On Film and Diversity

patty-jenkins-wonder-woman

This is a response to some points raised by Film Critic Hulk in his piece “What We Talk About When We Talk About Female Filmmaking.”

He suggests that some of the standards by which we measure film are biased against women and films against women, using the cinematography of Lady Bird as an example.

But yeah, the real thing about Blade Runner 2049‘s cinematography is that it is tangibly impressive. But equally impressive in terms of cinematography, editing, and construction?

Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird.

It just happens to err on the side of naturalism, which makes sense given that it’s a realistic coming of age story about a high school senior trying to find her place in the world. Thus, it is trying to echo that realism and make us feel a sense of intimacy with it. It needs to feel like life, not a “movie movie.” But there is no less craft in achieving that. Believe me, naturalism is insanely difficult to achieve.

I like the examples of Lady Bird’s impressive cinematography. Interestingly enough, cinematographer Sam Levy is so unknown that he doesn’t even have a wikipedia page. However, I’m not sure the lack of appreciation for Lady Bird is so gendered. Greta Gerwig was nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Sam Levy (not nominated/ rarely discussed) is a middle-aged white guy. I was wondering if the lack of nomination has something to do with the film not being a period/ sci-fi piece, although there have been recent nominations for Moonlight, La La Land, Birdman, and Nebraska, so it can’t just be that. A lot of it probably is because, as he pointed out, it is harder to note craft that is natural and subtle. However, I’m not sure if the female subject matter is the difference, since recent years have consistently seen cinematography nominations for films with female leads (Black Swan, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Anna Karenina, Gravity, Ida, Carol, Arrival, La La Land, Mudbound, The Shape of Water.) It’s not 50/50, but in an industry where it’s a gain for 29 percent of the top 100 films to have female leads, it is quite representative

He considers the critical backlash to A Wrinkle in Time as part of a larger segment of criticism against director Ava Duvernay.

I have not seen Ava Duvernay’s Wrinkle In Time yet, but it’s one of my favorite children’s books (and comic, if you’ve never read Hope Larson’s adaptation) and I plan to see it soon. But I actually think the following argument works better if I haven’t seen it and can just make some observations about the dialogue surrounding the film. Why is that?

Because there’s a lot of white film bros who hate Ava Duvernay.

Did you know this? Boy howdy do they hate on Ava. And they won’t stop popping up in my damn feed (and always creating new accounts! Which is always a sign of being a well-balanced individual) to make “logical” points about how everyone’s just treating her nice because we surely must be afraid of backlash! And by not tearing her apart and by “pulling punches,” we must be doing this because we’re afraid to upset the critical status quo and call the movie bad, etc… I’m not kidding.

I think he exaggerates the significance of people who were biased against Ava Duvernay. They weren’t able to have discernible impact on the critical acclaim of Selma or 13th, so why would it be different now? The biggest name among critics who hasn’t cared for her work is Kyle Smith, and it would be weird for him to suddenly be an influencer now. Film Critiic Hulk notes the significance of subject matter as part of the appeal of a film, but it could be that this is part of the poor response to A Wrinkle in Time. The key thing with subject matter is how people tell a story. The difference between Munich (Best Picture nominee) and 7 days in Entebbe (22% on Rotten Tomatoes) probably comes down to execution.

Finally, he expresses a preference for filmmakers who are truly representative, suggesting the problem is with the film industry.

It is so much more difficult for those who don’t fit the white dude movie lover mold. It’s downright systematic. You have to watch as female filmmakers from your classes slowly get railroaded into being producers, editors, and working in public relations instead or storytellers, all because “thats where they fit.” Just as you have no idea what it’s like to be a minority and get constantly used as a prop of collaboration and not get to be the engine of it. So you have to understand that something that has been so hard for you, has actually been 1000% harder for someone else. And sure, you can be sensitive to that idea all your want. You can say it’s unjust. You can say you want more female and minority filmmakers. But when you put forth the perfectly-sane and not -radical idea that “50% of studio films should be directed by women and 40% should be directed by minorities,” people lose their god damn minds.

The expectation of getting filmmakers who represent demographics perfectly seems unrealistic. Is there any profession that accurately represents the demographics of the country? There would be the initial factor that most people already in the industry are going to keep their jobs, so even if the new directors, cinematographers, sound mixers, etc. represent demographics perfectly, those who came in during earlier eras are going to stick around, skewing statistics for decades to come.

There are probably some institutional fixes if qualified women/ minorities are passed over for equally or less qualified white men, but some of the problem is going to be that white guys are more likely to get the jobs that lead to being in a position to get money to make films, so there would have to be reforms on the lower level. Even if there’s a fix in one area (American film production) the pipeline involves other areas. Looking at recent directors of Best Picture nominees, Jordan Peele came from television. Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo del Toro came from the television industry of Mexico. Morten Tyldum came from the Norwegian television industry. Lenny Abrahamson came from advertising. Martin McDonagh was an Irish playwright. Kenneth Lonergan’s first major work was an off-Broadway play. Paul Thomas Anderson used his college savings to make a short film. Even with reforms in all these industries, it doesn’t offset other potential problems that lead to less women and less people in color in a position to get the job that results in them getting the budgets to make major films.

 

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
This entry was posted in Criticism, Film, Politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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