The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

A press conference in Cannes or a thousand angry tweets – what is the best way to make your voice heard?

with 29 comments

medium_8650919945There were three news reports this week that all were related to women and film. One made me happy. One got an approving nod, if not any passionate reaction. The third one got me seriously annoyed.

And they all left me pondering over a question: What’s the best way to make your voice heard if you want the film industry to listen to your demands for more diversity and less misogyny in movies?

Should you write a thousand angry tweets? Should you arrange a press conference in Cannes? Or is it maybe something entirely different that will have the biggest effect in the end?

I’ll get back to what I made of this later, but first I’ll share the news that caused my various reactions:

1. Damon Lindelof apologizing for the underwear scene
What made me happy was when I saw Damon Lindelof, the screenwriter of Star Trek Into Darkness apologizing on Twitter. After what I imagine must have been a storm of angry tweets, he had gotten second thoughts about the scene where Alice Eve appears in her underwear. It comes out of nowhere, it’s ridiculous, misplaced and there’s no reason for it, other than to provide some eye-candy to the male half of the audience.

While I didn’t call it out in my own review (my love for Star Trek is at a level where you’re willing to overlook such things, for the record I gave it a 4,5/5 rating), I wasn’t a fan of that scene at all. It was cheesy, tired and so unnecessary and as I watched it I thought that Star Trek at this point should be well above such a clichéd use of women. We’re not the 60s anymore.

To his credit, Damon Lindelof is someone who interacts a lot with film fans in social media. He does it all the time, not just on this occasion, and he appears to be genuinely interested in hearing what people have to say and to discuss whatever they bring up as a criticism. (If you want to learn more about his philosophy on doing this, you should listen to the one hour interview that /Filmcast did with him recently. It turned me into a fan of his forever.)

When he realized that the scene with Alice Eve was less than brilliant, he tweeted:

What I’m saying is I hear you, I take responsibility and will be more mindful in the future.”

So: he promises to be “more mindful in the future”. Isn’t that great? We all have bad days at work. What matters is how you handle it afterwards. I don’t think Damon Lindelof is faking his apology. He means what he says and good on him for being so frank and open about it.

This is all good. It’s also great to see that it sometimes pays off to speak up about things you think are wrong. The people that called this out have had an influence on the thinking of one of the leading screenwriters of today.  Way to go! And hopefully some of the other thousands of writers will learn about this incident and start to rethink about their ways to present women in movies. There’s no quick fix, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

2. The Swedish Film Institute speaking up about the lack of equality
The piece of news that didn’t excite me, but at least made me give a small approving nod, came from Cannes. It was about the equality initiative taken by the Swedish Film Institute. As a part of their 50 year anniversary, they arranged a press conference with the aim to bring the world’s attention to how far the film industry is from being equal in terms of gender, particularly when it comes to directors. Out of the 1 000 films that have competed for the Palme D’Or during the past 50 years, only 54 have been directed by women and only one of those has won.

That’s not good enough, said the CEO Anna Serner and presented a five-point action plan to push for a change in Sweden towards a 50/50 balance. At the press event, the film institute issued a challenge for their colleagues in other countries and the “entire film world”, as they put it.

How are you operating? How can we bring about change together? It’s up to everyone – film festivals, film institutes and funds, and everyone who makes films.”

The story doesn’t tell if Anna Serner got any response to her questions or if they even provoked a discussion at all. I figure I must be hard to grab people’s attention in a place like Cannes where celebrity spotting probably is way higher on the agenda for media representatives than reporting about an initiative from a film institution.

But for whatever the initiative may accomplish: good on them for raising the questions!

3. Disney sticking to the fake Merida
The news that made me angry was the continuing story about the fate of Merida, the heroine from Brave. You probably remember how Disney decided to steal all her weapons and force her into exactly the traditional princess ideal that she was revolting against in the first place.

After an outrage in social media, with petitions and whatnot, they removed the changed model from the website. We pulled a sigh of relief and thought everything was fine again. Merida would remain Merida.

This week it turned out that we were wrong. The makeover is still on and there will be a “princess” version that is deprived of absolutely everything that was Merida in the first place. As far as I’m concerned it’s worse than a fake. It’s a violation.

