In an April 1st article in the New York Times Book Review*, Meg Wolitzer discusses the struggle of women writers to escape the “Women’s Fiction” tag, which tends to marginalize their work and keep them away from serious literary consideration – okay for a book club, but not for that big literary prize. The article resonates for me, because there’s a similar dynamic in Movie World – not just what gets out there, but how it gets out there, and how it’s packaged. Just a quickie summary of this past year’s academy award nominees:
Best Picture – 9 male oriented films, 1 female oriented film
Best Animated Feature – 5/5 male
Best Documentary Feature – 5/5 male
Best Foreign Language Film – 4/5 male
Best Director – 5/5/ male
Best Cinematography – 5/5 male
Best Editor – 3/5 male
Best Original Screenplay – 4/5 male
Best Adapted Screenplay – 4.5/5 male (one female co-writer on a spy movie)
The statistics aren’t good. Which is why I was particularly delighted when one of the young filmmakers I met in Kansas, Christina Hodel, key member of the Cinewomen Coalition, decided to employ the other women in her group as crew members for a short she was shooting, even though they had little to no experience as crew members. Christina spent time beforehand training them in their different roles, and the weekend shoot was a success. The women got some experience and some confidence. Who knows what they’ll do next… I’m hoping that as more young women take the reins of filmmaking, both they and their stories will bubble into the mainstream and start changing those miserable statistics.
Just watched two road movies featuring women : “Thelma and Louise” (1991) — (woman writer, Callie Khouri, who won an Original Screenplay Oscar for it in 1992; male director, Ridley Scott) — and “Meek’s Cutoff” (2010) (woman filmmaker, Kelly Reichardt). “Thelma and Louise” is of course a classic, women on the road doing the outlaw thing and becoming freer and more themselves as they do it. Wonderful performances by Susan Sarandon and Geena David (not to mention Brad Pitt). It was a big deal when it came out – two women carrying a whole movie. It did well, too, about 45 million. The same year, Kathryn Bigelow, later (2010) to be the first woman director ever to get an Oscar, had a movie out, too – “Point Break, a male action/adventure story, which did just about as well, though “Terminator 2” the same year raked in 517 million – more than ten times as much. Anyway, in these present times when many state legislatures are busy stripping women of our ability to make decisions about our own bodies, it was particularly great to re-see this iconic movie. Yeah, the women were getting violent, but they were also coming into their own, and it had to do with taking on their own power rather than finding the perfect mate. Pretty radical.
“Meek’s Cutoff” takes place in 1845 with a small group of pioneers wending their way through eastern Oregon desert, getting lost, and running out of water. The pace is slow. The scenery is stark and beautiful. The men are the decision-makers as the women can only look on. But slowly, one of the women (played by Michelle Williams) begins to assert herself. This was a movie I wound up liking a lot more than I thought I would. It kind of sneaks up on you, through the dire straits the characters are in, and, yes, through the beautiful directing and photography. More achingly real than your average western, and less crowd-pleasing, but haunting. It came out in 2010, and hasn’t yet crossed the one million mark.
* Link to Meg Wolitzer’s article