Archive for actors

Gabourney Sidibe is Important

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Gabourey Sidibe (GABB-UH-RAY SIDD-UH-BAY) is living everybody’s dream life sans the typical “dream body.” She’s beautiful and fabulous, and in her interviews she seems like a really cool person. (a.k.a. please be our friend, Gabby.)

Gabourey Sidibe got her first acting job with absolutely zero experience. At age 26 she went to a huge open audition at age and was given the lead role in Precious, which would later earn her almost universal accolades for her acting ability, along with an Oscar nomination for best actress.  In other words, she’s living the exact daydream we all had in middle school.

She is one of the few plus-sized actresses really in the game right now, and she’s using that exposure to encourage confidence in young girls. As as she said in her speech at the 2014 Gloria Awards, “It’s my good time, and my good life, despite what you think of me. I live my life, because I dare. I dare to show up when everyone else might hide their faces and hide their bodies in shame. I show up because I’m an asshole, and I want to have a good time.”

Gabby has dealt with more than her fair share of bullies and internet jerks, and she’s handled it with grace and aplomb. All you need to know is that, after numerous magazines and fans criticized her appearance at the 2014 Golden Globes, she made this tweet: “To people making mean comments about my GG pics, I mos def cried about it on that private jet on my way to my dream job last night. #JK

–Rachel

Paparazzi Headlines and the Female Body

Earlier this year, I stumbled upon a BuzzFeed post that featured several celebrity gossip headlines that had been reimagined by readers. The post complied several photos that came as a response to this challenge, courtesy of Vagenda Magazine:

Vagenda magazine's reworded version of a paparazzi headline

Vagenda magazine’s reworded version of a paparazzi headline

Reading this post and looking at all the headlines really made me think about the way female celebrities are written about.

Most people are exposed to celebrity gossip in one form or another. Even someone who has no interest in celebrity culture might have a difficult time avoiding the headlines splashed across the gossip rags that line the checkout lanes in the supermarket.

Our culture is obsessed with celebrities. I’m certainly guilty of a certain interest in the lives of the beautiful people. In spite of all the unnecessary  attention I’ve paid to these matters, I’d never considered the way these headlines were worded.

But reading this BuzzFeed article changed that.

In retrospect, it seems so obvious! In a society that is just as obsessed with celebrity as it is with female bodies, headlines like this are inevitable:

Emmy Rossum on The Daily Mail

Emmy Rossum on The Daily Mail

What a weird and creepy headline. What part of this outfit invites this kind of commentary?

I feel a little ashamed that I never recognized this kind of thing before. I’ve always considered myself a feminist. I think I’m in tune with women’s rights issues. But in spite of this, I’d never seen headlines like this as problematic.

As I said before, that’s all changed now. And, oh, how the floodgates have opened.

Let’s start with the photo above. What part of Emmy Rossum’s outfit makes this kind of headline appropriate? The big question this article made me ask was this: What does a woman have to wear in order to not invite commentary on her body?

Let’s look at some other examples. Here’s a post about Drew Barrymore:

revised drew barrymoreHow exactly is she “hiding” her figure? To me it just looks like she’s wearing clothes the same way anyone else is. The phrasing here really irks me. It seems to suggest that a female star’s body is subject to objectification and criticism at any time. Barrymore is hiding her figure from the people who feel they have an absolute right to see it.

This is very much a gender-based thing, too.  Compare a couple of headlines from the same website featuring male celebrities:

Seth Rogen

No mention of what Rogen is wearing as he “plays the role” of dutiful husband. The only thing the headline is making a big deal out of is Rogen helping his wife carry bags of groceries. There’s no reference to Rogen “hiding” his figure under his clothing. There no mention of clothes or bodies anywhere in this article.

The following headline does mention the male celebrity’s clothing, though not in the same way you’d see a female celebrity being talked about:

Kelsey Grammer

The author of this piece does make a point of describing Grammer’s attire, though it’s not written in the same breathless and voyeuristic tone used to when describing female celebrities above. Again, there is no mention of Grammer’s body. He apparently has nothing to hide.

As I said before, after I started noticing these things, I was unable to stop. Headlines like this are everywhere. They’re a symptom of a culture that constantly polices women’s bodies.  How are normal women supposed to feel good about themselves when glamorous movie stars are picked apart by tabloids? And is there a solution?