How to make them listen
And now we get back to the question that popped up in my head: how can we have an influence on the film industry and push it in a better direction in regards of women? A recent study showed that only 28,4 percent of the speaking characters in the top 100 grossing films in 2012 were female. Is there anything we can do to make that change?

Also look at the portrayal of women. With a few exceptions, such as Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty or Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games, women are still often reduced to being pieces of decoration or objects to be desired or pitied. How do we as an audience best let them know that we’re sick and tired of misogynistic stereotypes and that we’re ready for something different?

Should we send angry tweets? Should we call for press conferences in Cannes? Yes, we should do both.  While we might not have immediate success, it probably matters in the long run. Everyone who cares about those matters should do what they can to help out with the means they have at hands.

What matters in the end
However I think neither of those measures is the most effective way to make an impact. At the end of the day, moviemaking is a commercial enterprise and what matters is money.

I you want your daughter to grow up to become a brave, independent Merida who believes in her own ability to create the life she wants for herself, you should buy her the real Merida doll (provided that she’s into that at all, maybe she’s more the Darth Vader type.)

Disney will only start listening for real if the fake Merida stays unsold in the shelves, becoming a commercial failure since the audience has turned their backs to her.

Put your ticket money in the pockets of the moviemakers that go in the direction you want to go!  Look up the good examples and spread the word about them, so they’ll not just become darlings with the critics, but also box office successes!

Your tweets whisper. Your dollars roar.

photo credit: rist2796 via photopincc

Written by Jessica

May 23, 2013 at 5:00 pm

29 Responses

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  1. Hear Hear!

    Certainly if Melian were a little older and was interested I would want the real Merida. As it is she is a little young at the moment. 🙂

    I am hoping though, as she grows older, to be able to direct her to various female role models whose purpose is not to primarily be an object of rescue or desire … in the written word there are more options but in film and cartoon I must admit to be scratching my head somewhat.

    stnylan

    May 23, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    • Though I should say, on current evidence, she is going to be more a reader than a watcher – she is fascinated by books and “reads” them as it were, vocalising to herself, and they hold her attention far more than anything on tv.

      stnylan

      May 23, 2013 at 5:27 pm

      • Of course she’ll grow up to become a Merida. It’s obvious from the name. 🙂
        And hopefully you’ll be able to find her some suitable role model in gaming too. Making her ta tank rather than a healer by default. 🙂

        Jessica

        May 23, 2013 at 5:47 pm

  2. I have a question re. Women in Film, and I want to mind my phrasing because I mean this in all seriousness, and with no disrespect intended.

    You mention “a few exceptions”. But in the past 18 months, along with Lawrence & Chastain, we’ve watched the following:

    Rooney Mara in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
    Tilda Swinton in WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
    Gina Carano in HAYWIRE
    Melissa George in A LONELY PLACE TO DIE
    Lily Collins in MIRROR MIRROR
    Noomi Rapace in PROMETHEUS
    Kristen Stewart in SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN
    Quvenzhane Wallis in BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
    Anne Hathaway in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
    Amy Adams in THE MASTER

    (not to mention animated characters like Arrietty and Merida)

    Don’t get me wrong, Hollywood still has a long way to go to even come close to righting the ship, but is there something to be said for celebrating what’s been done instead of bemoaning what’s still missing?

    Ryan McNeil

    May 23, 2013 at 5:37 pm

  3. I think Ryan makes a good point with his list, but I still think that’s fairly small when you consider all the movies that have come out during that time. I don’t see every movie that comes out, but it’s disheartening when I think back on the great female performances that I’ve seen that year. There a lot of big movies that relegate the women to the side parts. In terms of what to do, that’s a really tricky question. I feel like the most important thing is supporting and spotlighting the great performances and not letting unfortunate examples go by the wayside. While getting Damon Lindelof to apologize is just a blip on the radar, even having this discussion at least reminds everyone (including me) that we still have a long way to go. Interesting post.

    Dan Heaton

    May 23, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    • I’m all with you Dan. A blip as the calling out of the underwear scene is, it still matters that it happened. Ten years ago I doubt it would have caused the same outcry. I guess social media helps a bit too. It’s easier to make your voice heard these days.

      Also: like you and Ryan I try my best to support the good examples. I haven’t counted, but I’m pretty certain that the share of movies with female directors and strong female characters is a lot higher in my blog than in the overall statistics.

