If it sounds like the above could be the title of a horror flick, well, you’re not far off. I came across the following bit of clever repartee between Mick LaSalle, our often irreverent film critic, and a loyal reader in our local paper this Sunday and was suddenly loaded for bear.
I feel obliged to point out that the column was brought to my attention by my husband, who enjoys a good rant as much as any of us. Stay tuned, but first check this:
Dear Mick LaSalle: I just saw “Aberdeen” (2000), featuring an actress new to me: Lena Headey. I looked up what else she has done, only to find that since “Aberdeen” she has made, for the most part, a series of second-rate horror flicks. What happens in a case like this? Poor management? A really bad agent? Blacklisting? Frank Flynn, Eureka
Dear Frank Flynn: No, it’s worse: two X chromosomes. Welcome to my world, Frank. Every year, I see actresses do great work in films and then disappear. In another generation, a studio would have nurtured them, and in other countries, filmmakers would build films around their talents. Not in the English-speaking world. Even established stars, such as Naomi Watts, Halle Berry and Ashley Judd, can go five years without getting a role worthy of their talents. In another country, they’d have two or three strong roles a year. What’s Catherine McCormack doing these days? Or Claire Forlani, Chad Morgan, Natasha McElhone, N’Bushe Wright, Bai Ling, Natasha Gregson Wagner or Alison Elliott? All of them have shown exceptional ability or charm or both onscreen, working in major films. All are still working, but much of that work is under the radar. Headey is doing better than most, in that she starred in a major action movie (“300”). Basically, women in Hollywood need to look convincing swinging a mace – and attractive with bloody fangs. Then they’ll never starve.
Okay. I have never seen Aberdeen, and I confess I don’t know Lena Headey. (Wait. Did I just make La Salle’s point?) But Naomi Watts, Halle Berry and Ashley Judd? Ready to put out to pasture as either deranged ex-wives or district attorneys? (Note what’s happened to former sexpot Sharon Stone on CSI: Special Victims Unit.)
For years we have decried the fact that the fat guy always gets the cute girl in the movies. We have for years ranted: about the schlubby guys on TV who have the slim trim wives; about the loser guys who end up with, you know, Katherine Heigl; about the sweet young things who are wooed by the guys old enough to be their grandpas. (That movie with Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones as the love interests? Stop me before I poke myself in the eye with a sharp stick.)
What we want to know first is why do we pay money to watch this junk. Unless I’m living in an alternate universe, it’s not believable. Or very entertaining, either. Last I checked, most sane women are not pining after some pudgy dude with a receding hairline and a bad choice of pants. Right?
But the real question is why this stuff gets made, and why women — at least as far as American media are concerned — are considered washed up by the time they get the first intimations of crow’s feet. Yeah, yeah, we know: Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren are still star quality and hooray for them. In every possible way. But are they the exceptions that prove the rule?
I think the answer may have something to do with gender parity, and here’s what we journalist types would call the nutgraf — somewhat buried, in this case — or the big picture stuff. In 2009, the Hollywood Writers Report by the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW), found that women and minorities had not made any significant hiring gains since 2005, with women writers making up roughly one quarter of the field. Repeat: one quarter. The report states:
“Women, who account for slightly more than 50 percent of the U.S. population, remain underrepresented in television employment by 2 to 1 and in film employment by nearly 3 to 1. Their salaries, too, show a discrepancy: white men, $98,875 versus women, $57,151 for a whopping wage gap of $41,724.
Are you kidding me? Read it again. Is it any wonder that we’re made to believe that the old guy gets the girl? Of course, that’s just the movies. Hollywood fantasies. But look at the damage those ridiculous media images have done to women’s self-image. Our conception of ourselves. Ugh, right?
But now, let’s use movies as metaphor: What happens when women are relegated to one quarter of other segments of our society — like government, boardrooms, the offices down the hall where policy is made? Think about it.
As in movies, so in life. And ain’t that the curse of the double-X.