The answer to that last question is pretty difficult. I’d say one step to changing things like this is awareness. Now that I recognize what a problem this is, I can speak out and try to change things. I don’t have a lot of power, but I do have my voice. You do as well. Actions like this, however small, can make a difference:

Amal Alamuddin and George Clooney

Amal Alamuddin and George Clooney

We just have to keep trying.

The inherent misogyny of photo leaks
… and what we can do about it

It seems like everyone has a cell phone these days. Most of us walk around with nice cameras in our pockets, fully equipped and ready to blast our image to whomever we choose. This incredible technology is so commonplace we don’t even stop to think about it.

As I’ve said before, I am pro-selfie. But the selfie has taken on a more sinister connotation over the past month. The ultimate tool of self-love has been turned into a tool of hatred and exploitation.

Again.

Yes, I am talking about the latest celebrity nude “scandal.”

Over Labor Day weekend, a hacker (or a group of hackers) breached the iCloud accounts belonging to several celebrities. The victims include actress Jennifer Lawrence, model/actress Kate Upton, singer Rihanna, and many others.

Before we move on, I’d like to note that there is not a single male on the list of people who’ve had their pictures released. Let’s hold onto that thought for a minute.

Not a single male had his photo hacked.

The leaked photos have been released on sites such as Reddit, 4chan and imgur.

In a situation like this, a celebrity has a scant few choices as to how to react. The first is to deny, as Nickelodeon star Victoria Justice did last month:

Option 1: Deny

Option 1: Deny

The second choice is simply to ignore the leak and go on like nothing has happened. Third is to “laugh it off” as no big deal. Fourth and final is to go after the hackers via lawsuits. This is the strategy that seemed to work for Scarlett Johansson a couple years ago—the person who hacked her photos and leaked them is currently serving a ten-year jail sentence.

Lawrence and Upton have both released statements confirming the photos and announcing intentions to prosecute the offenders. Lawrence’s spokesperson responded to the leak with this statement: “This is a flagrant violation of privacy. The authorities have been contacted and will prosecute anyone who posts the stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence.”

Jennifer Lawrence

Any sane person would agree that these leaks are a massive violation.

There are plenty of people decrying the leaks and insisting those responsible be brought to justice. That’s easy enough to agree with. But with situations like this, hypocrisy abounds. Some of the people complaining about the invasion of privacy are the ones scouring the internet for links to the photos. What really troubles me are the people who insist these women “had it coming.” Even those expressing sympathy will turn around and mock the victims for being stupid enough to take pictures of themselves.

In the culture we live in, victim blaming is so common it’s almost expected. Sadly, it’s not surprising to see dozens of articles popping up on various websites insisting that the violation is offensive but inevitable. If you take pictures and allow them to be uploaded to the cloud, they reason, you should be prepared for them to be seen by everyone with access to the internet.

How on earth does this make sense?

These pictures were taken for private use. They were stored on devices with a reasonable expectation of privacy. Such technology isn’t impenetrable, of course, but that doesn’t mean people should live their lives in constant fear of being hacked. And if they are hacked, it’s certainly not that fault.

Imagine your credit card information was stolen. How would you feel if someone told you this kind of thing was inevitable—that you knew the risks when you went to the ATM or the grocery. How would it feel to be blamed for the crime someone else committed against you?

It wouldn’t feel good.

It’s also important to consider the fact that many people don’t understand exactly how “the cloud” works. A person can buy an Apple product and take a picture without ever realizing that photo was automatically uploaded to the cloud. Even deleting the photo on one’s phone won’t take it off the cloud.

What’s really frightening is how common this is. It doesn’t just happen to celebrities. There are plenty of “revenge porn” websites where disgruntled people can send risqué photos of their exes. Unlike celebrities, the women this happens to—and the victims are, of course, overwhelmingly female—don’t have the power and money to go after the men who share these images and post them all over the internet.

It’s a disturbing trend, and it’s only getting more pervasive.

This kind of violation is a virtual sex crime. Some of the hackers held photos hostage until they received deposits to their BitCoin or PayPal accounts. This is, simply put, the commodification of women’s bodies, and it’s happening completely without their consent. This isn’t just about sex for the viewers of these images—t’s about the power they feel from seeing women naked without their consent.

