Chastain, “Roles for Women Have Taken a Step Back”
It’s refreshing to read a quote from an actress working today willing to criticize the kinds of roles offered to women now in Hollywood. Sure, it’s easy to get attention if you put on a bikini or a talk about sex. But women as actual people in film now? RARE. Said Chastain:
When I look at today’s roles, it seems to me sometimes as if we had taken three steps back. Therefore I search for other images of women. I will never be comfortable as an actress.
She’s right. Anyone paying attention would have to notice the dramatic drop in prominent female characters in Hollywood overall, but especially in the genre you’d expect them to still exist – the Oscar genre. They no longer do. Sure, you had 2010 with Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, Annette Bening and Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone. But 2011? 2012? Once the Academy stopped forcing members to put down ten Best Picture nominees, they went back to filling out only five slots and everyone assumed that would solve “the problem.”
“The problem,” though, wasn’t a lack of diversity, or of interesting female leads, it was “how do we rope in the younger generation who only like super hero movies and sequels?” Driving Miss Daisy and Argo proved that it isn’t always about the director – with Daisy, it was about the actress – Jessica Tandy, and probably the producers, the Zanucks. With Argo it was about the actor/director.
I don’t know who Tiffany was as portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence. I don’t know how come so many women I know liked her character and her part. I didn’t. It isn’t as though young women in roles like that have never won the Oscar. They have. But usually there is more to the person. Cher in Moonstruck was the lead performance. The plot turned on her inner world, her choices, her growth. Diane Keaton as Annie Hall, do we even need to go there? Compare those two — just those two — to Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook. Even Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side had more going on.
Lawrence was great in the part. She always is. The Oscar was hers because of her likability in the industry at the moment, her past work, and the overall love for that film – and lest we forget the kick-ass publicity Team TWC. But it should never be mistaken for a strong female lead. Let’s at least agree on that point.
I’m not saying all art should reflect the best sides of us, or paint women, or African Americans, as always good or always positive and strong. But the empty cores of many of the females we see in film reflects back to us, defines us, cuts women in half.
The reason people like Blake Lively, Rachel McAdams, Scarlett Johansson are hot one minute and not the next isn’t because we don’t respect stars like we used to, and it isn’t because there’s a new flavor of the month coming right around the corner (there is). It’s because even the younger actresses don’t have anywhere to go. One lead role in a movie that doesn’t do well and they’re mostly done. So they turn to the genres that are guarantees – wedding movies for women, super hero movies for the target demo. They have nowhere to go because those roles aren’t being written. Evolution has mostly stopped. There are roles for 22 year-olds and it mostly stops there. Very few of them can make it past that point. The jury is still out on whether Lawrence can do that or not.
No one is going to change Hollywood from the inside out. Like always, filmmakers, actors and writers are always just looking for a foot in the door, their little piece of the pie. Whatever makes money, whatever flies, whatever audiences want to see. It is up to the nags and the bigmouths to keep bringing this up.
I notice that my 15 year-old daughter and her generation are up to the task, a lot more than my generation and the ones that emerged under the rise of Fanboy Nation. My daughter and her friends take to Tumblr on a regular basis and speak out against sexism and racism and gender discrimination. They call them “social justice bloggers” and they’re everywhere. They will eventually grow up and I hope their voices remain strong. I believe they are the future and screenwriters, filmmakers and studios would be wise to take note.
Maybe you only care about “good movies” and you don’t care what makes them good. But you see, for people like me, a movie with a poorly written female lead — one that is 1/4 of a person — amounts, mostly, to a bad movie. If it’s deliberate, a choice to reflect the world of the characters – like Glengarry Glen Ross or The Social Network — that’s one thing. Even The Godfather, which is a sausage fest, has richly drawn female characters. If you are good, you don’t give women the short shrift.
Most actresses are too hungry to say anything for fear of losing work. Many don’t even notice nor care. Many don’t want to be a drag so they never say anything for fear of the kinds of comments you’re about to see in 3, 2, 1…and many say nothing because they don’t want to be defined as a “feminist.” But just to say, Chastain noticed. And she apparently cares. Hats off to her.