally play female characters with hilarious results, a la Big Momma’s House.
    Or Steven Seagal could play a female Aikido master who single-handedly takes on a sex slave ring with explosions. Actually, that is the most insulting idea I’ve ever had about women. Sorry.

  22. Posted April 27, 2007 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    In my mind, the primary problem with male-run studios is waste. The mass-produced movies directed at either gender are, on the whole, pretty damn stupid. I HATE romantic comedies, and I HATE mindless action flicks. But at least romantic comedies don’t eject gallons of pollution in the air for fake movie explosions. And they don’t shut down the fucking 405 to film a stupid fucking car chase (God DAMN you, Bruce Willis…).
    Personally, I’ll take a smart comedy or a thoughtful sci-fi/thriller/horror over just about anything that gets thrown out these days. Sadly, those are hard to find no matter who’s running the studios…

  23. Posted April 27, 2007 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have any objection to so many movies where the lead is played by men, so long as the men occasionally play female characters with hilarious results, a la Big Momma’s House.
    Or Steven Seagal could play a female Aikido master who single-handedly takes on a sex slave ring with explosions. Actually, that is the most insulting idea I’ve ever had about women. Sorry.

  24. Posted April 27, 2007 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Woops. The server kept returning internal error messages. Sorry about the repeats. I’m not THAT desperate for attention…

  25. oenophile
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    That’s why I don’t go to movies anymore. I hate the violence, the endless hyper-masculanised fight scenes, and the degradation of women. I hate how women are rarely smart; how so many plot lines revolve around the idea that independent women will eventually learn to submit their wills to those of men if they want to find love; how few times there are matches between partners of the same age (so many Sean Connery-Catherine Zeta Jones, so few Renee Russo/Pierce Brosnan)… so I don’t go. I don’t enjoy the experience and I certainly don’t want to give them my money.
    The free market works, though: movie attendance has been declining in recent years. Perhaps it is because Hollywood puts out inane, violent, boring, anti-woman cinema?

  26. Posted April 27, 2007 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    The new isn’t all bad. The female writers and directors who have left the film industry have largely moved into television.
    I’m using the current drought as an opportunity to catch up on classic and foreign films where it seems more ideas are better represented.
    And not to add fuel to the fire, but I love the Die Hard series and thrilled that #4 was originally conceived to be a father/daughter storyline until douchey-McDouche became attached to direct and the sidekick became some unrelated “teen hacker”. Why not just make the daughter 31337, Len? Oh that’s right, because you’re too boring!

  27. sweetwickedgrl
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    I never cared for Wizard of Oz… the flying monkeys freaked me out as a kid, and as I got older I preferred the “Wicked” version of the story… It also bothers me that it’s a story about a girl who leaves home, liberates oppressed peoples (munchkins, and then later you could argue the citizens of Oz who blindly followed the Wizard), makes awesome new friends, only to conclude that she wants to go back to Kansas, and never leave again.
    “The whole fantasized man as protector of women thing is still terribly prevalent, for instance. I personally think a lot of the comedies are the worst. “40 Year Old Virgin” for instance…”
    I love “40 Year Old Virgin”! I’m trying to figure out where it tries to show men as protectors of women… and the closest I can come up with is when Andy takes the daughter to the family planning clinic. I thought that was showing how much he had become a part of the family, plus setting up that scene, rather than showing how he was “protecting” anyone?

  28. EG
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Well, she’s a little girl who misses her mother-figure, a mother-figure she’s been told is very ill and near dying because she ran away–I always identified with that as a kid (and yes, I know Garland wasn’t a little girl, but I think the character she plays is fairly clearly a little girl). As I get older, I find that ending more poignant than anything else, because of course it’s not true. It’s a passionate moment, her return, but eventually, of course, she will grow up and leave (or, I guess, outlive Auntie Em and Uncle Henry).
    Except she doesn’t, because the movie ends.