Earlier I mentioned the fact that none of the pictures leaked have been of men. The only male depicted in this “scandal” was Upton’s boyfriend, baseball player Justin Verlander, and he was shown in a picture next to Upton. I find it unlikely that a massive undertaking like this (the hacker said it took him two years to build his collection) wouldn’t produce some pictures of men. It’s more likely that the hacker did obtain some male nudes but chose not to share them.

Kate Upton

Yes, women were deliberately targeted. Again.

There are so many hurdles facing girls today. They’re constantly bombarded by a media that tells them their bodies aren’t good enough. And “scandals” such as these drive home the message that their bodies don’t just belong to them. It teaches girls that society wants to rob them of their agency and is cruelly invested in taking away their power.

It’s a scary world to live in. There are things we can do though.

The first is to refrain from clicking on these pictures. These women have already had their privacy violated—there’s no need to violate them further.

The second is to not let anyone get away with these attacks. This includes legal action, of course, but it also means calling out those who continue to spread the images. This is something we can all do. We have to make it known that this kind of breach is unacceptable, and that viewing and spreading the pictures is just as bad as leaking the photos.

Lastly, we need to look out for each other. In the weeks since the initial leak, the hashtag “#leakforJLaw” has been trending on Twitter. Ostensibly this was a tag started by women where they would post topless photos of themselves in support of Lawrence and the other victims of the leak. This was, of course, a hoax made up by some 4chan members in an effort to get more photos of naked women. It’s not unthinkable that some women might think of this as a legitimate way of showing support for the victims.  That being said, blatant deception like this has to stop. That means we need to protect ourselves and each other and call out schemes like this.

Time will tell if those responsible for these leaks are brought to justice.  In the mean time, the inherent misogyny in our culture has to be fought against and weeded out.

—Lauren Bunch

Oscar wrap-up, part two: Why we need to talk about Kim Novak

The Oscars were just over a week ago, but I’m still talking about them because I haven’t gotten around to talking about the appearance of Kim Novak, and I feel I must.

If you don’t know, Kim Novak was one of the most sought-after starlets of the ’50s and ’60s, starring in dozens of films, most memorably as the object of Jimmy Stewart’s obsession in Hitchcok’s Vertigo.

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And if you weren’t watching the Oscars a week ago, you may not know that Novak, now 81 years old, appeared there as a presenter, but was almost unrecognizable because of the amount of work she’s had done on her face in order to appear much younger than she is.

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When Novak walked on the strage, gripping the arm of her co-presenter, Matthew McConaughey, like she might either fall over or fall apart without him, a hush fell over the Dolby Theatre as everyone in the audience—and all of us watching at home—realized that Novak had decided she would rather her skin appear smooth and artificial than wrinkled and old.

It was honestly the saddest moment of the whole night.

And, in that moment, it hit me that this is what we do to women in this country—we teach them that their value is derived solely from their physical appearance, we teach them that it’s better to look unreal than to look elderly, that it’s better to look plastic than wrinkled, that it’s better to hide who they are than to be themselves.

As Oscar Host Ellen Degeneres jokingly said, “I’m not saying movies are the most important thing in the world. I’m not saying that—because the most important thing in the world is youth.”

In that way, Kim Novak’s appearance at the Oscars last Sunday sums up everything that’s wrong with our expectations for American women, who are taught over and over again that looking young and pretty is a goal worth achieving at any cost.

A cost Novak seems more than willing to pay.

And I’m terrified that I’ll see her choices repeated over and over and over again on the faces of the women around me as time and science march on.

I was lucky enough to be at the beach yesterday, and the middle-aged mother sitting next to me was literally wearing a string bikini.

A leopard-print spring bikini.

I was pretty sure she was around my age, and sure enough, later in the day, I heard her say that she “wasn’t forty YET.” (I’m 43.)

Despite the fact that we are virtually the same age, this woman had the body of a twenty-year-old. Her upper body was flawless—with sculpted abs, a flat stomach, and toned arms—and her legs had only enough cellulite for someone who was really looking to notice.

Still, though a part of me admired her discipline—you don’t keep a body like that into your 40s without a hell of a lot of trips to the gym—I didn’t envy her. Because all I could think was that her charade would soon be coming to an end, and when it did, she’d have to face the fact that she wouldn’t be young forever.

