Saturday, June 07, 2014


Molly Mulshine has a problem with Aaron Sorkin, based on a talk not so long ago which she reported on in the New York Observer.  Here's how she starts:

We all remember the opening monologue of The Newsroom's pilot episode. It featured scruffy, all-American hero Will McAvoy putting a ditzy blonde girl in her place by explaining America ain’t what it used to be. Aside from the condescending portrayal of a female college student, it was epic writing.

Maybe that should have been a warning.  The speech was idiotic. But I read on. Turns out in real life when someone in the audience gets put down for a question, Mulshine doesn't think it's so epic.

[...S]adly, the writer revealed old-school sexist ideals when an audience member asked him about women in film.
“When 52 percent of the movie ticket-buying public are female but only 15 percent of the protagonists are, it doesn’t seem like commerce is actually winning,” the audience member said, calling back to an art vs. commerce remark Mr. Sorkin had said earlier.

Here's part of Sorkin's reply:

There’s a misunderstanding out there too. Because I’ve been reading a lot recently about how a female-driven movie like, say, Bridesmaids is looked at as a fluke. The success of that movie is looked at as a fluke and therefore Hollywood doesn’t do it. That’s a premise that suggests that studio executives have piles of scripts as good as Bridesmaids on their desks. They don’t. Bridesmaids got made because it was really good. I promise you nothing but capitalism drives decision-making in Hollywood. If there’s a sense that this will make money, it’ll get made.

How does Mulshine respond?

Then what is the excuse for all of the male-driven comedies from the past five years that aren’t half as good as Bridesmaids? What happened with Grown-Ups 2, then? Or The Hangover IIIThe Internship? Madea’s Witness Protection ProgramTed? Did all of these movies have amazing scripts that were somehow botched on their way to the screen or what?

She seems to be getting art and commerce mixed up here.  Leaving aside questions of quality, I think we know from their very titles why Grown-Ups 2 and The Hangover III were made--as sequels to popular comedies.  As for The Internship, it was a reteaming of two successful comic actors who'd had a major hit years before.  The Madea film is part of a popular series.  And Ted is one of the biggest hit comedies ever.  Does Mulshine suggest these films shouldn't have been made because they weren't good enough?  You could say that for quite a few films, so why pick on sequels and/or hits?  Meanwhile, there'd already be a Bridesmaids 2 if Kristen Wiig were up for it, and Hollywood can't churn out Melissa McCarthy comedies fast enough.

Here's Mulshine summing things up:

Pretending institutionalized sexism isn’t to blame for the dearth of female film protagonists is just crazy.

Get that?  Either you agree with Mulshine or you're nuts.

The funny thing is I would guess women were protagonists at higher rates in 1920s and 1930s Hollywood movies.  Was there less institutionalized sexism then?

But let's assume this situation is due to sexism.  Whose?

If it's the sexism of studio executives, then congratulations--Mulshine has discovered a huge inefficiency in the market.  Time for her to start making films that the public wants but isn't getting, and she'll become rich in no time. (You say she doesn't know how to make films?  That's what she'll hire people to do--all she needs to do is recognize a gap that needs to be filled.  You say she doesn't have the money to make films?  All she needs to do is find venture capitalists who like making money more than they hate women.)

Or perhaps its due to the sexism of the audience.  Worldwide, the favorite films are actions films, and most people seem to prefer men as action heroes over women.  And, perhaps in general, the audience has less trouble with films starring men than they do with films starring women (just as the audience seems to prefer protagonists in their 20s or 30s).

If so, this isn't exactly new in the world of art and entertainment--but it's also too complex a phenomenon to simply be dismissed as simply due to sexism.  You have to prove it, not assume it.  It's too easy an answer to say that the only (or even main) reason women and men aren't represented at the same rates in every job is due to institutionalized sexism.  Perhaps there are differences between men and women that account for some of these different outcomes.  Society can fight against it if it likes, but it should at least know first just what it's fighting against.


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