Women in Hollywood face an uphill battle when it comes to their representation on the silver screen. Although films starring women have been proved to bring in big cash at the box office, they are still less likely to reach production. Indeed, last year female protagonists only represented a measly 15% of roles in the 100 top movies.
Since there doesn't seem to be a significant financial disincentive, a large part of Hollywood's gender problem must be cultural. Case in point, the recent comments from Luc Besson, director of the female-driven — albeit not universally beloved — action flick 'Lucy,' starring Scarlett Johansson.
In an interview with the Evening Standard, the director stressed the actress' good looks, because well, Hollywood. "She is incredibly photogenic," he told the British paper. "You can honestly do whatever you want with the camera and she is totally gorgeous." Although his comments were probably well-intentioned, Besson may have also inadvertently let us into the kind of mindset that continues to overlook women in the genre.
So Scarlett Johansson is attractive. We know that (unfortunately) matters in film, especially for women. Nothing new to report there. But the director reveals his glaring double-standard when he starts to discuss the way females work behind the camera.
"But what is amazing about her is she absolutely never plays with that [beauty]," he noted. "Scarlett doesn't care. It's about the part."
Image Credit: AP
As opposed to whom? Is Besson comparing Johansson to other women in the industry who "play up" the one thing Hollywood has emphasized time and time again that it values over pretty much anything else — their appearance? And what does "playing" with one's beauty even mean? A woman using her looks to her advantage, which the director just explicitly stated is an advantage?
More importantly, would he ever say this about a male actor? Are these overweight mobsters playing their beauty card?
Image Credit: AP
Sadly, the director doesn't stop there.
"She is very sweet," Besson continued. "She is almost acting like a totally tough man. The beauty just comes by itself. I can see it through the lens and I can use it but she doesn't play with it at all."
According to this interview, one of the best aspects of Johansson's beauty is that she doesn't own it, allowing her male directors to "use" it whenever it suits them. Stated another way, Besson seems to be saying that her looks are appreciated, only in so far as she doesn't have power over them. If someone ever teaches a women's studies class on the subversive entitlement of the male gaze, their first PowerPoint could very well be an image of Tina Fey rolling her eyes over this director's vomit-rocious quote.
Judging from what Besson had to say, those working inside the film industry are light years away from understanding the true value of female stories and protagonists. On the other hand, people who buy movie tickets do. During its first weekend in theaters, 'Lucy' beat out male-driven action film, 'Hercules', by a long-shot. Similarly, 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,' starring Jennifer Lawrence as a fearless warrior named Katniss, was one of the top-earning films of the year, drawing an audience that skewed heavily toward a female audience.
Judging from the numbers, it's clear that moviegoers enjoy stories that revolve around women, whether they are "playing" their beauty or not. If only directors caught on to what their audiences already know.