I worry, too, that such a realization will send beautiful women like her straight to the plastic surgeon where they can be nipped and injected and tucked until no sign of their aging appears. But no sign of their former selves either.

Despite this, I can’t help but note that Novak—and other women in Hollywood like her, who have chosen the plastic surgery route over the age naturally route—are the ones who aren’t really working as actors anymore.

maggie

Though you wouldn’t know if from the pictures above, at 82, Maggie Smith is only one year older than Novak, and despite the fact that she has chosen not to hide her age, she continues to work with much success.

Judi Dench, 79, too has embraced her age, and her career is thriving…

Judi Dench

Though younger than Novak, Smith, and Dench, Susan Sarandon, 67…

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and Diane Keaton, 68, have done the same…

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So if the women who are getting work in Hollywood are the ones who are not afraid to age naturally, I can’t help but wonder why Novak—and others like her—are so afraid to do so that they engage in such risky behavior.

Perhaps looking into Novak’s past will give us the answer.

When Novak was twenty, the modeling agency where she worked described her this way: “Hands, marginal; legs, hefty; neck and face, flawless.” Pretty soon “studio executives made her cap her teeth, bleach her hair, shrink her body with a strict diet and exercise regime, and perpetually paint her face with the help of a personal makeup artist.” And Novak’s agent used to “read her every bad review she got. And she got plenty; Novak was never a darling of the press. If she tried something dramatic, she was wooden. If she did a sexy role, she was too heavy, too dumb. When she went to the Oscars one year and posed on the red carpet, one columnist sniped that Novak was ‘aping Marilyn’s every move.’”

It’s not hard to understand why someone whose been put through that kind of scrutiny would be afraid to be herself. My God, it seems that Hollywood probably destroyed not only Novak’s self-esteem but her looks as well. Perhaps the reason that actresses like Dench and Smith were never obsessed with staying young is because their faces were not as famous as Novak’s in their youth.

And maybe what we can learn from Novak is that, unless we stop worshipping at the alter of youth and physical perfection, then we all run the risk of some day, like Novak, falling victim to the belief that there is only one kind of beauty.

It’s sad to admit, but it seems that Novak has suffered such a fate.

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The best moments at this year’s Golden Globes
… a.k.a. Take that, mani-cam!

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The Golden Globes were last Sunday night, and though there were a few disappointments, it was mostly a great night for women (a fact one NY Post reporter actually had the hutzpah to complain about).

 

THE HIGHLIGHTS

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On the red carpet, one of the stars of Mad Men summed up how we all feel about the head-to-toe scrutiny of women when Elisabeth Moss flipped off their ridiculous E! mani-cam. Thank you, Elizabeth, for doing what we all want to do on the red carpet. Lord knows how many times I’ve flipped off the mani-cam and the glam-o-strator and the 360 degree room and whatever other bullshit they come up with to reduce women to their looks. And, wow, was it fun to see Giuliana Rancic freak out like that.

 

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During the ceremony, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler KILLED it with an outrageously funny opening “monologue” and other hilarious bits throughout the evening including a great rejoinder to the inherent sexism of “Miss Golden Globe” by pretending Fey had an illegitmate son who was the night’s “Mr. Golden Globe.”

They didn’t shy away from women’s body issues either, explaining that “For The Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey lost forty pounds. Or what actresses call being in a movie” and encouraging the men to “kick off your shoes, try on the ladies’, and see how awful they are.”

 

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Men who date younger women got BURNED when Tina and Amy introduce Gravity as “the story of how George Clooney would rather float away and die than spend one more minute with a woman his age.”

 

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Philomena Lee stood up for solidarity among women, saying that the movie based on her life is “not just about me; it is about all the women who have still not gotten justice.”

 

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Emma Thompson showed us what it means to be a strong woman in Hollywood when she came out to present an award carrying her high heels in one hand and a martini in another. “That red you see is my blood,” Thompson said as she held up her shoes, eventually chucking them behind her.

 

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Several winners called attention to how much their mothers helped them, including Amy Adams and Matthew McConaughey.

 

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Amy Poehler won best actress in a television comedy for playing feminist Leslie Knope on Parks & Rec! As one of my friends said, I don’t know who to love more—Amy Poehler or Leslie Knope—because both are such wonderful role models for women.

