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This Week in Hollywood’s Ongoing Struggle with Gender Equality

A study re-inforced what had widely been suspected. Two Avengers actors said something pretty stupid. Another Avengers actor did the opposite. Marvel came under fire for not having enough toys for girls. DC announced a well-intentioned project which was instantly labeled “separate but equal.” Rose Byrne started an all-female production company, following close behind a similar announcement from Meryl Streep (and over a year behind something similar from Will Ferrell). And Helen Mirren reminded us how awesome she is while discussing sexism in the media and Hollywood’s pay gap.

Yep. It’s been a busy week or two for gender issues in Hollywood. What does it all mean? Things can improve if we’re more aware of the problem, sexism is institutionalized in Hollywood and the toy industry just like anywhere else, words like “whore” and “slut” still hurt, male actors are so pampered they can’t believe what it’s like to answer the types of questions normally reserved for members of the opposite sex, sometimes you need to become the change you want to see in the world, and Helen Mirren is our spirit animal.

The Study: Hollywod & Gender Stereotypes Behind the ScenesWomen in FilmOver half of the people seeing films in the U.S. are women, but in the actual films being put out women don’t even manage to account for one-third of all speaking roles. That’s some straight up bullshit, to the point that even the theater owners are calling for change, albeit while applauding the studios for stepping up to give us more female-led projects this summer (e.g., Pitch Perfect 2, Spy, Hot Pursuit).

And some study seems to come out every couple of months to update us on how bad things are for women both on screen and behind the camera. The latest is the conclusion of the Sundance Institute and Women in Film’s three-year study of Hollywood hiring practices/survey of film buyers and female directors. Men outnumbered women 23-to-1 as directors of the 1,300 top-grossing films since 2002, and gender stereotyping is largely to blame. Women are far more likely to work in independent film, and 44% of the surveyed movie buyers/sellers said women have gravitated that way because they clearly makes films which are intended for a less significant portion of the marketplace. A quarter of film buyers/sellers believed women simply don’t want to direct big budget movies, yet nearly half of the surveyed female directors (43.9%) claimed to have an interest in larger-budget, action or blockbuster films. Just over a tenth (12%) of the film buyers/sellers said women can’t handle directing big movies with huge production crews, and while the surveyed female directors would likely disagree 70% of them did confirm that they have received some pushback (“challenged by a work colleague while filming”) from crews unaccustomed to taking orders from a female director.

Ultimately, the study concluded, “It is clear that the film industry must grapple with not only the paucity of female directors working at its highest ranks but also the image industry leaders hold regarding female directors. To journey from gender inequality to parity, decision-makers and advocates must work to alter their perceptions about what women can and want to do in their careers. This requires moving away from narrow and limiting stereotypes to conceptions of women that are as open and unbounded as those surrounding men.”

If you’re curious, I covered all of this in much more detail when the preliminary results of this study were made available over a year ago around the time we first learned WB was going to hire a woman to direct Wonder Woman.

How Dare You Say That About Black Widow!avengersAll of that was still hanging over our heads when Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner conceded defeat to the mind-numbing rigors of all-day press junkets by letting loose with some seriously ill-advised comments about Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Trust me, it’s far harder that it might seem to simply point out how Black Widow, as the token female member of the Avengers, has consistently been paired off with other male members of the team according to the needs of their respective solo films. She flirted with Tony Stark in Iron Man 2 as part of her undercover mission, had an ill-defined past relationship with Hawkeye motivating much of her behavior in The Avengers, displayed what the directors called a “work-wife, work-husband” relationship with Cap in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and now an actual romance with Bruce Banner in Age of Ultron. When this was all presented to Evans and Renner as a question during a press junket they jokingly responded as jilted lovers, calling Black Widow a “whore” and “slut.”  Well, that wasn’t smart.  The Nerdist said it “ultimately paints a bigger picture about the underrepresentation and lack of respect for the women of the superheroverse,” the guys apologized.

Especially When You See The Type of Questions Scarlet Johansson Normally Has To Answer

And then things turned positive again when a Cosmopolitan UK reporter told Mark Ruffalo and Scarlet Johansson that she was going to flip the questions around, showing Ruffalo what it’s like to be the one getting asked all of the sexist questions. He was game, playing along with questions like, “Do you have any special poses for the red carpet that you know are going to be so flattering?” and “Did you feel much pressure to slim down, get in shape, go on a diet?” Johansson seemed to especially enjoy the show, and then hunkered down when she got the more serious questions about her stuntwork and character motivation. Kudos to Ruffalo for being so game, but the real kudos goes to Cosmopolitan UK.

But Especially When We’re Already Pretty Peeved About The Black Widow Age of Ultron Merchandising Or General Lack Thereof

Black Widow ToyAccording to The Nerdist, Black Widow “is still pushed aside on t-shirts and promotional materials, with merchandise featuring Black Widow paltry in numbers compared to her male counterparts.” That sucks.  It speaks to a long-standing belief that boys drive superhero-related toy sales, e.g., boys will buy the Captain America action figure while the girls will go for another Elsa (from Frozen) figurine.