  29. Ninapendamaishi
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    “I love “40 Year Old Virgin”! I’m trying to figure out where it tries to show men as protectors of women… and the closest I can come up with is when Andy takes the daughter to the family planning clinic. ”
    Umm… that’s not what I meant to say. I was complaining about movies that have men as fantastical protectors, and complaining about “40 Year Old Virgin”, but separately. Those were two separate complaints. (And yes, I do hate that latter movie with a passion)

  30. Posted April 27, 2007 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    sweetwickedgirl–
    Oz really was meant as a metaphor for the populist movement. The Ruby slippers are actually silver slippers in the book (the change was made so that the ruby would look fantastic in the then-new color). Following the yellow brick road (gold standard) lead to nothing but greed and ignorance (in Oz). Happiness is only back home in Kansas.

  31. Ninapendamaishi
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    bittergradstudent,
    I love that theory, but are you sure? Where did you find out about that?
    My understanding of the story was just that the author used to make up very, very fantastical stories to his young relatives. He made them up as he went. Then one day, he decided to write them all down (thus the rather lengthy series of books, that get weirder and weirder as they go on)

  32. EG
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    Well, sort of. It’s a popular interpretation of the book. But in the book, Kansas is a grim and unpleasant place, Uncle Henry and Aunt Em are described as washed-out, gray couple who never smile, and Dorothy’s home-coming is temporary. She revisits Oz several times, and then, as the bank is about to foreclose on the farm, she and Aunt Em and Uncle Henry pick up and move to Oz forever, where she has been made a princess.

  33. Posted April 27, 2007 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    My high school history class. The metaphor runs really deep. The tin man was the Eastern industrial worker, who was capapble, but lacked heart. The Scarecrow was the midwestern farmer, who allowed themselves to be wrapped up in the banking system, and thus desperately needed a brain. The Cowardly Lion was William Jennings Bryan, who had a fanstic roar (“boy orator of the Platte”), but was unable to stand up for what was clearly right.
    The witches are the eastern banking system, killed by home ownership, and the perpetual droughts of the late 1800s, killed by water.
    Here’s a link about it, though I haven’t read it:
    The wonderful Wizard of oz: a parable on Populism

  34. EG
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, the whole thing sounds very ex post facto to me. There’s a lot that goes on the book that isn’t in the movie; the characters go through lots and lots of adventures–the witch is barely one or two chapters–that I never hear mentioned when people talk about the populist metaphor. I’m also not seeing a whole lot evidence from the actual book in that essay–the only evidence that the lion is Bryan is that he tries and fails to attack the Tin Woodman, who the author has already decided is the Eastern worker, and Bryan had failed to win over the Eastern worker. That’s begging the question–assuming the thing you’re supposed to be proving is true.
    Personally, I think it’s an example of the regrettable tendency of adults to appropriate children’s culture whenever it’s any good and claim that it was really for adults all along, as though something that’s directed at kids couldn’t just be worthwhile on its own.

  35. donna darko
    Posted April 27, 2007 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Rebecca Miller’s Personal Velocity was interesting. I also liked Alice Wu’s Saving Face.

  36. jessilikewhoa
    Posted April 28, 2007 at 5:02 am | Permalink

    see, thats why miranda july has to take over the world. also, i really miss janeane garafalo making movies. and tina fey is a goddess.
    i refuse to watch any movies or television shows that dont have at least one well written interesting female character. im not interested in watching some, yes, sausage fest, where girls are there to look “hawt” or be objects.
    i just thought about ally sheedy pre-makeover in the breakfast club, or molly ringwald in pretty in pink, and i had a rush of pure joy.
    i like older films too, everything from silents up to the 80s. i seek out interesting roles for women wherever i can find them.

  37. jessilikewhoa
    Posted April 28, 2007 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    i forgot to mention clueless, which hasnt failed to make me feel good since the first time i saw it when i was in my early teens. cher followed her heart, had complicated relationships with her friends and was confident and independent. i kno its not a feminist film at all, but i like cher. if she was real, id enjoy spending time with her.

  38. Doug S.
    Posted April 28, 2007 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Some of the Hollywood blockbusters are pretty good movies. (I really liked both Spiderman movies, for example.) Others are really stupid. Just vote with your wallets; that’s all we really can do, anyway.

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