 

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Amy Poehler made out with Bono after her name was called, finally getting revenge for what Adrian Brody did to Halle Berry at the 2002 Oscars.

 

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Diane Keaton continued to challenge gender roles 37 years after she first did it in Annie Hall by wearing a men’s suit to accept the honorary Globe for Woody Allen.

 

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Melissa McCarthy presented an award, and no one made any jokes about her body. It’s the small things, isn’t it?

 

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Jimmy Fallon and Melissa McCarthy had phenomenal chemistry, making me believe they could star in a rom com together about a skinny dude and a bigger woman. Come on, Hollywood, make it happen!

 

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Robin Wright ran to the stage in her giant heels, proving that women can do anything, and despite what Meryl Streep’s character said in August: Osage County, Wright canoodled with fiance Ben Foster, showing that women really DO get better with age.

 

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Okay, I admit this one isn’t related to gender or body issues, but I also loved it when, in a moment of rare Hollywood camraderie, the cast/crew of 12 Years a Slave helped director Steve McQueen remember who to thank when he won Best Dramatic Motion Picture.

 

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THE DISAPPOINTMENTS

In addition to all the normal annoyance on the Red Carpet (including the aforementioned mani-cam, glam-o-strator, and 360-degree camera), a new tradition was introduced in which entertainment reporters repeatedly asked celebrities how much their jewels were worth, highlighting how out of touch Americans are with the state of the world.

Parks & Rec, one of the smartest television shows about a strong woman EVER, lost the Golden Globe for Best Television Comedy to Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Really, Hollywood Foreign Press? Really????!!!!!!

Diane Keaton made us cringe by reducing the female actresses in Woody Allen’s film to “Woody’s Women” and then desecrating A GIRL SCOUTS’ SONG ABOUT FEMALE FRIENDSHIP by singing it in tribute to Allen.

And possibly most important of all, the Hollywood Foreign Press ignored all of the amazing movies made by women this year. In fact, not one woman was nominated for Best Director or Best Screenplay even though 2013 brought us excellent films written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, Lake Bell, Greta Gerwig, Sarah Polley, Sofia Coppola, Julie Delpy, and many more.

The Heat as postmodern feminist art: how McCarthy and Bullock blow off misogynistic bullshit

…a guest post by Dr. Molly Kerby

If you can’t stand The Heat

well, it goes without saying, you should go watch the movie!

I admit that I was reluctant to see The Heat and walked into the theater with a giant chip of skepticism on my shoulder. The photo-shopped playbills of Melissa McCarthy, the seemingly anti-feminist clips I’d see on talk shows, and the juxtaposition of the fat girl versus the skinny girl all made my radical blood boil.

How can we, as a society, still support the stereotypical image of the “fat” person being portrayed as lazy, disheveled, and crude? How can we position that stereotypical image in contrast with the “skinny,” organized/poised, Yale graduate? Have we, as women, made no progress toward equality?’

I thought to myself, this is so wrong on so many levels that I will never be able to sit through the entire film without walking out of the theater in disgust. Fortunately, my admiration for the artistic talents of both Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock peaked my curiosity.

I went to see the film.

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The film began with an introduction of each of the main characters and unapologetically reeked of a cliché mismatched cop-duo movie. Melissa McCarthy plays Shannon Mullins, a foul-mouthed Irish detective in Boston from a dysfunctional family, and Sandra Bullock portrays the pathetically single, workaholic New York FBI agent, Sarah Ashburn.

I seriously felt like I was watching the introduction to Lethal Weapon 5.

The plot to bring down the infamous drug lord and save the big city is even triter than the characters themselves. All elements of the film seemed obvious and sophomoric.

Then it dawned on me that in my haste to judge this popular culture display of what I saw as sexism and fattism, I had lost the point of the film.

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So, let me start by sharing this disclaimer: I am not a third-wave or postmodern feminist. Rather, as a second-wave feminist, I believe to truly move on the next wave of a movement, there should be significant evidence of social change in the era left behind; that has not happened.

That being disclaimed (not dismissed), this film is very much a postmodern/postmodern-feminist statement.

