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Feminist of the Day: Olivia Wilde

by Inkoo Kang
February 19, 2014 10:00 AM
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Olivia Wilde

Need a reminder of the awesome and awful power of Hollywood? 

In a panel called the "State of Female Justice," actress Olivia Wilde shares a story about being recognized while "on a camel in Senegal" by "the guy who was helping me not fall off my camel." "You're Doctor Thirteen [Wilde's character] on House," she recalls him saying. 

That moment led her to realize that "We have to do a better job of representing different lifestyles and women in empowered roles because literally everyone is seeing this stuff that we [in Hollywood] put out. So we have to be more responsible for what we do put out."

Wilde, who's played supporting roles in over 40 movies and has only had one starring role (in last year's excellent Drinking Buddies), then told a revealing anecdote that illustrates the frustration she must feel as an actress in an industry that works against her success (emphasis added):

I don't know if some of you have been to these live reads at LACMA, where a classic film is read live on stage by actors who just sit and read the script. We did one recently of American Pie, but we reversed the gender roles. All the women played men; all the men played women. And it was so fascinating to be a part of this because, as the women took on these central roles -- they had all the good lines, they had all the good laughs, all the great moments -- the men who joined us to sit on stage started squirming rather uncomfortably and got really bored because they weren't used to being the supporting cast. 

It was fascinating to feel their discomfort [and] to discuss it with them afterward, when they said, "It's boring to play the girl role!" And I said, "Yeah. Yeah. You think? Welcome to our world!"  

She added, "It's really hard to get stories made that are about women -- not just women being obsessed with men or supporting men. And it's really hard to get men to be a part of films that are about women in a leading role. I'm really interested in how we can adjust that, considering that it's all just based on demand." 

Watch Wilde's four-minute "State of Female Justice" video below:

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  • João Nepomuceno da Silva | March 9, 2014 5:23 PMReply

    I'm a Brazilian construction worker and I love Cinema. I work around 10 hours a day, I wake up at 4 A.M.. I've learned English through assimilation. I don't have a house or a car, but I have a minimum wage job and access to slow internet. I also don't have kids because I think I can't support them, but I'm married. I'd like to say I'm really worried about what Wilde said. The patriarch is definitely hurting her, I can feel her pain. I'm with you, Olivia Wilde! I hope one day you'll be as privileged as I am!

  • Heleno Alexios | March 9, 2014 11:10 AMReply

    There is a reason women don't get funny lines on comedy movies: men are funny and most women are not. This rule is inversely proportional with looks. If she is hot, odds are that she's not funny at all. Exception made for Tina Fey.

  • Илья. | March 3, 2014 5:53 AMReply

    Shoot her.

  • Alana | February 20, 2014 2:42 PMReply

    I want all the stories. I'd love to see more interesting female roles like the kind she describes.

    I'd also love to see the gender-switched readings. Or do something like having a man like Nathan Lane read - a part that Harrison Ford or Bruce Willis would normally play.

    Wilde is a good actress and a smart cookie. She'll go far, but don't fault her for taking the work as it's been offered. Some "lucky breaks" are luckier than others.

  • mst | February 19, 2014 9:45 PMReply

    Is there a video of this American Pie gender role reversal reading? I'd love to see that and to hear their reactions.

  • dave | February 19, 2014 8:03 PMReply

    I was fairly impressed with what she did in "Cowboys And Aliens." Wasn't that considered a leading role?

  • kate | February 19, 2014 7:44 PMReply

    Despite her appearances in objectifying photo shoots, we should be able to take on board some of the simple messages that Wilde raises here. Hollywood films DO have a huge audience and women often ARE sexualised and second-class (often subtly) within them. Film is an amazing area in which to promote feminist causes and the industry should be more responsible in regards. Guerilla filmmaking magazine makes a good point... I would absolutely love to see films created in this way.

  • Nicole | February 19, 2014 2:54 PMReply

    It might help if she was a better actress.. she's boring. Her delivery is stale and cliche, aside from looks she has nothing to offer that screams "lead role". It's not the industries fault she's not leading films, Angelina Jolie, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Charlize Theron... etc etc all take incredible holds of the films they are in and come across just as relevant and lead worthy if not MORE lead worthy then their male counterparts.

