Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Salt - Changes in Hollywood

I've watched the publicity surrounding Angelina Jolie's new action movie Salt with a great deal of excitement. Finally, a badass action hero who happens to be a woman! They are saying she is the first action star to transcend gender. I also was happy to hear that fellow hapa (he is half Samoan) Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is going to be taking over a Clive Owen role that is in production. It is great to see a woman and a multiracial actor stepping into lead roles that had formerly been reserved for caucasian men.

I grew up pissed off at the sexism of the movie industry; my critical lens nourished by the cutting insight of a feminist mother. There have been some changes since then - more women in active roles, not just screaming victims breaking their stilettos at inopportune moments. But of course, there is still a lot of BS in the biz. In her memoir Suck It, Wonder Woman! The Misadventures of a Hollywood Geek, Olivia Munn mentions a sleazy blockbuster movie director who whips it out and masturbates in front of women in their trailers, another filmmaker whose nickname for his girlfriend is "whore", a studio honcho who shows off his sex toy to strangers, and an actor whose improvised dialogue detailed his desire to take a shower with Munn's character. Munn, who is yet another hapa, states that these men are pathetic for needing to debase their power like that. I hope her outing of them helps throw some sunlight on their dirty practices.

I know for myself, working on a studio lot just out of undergrad, I was amazed at how scantily-clad all the women were - not just clerical/gophers, but producers and the like. It hammered home for me that, in Hollywood, all women are expected to objectify themselves. I think that's why I've found only limited success in my dealings with SoCal Mistress seekers. In that environment, it is hard to have one's femme power taken seriously.

A few years ago I went up to the Bunny Ranch to hang out with a friend who was doing marketing for Dennis Hof. I got to watch them film the Cathouse reality show, and be an extra in the background while I privately studied the dynamics of a bordello. During that trip, I met a very attractive woman who had just flown in from LA. She was an aspiring actress, and was happy to be making some money on the side. In all too many ways, the two jobs are quite similar - indeed, for those without the benefit of nepotism, the casting couch is alive and well.

Changes are occurring, yet not as fast as they could be. Studies still show that the more TV a person watches, the more sexist, racist, and fearful of crime they are. The media skews heavy watchers' views of the world, regularly objectifying women, demonizing minorities, and scaring the hell out of everyone.

Back to Angelina, I read one male reviewer of Salt state something like the following: "Listen up kids. The physics is all wrong. Girlfriend has no throw weight." So let's just forget for a moment that movies are supposed to involve a suspension of disbelief. Does this reviewer really think that 5'7" Tom Cruise, who Jolie replaced in the role, would make a more believable secret agent? Homeboy don't have much throw weight himself. I remember reading a review of one of Jolie's Tomb Raider movies in which the male reviewer whined something to the effect of "Who does she think she is? Strutting around as if she were hot stuff." Such juvenile reactions. Ms. Jolie has stated that she never wanted to be a Bond girl, she wanted to be Bond. And not just for her, but for her daughters.

Yet the pushback does not always have to come from men. Olivia Munn has been severely criticized by several female bloggers who claim that the success she has achieved in Hollywood is due to her looks (she co-hosts Attack of the Show, did a gig with the Daily Show, and is starring in a new network sitcom). She counters that a woman can be both smart and sexy - interviewing politicians on the Daily Show and appearing on the covers of Maxim and Playboy. Why do they need to be mutually exclusive? Wouldn't it be reverse discrimination to disqualify her just because she is attractive? There seems no way to please the peanut gallery! Studies on the relationship between self-esteem and put-downs has confirmed my worst suspicions - that people actually can elevate their self-esteem by denigrating others. This goes a long way to explaining all the vicious, misogynist flames you can find in the comments section of articles about Jolie. The threatened reaction of the masses tells a lot about where the real changes are taking place. Keep fighting the good fight my Hollywood heroes - we are getting there!