Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Never a Bride

Last week, Jennifer Weiner pointed out the very real gender bias that exists when it comes to book reviews and author coverage. In short, women are not represented at the same level as men. Now, I have had problems with Ms. Weiner ever since the "Franzenfreude" debacle of 2010, in which she was quoted as saying "I don't write literary fiction - I write books that are entertaining." And while she admits that she and Franzen are too different, stylistically, to compare, there always seems to be an air of resentment in her voice when she talks about literary fiction. But when it comes to the unfair treatment of women in the book world, she is spot on, and I always listen to her when she has something to say about it.

I bring this up because today proved that sexism on the opposite end of the spectrum happens too. The 2012 Academy Award nominations were announced, and under Best Original Screenplay was Bridemaids.

I liked Bridesmaids. It was a comedy and it made me laugh, so therefore it was a success in my opinion. Comedies can be brilliant, as evidenced by the fact that Midnight in Paris and The Artist were also nominated in the same category. Bridesmaids, however, was not brilliant. It was good. Not great, but good. It was called the female answer to The Hangover for a reason. It was the same exact movie. 

Praising Bridemaids for its writing is Hollywood's response to a woman being as skilled as a man when it comes to writing raunchy, juvenile comedies. Sure they make us laugh and even can be quite clever, but men behaving badly is par for the course. When women prove they can be equal, they are rewarded with the label of "better" or "artistic." It's telling us, Good for you! You really are as talented as men! Here's a trophy." 

Melissa McCarthy is also nominated, and I can see why. Without her inappropriately quirky character, the movie would have been mediocre at best, which is a testament to the power of one performance. Though I wonder if that character would have been considered as "hilarious" if she were a size 4. The role itself is one we've seen a million times - he's been in every '80s teen movie, trying to get the shy main character laid. He's appeared in action movies and thrillers to provide comic relief. But now "he" was a "she," and therefore more credible as part of the film's success. I'm not saying comic relief characters don't deserve recognition, but if I were Zach Galifianakis I'd be pissed.

This week has shown that when it comes to women in media, whether book or film or otherwise, struggles to be considered equal are still very present. When are people going to learn that we want to praised for our talent, but not when that talent is "being equal to a man?" I won't be mad if Bridesmaids or Melissa McCarthy win, just disappointed that this will be Hollywood's excuse for the next ten years to keep women held back, the same way giving Denzel Washington or Morgan Freeman the occasional Oscar is supposed to appease African-American actors. 

I wish these actors had the guts that Jennifer Weiner has. She's a NY Times bestselling author who refuses to simply "shut up and be grateful." She's able to look outside herself and see bias in the same organization that rewards her. Every writer wants to be recognized for his or her accomplishments, and everyone has the right to question the motives behind that praise. Are we making a big deal out of one woman so that we can ignore the next twenty? Or are we looking at everyone equally for what they've accomplished, and comparing them to others in their field accurately and fairly? 

11 comments:

  1. I don't see it as a slight from the Academy as much as them asking for more of the same. Less of the bromance, more of the womance. Although admittedly (1) the Academy has almost no control over trends. That's the box office. And (2) the Academy is mostly indefensible, so I don't know why I'm bothering defending it over such a small point.

    Really, the Oscars are becoming a joke along with the Golden Globes. I hate prescriptive awards. I think the BAFTAs do awards with class.

    I'm kind of stunned We Need To Talk About Kevin was ignored. That was an epic movie about the horrors of motherhood. A lone woman against a town who despises her.

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  2. Obviously it's highly subjective but if the basis of your argument is that Bridesmaids is a setback because it is equal in every way to The Hangover and therefore deserving only whatever accolades the earlier movie received, I think you may be mis-remembering one or both movies. The Hangover is gimmicky, filled with credibility-straining set pieces while Bridesmaids is rooted in the central characters' relationships and, for the most part, in the so-real-it-hurts comedy camp. To my mind (and funny bone), Bridesmaids is definitely superior to The Hangover. By the strength of the authenticity of the central relationships, Bridesmaids manages to be more relatable, more emotionally impacting and ultimately funnier than The Hangover which may have been well-executed but was still formulaic.

    I dislike the act of making artistic work into a competition anyway, but two works with similar themes and subject matter can be disparate in quality. Maybe this isn't a case of someone saying, "You can do it just as well as a guy can, here have a cookie" but someone saying, "You did it really well; we need to call that out."

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  3. @Paul - I don't think Bridesmaids is a setback. On the contrary, I think it's a move forward. But, the ability to take the ingredients of The Hangover and give them more depth is hardly deserving of an Academy Award. The movie itself isn't the problem; it's the reward system.

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  4. I find it interesting how many of the nominated films don't pass the Bechdel test (possessing two female characters who have a conversation with each other about something other than a man).

    Bridesmaids was okay. I didn't think it was all that much funnier than any other comedy released this year. The female cast was the selling point, but in some ways that felt demeaning. "Look at the girls! They can be funny, too! Wow!"

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  5. @Sarah - Fair enough, and I would agree that the rewards (such that they are) are the real problem here.

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  6. Just by watching the Golden Globes it's entirely possible to see where this viewpoint is coming from. Every time Bridesmaid's, or one of its cast, was mentioned, it was always tagged with 'the proof women can be funny too'.

    I entirely get where Sarah is coming from, but I still really liked the movie. Is it Academy Award-winning? I guess we'll see...

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  7. Re: Golden Globes fails... I love how when Gervais jokingly called someone "racist" they flashed to the cast of The Help.

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  8. Interesting thoughts worth exploring. I also liked Bridesmaids and am glad it was nominated for best screenplay, but I do have to wonder, weren't there any other noteworthy screenplays in 2011 written by women?

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  9. Interesting topic! I never really thought about it until I read and researched your post, then found this link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/feb/04/research-male-writers-dominate-books-world

    I'm curious to know the ratio of male to female literary agents and see the correlation to the figures in the link.

    Best,

    Rashad.

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  10. The reason that Bridesmaids is a step forward is because it had never been done before. The Hangover, even though it took the bromance buddy flick to the next level, had been done dozens of times. As soon as the Hangover came out it found its place alongside classics like Caddy Shack and Animal House, great comedic films that had no female counterpart before Bridesmaids. As such, it deserves to be recognized.

    Thank you for the very interesting post. Great timing too since I had just written a post about my own gender bias (http://adamsapple2day.blogspot.com/2012/02/sex-bias-in-reading.html).

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