Okay, let me come clean. I roll my eyes--not publicly, but inside my head--when Hollywood's leading women (notice I didn't say "leading ladies") start going on and on about discrimination. It just seems to me that thinking of Kate Blanchett as if she were some fortuneless victim is--how do we say it?--pushing the envelope. Most news media cover the Oscars by red-lettering the winners; but once the news is out, what they flash is the red-carpet cleavage wars, or is that just me?
Cry me a river. Hollywood women grumbling about discrimination doesn't make this liberal's heart bleed. Nope. Sorry. I shop. I see the score of tabloids at every last cash register. Sometimes there are men on the covers, but mostly not. I have no trouble conjuring images of Kate Middleton; but the guy she married?--what's-his-name, you know? and what's he look like again? isn't he losing his hair?
Still, as Maureen Down reports the numbers, I can't help but raise an eyebrow. In yesterday's NY Times, she reported some rather startling stats. Recent surveys have indicated that
women accounted for 6 percent of directors, 10 percent of writers, 15 percent of executive producers, 17 percent of editors and 3 percent of cinematographers. And women are still more likely to be working on romantic comedies, dramas or documentaries than the top-grossing, teenage-boy-luring animated, sci-fi and horror movies.Okay, maybe there's a case to be made, I thought when I saw those numbers. Open your heart a little, you sexist.
Then this. Dowd says Geena Davis, who runs a LA institute that studies women in media, explains the problem she feels is at the heart of Hollywood's glass ceiling: “the most important thing is having female protagonists. It doesn’t matter if they’re a villain or a hero. It just matters that their actions have consequences."
Osage County was not the feel-good picture of the year. It was dark and brooding, as if the script was a collaboration between Eugene O'Neill and Edward Albee, who got together, got drunk, and spent an all-nighter conjuring the darkness. But there they are on the screen before us--Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, two giants, two superstars, two women any director would die for, in central roles because in that pestilence-filled family of theirs "actions have consequences." They are the protagonists. They are the dynamic characters. They are the ones who change--or at least have the opportunity.
The novels of John Gardner have likely disappeared from most library sales tables already. They were never popular reads, although his revision of Beowolf still, I'm sure, gets picked up in lit courses. It's fair to say Gardner did much better at talking about stories than he did at writing them. In MFA programs, I'm guessing he still has great currency.
When Gardner talked about "the morality of literature," he got himself in trouble because so many people--writers too--believed he was talking about sex. He wasn't. He was talking about being true to life, about the importance of creating characters who had--as we do--choice. A moral writer doesn't lie about the human condition, doesn't assert that we're incapable of assessing our own possibilities. Where characters can't see their hands in front of their faces--think literary naturalism, for instance--the writers were being, well, "immoral," or so claimed John Gardner.
Whether characters choose for good or bad is irrelevant. The truth of a story is revealed in the fact that they've had the opportunity to choose, that their lives make clear the fact that, as Geena Davis says, "actions have consequences."
When I read that line from Ms. Davis, I think I understood more plainly what all the fuss was about. Geena Davis doesn't want women to be mannequins. She doesn't want them only displayed on red carpets. She wants them to be--and young women to see--that their own decisions have consequences. It's that simple.
Economics 101 in Hollywood goes like this. Women are a freebee. Men won't go to chick flicks, but women will trot along to what industry insiders call "tent-poles," the blockbusters that make gadzillions. Hollywood doesn't have to worry about women buying tickets; they will, no matter what. It's high-school boys they've got get if they're going to fill the coffers with something other than popcorn.
I got a royalty check from a book I wrote years ago, a book that's still selling some copies--not many but some, a couple hundred maybe. It's the true story of a woman who was at the center of a Dutch Resistance group in the Netherlands during the Second World War, a biography titled Things We Couldn't Say. For the first time last month, it included $150 for movie rights.
Someone bought movie rights. For years I thought Things They Couldn't Say could really be a great movie--her story is just incredible. But she's the dynamic character. She's the one whose life has consequences. She's the protagonist.
Who knows?--maybe it'll happen. But if it does, it'll be because of Geena Davis and Maureen Dowd and a ton of others keep carping and railing at Hollywood high rollers who would much rather keep their women in high heels on red carpets or proudly displaying their wares beside supermarket cash registers.
Yesterday my only granddaughter turned 13. Maybe that's it.
This morning, I think I get it, at least as much as some old male chauvinist pig can.