Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Women's Impact Report

Today's issue of Variety was a tribute to Hollywood Women. The Women's Impact Report featured profiles on female power brokers in various arenas--acting (Angelina Jolie, Helen Mirren), producing (Salma Hayek, Laura Ziskin) and execs (Stacey Snider, Paula Wagner)--to name a few. But while touting gains women have made in becoming "players" in Hollywood, the article also highlights areas where much work still needs to be done. Pointing to the campaign by the Guerrilla Girls last Spring featuring billboards urging Hollywood to "Unchain the Female Director!" While Marty Scorsese had to wait over 30 years to claim his Oscar, women directors are STILL waiting for a representative of their gender to be awarded that honor.

Before women can have their voices heard and stories told, they need to be seen as having validity and equal to their male counterparts. In some instances, this might mean just being plain SEEN. Geena Davis (whose notable feminist roles include an outlaw in Thelma and Louise, a baseball player in A League of Their Own and the President in Commander-in-Chief) has formed See Jane to promote gender equity in media. Davis notes that the ratio of male to female in G-rated media is 4-1. And in a similar vein, a Celebritology article by guest blogger Jen Chaney asks "Are the Pixar Movies an Animated Boys Town?"

It stands to reason that without viable or visible role models, young girls won't be speaking up or speaking out or otherwise telling their stories. At 4-1, their odds aren't good--and the role models they DO have are generally...princesses. I remember seeing Disney's Mulan with a young friend of mine. The story is about a young girl who pretends to be a boy to serve in the Chinese Army in place of her aging father. And by her wit, perseverance and courage, she ends up saving China from the Huns and the Emperor from assassination. How's THAT for a kick-ass female role model?

At the end of the film, Mulan returns to her village and offers her father the gifts of honor bestowed upon her by the Emperor. He embraces her saying, "The greatest gift and honor is having you for a daughter!" Then the Chinese captain shows up and FADE OUT. As the lights came up in the theater, I sat wiping my eyes. My young companion was vaguely dissatisfied. Turning to me she said, "I bet in the sequel she marries the Captain!"

Beyond the amazement that an eight year-old understands the marketing concept of a "franchise," it was astonishing to me that for her the story was not complete until the independent, strong-willed, strong-minded heroine was paired up with the handsome hero. And why not? Hasn't Disney told her that's the reward for girls? The Beauty gets her Beast, Jane gets Tarzan and Ariel gets her Prince.

Things are improving--as evidenced by the women of Wisteria Lane (proving that the MILF factor is a force to be reckoned with), the estrogen-laden Grey's Anatomy and Salma Hayek's baby, Ugly Betty. Next year brings us The Bionic Women, The Sarah Connor Chronicles and several Sex and the City knock-offs. Maybe Pixar will release a feature starring a FEMALE rat next year...

We've certainly made progress in the 35 years since the formation of Women in Film--an organization dedicated to empowering women in the industry and increasing the ranks of female executives and power players. So we have come a long way, baby--but we've still got quite a ways to go...

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