Lisa Cholodenko Talks Women Directors: "There's a Kind of Fundamental Misogyny in the Culture"

by Melissa Silverstein
February 24, 2011 4:35 AM
14 Comments
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I caught Lisa Cholodenko being interviewed on Tell Me More on NPR yesterday and Michel Martin got Lisa Cholodenko to talk about issues related to female directors that I have not heard any women utter in public before. Finally a woman in Hollywood says out loud that it sucks that her film was nominated for best picture and that she wasn't recognized for her directing, that we value the stories about men more than stories about women and here's the money quote from Cholodenko:

my gut instinct tells me that there's a kind of fundamental misogyny in the culture. There just is. You know, there's just a weird anxiety around women.

Listen to the interview here: Oscar Glory For Indie Movie, 'The Kids Are All Right'?

Check out some highlights from the transcript

MARTIN: Well, I understand that, as a nominee, it's awkward and delicate to discuss, you know, the other nominations and that can be very tricky, particularly right, you know, now in the run-up to the awards. And I do understand, at least I - from what I read. But, there are those who suggest that - and not to take anything away from Kathryn Bigelow's achievement last year when she won for "The Hurt Locker." But there are those who say, well, the issue is she's a female director, but she's directing a story with men at the center...

Ms. CHOLODENKO: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: ...in a story that is the kind of the story that men like.

Ms. CHOLODENKO: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: War movie, men at the center of it. The movie-going audience for so many years now has been primarily younger, you know, men who like a lot of special effects. And that women, if they're telling stories with a woman at the center or told in a quieter way - character-driven, et cetera - just don't get the kind of recognition. And I did feel that I wanted to ask your opinion about that, if that might be true.

Ms. CHOLODENKO: You know, it's worth the inquiry. I think they're really interesting, complicated questions. At the base of it, my gut instinct tells me that there's a kind of fundamental misogyny in the culture. There just is. You know, there's just a weird anxiety around women.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHOLODENKO: That I think that it's just easier to uphold, like, male heroes and men things. And that's just kind of how it is. I think we're getting better, but I think it's just deeply rooted and it's based on nothing but an instinct. Because when you talk about the Kathryn Bigelow film, I mean, I think something that was tremendous was that she really did get into male psychology and sort of the male experience in such an authentic way. I was really impressed by it. But had that film been anything other than that kind of film, you know, I'm dubious whether she would've gotten the accolades that she got, even though I think she's a wonderful and tremendous director.

Oscar Glory For Indie Movie, 'The Kids Are All Right'? (Tell me More - NPR)

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14 Comments

  • Red Seven | March 3, 2011 5:42 AMReply

    I profoundly agree with Cholodenko's views as reported here - but must take issue with the comment left by "Akiva" on Feb. 28.

    I suspect that the lesbian-who-has-an-affair-with-a-man storyline might be easier to take if films about lesbians abounded in the culture - which they most assuredly do not. But the lesson of "The Kids Are All Right" was certainly not that Julianne Moore's character was "waiting for the right man to come along." In fact, the character pointed out to both Bening and Ruffalo (sorry; it's been awhile and I can't remember all the characters' names) that she was still 100% gay. The affair didn't have anything to do with a lack of being "satisfied" by lesbian sex; it had to do with a lack of intimacy combined with the shock of meeting the man who had fathered her child - an incredibly intimate act that happened in a very non-intimate way. It was a movie that faced the reality that families that are led by same-sex couples are in fact different than those headed by opposite-sex couples - not better or worse, but different - and that same-sex couples often face different choices than opposite-sex couples face.

    The idea that lesbian or gay characters in the media should only behave in certain ways or aren't allowed to make mistakes is stifling and dull; happy am I that artists of Cholodenko's caliber do not follow such notions.

  • Akiva Penaloza | February 28, 2011 6:27 AMReply

    I agree with Cholodenko's statement and I wish more women would buck the goddamn system and speak up. But Cholodenko did nothing to advance the state of lesbians and women by once again confirming to the straight world that lesbians are just waiting for the right man to come along. I was hugely disappointed in the film -- I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach and almost walked out of the theatre. If not for my partner calming me down, and Annette Benning's brilliant performance, I would have been gone. Finally a movie about lesbian parenting and what do we get? A straight love affair including wild, wonderful straight sex scenes (but not the lesbian one -- it was a snore as I guess all lesbian sex is.) Even women who support women do not really support women.

    We are prisoners of a man-pleasing world. The only way to get out of it is to take a RISK, SPEAK OUT and PUT OUR MONEY ON THE TABLE. Form coalitions of high-powered women financing woman-centered films. A new studio for a new time. Streep, Streisand, Winfrey, etc. We need to do what the rap singers did back in the day. Make it happen for ourselves. We have the money, the talent, the determination. We lack organization, leadership and the courage to finally say out loud (that means no bitter murmurings) that misogyny hurts us and we are coming to make it stop.

  • Simon Tarses | December 26, 2011 11:12 PM

    Form coalitions of high-powered women financing woman-centered films. A new studio for a new time. Streep, Streisand, Winfrey, etc.

    What I've been saying for years, myself, especially with regard to video games! Stop being victims and start doing stuff, or stay fucked.

  • Loren E. Chadima | February 25, 2011 7:49 AMReply

    I completely agree, that if Bigelow had directed anything less "male" and war-like, she would never have been recognized. Keep Directing Women - that's our best defense. I am.

