The Globes Celebrated Strong Female Characters—Written and Directed by Men
The Golden Globes this year were all about rewarding female strength, but the writers, directors, and producers on these shows are still overwhelmingly male.
The best moment of Sunday’s Golden Globes wasn’t Oprah’s speech, although that was very good. It wasn’t The Room’s Tommy Wiseau trying to steal the mic from James Franco, who won a Best Actor statue for playing Tommy Wiseau, although that ruled. It was when Natalie Portman brought the room down by pointing out that all of the Best Director nominees were male, followed by the flickers of shame across the faces of all of the nominees as cameras cut from disheveled genius to disheveled genius. Natalie Portman just whipped it out, right there, in front of everybody.
It’s more pleasant to feel uplifted than it is to feel guilty. The truth is not uplifting.
Attendees of the 75th annual award ceremony wore black either in protest of sexism in Hollywood, in solidarity with those who were protesting sexism in Hollywood, or on the advice of their stylists who warned them that not wearing black might be some bad optics at this particular moment in history. Some actresses ditched their traditional dates and brought activists with them instead. During red-carpet interviews, these actresses steered discussions in the direction of the work that their activist companions were doing. A few called out E! for paying its female hosts less than its male hosts. It felt like a revolt.
But inside the Beverly Hilton ballroom, it read a little more like window dressing.
The Globes seemed eager to reward depictions of female strength, but after a few awards, it was clear that Hollywood’s version of Female Strength (™) is mostly written, shot, produced, and directed by men.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, the Crash of 2017, is a great example of this. The film won Best Picture in the Drama category last night, and its star Frances McDormand won Best Actress.
Critics tout the film as a great example of a strong female character, a great female role, for a female woman to play. It’s director Martin McDonagh’s third film, the first that doesn’t star Colin Farrell. That’s nice. But McDormand’s tough yet unlikable Mildred Hayes is the sort of character that reads like she was drawn from memory by a man who had only half paid attention to women for his entire life. Slate’s Inkoo Kang rightfully compares her outfit—coveralls and a bandana—to Rosie the Riveter and notes that she wears it on a first date. She also wears it to work at a gift shop, which makes utterly no sense. Does Mildred spend her days sweating in the knickknack mines below the floorboards, or is she a half-assed Hollywood penance for decades of the same sin?
Smart people don’t need to remind others that they are smart; movies about strong women shouldn’t have to remind the viewers, over and over again, that the women are strong. The movie that brought us Mildred Hayes firebombing a police station was conceived by a man, directed by a man, scored by a man, with cinematography by a man, and produced by nine people, eight of whom are men.
But congratulations to Frances McDormand.
I’m not picking on Three Billboards, although it is the worst movie this writer has seen this year. Many of the “strong women” Hollywood is so yen to thrust forward of examples of how far it’s already come are men’s idea of what strong women look like.
And men have made some great entertainment starring women this year. The world would be worse off without David E. Kelly’s adaptation of Big Little Lies, a novel by a woman, into a miniseries that gave its female stars a literal murderers’ row of roles befitting their talents. Molly’s Game, which is excellent, stars a virtuoso Jessica Chastain commanding a great script… written and directed by a man. Eighteen of 20 episodes of The Crown, a showcase for a cast led by Claire Foy, were directed by men. The 2017 box office champ Star Wars is helmed by a female character conceived, written, and directed by a man. The Handmaid’s Tale’s grim depiction of a dystopia where women’s bodies are controlled by religious zealots was created by a man, and 10 of its 15 episodes were directed by men. Men are perfectly capable of making good art about women; they just shouldn’t be called upon so often to speak in their place. How many movies about the lives of men are created and shaped by women?
When women are given a chance to tell the stories of women, what they create resonates with an authenticity that all but the best of Hollywood lacks. Greta Gerwig’s Ladybird (full disclosure: a company owned The Daily Beast’s parent company produced the film) is one of the most tender, funny, and true depictions of teenage girlhood I’ve ever seen. Wonder Woman was a solid film that cleaned up at the box office, directed by a woman. SMILF, despite going home empty-handed last night, is sharp, funny, and real.
Host Seth Meyers did his best to self-flagellate during his opening monologue. But not one male award winner recognized the #MeToo movement or their female counterparts’ work in creating more visibility for victims of harassment and abuse across industries. Not one.
Aziz Ansari, who won an Emmy for writing alongside Lena Waithe, did not thank her in his acceptance speech for Best Actor last night, although he did thank three men who worked on the show with him and the country of Italy. Justin Timberlake dutifully walked the red carpet in a Time’s Up! pin, like viewers would have forgotten that he has yet to apologize to Janet Jackson for ripping part of her top off during the Super Bowl halftime show 14 years ago, as though audiences can’t look at IMDB.com and see that he just worked with Woody Allen. Alexander Skarsgård, who played the abusive husband of Nicole Kidman’s character in Big Little Lies, came closest to expressing gratitude or regret when he thanked Kidman for the best experience of his career.
But overall, the men who took to the stage last night seemed to understand themselves as good guys in their world, instead of beneficiaries of a system where those complicit get credit when they finally stand up to injustice but no consequences for perpetuating it. It seems that it hasn’t quite sunk in that to sate the public’s demand for more women on film, more women on TV, more women’s voices, more women will have to be involved in making that entertainment, both on and offscreen. Making more room for women will eventually mean less room for men.
All of the men wearing their Time’s Up! pins and black dress shirts beneath black tuxedo jackets (truly brave) carried themselves with the air of diplomats who caught the last helicopter flight out of Saigon. They’d weathered the purge; the bad guys are out and the door is shut and they are aboard. And they carried on as though the women who were making noise were celebrating a job well done instead of firing themselves up for a long, hard slog. As though one or more of them won’t be in the room next year, as though his chair won’t one day be filled by a talented and, until now, overlooked woman.
CORRECTION, 1:11 a.m., 1/9/17: This article has been updated to reflect that Wonder Woman was directed but not written by a woman.