The Yellow Screen
February 1, 2010 3 Comments
The conversation about women in Hollywood has been LARGE–over the past few months it has become a mainstay, perhaps as part of the ramp up to the Oscars. I now know how many female directors there are, how few female writers, the installation that is Nancy Meyers, etc. This kind of prominent conversation is good, and being savvy about the entertainment industry (which I certainly spend more hours with than any other intellectual pursuit or activist cause), feels quite empowering…I care about international maternal healthcare, but pressuring change in the high-monied, massively influential biz almost seems more important. Skewed? Probs. Picking Paramount over mamas doesn’t sound right. The fantasy in my head is that if the deep pocketed studios reach a tipping point and respect women, then all other successes will follow.
Which brings me to Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I was reading her explanation for writing “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which basically says she went mad in the confines of domestic ladyhood, and got her pen out as a cure. Totes feminist, and now a classic teaching text. The same goes for Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (often taught because of it’s unabashed perspective of the female experience, and again, it’s a short novel), and “The Storm.” These texts are celebrated as examples of women claiming their voices, but ultimately, they get stuck there. They lean so heavily on the great revelation that a woman is three-dimensional, they become cardboard cutouts of desire, empowerment, and frustration. They don’t live in the canon in the same space as Virgina Woolf, who has a seat at the table as big as Joyce’s and Faulkner’s.
And so, as we are in full-on Oscar season, and Kathryn Bigelow is the favorite, with her giant gold Director’s Guild of America plate shining so brightly. Unlike Perkins and Chopin, she is not relegated to telling women-only tales, and I hope there is a renaissance abrew (or a naissance if it didn’t happen in the first place?). The trick is to not make this a quick trend that can be marked as the time women said things in Hollywood–an easy reference, teachable moment.
Gilman and Chopin probably deserve more; they were bold women who wrote daring things, but they are also a warning. My fingers are crossed that Hollywood gets its Woolf on, its Munro, its Rhys, its Smith. Bigelow could be just that.