Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Femme Fatal

One of the film/pop culture commentary podcasts I listen to regularly is Fighting In the War Room. I'm about to be contrarian about their last episode, but you shouldn't take that as general disparagement of the show. I like it. I'm subscribed to it. If you like this sort of podcast, you should be subscribed to it too.

One horse corpse that this group regularly thrashes is the terrible, awful plight and dearth of female directors. It's not enough that there are lots of female directors working on critically acclaimed films (they whinge). We need lots of female directors working on big, franchise, spectacle blockbusters.

Poor Colin Treverrow. The well of contempt for this guy for being hired to direct Jurassic World after only directing the critically and popularly embraced Time-travel movie, "Safety Not Guaranteed", has no bottom. I guess he should have died or at least got a sex-reassignment when he accepted the job. And the nerve of the guy for not framing female directors et al as helpless princesses chained up in the dragon's cave of the impersonal Hollywood System. And when I say impersonal I mean it is literally as if no specific people, or valid individual business decisions are involved in the selection of directors in big investment film projects. When Treverrow points out that in many cases the reason big budget movies weren't ultimately helmed by female directors is that a female director removed herself from the project...well Colin just doesn't get it. 

And there's obviously nothing but sexism at play if a female director of a successful film is replaced by a male director in the sequel (as in the Twilight franchise). This is refreshing if it happens the other way, but once a female director pees on something, by golly, it can only be helmed by another female even if two of the three executive producers making the decision are female (which strikes me as a more substantial step forward for Womynkind).

The question of the day in this episode was especially irking. "Is it less than righteous" (they didn't use that word but righteousness under-lies this and all discussions of this type) "NOT to cheer whenever a female director releases a film whether or not the film produced is particularly good?" Naturally, when a female director produces something that is objectively fine, we're going to dance with euphoria about it even if (like the Hurt Locker or Zero Dark Thirty) it merely had a decent script and was professionally handled without internal drama. But, according to the FITWR panel, if a woman directs a bad movie, we're still going to cheer because a) any movie directed by a woman is an improvement and b) it means we've moved forward so much that a woman can direct crap. Nothing, we all know, improves the professional status of women in film like mediocre art. But! What if we could have had a good movie if it had been handed to another director, who just happened to have been male? Are we not to put that opportunity cost into our accounting?

Look, I understand the reasoning that if women are directing lots of bad art, it's a good proxy for the professional status of female directors because Sturgeon's Law states that 95% of everything is crap. So (the reasoning goes), the more bad films women create, it means that women are being treated professionally without regard to their sex -- they don't have to be Great to be given money by investors to do film work. But that only works as a proxy IF viewers are not judging films, good or bad, by whether they were directed by women. So the expressed attitude of most of the FITWR panel is actually dragging women down. The path to creating great films is not to hand it to women who produce crap. And investors are not going to be interested in handing $200 million to someone as a vague and meaningless gesture for which there will be NO return on investment if the person does not produce.

So FITWR does not have to be embarrassed when they pan a movie simply (or in part) because the director is female — they should not even acknowledge the possibility of embarrassment or disappointment.

I'll stipulate here that I'm the father of three grown daughters. If Feminism is defined as believing that women are people, then I'm a feminist. If Feminism is practiced as an Identity Politics Advocacy philosophy, then I am not a feminist. I don't believe in Girl Power. I don't want my daughters to be inspirations to young girls everywhere. I want them to be inspirations and mentors to young people regardless of sex. I don't want them to thrive because they are female. I don't want them to thrive in spite of being female. I want them to thrive at whatever they put their hand to and devote themselves to in excellence. And if they were to complain about someone looking down on them for their sex (which they never have), I would not undercut them by reminding them of how limited and unentitled  they are in this Man's World. I would empower them by reminding them of how fortunate they are to live in THIS country at THIS time where their opportunities and channels to make use of those opportunities are phenomenally greater than any other time and place in history. Now go forth and conquer.

Whenever issues of Diversity come up, the FITWR panel stops caring about good film itself (something they self-evidently care about a lot the rest of the time) and start to care about something else more.

I recall an episode of Siskel & Ebert (I don't remember what title was at the time), where Gene Siskel sensibly chastised Roger Ebert (paraphrasing), "Don't recommend a bad movie as a good movie, because you like the themes or the people involved." I loved Siskel as a film reviewer. I trusted his assessments. I can remember only a handful of quotes from their show but they are almost all his. And the FITWR panel should remember his admonishment before naming, a movie like say, The Obvious Child, as one of the best movies of the year –acknowledging that it isn’t objectively outstanding -- simply because they liked its stance on a culture-war issue. None of the panel are Christians but I have no doubt I could hear their eyes rolling through my earbuds if someone named the financially profitable movie God Is Not Dead as one of the best movies of the year just because "We don't get a lot of movies like this as feature films."

[The spelling of the title of this post is deliberate. You're in the hands of an expert here. (wink)]

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