Sunday, March 03, 2013

Media: The cracks in our foundation

Women's Media Center did a piece in January about the responsibilities of a host with a guest who crosses a line with word choice.  It's a shame they weren't also concerned with factual errors because Robin Morgan is hosting Women's Media Center Live With Robin Mogan and, more and more, people are starting to ask why?


Last Sunday's theme was the movie show and guests included Jane Fonda who had this to say:

To go back to the women as directors, there have been a lot of really really successful movies directed by women; Hurt Locker, When Harry Met Sally, Mamma Mia, Bridesmaids, Lost in Translation, Zero Dark Thirty, It's Complicated, the animated film Brave.

Eight films.  Directed by women?  Unless Rob Reiner had an operation that he forgot to tell us about, When Harry Met Sally . . .  was not directed by a woman.  (Nora Ephron wrote the script).  Bridesmaids?  Directed by Paul Feig.  Brave had three directors, one of which, Brenda Chapman, is a woman.

Mistakes happen and it doesn't have to be the end of the world.  But shouldn't the host know the topic when the topic is the theme of the entire hour?

More importantly, The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty were directed by one woman: Kathyrn Bigelow.  She's the only woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director Feature Film.  And yet neither Jane nor Robin bothered to name the director.

How can you talk about the need to support women when you don't support in your own convestations?

It was really interesting to listen to Robin and Jane talk about how women needed to be hired as directors.  Did we need producers to hire more women or investors, wondered Robin while Jane felt the answer was to be found with "women in decision making positions."

Which had us remembering Jane never hired a woman to direct.  Not for any of her IPC Films or Fonda Films projects.  Not even with the TV movie Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee, she hired a man (the ridiculous Frank Pierson, who ruined the film).  More importantly, she oversaw 26 episodes of a sitcom entitled 9 to 5 and never managed to hire a woman to direct.  Despite the fact that women had made strong inroads into directing for television in the seventies.  For instance, Joan Darling would direct the classic episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show "Chuckles Bites The Dust," direct an episode of Rhoda, an episode of M*A*S*H, four episodes of Phyllis, an episode of Lee Grant's sitcom Fay and much more throughout the 70s.  But in 1982 and 1983, no woman was judged good enough to direct the really bad sitcom 9 to 5.  Linda Day was another woman who made a name for herself as a TV director.  During the time Jane was producing 9 to 5, Linda was directing episodes of Archie Bunker's Place, Newhart, Benson, Alice, WKRP in Cincinnati and Too Close For Comfort.  But she was never offered 9 to 5.

So clearly, the problem will not be addressed simply by "women in decision making positions."  Jane's a strong woman, a feminist of many decades and she had the power to decide who directed.  So clearly the answer isn't just "women in decision making positions."

We were reminded that Zero Dark Thirty had a $40 million budget and how few women directors get a greenlight from a studio, let alone get a budget like that.   And we thought of our friend Amy Pascal who was responsible for that greenlight.  We thought about how Pascal gave greenlights to producer Laura Ziskin (the Spider Man franchise).  And we thought about Drew Barrymore who, like Laura, moved from Fox to Sony.  We thought about how it was Amy who saw the potential in a film based on the Charlie's Angels TV series and set about developing it before handing off production to Drew Barrymore's company -- handing off production and a $93 million budget.   And we thought about how, when Kathryn and her film were being demonized, Amy didn't stay silent, she fired off a response.  We thought about Amy who busts her ass every hour of the day trying to make the best pictures possible and who is always as eager to find a good project with a story about a woman as she is to find a good project with a story about a man.

We thought about how if you were going to discuss "decision makers," you could actually note a woman who makes a difference, note her by name.

But that wasn't to be.  And women weren't recognized.

This was demonstrated in the segment itself by Jane and Robin being on a program that they're in charge of (they founded Women's Media Center with Gloria Steinem) and unable to talk about women.  Jane praised Quentin Tarentino's latest splatter porn at length.  Then she took to praising Silver Linings Playbook leaving us to wonder if Jane knew the meaning of loyalty?  We thought Lily Tomlin was Jane's friend.

So it was a bit strange to listen to the praise for a film by the director who screamed and screeched at Lily, "I'm just trying to f**king help you, you understand me! I'm just being a f**king collaborator!  I'm trying to help you figure out the f**king picture, okay, bitch?  I'm not here to be f**king yelled at!  I haven't been working on this thing for three f**king years to have some f**king c**t yell at me in front of the crew! I'm trying to help you, bitch!"

This is  the work that Women's Media Center praises?  A film directed by a man caught on film  screaming bitch and c**t at a woman?

