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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

is it “obsessive” to want to tell stories about women?

Is it just plain paranoia to suspect that a beautiful but not anorexic woman could get fired from a TV show for not being thin enough? Is there reason to hope that things could be changing for women in entertainment?

Yup, it’s The Week in Women, my weekly column over at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Enjoy.



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  • Patrick

    “Follow your bliss.” — Joseph Campbell

    It’s no more obsessive than Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese’s doing movies about New York, or Spike Lee doing them about the African American community.

  • Paul

    Ask Joss Whedon.

  • Anne-Kari

    @Paul: No kidding!

    @MAJ: Is there some reason the responses are closed over the Alliance of Women Film Journalist site? Cuz I’d love to comment.

  • JoshDM

    It’s only obsessive if it’s about the same woman.

  • It’s only obsessive if it’s about the same woman.

    And she’s underage and has a first name that starts with “L.” (Then again, Dolores Haze’s first name started with a “D” so maybe I should revise that rule…)

  • bree

    Clearly a poorly-worded question from the (male) interviewer, highlighting what is likely a widely-held subconscious belief and prejudice that causes him (and many others) to assume that male film-makers who tend to focus on complex female protagonists are somehow ‘not normal’ and must indicate some weird predilection on the part of the film-maker rather than just a desire to tell a good story.

  • MaSch

    From the article:

    If it’s “obsessive” that women are the central figures of so many of the films of a single filmmaker, what are we to make of the fact that most films by most filmmakers — particularly those who come out of Hollywood — are centered around men? Should we see that as something pathological?

    Well, aren’t there some who do see that as something pathological? (And I can see why someone would think so.)

    By the way, Kathryn Bigelow was asked (kind of) the gender-flipped question, i.e. why is it her movies are always about men?

    The real question is: Are interviewers (present company excluded, of course) obsessed with asking idiotic questions when it comes to sex (in every meaning of the word)?

  • MaryAnn

    Is there some reason the responses are closed over the Alliance of Women Film Journalist site? Cuz I’d love to comment.

    Yeah, I’m not in charge of whether or not comments are open or closed. Feel free to comment here about something I wrote there, though, if you like.

  • MaryAnn

    Well, aren’t there some who do see that as something pathological? (And I can see why someone would think so.)

    Well, sure. I do, for certain. But the mainstream does not. The mainstream sees stories about men as of interest to men and women alike, and universal in their application, yet stories about women are believed to be of interest only to women.

    Have *you* ever seen a male filmmaker asked why all his movies are about men? No. Because that’s assumed to be a normal state of affairs.

  • Paul

    Didn’t Cary Grant get pissed off at Hitchcock for being too obssessed with Ingrid Bergman, giving her all the best shots? Just a rumor I heard.

  • bree

    Exactly, MaryAnn.

    Pixar is an excellent example of this male-centric paradigm: every single one of Pixar’s family flicks has a male protagonist/hero, with female characters in supporting roles.

    I once had a conversation about this with a producer friend who pointed out that culturally, women are conditioned/accustomed to identify with and root for male protagonists – this is the ‘norm’ – but the opposite does not apply to men, who are not conditioned to identify with and root for a female protagonists to nearly the same degree. Thus, a female protagonist in a Pixar movie would be considered financially too risky, with a female protagonist/heroine seen as appealing to girls but not boys, negating a huge chunk of likely ticket sales.

    And the sad thing is, this is probably true to some extent. Thank goodness we have a few brilliant films like SPIRITED AWAY and CORALINE to counter this ridiculous double standard.

  • LaSargenta

    I once had a conversation about this with a producer friend who pointed out that culturally, women are conditioned/accustomed to identify with and root for male protagonists – this is the ‘norm’

    …BUT, funnily enough, if a female starts actually ACTING like a male protagonist, she is outside the “norm”. We females are still supposed to identify with the females while we root for the males.

    I sure love Pedro Almodovar’s films…he has LOTS of interesting women.

  • Hdj

    For a bit I though Tarantino was going be obsessive with Uma , Its not the case but his thing for getting Umaish leads, makes me think thats he’s not entirely over her. If the girl from Inglorious Basterds plays the new bride, then you can’t say I’m being paranoid

  • Chuck

    If having a woman lead is the best way to tell the story at hand then do it. I’ve written a bunch of stories, the stories that need a male lead have a male. The stories that need a female have a female.

    I don’t really like chick flicks, they seemed forced and the guys neutered.

    I don’t really like macho male flicks, also forced and often very dumb.

    I wrote a series that is a spin off from Doctor Who, it features a strong female lead, and those stories would suck any other way. But alas, they’ll never see the light of day.

  • Paul

    We should at least give Pixar points for having so many positive images of women. They’re much more sympathetic and heroic than many of the women I see in live action films.

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