Yet Now That DC Is Trying to Target Girls We’re Not Happy?

DC-Super-Hero-Girls_5537ee21c01bd1.39734216According to Variety, “DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Animation and Warner Bros. Consumer Products are joining forces with Mattel to launch DC Super Hero Girls, a new multiplatform superhero universe aimed at female fans aged 6-12, a typically underserved demographic when it comes to comicbook properties.” Debuting in the fall, this new line will focus on the lives of DC characters like Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Bumble Bee, Poison Ivy and Katana “ during their formative years — prior to discovering their full superpowered potential.” This is going to include digital content/publishing, TV specials, made-for-videos, toys, apparel, books and other assorted products.

Warner Bros. President of Consumer Products, Brad Globe, said, “Developing a superhero franchise exclusively for girls that includes all of the key components of a comprehensive entertainment experience — from content to consumer products — is something we are excited to be doing in conjunction with our great partners. It’s really an honor to be part of this cultural moment and to be delivering a concept so rooted in a relatable and empowered theme that the characters of DC Comics are uniquely able to present.”

Forbes’ Scott Mendelson, a huge comic book fan with a young daughter, repeatedly stressed his appreciation for WB’s effort while also basically shitting all over it:

Girls don’t need a whole new ”girl-powered” universe just for them, they just need to be included in the universe that already exists. The intentions are surely good and having this launch is better than nothing, but what this DC Super Hero Girls product does indeed separate the “girl versions” of these characters from the “normal versions” of these characters. Boys get to play with “normal” Batman, Superman, and Flash while girls get “before their prime” teenage versions of Wonder Woman and the like […]What they have done is create a (all due respect regarding the origins of this term) “separate but equal” “girl version” of the DC Comics universe, one where the boys get to play with super powered heroes at their peak potential while girls get to play with teenage and apparently de-powered versions of Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn.

That’s Awesome, Rose Byrne

1429108944686Following in the footsteps of Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, and odd-as-it-may-seem Will Ferrell, Rose Byrne formed a new production company, The Dollhouse Collective, to “develop theatre, film and television together and tell stories with a strong female presence.” Byrne is joined in the company by The Last Impresario director Gracie Otto, theater and opera director Shannon Murphy, producer Jessica Carrera, and actor Krew Boylan. This is after Witherspoon transitioned into producing to help create better roles for herself (The Wild) as well as better roles for other actresses (Gone Girl), Merly Streep funded a screenwriting lab for women over the age of 40, and Will Ferrell put together a female-centric offshoot of his company Gary Sandhez Productions, the sister company appropriately named Gloria Sanchez Productions. The Dollhouse Collective has three feature films, all to be written and directed by women, in advance development stages.

Bring Us Home, Helen Mirren

The 2015 Women In The World Summit,  Lincoln Center, New York City; 4/23/2015Those questions Mark Ruffalo had to answer eventually inspired him to ask Scarlet Johansson if she really had to deal with those questions all the time. Hellen Mirren’s had it far worst. Appearing at Tina Brown’s three-day Women in the World summit, Mirren discussed a 40-year-old interview she had with Michael Parkinson (“the Charlie Rose of his time”) in which he used “equipment” as a euphemism for her breasts when asking whether or not she thought they got in the way of people taking her seriously. Mirren does not necessarily think sexism in the media has actually improved that much since then, “The worst version of that, honestly, is often being interviewed by female journalists who insist on going on and on about plastic surgery.” She also had an opinion about the pay gap in Hollywood whereby men routinely make more than women, “”I read somewhere that when a young couple goes out on a date, the boy won’t go see the movie the girl wants to see, but the girl will go to see the movie the boy wants to see. Which is why men drive box office [numbers] and the Bruce Willises and Brad Pitts of the world get far more money.” She received a huge applause later on, “People often say, ‘It’s so terrible that women don’t have great roles in movies.’ I say: Forget that. That doesn’t matter. Change roles for women in life, and you will find the roles for women in drama.”

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7 comments

  1. lol, love the pundit. I have my own thoughts about Black Widows role in Age of Ultron (scheduled to be published in four weeks).

    I am hopeful that we are shortly before a shift. It feels that way.

    1. There is clearly much to be said about Black Widow. There was already much debate about her role before the film came out, and now that it is out I am already seeing debates about what Whedon did with her. I won’t be able to see the film until Friday, but my initial impulse is that Scarlet’s real-life pregnancy might have impacted the film. According to this EW article, that’s not at all the case:

      http://www.ew.com/article/2014/07/18/avengers-age-of-ultron-scarlett-johanssons-pregnancy

    1. “People often say, ‘It’s so terrible that women don’t have great roles in movies.’ I say: Forget that. That doesn’t matter. Change roles for women in life, and you will find the roles for women in drama.”

      Yeah, I thought Helen Mirren completely nailed it. There was no way I was going to go out on something other than that quote.

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