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April 27, 2007

Women in Hollywood. Or Maybe Having Left Hollywood ...

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Sharon Waxman is often a valuable and informed showbiz reporter. But her current piece for the New York Times -- "Hollywood's Shortage of Female Power" -- earns a 2Blowhards Award for Most Content-Free Piece of Showbiz Reporting of 2007.

The urgent news that Waxman and the Times are peddling? (The piece is a looooong one, and is featured on the front page of the Arts Section.) As far as I can tell, it's that a bunch of rich and powerful gal execs have either failed, quit, or left the business. A whinefest ensues. We're supposed to care about "how some women in Hollywood are feeling these days." It turns out they're feeling "nervous." Say it ain't so!

Waxman's determination to file a lengthy, important-seeming story despite having nothing to report is really awe-inspiring. Has the non-crisis she's non-describing been caused by sexism? Nope, not even according to the gals Waxman interviewed. Has it affected the films that are being made? Nope: "Hollywood has not stopped making films appealing to women." So what's the problem, exactly?

Waxman generates some real jaw-droppers as she dodges her lack of anything better to say. My personal favorite: "Studio executives, both men and women, have shown themselves to be pragmatists above all, choosing movies that they believe will make the most money for their corporate parents." Hmmm ... Hollywood executives are paid to do their best to make money for their bosses, have I got that right? I don't know about you, but I'm feeling most enlightened.

"Still," writes Waxman hopefully, "some long-time Hollywood producers feel that something has shifted." That may be a little vague, Sharon ... Still, why not assume the best? Why not assume that there's something to whatever it was that Waxman meant? Can we expect a little substantiation?

It turns out that romantic comedies aren't being made as often as they once were. The explanation, though, has nothing to do with sex or gender. It has to do with the fact that romantic comedies are hard to sell overseas -- and that studios have grown wary of shelling out the $20 million that stars like Julia and Meg apparently demand.

I've seldom watched a newspaper item self-destruct in such a variety of self-inflicted ways.

Wobbling around in desperation -- having conked herself on the head while tripping over her own feet several times too often -- Waxman attempts to regain her focus: "While the shift in the hierarchy may just be the normal turning of Hollywood's fickle wheel of fortune, it is still worrisome to women here who are eager for role models and a mentoring system to compete with the well-established boys' club."

As far as I can tell, Waxman's story boils down to this: Some ambitious Hollywood gal wannabes are "feeling nervous." Now that's certainly a matter of intense concern to all of us, isn't it? I'd love to have been present as Waxman pitched this story to her editor. "Tell me again, Sharon: What are you trying to say?"

Waxman does include in her piece a very sensible comment from Sherry Lansing, who recently left the entertainment biz to do charity work. "At a certain point," said Lansing, "some women will say: 'I've done this enough. I have enough money. How long am I going to get up at 6 a.m. and go to bed at 11 p.m., six days a week?' Women also want to be in love. A huge percentage want children. They want friends. They want life."

But as far as I can tell, Lansing's thoughts and observations are yet another demonstration that Waxman simply doesn't have herself a story. Some powerful women, having succeeded bigtime, have now left showbiz and have gone on to have lives. That's ... kinda interesting. It's even ... kinda nice to know. Even though I'm not a girl, I'd love to ditch my job and embrace life myself. Too bad I still need to pay the bills.

So remind me again: The scandal here is what?

Glenn Kenny also treats himself to some fun at Sharon Waxman's expense. (Link thanks to Anne Thompson.) Here's Sharon Waxman's blog.



posted by Michael at April 27, 2007


How many Hollywood excec's are Jewish?

Posted by: adrian on April 27, 2007 3:57 PM

Tons -- and good for them!

But that *is* a dicey topic, and best dealt-with carefully and respectfully. So do you mind reassuring me that you don't intend anything ill by raising that point?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 27, 2007 5:53 PM

certainly no ill intent!

just pointing out that if we are to organize hollywood excec's on an equally proportioned basis (vis-a-vis the gen pop, sex, race etc), then that's the first thing that would jump out at you, not the dearth of comely maidens. i don't recall the precise figure, but i think lagriffe put it at over 60%, which given their numbers (2% of the pop), is pretty recognizable, but people daren't mention it. what if that 60% had names like Khan or Sharif?

again, no ill intent! i just think that when pointing out societies oddities, we should start with the biggest!

