Update on Warner allegations

UPDATE: Nikki Finke’s chat with Robinov.

Warner Bros. is denying to bloggers that president of production Jeff Robinov ever said WB would be making no more movies with female leads.  TheMovieBlog (thanks for the link, Nialla) makes some excellent points:

It’s funny that one of the examples used was “The Brave One” (with Jodi Foster), which only made about $34 million. Ok, that’s not a good number. HOWEVER, when you look at a MALE lead film with a comparable theme, the Kevin Bacon film “Death Sentence”, both films on the surface about innocent people out for revenge for the taking of a loved one, you see that the FEMALE lead film more than tripled the performance of the male lead film. Death Sentence made just $9 million.So if a studio will outright reject the notion of female lead films because The Invasion (which everyone knew was doomed to fail months before it ever hit theaters) or The Brave One… what do you do with flops like Grindhouse? What about Flyboys ($13 million), or Zoom ($11 million). How about Delta Farce ($8 million) or a real machismo film like The Condemned ($7 million)? Do we say: “Hmmm… male lead films flop. Therefore we hereby will only do movies starring animals, animated characters and aliens”? Obviously not.

….

I don’t personally believe for one moment that Robinov never said that statement. But that’s not what is important. The important thing here is that WB is not going to adopt this stupid policy. Maybe it’s because the blogshere blew it open and forced WB into this position… or perhaps it was a statement taken out of context.

I personally don’t doubt Robinov said it, but my reason for thinking it doesn’t matter if he said it or not is that if he didn’t, I know someone else did. Remarks like that are amazingly common in the film industry. You need only intern with an agency or production office, or taking a film class in L.A., to hear it said dozens of times: “The lead has to be a white male. That’s what the audience wants.” Screenwriters I meet offline or who email me via the contact form here tell me their works are turned down by studios that blatantly say, “We’re not looking for lead women right now.”

The big fallacy (phallacy?) in the thinking is that they see women as a genre (also race, queerness, etc.). Movies starring women have to, in the exec’s mind, be about women. On those rare occasions they aren’t – such as The Brave One – they get scrutinized like a Southern company’s first affirmative action hire. And the women get blamed if they fail to outperform movies that have a dozen advantages over them.

Mickle made a great suggestion in comments:

So, step #1 is getting them to deny the statement. Robinov may or may not have actually said this, it doesn’t really matter. We just need to make enough to noise to get WB on record as saying loudly, publicly, and vehemently that this isn’t what they do.

Step #2 is to keep track of what kinds of movies they do make. How many WB movies in the past year, coming year, etc. have female leads? How much screen time do women get in their movies? How many pass the Mo Movie Measure? How many would pass the reverse? Since we all already know that the stats will be appalling….

Step #3 is to zing them on it. You say that this isn’t your policy? Well, then, what is your policy? Because, whatever it is, it sure doesn’t look all that much better than that really awful idea you spent so much time denying. And so what that Paramount is worse,? They aren’t the ones who claimed that this isn’t what they do.

There is a problem with this, as pointed out by LauraQ at Feminist SF – The Blog!:

Films “in the 2008 slate” are probably mostly already done, or well underway; this comment is apparently addressed at “don’t even bring me any more scripts with women leads” — so we’re talking about 2009 release dates or later. That’ll make it hard to follow a story and ensure accountability.

Still, if the next couple of years are as free of women-led films as the last few decades have been, we can still use this whole incident to raise awareness. See also:

shakespeare’s sister – “I know it’s a crazy suggestion, but maybe WB could just try making movies with female leads that people actually want to see before giving up on teh womminz altogether.”

ginmar “In order to decide that womens’ films suck, you have to put out more than two of them a year, boys. Sheesh. I guess that explains why we’re seeing an endless succession of shitty films with men in the lead, not to mention behind the camera, in the producer’s and directors’ chairs, and making up the majority of the cast, too.”

…and True Confessions of an Hourly Bookseller and Written World. (Let me know of other links you’ve found… I’d like to get a list together.)

There is one thing I want to point out: three producers informed Nikke Finke about Robinov’s remarks. Three producers who… what? Are sick of hearing these ill-informed pronouncements from suits who want an easy answer to hand investors when movies don’t do so well? Maybe these producers see an opportunity to (duh!) put women in successful genres and open up a whole new market without reinventing a thing.

Comments

  1. Schmorgluck says

    Remarks like that are amazingly common in the film industry. You need only intern with an agency or production office, or taking a film class in L.A., to hear it said dozens of times: “The lead has to be a white male. That’s what the audience wants.” Screenwriters I meet offline or who email me via the contact form here tell me their works are turned down by studios that blatantly say, “We’re not looking for lead women right now.”

    I didn’t know they were so open about this bias, but I had made my own guess about it anyway. This explains alot. As an example: “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”. I love the comics. I’ve never bothered to view the movie that spoofs it, I’ve been repelled by this movie from the very moment I heard of a particular change from the comics: Wilhelmina Murray is no longer the lead character, she’s no longer the leader of the team (’cause, c’m’on, a leading woman?), and they put forward Alan Quattermain instead. I remember I said to myself: “Typical, soooo typical!” Plus, apparently, they gave her back her marriage name, Harker, and turned her into a vampire. They basically ruined the character. Ick!

    By the way, “phallacy” seems useful a word, to me.

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