    Maybe she should concern herself with expanding her less then stellar contribution to acting and worry less about being "pretty" on screen and more about stealing the film with a memorable performance. It OUR responsibility as females to break the tread through hard work and dedication to our craft. Stop whining about it and do something useful.

  • Lisa | March 4, 2014 11:03 AM

    You do have to take into consideration the scripts, though. I agree her acting has yet to really excite me, but then, I really can't come up with an actor apart from maybe Matthew Lillard who can make absolute shit lines sound like something someone would actually say. I bet if she got a lead in a Aaron Sorkin/Mike Nichols colab, brains everywhere would explode.

  • aoinavo | February 19, 2014 2:36 PMReply

    So the most famous line in the movie about band camp was boring? Wrong movie to do this exercise over. It's one of the most successful raunchy boy's club movies in the last 20 years to actually make interesting female characters along with male. Try doing Animal House if you want to see a good example.

  • aoinavo | February 20, 2014 1:39 PM

    It is a film about male adolescence, yes, but if Wilde wanted to make a real point, she could show how the men in Bridesmaids, when gender reversed, would have all the lame lines, as well. Doesn't prove anything. It shows that quite often the funniest and most prominent characters in movies, especially comedies, are the same gender as the writer. If Kristen Wiig can do it, then why can't another woman?

    Also, Wilde has a history of being cast in movies with a tendency toward a male audience, including a lot of action movies. She's been hired quite often for her looks. If she wants to make a point that genre films need a boost with gender roles, then I'd agree. But just because she's gotten all the shit roles in hollywood before Drinking Buddies doesn't mean that Hollywood hasn't also had a strong history of female actors.

    American Pie also made Tara Reid a recognizable actor, gave Allyson Hannigan a film career, made Mena Suvari a star before American Beauty, and gave Natasha Lyonne one of the funnier roles. It's not perfectly balanced, but no film is.

  • NiuNae | February 20, 2014 6:33 AM

    It is still a boy's club movie. There was only Alyson Hannigan in a supporting role who was funny and that band camp line was ONE line in the entire movie that was hilarious. The movie had 5 male protagonists and all the female characters were supporting roles, how is that not a good example for the problem we face in hollywood.

  • Joe H. | February 19, 2014 1:26 PMReply

    Feminist of the day? srsly? lol

  • Nicole | February 19, 2014 4:44 PM

    Yeah, let's ignore that "incredibly anti-female exploitation" photo shoot she did for FHM. Yep... nothing objectifying to see there at all.

    She's a hypocrite.

  • Guerrilla Filmmaking Magazine | February 19, 2014 11:33 AMReply

    Sounds like there needs to be more male/female writing teams, where the male writes the male role, and the female writes the female role. The roles should be equal in leading the film. The woman will write for and allow women to relate to her side of the story, while the male would do the same for the male audience. Has anyone ever tried this?

  • Casey | February 19, 2014 8:07 PM

    Sorry that was supposed to be in response to Nicole.

  • Casey | February 19, 2014 8:06 PM

    People are allowed to grow, mature, and change their opinions. You're only a hypocrite if simultaneously practice contradictory actions and speech. The FHM shoots, as with most of the more revealing shoots she's done, were completed years ago.

  • Vin | February 19, 2014 10:54 AMReply

    Good comments by Wilde (and thanks for posting this Indiewire!), but I wonder if she is correct when she states that "it's all just based on demand."

    I say this because it certainly doesn't look as though audiences are necessarily turning away from films and TV that give more prominence to female characters. On television/streaming, we've got Orange is the New Black, The Good Wife, House of Cards (and surely others I'm missing) that feature central and/or integral female characters - and none of those shows are "women's shows."

    Agreed that aside from romcoms, there aren't all that many Hollywood pictures with central female characters, but hey, Frozen and The Heat...they did quite well at the box office, even when many people (including Disney's own marketing department in the case of Frozen) thought that their female leads would cause men to stay away.

    I don't think audiences are the problem here. I think it's the bean counters running the studios and networks - they're wedded to anachronistic ways of looking at the audience. That is what primarily needs to change.

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