Posted by: adrian on April 27, 2007 6:59 PM

So? Sharon is venting. A girl has to vent. It's in the constitution, darling.

Posted by: ricpic on April 27, 2007 7:33 PM

Isn't it odd, or sad, that Lansing's statement of what she wants out of life should only in recent years have become acceptable for an intelligent, capable woman to say?

Posted by: PatrickH on April 27, 2007 8:15 PM

maybe i am mistaken, but hollywood seems to be a numbers driven industry. if women execs produced the big numbers, there would be more of them calling the shots. the real crime is the near total lack of blind cinematographers :)

Posted by: cjm on April 28, 2007 1:06 AM

Bravo Michael, excellent piece.

Interestingly, I (and also many eclectic audiences) would find myself preferring romantic comedies from other countries. Aren't quirky romantic comedies (or tragedies) the sort of thing that already typifies French cinema? Then again, if French or German cinema tried to manufacturer Terminator or Jurassic Park, I would definitely run for the hills.

On a totally random tangent, I'm recalling the absolute gem of a film, Goodbye Lenin, which was a Finnish/German story about how some Eastern European siblings kept their sick mother in the dark about the fall of the Iron Curtain. Leave aside the politics and the satire, that was a fun almost carefree romantic comedy (and Chulpan Khamatova played a lovely romantic interest).

It's odd; I'm recalling my fave films watched in the past year, and they all seem directed by women (if only because low-budget films impose a kind of aesthetic discipline). Personal Velocity, 13 Conversations about One Thing by Jill Sprecher, This Girlís Life, directed by Ash, Iíll take you there, dir Adrienne Shelly.

Let's think optimistically. In 2020, when China's economy becomes larger than our own, blockbuster films will be manufactured there leaving US companies to produce our quaint little female-driven productions.

Posted by: Robert Nagle on April 28, 2007 6:39 AM

The editors at the Times seem to have a quota to fill, which involves "big issue" thumbsuckers that are long on opinion and relatively short on fact. One notorious example that comes to mind, not entirely unrelated to Waxman's article, was the piece about how highly educated women wanted to drop out of the working world in favor of motherhood. It turned out that the article was based largely upon the opinions of a mere handful of female students on one or two Ivy League campuses.
I haven't read Waxman's article, and in fact my interest in doing so is somewhat lower than zero, but it seems to be along the same lines as the one I mentioned - a thinly disguised opinion piece based mainly on anecdotes, with relatively little factual support.

Posted by: Peter on April 28, 2007 9:54 PM

Women in Hollywood should worry less--so hard on the skin, darling! I noticed the other day that FvB's favorite film heroine---"Kim Possible", the Disney animated dynamo with great hair---was created and written by two guys. So in terms of roles, women usually do fine or better under male executives---remember, old Sherry Lansing gave us "Fatal Attraction" which some people hardly think of a step forward for women on screen. As far as writers and directors go...if they are ambitious enough, they will get there, just like men. It's not as if every guy who ever wanted to direct a big feature gets to, after all. I guess my point is, if women aren't in "positions of power", I think it is more that maybe they don't want to be, not because of a submersive hand with bad intentions. And if romantic comedies can't be made and justify the salaries of Meg or Julia---hell, there really are other actresses. I would blame Meg and Julia if, because of them, Hollywood stopped making romantic comedies!! (That chick from the "Princess Diaries" and "The Devil Wears Prada" is pretty much just as entertaining at this point). However, that also means that Hugh Grant, for example, doesn't pull the romantic comedy buck in either, and I don't think he gets paid minimum wage,either. So include him, too!

Posted by: annette on April 30, 2007 10:52 AM

I'm not sure what is actually spooking the women of Hollywood, but the reaction appears wildly disproportionate to the stimulus. Possibly they should make the acquaintance of the iBong from Austin Texas. Or possibly they should devote their considerable energies to making a movie about the iBong from Austin Texas.

I mean, come on, am I the only person to see this thing as reflecting the true spirit of America? When the going gets tough, invent the iBong! You can almost hear Ben Franklin applauding.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on May 1, 2007 1:32 AM

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