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Academy Award Winning Writer Callie Khouri Slams Movies About Women As Relegated to Trash Heap

by Melissa Silverstein
October 25, 2012 2:00 PM
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Callie Khouri
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images North America

Callie Khouri gave the movie business a lot of years of her life.  It's been an up and down relationship.  The up - winning an Academy Award for writing Thelma and Louise.  The down - wanting to direct and getting pigeon holed into the chick flick box because she had made a movie about women.

But she also didn't think she wanted to do TV until Nashville came along.  It seems like the kind of perfect storm for Khouri.  She lived in Nashville and her husband T-Bone Burnett is one of the great music producers to ever come along.  And, more importantly, she could write about women without feeling like she was being ridiculed for wanting to write about women.

As we have seen over the last decade, TV is no longer the place where actors come as a last resort.  It is a place where actors - especially women - come to thrive.  And now it's the place where women writers are creating content that allows women to be women and not just sex objects or silent girlfriends or grandmothers or crazy women (or any other stereotype that women get to play in the movies).

Nashville is one of the best new shows on TV but what Khouri is saying about movies is important.  Because while people want you to think that things are so much better in the wake of Bridesmaids (maybe there is a book in there?) let's not be fooled.  Things are not so much better. 

We must take note when an Academy Award winning writer goes to TV and talks about how movies are humilitating to women.

Here what Kouri said to Salon this week:

You’re allowed to make things for women on television and there’s not like … you don’t have to go through the humiliation of having made something directed at women. There it’s just accepted, whereas if it’s a feature, it’s like “So, talk to me about chick flicks.”...

I just think it’s insulting that if there is something with women in it, it’s relegated to this kind of trash heap. It doesn’t matter what it is, how good it is, if there is emotion in it, it’s immediately going to be talked down to. And I’m obviously irritated by that. Probably all women are. Certainly a lot of women filmmakers are.

I want to make something that’s respectful, and respected. And I think you can make something for women that is respected on television. Anyway, I don’t want to just complain about features, but it does seem unduly hard given the number of women that exist in the world.

Her comments remind me how much of a miracle it is that we ever get content about women that is half way decent in films.  It shouldn't be an either or.  We should be able to see solid content about women on TV and in the movies.  It shouldn't be that hard or humilitating. 

“Nashville’s” Callie Khouri: “Watching two women go at it is boring” (Salon)

 Is Television The Best Place For Women In Hollywood? (ForbesWoman)

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  • Priscilla | November 17, 2012 8:53 PMReply

    She has such a good point. I've noticed that when a film has a male as a main character, the movie is considered for "everybody." But if it stars a female, it's a considered a "girl movie." Why must it be that way? The popularity of Miyazaki's films show that a main female character can be embraced by both males and females alike. Do I need to mention that he's the only foreign director to win an Oscar for an animated film (for Spirited Away, whose main character is a girl). And when Brave came out, it was expected that more females than males would go see it; however, it turned out that about an equal percentage of both genders saw it. A female character CAN be interesting, especially if they are well-written. Brave was made by a woman and Miyazaki can be considered a feminist, maybe we need more feminists and women in the film industry.

  • Michael Medeiros | November 17, 2012 5:45 PMReply

    Yes, and definitely "long live Thelma and Louise." A seminal moment in the history of film.

  • Michael Medeiros | November 11, 2012 5:18 PMReply

    The antidote is Tiger Lily Road (coming in 2013), a very independent dark comedy written & directed by Michael Medeiros, starring some very real women and Emmy winner Tom Pelphrey. Tiger Lily Road is a modern fairytale about the sex lives of middle aged women, shot with a small cast and crew in the wilds of small town New England. LIKE US ON FB:

  • Yes, but... | October 29, 2012 2:20 PMReply

    Yes, Tresa, but women have to exist within that club, and the men are still on top. I worked at a production company only a few years ago, and when I suggested to one of the producers (a female, by the way) that we include women on our director's lists, she told me she didn't want to have to have that fight with the studios. It simply wasn't worth it to tank a film by suggesting a woman direct it. A WOMAN wasn't willing to fight for WOMEN. Even to put the option on the list. That's what it's like TODAY.

  • Tresa | October 29, 2012 6:00 PM

    I also have stories of being slammed by women in powerful positions in the entertainment industry. It is very disappointing but my guess is that it is the nature of the beast. A powerful woman does not stay powerful very long by helping other women. I am not excusing it but it is a barrier that must be taken into consideration. I stand firm in that it does not make sense to keep doing the same things and expecting a different outcome. There is a way for women to succeed in Hollywood and that is to go around the barriers and stop asking for permission. No one wants to hear that, everyone wants to appease the powerful, even though that has never worked in human history.

  • Maureen | October 29, 2012 1:31 AMReply

    Long live Thelma & Louise.

  • Mildred Lewis | October 25, 2012 4:02 PMReply

    Great piece but I think this lesson is much older than a decade. Gena Rowlands acknowledged this years ago and it is implicit in Lucille Ball's shift from film to television.

    Sadly, it is that hard to create great content for women on film and television. It's not just about resistance from studios or audiences. It's about our imaginations. I have female students who say that women characters are boring. I've seen women directors tear each other down or take great pride in being like the guys until they age out.

    The stakes are huge and the battle will have to be sustained, on a number of different fronts, in different ways. It won't be undone by the success of franchises like Sex in the City or The Hunger Games. Time to dig in, hunker down and create sustainable excellence while fighting the good fight.

  • Tresa | October 25, 2012 8:52 PM

    Mildred, I agree that it is about our imaginations but it is also about working together. I constantly hear women complaining about not being allowed in the "boys club" but why keep barking up that tree, with all the advances in technology for distribution and the many powerful women that do exist in the industry and half the population (women) waiting for content you'd think that by now that combination would have created a sustainable system for women film makers. Women are not helping themselves and they are really not helping themselves by constantly depending on the "boys club" to bring change. There is a way to solve this but it will require listening to each other and working together.

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