Wednesday, June 17, 2009

HollywoodFemmeGate continues...

Because women don't go to the movies and lead boring lives male viewers couldn't possibly find value in.

But a blow has been struck in the mighty northwest metropolis of progressive Seattle...

The Seattle International Film Festival has awarded the Jury Prize to a female director (Barbara Schroeder's Talhotblond) & top director awards to 3 more:

Best Director Golden Space Needle Award
Kathryn Bigelow, for The Hurt Locker (USA, 2008)
First runner up: Lynn Shelton, for Humpday (USA, 2009)
Second runner up: Kari Skogland for Fifty Dead Men Walking (UK/Canada, 2008)

And there were several more large prizes awarded to women.

Has this EVER happened in any other contest??

Congrats to women filmmakers, and to ALL of us!! Humans benefit when half of the population is valued.

Seattle International Film Festival's awards are a huge leap forward in what is the modern ghettoization of female stories.

Just to give you perspective, most screenwriting contests award less than a 1/5 of their prizes to women, and even at the truly independent and barrier-breaking Dances With Films festival there was only one female winner of the 13 awards given, and she was a co-director/writer/producer sharing the award with a male partner.

Maybe I'm just grasping at any little hope with the Seattle Film Festival's fantastic awards after this horrifying news out of Hollywood last week:

The Huffington Post
Thursday June 8, 2009
Women Don't Go to Movies
by Nia Vardalos

A little-known fact: some studios recently decided to no longer make female-lead movies.

Lately, I've been in meetings regarding a new script idea I have. A studio executive asked me to change the female lead to a male, because... "women don't go to movies."


When I pointed out the box office successes of Sex and The City, Mamma Mia, and Obsessed, he called them "flukes." He said "don't quote me on this." So, I'm telling everybody.


Thanks to The Huffington Post for following up on this topic, especially after Ellen Snortland's article profiling me and Heidi as producers of THE COMMUNE with this slant just three days before.

I've personally been turned down by female managers who claim I'll never get funding for Pistoleras because "no one wants to see a female western."

Which means fellow women didn't even read page one of the screenplay that has won two big industry awards.

Here's one more interesting tidbit along the same subject, this time from respected online journal Cinematical. My favorite line from This article is "Women aren't flukes." My least favorite part is that there continue to be bone-headed comments to this brilliantly executed piece. If you replaced "female" with "black", your comments would seem unacceptable even to you, sir.

Girls on Film: A Desire for Varied Female Protagonists is Not a Political Agenda

by Monika Bartyzel (ed. note: Wonder what the comments would have been like if it were Mark Bartyzel)

By now you've probably caught fellow Cinematical writer Dawn Taylor's posts about desiring female Pixar leads and wanting some Bechdel rule-abiding women in Star Trek. Both posts got their share of positive comments, but they also got a slew of knee-jerk reactions and vitriol. I don't want to rehash what Dawn already expressed well, nor get into another argument about specific female characterizations. Instead, I want to look into this neverending trend where any desire for a strong female character leads to complaints and accusations of a political agenda.

Ask for a certain type of female protagonist, discuss inequalities, gripe about the proliferation of poorly developed female characters, and in a flash, comments will pour in with a myriad of political catchwords like: feminist agenda, feminist rants, equality of the sexes, affirmative action, sexist conspiracy, and political correctness. These will be joined by painfully inaccurate sentiments that equate a desire for female success with wanting "every unfulfilled desire," Hollywood bending to charity and catering to specific audiences, wanting to exclude men from film, a lack of acceptance at the equality already reached, and of course, that including strong female protagonists is somehow sacrificing or tainting good work. (All of the reactions mentioned in this paragraph can be found in the comments on Dawn's two posts.)

The fact of the matter is: Wanting interesting and diverse female protagonists is not a political agenda. It's a widespread human trait found in both sexes: the desire to find camaraderie and others who are relatable and recognizable...

Please continue reading this fabulous article over at Cinematical.

Here's one more great recent mention on the topic. Unfortunately I can't seem to figure out who wrote it over at The Tracking Board. If it was a single straight man, sir, may I take you out to dinner? I'll even dress like Ripley.

"...One very interesting sidenote to this film, isn’t necessarily regarding this film directly, but the slow change Hollywood, and independent films are taking towards their choice in protagonists. Just in the past month alone, the amount of scripts we’ve seen sell, and new films we’ve seen cast, as well projects going in to production, it seems audiences are beginning to seek out the strong female lead.

“Today’s audience wants to see more and more strong women in film. Finally, film is getting exciting again.” director Alexandre Aja said in regards to his curious choice of Riley Steele in his new Piranha 3-D remake. (Aja also cast one of our favorite female leads to date with C├ęcile De France in his French release HAUTE TENSION.)

I know I’ve always had an eagerness and excitement to see the strong female lead return. Bring us back to the Ripley days of old. I think audiences are eager, and waiting."

I agree that audiences are eager and waiting. Now how do we convince the Gatekeepers funding the production of movies?

UPDATE: The comments section just became a Must-Read, as multi-talented, award-winning filmmaker Eric Escobar has shared his brilliant thoughts on race and gender casting in Hollywood, and whether they should and can be fought within the system (if you read his blog you know that's a NO).


James said...

The Screenplay Shootout, a top screenplay contest with over $8,500 in cash and prizes and exposure to top Hollywood Producers, Agents and Managers is looking for more women screenwriters. Are you tired of seeing obnoxious male humor, get your story told, enter the Screenplay Shootout. Go to for more information.

Eric Escobar said...

