movies matter | criticism by maryann johanson
Mon Sep 07 2015, 09:33am | 17 comments
Erm, yes, Brooks, and? Nobody’s saying you can’t make films about men. (I will say that I’m very bored with films where people are in stereotypical roles, which often means they’re “about” men in that only the men get to do stuff while the women stand around looking decorative and waiting to be awarded to the winner.)
I was just reading this essay, and even though it’s only loosely related, I happen to like it, so I’m posting a link:
As many, many people have remarked: People get really upset when things aren’t exactly the same as when they were growing up. And if they’re already feeling powerless and frustrated, they may lash out at anything that’s different from the happy childhood they remember. Even if the world they’re remembering never really existed.
I don’t know if that applies specifically to Brooks Barnes, but it applies to a lot of folks who complain that movies “pander” to women and minorities.
Sometimes I think there’s an underlying fear that motivates comments like Barnes’ above, the fear of men as a group being treated like women have been for so, so long, what irony. Even at Telluride films by/about women are in the distinct minority and yet women having any visible representation can cause this type subconscious irrational panic of a ‘feminized’ festival. Imagine what kind of a reaction a big festival would get with women and their stories having half the actual representation, probably be heralded as the feminized film apocalypse.
If I understand correctly, Barnes doesn’t seem to have a problem with the content of the movies at Telluride, but he doesn’t like the narrative that it is “all about women”. Does he write an article like this for every film festival, or only when the role of women is (god forbid) overstated?
I’m also curious about his quote from Meryl Streep, which, taken out of context, sounds like she might be saying something entirely different: “I’m so tired of hearing about female empowerment,” she said. “I just want women to be included.”. I couldn’t find the source online.
Sounds to me like that quote is saying “I wish we could stop talking about equality and just do it!”
“Until men look around the table and say, ‘You know what’s weird? There’s only two women here and there’s eight men.’ When that feels weird to a man, we will have achieved something,” Streep said with her “Suffragette” director, Sarah Gavron, and screenwriter, Abi Morgan. “We need half. That’s all we ask. Half. In the House. In the Senate. At Universal. At Sony. If it were half, I can’t say the world would be better, but it would be representative.”
and barnes’ article, perhaps wisely, does not allow for comments.
Thanks. Nice article. Unsurprisingly, Streep doesn’t particularly seem to share Barnes’ concern that paying too much attention to the women will lead to ignoring the contributions of deserving men and boys.
I was reminded of hearing a quote that in some context or other, a group consisting of x% women was consistently perceived as being gender-balanced, where x was significantly less than 50.
I went digging to try to track that down and turned up this quote by Geena Davis about female representation in film:
“If there’s 17 percent women, the men in the group think it’s 50-50,” she told NPR. “And if there’s 33 percent women, the men perceive that as there being more women in the room than men.”
Yeah, that number was 17%. Hence the perception that just a handful of visible women or a few people talking about women equals a tidal flood of women-stuff drowning out all other representation or concerns.
I found the quote in this article which elaborates on this idea in depth, and which you may enjoy: http://inthesetimes.com/article/16157/our_feminized_society
I thought of that article typing my comment below, glad you linked it here.
the fear of men as a group being treated like women have been for so, so long
I also think this is the explanation, for almost all angry objections to anything even vaguely feminist. And it means these men know *precisely* how unfair the situation is now — they just don’t want to be on the unfair side of it.
I suspect that may be it.
Except two women and eight men would feel, to some of those men, as if the women have invaded. And if one of those women dared to speak up, it would be characterized as “She never shuts up” and “She dominated the meeting.”
Well, when it’s even that considered; I suspect for a lot of people it’s as simple as “things have been like this, now they’re being changed in a way that seems unfavourable to me, I don’t like it”.
Ha! I just posted a comment referring to this attitude.
That’s very true, but last week, Brooks Barnes wrote an article about the need for more transgender actors in films about trans characters:
I don’t think Barnes was ever a crusader for transgender rights, but the people who are have been so vocal that even Barnes thinks it’s weird when there aren’t more trans actors in those roles. Maybe one of these days the representation of women will improve enough that, when women aren’t present, it will seem really odd. Even to people like Brooks Barnes.
For what it’s worth, I sent Brooks the following via email –
I was fascinated by your discomfort with the Telluride file festival focusing on films about women. Since women have not had this kind of focus in the past, it is meaningful that Hollywood is finally trying to correct this wrong. Many men are threatened by the gains women make, and they no doubt enjoyed your article. As a woman, what I heard you say was this:
“It’s great to have movies that focus on women, but we men are feeling slighted. We have come to enjoy and take for granted that films are generally about us and our life stories, with women generally cast in roles to serve us (sex objects, saintly girlfriends and wives, someone to protect or rescue so we can display our toughness and courage, panic pixy dream girls that help us sort out our life choices, etc. etc.). Don’t shift the focus away from us, we are feeling threatened by this……”
From my viewpoint, it is astonishing that Hollywood is finally paying attention to making films about women. I can hardly believe it might be true. And I am sad you chose to use your quite large NY Times platform to push back. Also, I wanted to point out the difference between the phrases “women’s films” and “films about women”. I think it may not be a coincidence you chose the former for the title of your article. Many men do see films about women as “women’s films”, i.e.: not something men want to see (chick flicks). This just further diminishes the work women do.
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