Next time, Jane and Robin   extoll the wonders and layers of O.J. Simpson's work in The Towering Inferno?

As bad as that segment was, it was other segments of that broadcast the demonstred Robin Morgan was pure Sour Grape Gal.  She'd already dismissed guest Melissa Silverstein when Melissa was attempting to discuss Kathryn Bigelow.  And when Bigelow popped up in actress Kathy Bates' remarks?

 Kathy Bates:   I think it's still pretty pale male when it comes to directors, unfortunately.  I see very few, of course there's Kathryn Bigelow, who's really stepped up there and does the kind of hard films that we've seen other men do over the years.  That's kind of hard, about fighitng, about war, about those kinds of subjects.  About male bonding and we don't see that much in a lot of the young female directors, I think that are coming up now necessarily.

Robin Morgan:  Right.  I'll be interesting when we someday win an Oscar for a female director who actually can do a film about female bonding and still win the Oscar for it, instead of, you know what I mean.

 Yeah, we know what you mean, nothing's ever good enough for you, is it?

We're supposed to celebrate women but never the ones you decide aren't worth celebrating.

We're supposed to yet again turn off our brains and let you make all the decisions.

And that's one of the main reasons so many women don't want to claim feminism today.

What 26-year-old woman wants to hear some cranky, 72-year-old set out the rules she's supposed to be living her life under?

This is an ongoing problem and it needs to be addressed.  Feminism is about making decisions, decisions that are right for you.  What's right for one of us may be exactly wrong for some one else.  That's why feminism is about choices.

And the only choice that women are being presented with these days are edicts from Gloria and Robin.  As Rebecca's "what kat said" and Kat's "Go away, Gloria, just go away" have pointed out, 'leadership' has been around for a long time now.

Betty Friedan, as Rebecca points out, was moved aside to make room for Gloria when Friedan was still in her fifites.  Another strong point to make is that Betty had less than ten years as leader.  By 1972, she had been pushed aside.  Robin and Gloria are on their fifth decade of 'leadership.'

At a certain point, you need to learn to step aside.

And when you do, you should take your edicts with you because feminism isn't your playground, you don't own it.

Some will argue that the women aren't leaders.  They certainly don't offer much leadership, true.  But they do grab up all the public attention.  Last week, for example, Gloria Steinem, showed up on PBS' The NewsHour and peeled off this howler, "No, of course, women can't have it all as long as we have to do it all, until -- I mean, we have realized -- and the majority of Americans fully agree -- that women can do what men can do."

There was Gloria engaging in nonsense about 'having it all' and presenting it as a possibility in the future.  Just last June, we were all stuck having to explain that feminism did not promote that notion and along comes Gloria.

As Rebecca Traister (Salon) pointed out back in June:

No, my proposal is this: We should immediately strike the phrase “have it all” from the feminist lexicon and never, ever use it again.
Here is what is wrong, what has always been wrong, with equating feminist success with “having it all”: It’s a misrepresentation of a revolutionary social movement. The notion that female achievement should be measured by women’s ability to “have it all” recasts a righteous struggle for greater political, economic, social, sexual and political parity as a piggy and acquisitive project.

But, hey, there's Gloria talking about the day "having it all" arrives.

There should be other faces the media can go to.  Gloria should be turning down interviews and referring the media to other women.  In fact, if she had carried out what she attempted in the seventies -- touring with Flo Kennedy, for example -- she could have been introducing younger voices over the last ten years.

Instead, the public faces remain Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan -- both women over 70.   At what time do you bow out gracefully? At what point do you let others chart the future?  Jane Fonda blazed a trail as a producer -- as a very successful producer.  Her work allowed other actresses to claim their own power.  Do you really think Barbra Streisand would've gotten a studio to back her in directing Yentl if it weren't for the groundwork Jane did as a producer?   Do you think the paths of women like Dawn Steele, Sherry Lansing,  Amy Pascal and Stacey Snider weren't influenced by Jane?

As a successful producer, a high profile one, and a woman, Jane had the industry imagining what could come next.  She deserves so much praise and credit for where women are in film today.  But she's not running around trying to produce her or anyone else's next film.  She did her part in blazing a trail.  She's handed off the baton to those who will run the next leg of the race.  That doesn't mean she disappeared or she gave up acting or she gave up her writing, activism or fitness.  It does mean that she's secure in herself.  She's happy with what she's accomplished and she's happy to see women in the industry attack that glass ceiling.

Gloria and Robin would do well to be a lot less possessive of feminism and a lot more trusting of where the next groups of female activists can take it.

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