      Jessica

      May 23, 2013 at 7:19 pm

  4. Well said Jessica!

    Oh, and not to boast, but I did single out Alice Eve’s flash briefly in my review of “Into Darkness”. You perfectly stated everything wrong with it. It was so contrived and utterly pointless. Her character has little offer anyway but this was just too much. Worst scene in the movie.

    keith7198

    May 23, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    • Thank you Keith! I think the origins from the 60s helped me to not become too worked up about it, not to the extent that it destroyed the movie to me. After all Kirk has always been a bit of a womanizer, so it’s not completely out of character or anything. But still. I think they could have done well without it.

      Jessica

      May 23, 2013 at 7:21 pm

  5. I wouldn’t go as far as to consider myself a feminist, but I am totally for much more equal representation than what women have currently. The whole Merida debacle really aggravates me and I hope that the public keeps the pressure on Disney. (Though on a slightly sympathetic note, as the father of a six year old it’s really aggravating when there are so many dolls with slightly different shapes and their clothes only fit on the same brand of doll while my daughter constantly wants to mix and match) I’ve also longed for more women in superhero roles, we need more than just Hathaway’s Catwoman, Black Widow, and to a lesser extent Maria Hill.

    Bubbawheat

    May 23, 2013 at 6:48 pm

    • Oh, they’re so cunning, those manufacturers of dolls and clothes, aren’t they? It’s like when they make cars that only can take original parts. Expensive and annoying.

      Re: superhero movies: I’m not all that familiar with superheroes, so I might be way off here, but isn’t there someone called Wonder Woman? And couldn’t she be material for a movie?

      Jessica

      May 23, 2013 at 7:24 pm

      • Exactly, too bad the last time she’s been on film was in the 70’s, and that was TV. I’m hoping that Wonder Woman gets fast tracked if Man of Steel does well enough to help build for a Justice League movie. A live action Wonder Woman movie is looooong overdue.

        Bubbawheat

        May 24, 2013 at 12:10 am

  6. Thumbs up, Jessica. This is such an important topic, and one that is constantly on my mind. Whenever I enjoy a movie that has few or no female characters, whenever I watch award ceremonies – there’s always this critical voice in my head, saying stuff like “this could’ve been a female character” or something similar. It’s an issue that applies to so many fields of our society, but especially the movie and fashion industry. While the fashion one is getting better, movies still have a long way to go. Recently, a German tv show decided to go all “female” and only had female hosts and guests – but all the technicians were male! It’s such a stupid double moral!
    Anyway, at least there are some good examples for female roles (e.g. I was fascinated by Princess Leia in my first watch of Star Wars yesterday). But most of the time, when there’s a strong female character, there really is just one.
    … Off to write an angry tweet.

    mettemk

    May 23, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    • Thank you Mette! Sometimes I get tired of hearing my own voice, ranting about the same old things over and over again. It feels as if I’ve written this post a dozen times before. It gets tedious. And yet I think I owe it to myself and especially to my daughters to keep speaking up. How else is anything going to change if we don’t get vocal? That TV show you mentioned made me think of experiments I’ve seen in newspapers, where they’ve taken a editorial decision that half of the people that are named or on pictures in a paper during a limited period should be women. It always results in the same thing: the reporters really have to struggle to find the women (many decision makers are still men after all). And the readers react since it feels unfamiliar. You’re so used to the male dominance that when there’s suddenly 50/50 it feels as if the paper is overrun by women.

      We’ve got a long, long way to go. So we’d better get started.

      Jessica

      May 23, 2013 at 7:57 pm

  7. I don’t like the new makeover for Merida either. It’s insulting to women.

    ninvoid99

    May 24, 2013 at 1:15 am

    • It’s incomprehensible from every aspect. As opposed to many others I liked Brave and thought they did a good thing. It meant something. Now they’re taking it all away, appearing even more backwards than before.

      Jessica

      May 24, 2013 at 7:25 am

  8. Glad to see the cats are back again 😉 Pity they have to be angry this time… I have to admit that I’m at a point where I actually took some solace in the fact that Alice Eve at least seemed to have a healthy body. That scene didn’t bother me as much as the whole situation in Oblivion though, but maybe I’m just Star Trek gender immunised?

