Sex Appeal vs. Talent: A Dichotomy

I interned for a company that is so typical in its hypermasculinity that it embodies much of what is wrong with the film industry. On any given day, I could always count on one of my three male bosses to make any number of sexist comments. The company targets a male audience (how radical) and their projects don’t include female leads, or any female characters that significantly drive the narrative for that matter. A number of things are wrong with the above.

First I’d like to focus on the company before tackling the big issue. The company is run by two very established industry professionals. The first gave us indie hits which established him as a director known for his unique style (all his films have multiple lead male characters). The second was able to bring a well known book series to the screen and produce them. My bosses are hugely successful and I’m giving credit where credit is due (I love that book-turned movie series, and one of those indies).

They develop films with male leads, lots of spectacle, world stakes, and based on prior established properties. Put simply, it means we want big strong action hero in recycled explosion-heavy movie that you’ve seen a thousand times, but since it makes money, we’ll give you a shitty knockoff and you’ll guzzle it up and make me rich, rich, rich! (Me being my millionaire bosses. Not me, the unpaid intern.) I was tasked with revising the script that my bosses wrote, and thinking of (and having them completely disregard) actors for certain roles.

This is where that disgusting, liberal, equal rights, feminist in me rears its ugly head. While I understand the type of movie the company is trying to make, they tend to ignore some crucial information. ‘Targeting a male audience’ does not mean females don’t go to see those movies. It’s pretty sexist to box the sexes by films they’re likely to see. While males may be more selective in their viewing- like not going to ‘chick flicks’ – I’ve personally never heard of females refusing to see action flicks because they are ‘targeting a male audience’. I know just as many women as men who have seen ‘dude’ movies including anything from the Marvel, Bond, Star Wars and Fast franchises. Don’t take my word for it? It’s a statistical fact. As cited by prior film studies 52% of the movie-going audience is female*. Regardless of who your film is targeting, the fact remains that females are driving the box office.

Now, onto my real issue in relation to this: the blatant sexism in the industry. As I mentioned, part of my day consists of reading scripts. The one we’ve been polishing for production currently has two supporting female characters among six male ones- not including the two male leads. That ratio is not at all uncommon when considering what the majority of films look like**. The script is unoriginal (it’s recycled property) and has all the big action sequences that would lure a ‘male audience’. These two female characters are written specifically to be eye candy. That is their only function, as they aren’t the main characters, and have no character development. As such, the primary attribute of the actresses my bosses were looking to cast was “hot”.

The problem they seemed to encounter in casting our beauties was that apparently ‘hot’ does not equal talented. “Can she act though?” is a phrase I’ve heard about every actress eligible, all who are established professionals. That phrase was the counterpoint to praise like “Yeah, she’s got really nice tits.”

Apparently finding a hot actress who can actually act is the equivalent of scaling Everest. The way these men talked about renowned actresses, you’d think they fell into two discrete categories- hot or talented. I’ve heard vicious things from “she should be so lucky to be in our film” to “she should be paying us; she’s lucky to be getting what she is” (re: salary). No offense boss, but dig your own grave much? You’ve created a role for a female whose sole purpose is to be good looking, and now you’re complaining about it. The deeper issue is that actresses in big movie franchises aren’t really required to act. By Hollywood’s standards, they just need ‘great tits’ to be considered for a blockbuster. There is definitely a self-fulfilling prophecy element where actresses are only required to look good, are treated as eye candy, and then blamed for not having acting chops. If anyone recalls, this is what Megan Fox zeroed in on with the Transformers film not really being an acting movie. My respect for her increased tenfold for bringing this very ubiquitous fact to light. She is a victim and product of Hollywood; everyone just got riled up because she’s self aware of her role in it.

If you want beautiful, talented actresses, you have to provide them with opportunities. This begins with better characters on script. Characters that are nuanced, that have many dimensions- not only ‘hot’ and ‘strong.’ This means giving chances to both established and new actresses to prove themselves as more than just pretty faces. This means working with more females behind the scenes. More input from female producers, directors, and writers yield a higher number of actresses onscreen, as well as more realistic portrayals of females, not cartoonish archetypes. Maybe once Hollywood gets over its ancient model of being an old white males club, it can better adapt to the changing industry and audience.

*MPAA 2012 Stats

**How Have I Stereotyped Thee, Let Me Count The Ways

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