As we delve into critical feminist theory, contradictions, interpretations, and competing analyses challenge the foothold of attempts at a generalized understanding of feminism. By this I mean that no two feminist scholars see the analytical context of anything in the same way; the same will no doubt be true for the critics of this film, most of whom will totally miss the point.

Instead of dwelling on the never-ending discrimination of women in male-identified jobs, sexism in the workplace, and obsession with bodyism (particularly females) the movie constantly, and consistently, faces it head on.

One of the most poignant scenes occurs when the albino DEA agent broke into a monologue about female law officers letting their estrogen and emotions cloud their judgment on the streets. Both Mullins and Ashburn blankly and silently stare at him until he is finished.

My instincts told me as this scene progressed that one of them was going to punch him in the face (they’d done a lot of that already in the film), but it never happened.

Before simply walking off, Mullins made a rude joke about his girlfriend being a flour sack with a hole, and the scene was over.

No debate ever ensued about women rights or equality, nor was there any dialogue about the DEA agent being sexist. It was as if both of them had heard all it and dismissed it as benign; they had work to do.

Countless examples of this ideology continue throughout the movie.

The male “cop-turned-bad” drug lord calls the albino DEA a misogynistic pig, which elicits no response from either Mullins or Ashburn. They just shake their heads in agreement and the scene moves on. Again, at the end Ashburn is passed over for a promotion, but nothing is ever said about discrimination – it just “is.”

Almost every stereotype about women in the workforce (in particular, law enforcement) is in this film, but it is shelved by the unlikely duo as if it was yesterday’s news.

In my critical perception of The Heat, the film is an example of postmodern feminist art.

One of the most compelling arguments of postmodern feminism is that gender is socially constructed through language. The idea is that what society regards as feminine is only a reflection of what is constructed as masculine, especially though our patterns of communication (both verbal and nonverbal).

Third-wave feminists have added that reclaiming derogatory language in order to change the connotation should be a central focus of revolution. An example of this ideology are the Slutwalks that began in 2011 aimed at reclaiming the word “slut” and attacking the notion that what women wear contributes to their victimization. The same is true for third-waver’s ideas of physical presentation in general; dress, weight, body modification, piercing, tattooing, etc.

In The Heat, slurs about weight, appearance, race, and gender fly from both (and all!) sides throughout the film:

—Mullins verbally attacks her boss in the beginning of the film and rants about his “small balls” for what seems to be five minutes

—The albino DEA agent refers to  Mullins as the “Campbell’s soup kid” all grown up

—Mullins tells the albino DEA agent he looks “Evil as shit,” a reference to the 1978 movie Foul Play in which another mismatched duo (Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase) solve a case involving albinos, dwarves, and the Catholic Church.

—Mullins refers to Ashburn’s Hispanic boss as “Puss in Boots,” a reference to Antonio Banderas’s charismatic character in Shrek.

The list goes on and on.

Similarly, we can hypothesize that, like language, other things, including body image—the subject of this blog—are socially constructed and most definitely treated in that same manner as language in this film.

One thing I noticed, above all the rest, is that the two women never shopped for sexy lingerie, drooled over dresses they couldn’t afford in store windows, engaged in “girl talk,” cooked, or cleaned. Neither of them made overreaching attempts to transform the other in ways that always appear in “chick” movies. Ashburn never told Mullins she needed to lose weight so she would be prettier, happier, or healthier. They did not have a “make-over” scene so that everyone could gasp at how pretty they looked when they “acted” like women. Mullins seemed to have a very active sex life, so there was never any innuendo that she could “get a man” if she wasn’t fat. To the contrary, Ashburn was the one who had the “dull” life; not because she was “ugly” but because she worked too much and was too serious and “stiff” (a trait most often given to men in movies).

Third-wave feminism posits that making autonomous choices about self-expression can be empowering acts of resistance, not simply internalized oppression. In other words, we may not be able to change the system as radical feminism suggests, but we do have the power to not conform to societal norms.

While that might seem like an oversimplification, it’s not at all.

I started my journey as a feminist with the idea that overhauling the system was the only way to make change. As I continued on through the many twisted passages, I realized that I might not be able change the system. What I did eventually grasp, however, it that I did not have to be an active part of that system.

And, that’s what this movie is about.

It acknowledges all of the elements of the misogynistic bullshit that are engrained in our language and institutions and then just blows them off.

Yes, I liked the movie.

