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Affirmative Action…in Art 2: The Angry Feminist


I… (name here)… a member in good standing of the He-Man Woman Haters Club… Do solemnly swear to be a he-man and hate women and not play with them or talk to them unless I have to. And especially: never fall in love, and if I do may I die slowly and painfully and suffer for hours – or until I scream bloody murder.

It started with True Lies.  I rewatched James Cameron’s last pre-Titanic effort a couple days ago, and, as I do, I sought critics reviews before my viewing.  I don’t do this with new films, really–films I’ve never seen before I prefer to be surprised by.  But if it’s been a while since I’ve seen a film –and for True Lies 17 years have passed since my last viewing– I like to get a handle on what the critical consensus was back in the day, to understand the context in which the film was released and received, to compare it with my own feelings about how the film may have de-/appreciated in the ensuing years.



Somehow, though a series of links, I happened upon a feminist website, with a scathing feminist critique of the film.  Did you flinch just then, at the word feminist?  It is a word now with a strong connotation: militant, bull-headed, loud.  I rolled my eyes before I started reading.  I must be classified as some sort of feminist, I guess, supporting as I do women’s suffrage, reproductive rights, equal pay, and the general idea of them.  But the idea of a “feminist critique” of True Lies was enough to make my eyes roll before I began reading.  And during reading.  Frequently.


Until…  Well anyone who read my last post on affirmative action in art may remember the article I cited suggesting women stop having their own categories for acting at the Oscars and other awards shows and be allowed to compete with men.  There are no awards for Best Female Editing or Best Venusian Sound Mixing, after all.  A similar point was made in this article–it’s time to stop thinking of women as separate artists and lump them all together, the author (authress?) said, as sex-segregated acting categories amounted to a type of affirmative action.  (Affirmative action was bad to a left winger?  Wowzee…)

I have always thought that four acting categories were too many, but my suggestion has been to delete the supporting categories, and lump them in with the lead categories.  Supporting performance awards always seemed to me a way to give backdoor awards to people; does anyone, thirteen years later, really think that Judi Dench was that good in Shakespeare in Love?  Reeeeeally?  Of the nominees that year, she was clearly the weakest.  Ditto with Renée Zellweger in Cold Mountain.  It was clearly a way to give her an award and get it over with.

In most film festivals around the world, there are two acting awards presented: one for Best Actor, and one for Best Actress.  No supporting.  But there is a major critic’s poll that has already eliminated sex-segregated categories.  IndieWire polls critics on their favorite leading performance and best supporting performance of the year, genitals be damned.  In 2010, there were actually three women in the top five list for Leading Performance– though two men, Edgar Ramirez in Carlos and Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, overwhelmingly took the top two spots, respectively.  In the Supporting performance list, only one woman made the top five–Jacki Weaver’s colubrine performance in Animal Kingdom.  And she was fourth.


Fifty points to Slytherin House!



I started to think about this.  Linda Hunt won an Academy Award for her performance as male dwarf Billy Kwan in 1982’s The Year of Living Dangerously.  It is a truly hypnotic performance.  But was she given an award because of the novelty of a woman playing a man, or would she have also won if she had a penis?  Or does the fact that she was so convincing as a male character itself warrant the award?  But then she is receiving the award partly on the basis of her sex.  Same with Jaye Davidson in The Crying Game.  He did play a very, very convincing woman, but other than that, was his performance especially remarkable?  Some men do this quite a bit all the time.  And nominating him as Best Supporting Actor was, really, a major spoiler for anyone who had not yet seen the film.  (If you haven’t seen The Crying Game, then, er, sorry about that spoiler, but know that a major plot point/surprise depended on you seeing a penis when you least expected it.)

Linda, meet Billy.


I also wondered about the reasoning behind the author’s argument.  To any women reading this: do you feel like separate categories marginalize you as a woman?  Like men have put you there so you can be recognized each year without worry?  Or do you like this?  It’s guaranteed recognition every year, after all.

Now, I’ve made this point before, but what on earth would happen if one year all men were nominated?  In a year where only women were nominated, there’d be much talk of progress, and how it was a great year for women, and chicks everywhere would beam with pride.  But in a year where all men were nominated, there would be bile slung left and right, indignation galore.

Of course, this may not mean as much for female actors, as they are very visible in the artistic community–being actors, of course.  So there would always be at least one we can safely presume.  Does that sound condescending?  Oh, well.  Now behind the camera…

You know, not two years ago Yahoo published a list of a hundred movies you must see before you die.  And there was only one film directed by a woman on the list.  That film was Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  There are all sorts of brutal critiques of the list online by women who didn’t feel represented enough by the list.  Melissa Silverstein of Women and Hollywood wrote of it: “I am not impressed.  How can there only be one woman director included?  Maybe we need to do our own list of 100 women’s films you need to see before you die.”

So her answer to this injustice is a sex-segregated list!

But let me think about this a second.  If I were to come up with a list of 100 films to see before you die–well, for starters, Fast Times film wouldn’t be on it.  But what would likely contenders be, contenders directed by women?  Triumph of the Will?  I’m sure that’s how women would like to be represented.  Lost in TranslationThe Piano, perhaps.  The Hurt Locker, if you must.

Look, there simply aren’t that many good ones.  That’s the sad fact.  Of course you can make the point that there just wasn’t room for female directors in a pre-second wave feminism world, and consequently there simply aren’t enough directed by women.  That’s perfectly valid.  But saying that women are unfairly unrecognized–really?  Not enough serious dissertations involve Look Who’s Talking, What Women Want, Dr Dolittle, Sleepless in Seattle, Deep Impact, Wayne’s World, Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Big, or Twilight?  The preceding list, by the way, is comprised of the highest-grossing films directed by women.

Cineastes aren’t overlooking female directorial efforts; they’re overlooking ones that aren’t the best in their eyes.  The simple fact is that true equality is not going to come when more women begin winning awards, but when more women make good films.  There aren’t enough Sofia Coppolas out there right now.  There are definitely female directors working today that are doing artistically relevant and sophisticated work.  Just not very many.

So if feminists want to stop sex segregation in artistic awards, fine.  More power to them; it seems like a very interesting prospect.  But then stop yelling when you aren’t recognized.


So, so oppressed...



Oh, and True Lies?  Funny and entertaining, but goes on too long.  Women (and some men, *cough*) called it sexist because a secret agent/spy begins suspecting that his wife is having an affair, and uses his vocational resources to spy on her, anonymously interrogate her, and get her to perform a sexy dance in her underwear for his viewing pleasure.  In the words of Jaime Lee Curtis, who played this woman,  “Who cares?  Who gives a shit? Honestly, who cares whether or not True Lies is sexist? Who cares? Is it funny? Yeah. Does it have some action? Yeah. Is it a little sexy? Yeah.  Oh, please. Oh, darling. It’s not sexist at all.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. 2011.03.10 23:14

    The photo says it all.

    g clark: indeed, brother.

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