Thanks for posting all these thoughts and links Lis.

What I would add is that Hollywood has a bias against employing anyone in lead positions that isn't straight, well-educated, white and male. Where are the filmmakers, writers, lead actors of color (male or female)? Where are their stories?

I think banging on the door of Talent Agencies or Studios in Hollywood is ultimately a dead end. If you are willing to do what they want you to do, you probably wouldn't like yourself afterwards.

The voice of Hollywood is an establishment voice, serving the U.S. ruling elites' economic and political interests domestically, and functions globally as a projection of power.

Entertainment is the third largest export product, right behind Debt and Food, and right ahead of Weapons.

And what do Hollywood films look like?

Violent, racist, misogynistic, anti-gay, ridiculously naive and offensive images of our people and the people of the rest of the world. It's something only an empire can get away with.

Standing around, hoping Hollywood will change the kinds of images it makes to ones that are more benign, human, inclusive and accurate is kind of like hoping Fox News will start showing Democracy Now every morning.

Don't fight Hollywood to let us in.

Fight Hollywood.

Kid Sis said...

James, that's so cagey. My cowboy hat is off to you, sir! But really, ARE they looking for more women screenwriters? Because I know a ton. And they're not getting work. I'm thinking I should enter your contest as Benjamin Fies with PISTOLEROS, the hilarious new action movie starring four teenaged guys...

Oh Eric, if only your common-law wife and you lived in Utah, I think we could all really be happy together. You freaking rule, as always.

Of course you're right about races, and Chauntal would say limbs, and other people would say able-bodied vs. wheelchairs, Marlee Matlin would way hearing impaired...any representations beyond non-white perfect 25-45 year old would be great additions to our cultural conversation.

Jeremy said...


Is it possible that you are presenting/pitching the script in a way that Hollywood cannot ever understand?

Much like Professional sports, Hollywood is the ultimate Meritocracy...YES...IT IS.

Hollywood wants scripts that sell. Period. It's all about the money. And sex and violence sells.

Whether it's misogynistic or for an honorable purpose, sex and violence sells...and "Pistoleras" has both in Spades.

Will they pay attention to a female-driven, young women empowering vehicle for social change and gender equality?


Would they drool at the possibility of being able to make a ton of money on a film about the sex industry starring Hot Chicks with Guns...while still being able to hold the High Ground because it actually is a strongly feminist story? I bet yes.

Your film can be many things to different people. It will whether you like it or not, so you might as well use it your advantage.

You can get the message out to the masses by first placating the people you need to create the message, who will sadly never fully understand it.

I think you may want to look at how you approach Hollywood-types overall and how you describe the film itself to them.

Then consider that the Number One goal to them is to:


Kid Sis said...

Yeah. I'm not getting to pitch. The people who are trying to refer me past the gatekeepers get shut down at "Female." No one will read it or talk to me.

Eric Escobar said...

"Much like Professional sports, Hollywood is the ultimate Meritocracy...YES...IT IS."

And by "Meritocracy", I assume you mean a system by which only the most conformist, least challenging, derivative and mediocre stories are told?

Don't kid yourself, a goal of making the biggest profit possible in a market economy is not the same as deciding ideas based on artistic merit. And it's a terrible way to make art to boot. It makes art a commodity, not a process of telling the truth.

And in a town where "no one knows nothing", it means a gatekeeper lose his/her job with one unprofitable decision. How could someone in that position not be in a constant state of reactive fear, making only the "safe" choices?

Here's what I don't get Lis. You just made an awesome low-budget feature. Just you and your friends. There was nothing unique about LA that made your film possible. In fact, you made your film in the Bay Area. You already know how to do it. Now go make another one.

Pistoleras is an ambitious script, big in scope, perhaps out of the realm of a low-budget project, or maybe not. Who cares? Either way, you can write another script, round up your friends and do it again. You have so many more scripts inside you.

LA trains filmmakers, actors and writers to wait. Mostly just wait for nothing to ever happen, hoping someone, somewhere will hand them the winning lotto ticket. What a big waste of time and talent, yours and every other artist stuck in that game.

Anna said...

Great post. Really great. And depressing as hell - though not surprising. What can we expect when such insulting, sexist terms as "chic flicks" go mainstream - used and embraced even by many women? The insidiousness & condescension of this term is only one example of the male control of the film industry. I scour netflix looking for films directed/written by women.

I sepcially appreciated the comments about the assumption of political agenda. That is a genuine problem & speaks loudly to our society's incredible paranoia of women with voices.

I am of the land of theatre - another art form currently going through a crisis of faith with respect to the lack of female playwrights & directors on & off broadway. Speaking for the profession of theatre, like film we are not progressing & inclusively embracing the female perspective in our art form.

Thanks again fr the post.

GregM said...

Here's a New York Times article on the gender bias study:
The study claims that female artistic directors & lit managers are more responsible for the bias, but I'm skeptical of that specific claim.

Fascinating, and depressing note--I was just going to write "What you want to do is follow the paths of Kathryn Bigelow and Mimi Leder"--and then looked at Mimi Leder's imdb entry to discover that she didn't make a movie in between 2000 and 2009, despite the fact that her 2000 movie was the highly successful "Pay it Forward."

The good news is that, with the delightfully creepy "The Commune," you now have the evidence that you can make a darn good movie, which should, by all rights, increase the chances of "Pistoleras" getting made. (Not having read it yet, I don't know what the budget range is.) And you may, if you're not doing this already, want to go the route of pursuing name actresses for the roles--they probably aren't pitched very many scripts like yours.