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The Misogyny Machine That Rules Hollywood Comedies

Women and Hollywood By Melissa Silverstein | Women and Hollywood April 5, 2011 at 3:32AM

Some days I wake up thinking that things can't be really as bad as I think they are, then, I see a story like Tad Friend's piece in this week's New Yorker on Anna Faris and the state of Hollywood comedies for women and I think, wow, it's even worse that I thought it was.
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Some days I wake up thinking that things can't be really as bad as I think they are, then, I see a story like Tad Friend's piece in this week's New Yorker on Anna Faris and the state of Hollywood comedies for women and I think, wow, it's even worse that I thought it was.

Friend's piece Funny Like a Guy (hidden behind a paywall) is an overview of Faris career to this point. But what it does -- I believe intentionally -- is lay out how bad it is for women in comedy. And Friend is able to get people on the record to talk about the misogyny and sexism that is pervasive in this world.

I've been hard on Anna Faris because of Observe and Report and The House Bunny, but after reading the piece I have a much better appreciation of her. Part of the problem is that comedy is very hard for women today. I grew up on the comedy of Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, Madeline Kahn, Gilda Radner and Lily Tomlin among many others. There was no problem with women being funny and self-deprecating in the 70s and 80s. These women were funny not just to women, they were funny to everyone and men and women went to see their movies together.

But comedy has clearly changed as has movie going has changed and now we live in a world where men won't go see anything that stars women especially in comedies.

The piece focuses on Faris prepping the release of her latest film What's Your Number. Here's the description from imdb: "A woman looks back at the past twenty men she's had relationships with in her life and wonders if one of them might be her one true love."

And the description from the New Yorker piece:

The film is an R-rated comedy that's "female-driven," meaning that it's told from a women's point of view, and that's always been a tough sell. Studio executives believe that male moviegoers would rather prep for a colonoscopy that experience a woman's point of view, particularly if that woman drinks or swears or has a great job or an orgasm.

This constant narrative that male stories as universal as women's stories are "other" is getting so tired. If you have a female lead she has to be gorgeous, blonde and really thin. Faris who is already very skinny was given a gym membership by the studio and told to lose weight. During filming she said she ate only carrot sticks and turkey slices and her character Ally who is jobless, wears Prada heels because that's what all unemployed women in Hollywood wear (Faris did fight against the shoes and the wardrobe but she lost.)

People like Faris because she's funny like a guy, not funny like a girl, which is so unbelievably sexist. Her director from Observe and Report Jody Hill said: "All the other women are more Dick Van Dyke Show, more light and sweet, like Sandra Bullock. Anna's more Lucille Ball - she's funny like a guy would be funny." Suffice it to say that Lucille Ball was a woman but that's besides the point. Anna Faris makes guys laugh, she makes them feel comfortable and that's the objective so it's ok for her to be in comedies.

The Faris "fuckability factor" is another reason why she's making $1.75 million for her upcoming film. As an agent anonymously said "What Anna has going for her, to be crass, is that guys want to nail her." Crass my ass. That's common language in Hollywood.

Films that star women -- that women and not just men want to see -- are always dismissed. The article cites Juno, Mean Girls, The House Bunny, Julie and Julia, Something's Gotta Give, It's Complicated and Easy A. All those movies except for Easy A and I would throw in The Devil Wears Prada and My Big Fat Greek Wedding into the mix) were written by women.

Amy Pascal who runs Sony (the only female running a studio) puts it in perspective:

You're talking about a dozen or so female-driven comedies that got made over a dozen years, a period when hundreds of male-driven comedies got made. And every one of those female-driven comedies was written or directed or produced by a woman. It's a numbers game - it's about there being enough women with the power to get movies made."

Bottom line from the woman with the most power in the film business. Women do not have any power.

But back to Faris. She wants to be funny and herself. Her husband Chris Pratt who plays a loveable dimwitted guy on Parks and Recreation according to the article finds discarded scripts in the house with $1 million offers. Faris turns down the parts where she would just be playing "the girl." She doesn't just want to play "the girl" so she gets involved in the development of her scripts and fights for roles that she wants. (She doesn't always get them though cause there are people in front of her in line.)

While I have A LOT more respect now for Faris, I wish that she would be able to make the comedies she wanted without all the bullshit thrown in cause that's probably where things fall apart. She doesn't want her comedy to be neat and that's the problem with Hollywood, we expect our women to be neat and pretty and then they can be funny. If she were a guy she would be huge. But she is working and developing scripts with women and she wants to create a community of women who work together not just compete with each other for the few crumbs that come their way.

If you are interested in women and Hollywood at all, this is a must read story.

Here are some more choice quotes from the piece:

"Men predominate in Hollywood, and men don't write much for women."

"Studios also believe that making comedies for women flouts the almighty Laws of Date Night, which hold as follows: Men rule. Men decide which movie a couple will see on a given weekend, and any hint that a film involved fashion, pedicures or female troubles in 'manpoison.'"

From Nicholas Stoller director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall: "There's a misogyny in audiences, a much higher bar of required likeability for women stars."

This article is related to: Amy Pascal