“The reality is, I’m a dude and I understand the dude thing, so I lean men the way Spike Lee leans African-American,” says Apatow.
The lovely snippet above was taken from this week’s New Yorker piece by Tad Friend on Anna Faris (but mostly the piece was on the state of female comedic actors in Hollywood, etc.).
M.snow red-penned a ton of the things in this article, but sadly, it wasn’t much of a revelation to read supporting material on how and why only 17% of the writers, producers, and directors in Hollywood are women, and their shortchanged presence in the biz is so palpable. M.Snowe has lately come to the realization that the only way to become a powerful voice for lady’s rights, one heard by both sexes and many races, is to use your talents and translate your voice through whatever those talents may be. Someone like Tina Fey isn’t a “feminist,” like Gloria Steinem is a feminist, but dammit she gets the job done by channeling her message through the very funny comedy writing she’s able to spit out like it’s nothing. So, it’s distressing to hear the overwhelming doom and gloom about Hollywood and see the barriers that exist, limiting the outreach that talented women in the industry could have and thereby change Hollywood from the inside and extend that change out into the greater culture.
So, back to the Apatow quote above. It is wrong, and ignorant. The comparison does not hold. Spike Lee grew up in a an area of Brooklyn populated predominately by African-Americans, and also knows what is feels like to be discriminated against because of his membership to that community. A friend of mine who lived in Bed Sty for a time, around where Lee grew up, recounts that there could be weeks that go by where she would not see a white person. There is a sense of isolation from the white community (either by choice, necessity, or urban gentrification/ghettoization), and also an atmosphere of being discriminated against by those in the white community. Can Apatow claim that his race (as a white, privileged male) was oppressed or discriminated against, or that he grew up in a place where he could go weeks without coming into contact with a person who was female?
In literature, great heroines who feel real and layered have existed for centuries. Some of them were written by male novelists. Great male characters have been written by women. It’s a two-way street. On that street, everyone rides around. And no, you don’t have to watch out for those crazy female drivers.
A prominent producer (unnamed) in the article has this to say about female roles in certain movies: “Both men and women can relate to Kevin James in ‘Paul Blart: Mall Cop,’ who’s the little guy being shat upon…If that character is played by Tina Fey, it wouldn’t work, for the same reason that men can’t relate to Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones.’ Men just don’t understand the nuances of female dynamics.”
Why would it be that men couldn’t relate to Tina Fey getting shat upon? She does a pretty decent job of being shat upon in her role on 30 Rock, and people seem to understand that. It’s not that men “can’t relate,” it’s that a certain kind of man, and clearly the ones that make these Hollywood decisions included, won’t or refuse to relate. Because “being shat upon” is a problem that men identify as something they deal with frequently, it is not only a male problem–it is now universal, because white men are the gender and race equivalent of the O blood type–they are the universal donor–they expect you to have all the same problems as them, and expect you to understand their problems and triumphs, because these problems and triumphs are most universally known and explored and to some extent belong to everyone anyway. But, like the O blood type, men’s tiny antibodies absolutely reject or refuse to process any other combination of problems, even if they are so similar the leap of faith to understand them is more like a grade school hopscotch skip. It’s not the content of the “problems women face” or the “nuances,” it’s that they are traced back to the female bloodline, and thereby dubbed “the other,” “incompatible.” This isn’t actually how most men function, M.Snowe hopes–but it’s how our society, and especially Hollywood, treats them. So of course, the “nuanced” problems of a woman in a movie are too confusing for the men. Perhaps, it should be suggested that the nuances aren’t the barrier–the barrier is the fear that those nuances are actually commonalities.
M.Snowe read a book, and had some opinions about it. That book was Meg Wolitzer’s The Uncoupling. (The book takes themes and a few plot points from Aristophanes’ Lysistrata–which is a play about Greek ladies refusing to have sex with dudes until the end of the Peloponnesian war. Hot.) So I wrote down what I thought of the book, and submitted it to an online magazine. They were gracious enough to make some awesome edits, then publish it on their website here. It’s a great site, you should check it out.