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Dr. Molly Kerby is an assistant professor in the Department of Diversity & Community Studies at Western Kentucky University (WKU). She teaches in the gender & women’s studies graduate and undergraduate program as well as the Masters of Arts in Social Responsibility and Sustainable Communities (SRSC) degree program.  She is a social justice scholar and activist. Molly has been a resident of Bowling Green, Kentucky, and member of the WKU community for almost thirty years.

Before Midnight Part I: Why we need more actresses who look like Julie Delpy

My piece on Before Midnight appears at Bitch Flicks today, and I hope you’ll read it.

In that piece, I talk about what’s wrong with the writing in Before Midnight, the third film in the Richard Linklater Before Sunrise/Before Sunset trilogy.

But I want to talk here about what’s right. And what’s right in that film is how real Julie Delpy looks.

In Before Midnight, Delpy has a few wrinkles…

fleshy arms…

big hips and thick thighs,

a real butt and real hips…

and a bit of a stomach…

Simply put, Delpy looks like a real person—flaws and all.

Despite this, she also looks stunningly beautiful, sending the important message that we can look real and have flaws and still be beautiful. 

If we had more women on our screens who looked this real and this good at the same time, we would probably all feel a lot better about ourselves and have more attainable role models.

In the Nicole Holofcener film, Lovely and Amazing, Emily Mortimer plays a struggling actress obsessed with her appearance.

In one scene, she stands stark naked in front of another actor (played by Dermot Mulroney) and asks him to describe her flaws. But when she tells her mother what’s wrong with her appearance, her mother balks and insists she is “lovely and amazing.”

That about sums about how I feel about Mortimer’s supposed flaws.

And Delpy’s too.

And all of the rest of ours for that matter.

What are we teaching our students? Or why I almost never feel like Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society


Last week I watched clips from Dangerous Liaisons and Cruel Intentions with the students in my Creative Retellings class during one of the student’s presentations. (If you don’t know, Cruel Intentions is a contemporary retelling of Dangerous Liaisons.) The discussion of the two films was excellent except for one notable part…

My students didn’t understand why the two men in Dangerous Liaisons—played by John Malkovich and Keanu Reeves—would be more attracted to the character played by Glenn Close than they were to the character played by Michelle Pfeiffer.

That part of our class discussion went something like this:

“But Pfeiffer is smoking hot,” one of the students explained. “Why would anyone pick Glenn Close over her?”

“Maybe they were drawn to things besides her looks,” I offered. “Like her confidence and power or her intelligence and wit.”

“I don’t know,” one student said, and the others agreed, nodding and twisting their faces in a way told me they were not convinced by my argument

“And it’s not like Glen Close is a monster or something,” I countered. “She’s attractive too.”

Again my comment was met with disapproving, confused looks.

I was horrified that my students, for some reason, had gotten the idea that women have to be hot to be attractive to men.

So I explained that back in my day—yes, I really said that—women in Hollywood were not all “smoking hot” and that they didn’t all look exactly the same either. Award-winning actresses like Glenn Close, Margot Kidder, Debra Winger, Shirley MacLaine, Karen Allen, Whoopi Goldberg, Angelica Huston, Geena Davis, Jodi Foster, Susan Sarandon, Alfre Woodard, Christine Lahti, Sigourney Weaver, and Meryl Streep played the romantic lead in Hollywood movies while actually looking like regular people. Sure, none of them were homely, but they also didn’t look like they belonged in an episode of Gossip Girl either.

That seemed to satisfy my students. Their twisted faces were gone, replaced by  bright eyes and nodding heads. They seemed to get it. I was finally getting through to them.

So imagine my surprise when Dangerous Liaisons came up in class again this week, and one of them said, “I still can’t believe that John Malkovich and Keanu Reeves would go after someone who looks like Glenn Close.”

Sometimes I feel like I can’t win.

Extreme Weight Loss for Roles is not “Required” and not Praiseworthy

This cross-post was originally written by Robin Hitchcock for Bitch Flicks.

 

Kale and dust. Hummus and radishes. Two squares of dried oatmeal paste a day.

If you recognize any of these phrases, then you’ve probably been hit by the Anne Hathaway starvation-diet-for-her-craft marketing blitz.