    Sofia

    May 24, 2013 at 6:31 am

    • I’m a bit the same. Again: I didn’t point it out in my review. But it did bother me briefly doing the screening, mostly I think because it was so incredibly clumsily made. “WTF was that????”

      So you noticed the cat! If you want to know the story, I’ve decided to come clean in terms of copyright at my blog. This means that I publish screenshots from films in connection to reviews, since I’ve understood that it’s considered fair use. When I write general musings and need an illustration I have to come up with something else. For a while I drew them in Paint, awful crayon pics, just to have something there. Then I found a service where you can find pictures that are free too use if you’re running a non-commercial blog, as long as you give proper credit to the photographer. I was surprised to find how good many of the pictures are. And I think cats are very useful for illustrations since they can reflect a lot of the emotions that I’m trying to convey in my posts. So that’s the story of the cats. Expect more in the future. 🙂

      Jessica

      May 24, 2013 at 7:31 am

      • So posters are not considered fair use, then?

        Sofia

        May 24, 2013 at 9:39 am

        • As far as I’ve understood it you can use pics or posters from a movie as long as you’re writing about it. But I can’t pick an picture from Skyfall to illustrate a general discussion about how the film industry is blowing up from the inside, if it’s not about Skyfall at all. This is my guess though. I’m not a lawyer!

          Jessica

          May 24, 2013 at 9:42 am

  9. Great post again Jessica. Didn’t know that about Merida at all. That’s very disheartening considering that I liked the fact that my daughters idealised her as she was. It’s about time we turned the corner on this particular nonsense.

    By the way, I suggest you check out the French film Potiche, if you haven’t already. It’s a great portrait of the particular struggle of a woman (Catherine Denueve) in the 1970’s as she decides to compete with the men in business.

    Mark Walker

    May 24, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    • Thank you Mark! I guess the existence of a fake Merida doesn’t take away any of the inspiration that your daughters got from the real one. But it’s annoying that we as parents need to police such things to keep the imposers away from our daughters lives.

      I’ve heard about Potiche and seen trailers and all. It went for quite a while in the Swedish theatres but I never got around to watch it. It looked a little bit too much like a farce, and I’ve had pretty bad experiences with French comedies lately. But trailers can be misleading and if you recommend it, I’ll keep an eye open for oportunities to see it as vod or something.

      Jessica

      May 24, 2013 at 1:15 pm

      • Yeah, Potiche is certainly lighthearted but deals with serious issues. In all honesty I was expecting more of a drama and was pleasantly surprised by it’s ability to maintain a light tone. The only issue I had was overlength. If you’ve had bad experiences with French comedies then maybe it’s best to stay away but I quite liked it.

        Mark Walker

        May 24, 2013 at 1:37 pm

  10. […] at The Velvet Café, everybody’s favorite Swede has a few thoughts on how to make one’s voice heard above the wall of noise the internet has […]

    • Thank you so very much for the kind mentioning. Considering how hard it is to make your voice heard above the wall of noise, I’m really proud to make it into your column once again. Cheers!

      Jessica

      May 24, 2013 at 11:28 pm

  11. “Your tweets whisper. Your dollars roar.” LOVED IT.
    Fascinating post, Jessica, as always! I loved that Lindelof apologized for that dumb scene. I’m very happy about that. The Merida thing is dumb and disgusting. I can’t believe shit like that is still happening! The other day I was so mad at the female character in Gangster Squad. She just existed for Sean Penn and Ryan Gosling to fight over her. She barely had any lines, and when she did talk, it was about men. UGH.

    fernandorafael

    May 25, 2013 at 5:45 am

    • Thank you Fernando! You’re so supportive – as always!
      And yes, I’m in complete agreement with you about Gangster Squad. The woman was only there for decoration. Though tbh they kind of all were. It was a very empty and forgettable movie. Can’t believe I watched it this year. It’s completely gone by now.

      Jessica

      May 25, 2013 at 8:23 am

      • You’re right about that. And yeah, I watched it last week and already forgot about it!

        fernandorafael

        May 25, 2013 at 8:24 am

  12. […] A press conference in Cannes or a thousand angry tweets – what is the best way to make your vo… […]


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