  • DANDARA | February 25, 2011 6:26 AMReply

    It's impressive to see how this issue of cultural misoginy has had such strong impact on us - women in film, from around the world. Brazilian misoginy works more as a denial of the female identity. It has impacted me so deeply, that I find just too hard composing and developing stories/films about women. So I have focused on discussing the female animus. This way, the pain of not being heard is considerably smaller. There's an invisible wall protecting the male worldview and whoever dares to defy it, is subjected to various degrees of violence. Some symbolic as an eveil look, or a deminishing joke; others very concrete, such as the lack of opportunities to endure in an authoral filmmaking career. This too, shall pass. But we must team up... "when we leave."

  • Catherine Campbell | February 25, 2011 5:03 AMReply

    I felt that the studio system/Acadomy were anxious that James Cameron's film about a peaceful culture would win and suddenly there was this huge push for his x-wife's little film (the x-spouses running for same award made PR easier) with Hollywood's favorite theme men and war (any film with a gun or aeroplane in it has to have US military script approveal). And of course it would get all the women's vote because of all the wonderful overlooked women's efforts.
    That said, I thought Catherine Biglow's film proved women can portray men very well - even their rarely exposed male-war-hero culture; let's be honest - it's ingrained by religion and male run media every day in every way.
    Let's see how the best film out there faires with a woman director and women's theme. Good luck to you Ms. cholodenko, The Kids are Alright is a very fine film!

  • filmfledgling | February 25, 2011 2:46 AMReply

    I completely agree and acknowledge that male privilege and misogyny continues to be a reality in the world, and also in this business. However, I don't think it's helpful to make generalizations about the "authentic male experience" versus "authentic" female representations. I think the appeal of Hurt Locker, beyond it's male anti-hero, was that it had strong character development in an "action" setting. It challenged the limits of that genre.

    And as the director of a film in which a lesbian mom feels the urge to have a romp with a guy, I don't exactly see Ms. Cholodenko as a pioneer of trope-busting representations of women/lgbt's/people of color.

    I'm a 30 y.o. black gay male, if anyone cares...

  • Kathleen | February 25, 2011 1:00 AMReply

    Thanks for the fine interview. I'm glad Lisa Chodolenko admitted that there is a fundamental misogyny in our society. And yes, we all can do something about it.

  • jtagliere | February 25, 2011 12:20 AMReply

    I work at a teen film camp over the summer where all the kids pitch their ideas on the first day. Every year I am amazed at the number of films that are pitched by females that are male-centric, male-starring, etc. It disturbed me enough that I brought it up and the thought process was "Well, the girls want to get their film made, and they know if it's girlie, it won't get voted for." Mind you, these are 11-14 year olds. If the mentality is there that young, my god do you need, need, NEED women like Cholodenko speaking out.

  • Mildred Lewis | February 25, 2011 12:04 AMReply

    These falsehoods about the audience are proving to be unkillable lies. Even when films like Twilight, Sex in the City or Titanic succeed largely because of female viewers, those "successes" are routinely dismissed or disregarded.

    Even young female film students fall into this thinking despite the fact that it dooms them.

    Onwards and upwards!

  • Zsa Zsa Gershick | February 24, 2011 10:34 AMReply

    Let's just de-construct one thing first: The NPR interviewer says, "The movie-going audience for so many years now has been primarily younger, you know, men who like a lot of special effects."

    In actual fact, according to the Motion Picture Association of America, in 2009,
    women were 113 million of the moviegoers and bought 55% of the tickets. Men were 104 million of the moviegoers and 45% of the tickets. Women made up 9 million more filmgoers than men.

    I'd like to see figures for 2010, but I can't believe they are statistically much different. So we really must stop repeating this terrific lie that women just don't go to the movies. And we must correct those who, even innocently, parrot this old, flat-earth notion.

    Thank you for all your efforts on behalf of female filmmakers.

  • Caiassa | February 24, 2011 8:55 AMReply

    My first thought when I watched The Hurt Locker just this week was exactly those expressed by the interiewer: had Bigelow not made a movie so about men, would she ever have been recognized or given the ultimate honor as a director?

    The answer to me was an obvious no. That doesn't take away from the film at all, it was a quiet and profound exploration of something in the culture of 'men' and war that rarely gets questioned.

    That said, to say her win reflects as much progress in women directors being seen and treated equally in Hollywood seems delusional, and watching the film felt like a bittersweet realization of that. Great she won, interesting and unique, challenging work, but progress for women in general?

    There's a long way to go, a lot of blogging for Melissa...
    ;)

  • Feminema | February 24, 2011 6:22 AMReply

    Melissa, I completely agree with this -- and many thanks again for drawing attention to this problem. I'd love to hear your thoughts on last week's NY Times essay by A. O. Scott and Manohla Dargis about the similar lack of films about African Americans, too -- a problem I see as closely related.

  • Jihad-Punk | February 24, 2011 5:17 AMReply

    Of course there's misogyny in our society. We live in a woman hating culture. Women and girls are constantly mocked and belittled, whether it's a joke being told between guys (and even girls), or attacking a man in sports and comparing him to a female(what an insult!!) or mocking music festivals hosted by women, or belittling women's literature, reducing it to "chick's lit."

    We live in a society that encourages hatred and disdain for females. And you know what? It's socially acceptable and very much ingrained in our social attitudes, even amongst females.

    Anyway, this is a great interview. Thank you for sharing.

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