Every year I look forward to ELLE Magazine's 'Women In Hollywood' issue. I was pleased that, although they devoted attention to A-lister actresses in Hollywood, attention was also drawn to womens' contributions in acting, writing and directing. Women and womens' stories are a vital part of the Hollywood fabric, but through the years, we've missed a few stitches.
ELLE's coverage of currently successful women in Hollywood, as well as female up-and-comers on the writing/directing front inspired me to watch Searching For Debra Winger, a film by Rosanna Arquette. Although, it was released in 2002, this film is no less important today. If you haven't seen it, it's a surprisingly informal, yet moving portrait of the pressure and frustrations that women face in the entertainment industry-- especially women over the age of 40.
A wide array of actresses make appearances including, but not limited to, Jane Fonda, Laura Dern, Teri Garr, Martha Plimpton, Whoopi Goldberg, Sharon Stone, and Meg Ryan. Some of the interviews are one-on-one with Rosanna Arquette and others are staged as informal round table discussions amongst these Hollywood actresses that have survived the meat-grinder of the industry or nearly abandoned it-- like Debra Winger. These women become united in their desire to clear the pathway for themselves and other women to further their successes in Hollywood.
So much of Hollywood is cutthroat and competitive, petty and fickle, hot and cold. You're young, you're old. There is no middle age. For women in the general population, aging is difficult, yet unavoidable unless you die; for women in the entertainment industry, aging is death. You're the girlfriend, then the mom, then you...disappear...FADE OUT. Next, please.
If you're a female director, you better have a damn good reel [and even then, there's no guarantee that a studio will foot the bill so you can tell your story.] If you have a script with a female protagonist, she better be hot, dressed like Wonderwoman, or a badass that can hold her own with the men that audiences really care about. Men as the subject. Women as the object. Is that really how it is-- or is that how Hollywood thinks it is? Women can, and should, have their voices heard and their stories told.
Things are changing slowly, but well-rounded female characters and/or female oriented stories are still hard to come by. Regarding the lack of three-dimensionality in written female characters and the sexism that still exists in Hollywood, this is what Martha Plimpton had to say in Searching For Debra Winger:
Martha Plimpton: Humor. Intelligence. Talent. Imagination. Bravery. Skill. When you eliminate all those things, what have you got?
Ally Sheedy: Fuckability.
Martha Plimpton: That's it. So you can't blame these people for resorting to that kind of standard when they've annihilated all their other options. At least for men, there are options, character roles, you know what I'm saying?
People often forget that women were at the forefront of Hollywood in its early days-- until it was discovered that serious money could be made. We've been trying to catch up ever since, but we're making bigger strides all the time. I'm glad that ELLE was able to highlight some of them.
© 2010 by KLiedle
Photo: In the director's chair, Helen Twelvetrees--circa 1936, considered to be one of the top screen stars in Hollywood in the early days of sound.
This is an ever-evolving story of a girl writer and her two greatest loves, the movies and travel. As she hikes the trenches of Hollywood, you're brought along for the ride.