In the unlikely event that you haven’t heard about this already, I’ll catch you up: Anne Hathaway, slim to begin with and already leaned down to catsuit size for The Dark Knight Rises, lost 25 pounds to more realistically inhabit the role of starving-and-dying-of-tuberculosis Fantine in the upcoming movie musical Les Misérables. Actors forcing dramatic body weight changes for roles is nothing new and nothing unique (see the similar-yet-tellingly-different coverage of Matthew McConaughey’s weight loss to play an AIDS sufferer in The Dallas Buyers Club), but Hathaway’s weight loss has become The Story of the production of Les Mis: a subject of endless discussion on celebrity gossip sites, the talk show circuit, and the cover story in the December issue of Vogue magazine.

Why is a skinny person getting skinnier garnering so much media fascination? Are hummus and radishes so much more fascinating than Les Mis director Tom Hooper’s decision to have the actors sing live for the cameras? And even if we insist on reducing an actress to her physical appearance, couldn’t we just talk some more about Anne Hathaway chopping off all her hair?

When discussing her weight loss with Entertainment Tonight‘s Mark Steins, Hathaway says, “It’s what is required. It doesn’t matter if it’s hard.”

“Required”? Really?

This makes two gigantic assumptions: 1) That physical frailty is necessary to properly play the character Fantine.

Patti LuPone as Fantine, 1985 London production

 

Sierra Boggess as Fantine, current West End production

 

Randy Graff as Fantine, 1987 Broadway production

 

An assumption I think it is fair to reject: these women are slender, but not emaciated, and they are able to play the character convincingly.

But let’s give Hathaway the benefit of the doubt and say the intimacy of a filmed adaptation requires more stringent realism when it comes to Fantine’s body size. This still assumes that the actor actually losing weight is the only way to portray her extreme physical condition.

Skinny Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger

 

Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

 

Yeah, nope.

So let’s be clear: Anne Hathaway’s extreme weight loss for Les Mis was in no way required.  But while it is artistically a wash; as a career choice, it was clearly a good move.  The film benefits from all this attention, and Hathaway enjoys the “she so devoted to her craft” kudos that often translate into statuettes.

But it is bad for women, and bad for our culture. More diet talk, more body talk, perpetuation of the myth that weight loss is a noble pursuit and merely a matter of dedication.  Voluntary adoption of disordered eating is not praiseworthy. These types of body transformations are not artistically necessary, and certainly not “required.” So let’s hope actors stop endangering their health for roles. We can suspend our disbelief over a few dozen pounds.

*
Robin Hitchcock (no relation to the Master of Suspense) is a Bitch Flicks weekly contributor. In May 2012, she reluctantly left her home of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to move to Cape Town, South Africa with her husband. Robin is a Contributing Editor foLeWeekley.co.za, a weekly guide of things to do in Cape Town. You can also find her writing at the mostly-dormant feminist pop-culture blog The Double R Diner and her personal blog HitchDied.com.

Back in my day . . . actresses had curly hair and a little meat on their bones.

Elizabeth Shue has a new movie coming out. Dave and I caught the preview at the multiplex over the weekend, and it made us start talking about all the great movies she was in when we were young . . .

 . . . Adventures in BabysittingRadio Inside, Leaving Las Vegas, and, of course, her breakout film, The Karate Kid.


Dave and I have both loved Shue ever since she was in The Karate Kid (the 1984 original), and one of the reasons we both liked her in that movie was because she looked like a real person.

In that movie, Shue had actual curves and curly hair and chipmunk cheeks and thick eyebrows. And she didn’t wear clothes that left nothing to the imagination or so much makeup that you couldn’t see her gorgeous freckles.

I’m not saying Shue wasn’t in tip-top shape because she was, which is obvious when she appears in her bathing suit during a scene at the beach, though it’s notable that it was a one-piece.

But I am saying you would never see someone who looked like such a down-to-earth girl-next-door in a film about two high schoolers today.


Instead, nearly every young woman—save some of the women on TV’s groundbreaking Glee—you do see playing a high schooler in film or television today has stick straight hair, a super skinny bod, a tiny nose, sculpted cheeks, shaped brows, plump lips, and movie star makeup.

And if we ever want to change our unhealthy obsession with thinness and perfection—especially among young girls—then we’ve got to go back to letting our female actors look like real people.

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