Msnowe's Blog

“I Lean Men”

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on April 7, 2011

“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.

6 Responses

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  1. White Dude said, on April 7, 2011 at 5:14 am

    Hi. Long time reader first time replier. The article is great, and I love reading your site whenever I get a chance. I often don’t find my comments worthy enough to comment on your site, but I wanted to share my reading of your quote in a way that might be more of an accentuation of your point than a criticism.
    You wrote:
    “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?”
    I don’t think he is claiming that. I think his quote is right on. In the way that Spike Lee leans toward a discriminated African American slant, Apatow leans toward a “white, privileged male” slant because that’s what he knows, just as Lee knows the former.

    Now diving into the needs to make a statement like this might be an entirely different conversation, and, I, as one who sees sexist discrimination in the film industry very frequently, love watching Tina Fey strive for generless roles as much as I love her tongue and cheek methods of playing a female role as she did in “Date Night.”

    Great article though. I am curious to see more data on the discrimination of females in Hollywood and the media in general. For instance, how much less trouble, if any, would the music label industry be in if there were more women on the executive level?

    • m.snowe said, on April 7, 2011 at 6:44 am

      Hey White Dude,

      Thanks–glad you read it and like it! Good to know I haven’t scared away all the awesome white dudes.

      I agree with how you characterize Apatow’s frame of mind, for sure. I don’t think he is particularly malicious towards women, and a few of his movies do have assorted semi-interesting female roles. But, I think his comparison to Lee isn’t quite right. Lee doesn’t just tend to make movies with African Americans because he is African American, or because that’s all he knows–he also makes them to pose interesting questions about race in America, or to showcase injustice, or to chronicle a racist historical past (etc. and so on). Apatow’s movies aren’t doing that, unless you call showcasing the plight of a 40-yr old virgin an injustice, which you might have a case for ;). It’s people like Apatow who have the power in Hollywood right now, and their openness to entertain roles for strong females would be incredibly helpful. Because if he keeps making the same movies about emotionally-stilted chubby dudes, then that is what the market will expect, and bare. So, basically, I agree that Apatow isn’t claiming to be discriminated against–I just think Lee has better reasons to limit the scope of what his subject matter is.

      I think this has to do with that “special lady nuance,” the “prominent unnamed producer” mentioned. Why are women expected to understand the nuances of men and identify with those lead characters when they go to see a movie, yet men aren’t expected to (or won’t) do the same when roles are reversed?

  2. White Dude said, on April 7, 2011 at 7:16 am

    Yes! Okay, I get it now. So let me ask you this question, since I know you’re a literature lover. Let’s relate current hollywood movies to classic literature, and since I know very little of the latter, please allow me some grace in order to broach the analogy.

    How do you, as a female reader, identify with the nuances of Johnny Tremain or Huck Finn, etc.? If it’s the same as these hollywood flicks then the argument is parallel and we can keep separate but part of the larger discussion. If you identify differently, do you feel more marginalized or less? And is that because the characters are relating to and dealing with obstacles that are more universal in concept and maybe less pop-centric?

    I’d be curious to know.

    • m.snowe said, on April 7, 2011 at 8:16 am

      Hmm, interesting. I think I understand your question/analogy. While the argument may be parallel–there is a distinction here: movies are obviously a visual medium, with real people cast in them. In literature, I can imagine anything I want. If I want to imagine myself as Huck Finn, guess what, I’m Huck Finn! Who’s going to break into my subconscious and stop me?

      And literature provides examples of both sexes being described as fully fleshed-out characters. If people like Flaubert did their jobs, then they wrote stories where chicks like Emma Bovary become life-like and understandable to both dudes and ladies. I think literature allows for way more freedom, because reading is in itself a private action. This doesn’t mean that authors don’t marginalize sometimes–it’s just harder to do it unless you’re really trying to. Movies are more marginalizing by nature, because they have to make choices that novels don’t have to–they have to frame every shot. Also, when someone writes a novel all about dudes, that doesn’t translate into a bunch of dudes getting work, and getting ahead somewhere. But, if I limited myself to producing movies like that, a lot more people are affected.

      Does that kind of answer your question? I’m not sure.
      (I guess I should add that of course, in the case of writers, I wish more women were published, taken seriously, and not necessarily confined to the stacks of “chick lit.”)

  3. White Dude said, on April 7, 2011 at 8:37 am

    Totally with you! I think your explanation hits the nail right on the head. A movie is doing more than providing just the moral comparison for the private viewer (as we all are in our heads) it is also moving culture forward by creating opportunities to put people in power over others…a la celebrity status. For some reason, one person’s opinion matters more than others. Historically, leadership was usually a divine right. “In God, We Trust” our money, so money becomes God, and lends power to those to wield it. And since the right for women to make money was granted by men, the balance is entirely off. Now since people drive culture, but people are effected by culture, the only real way to freedom is education to all but provided by people that are themselves educated…the enlightened leading the open minded.

    Anyway, this is usually the mind set I lend myself when reading your blog. I strive for an open mind, and put a little faith that you might be even slightly enlightened.


  4. m.snowe said, on April 7, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Excellent! I so love it when blog comments tie up neatly with mutual agreement, respect and open minds. Thanks for the Kudos!

    You’ve certainly made me think today about power structures and how they relate to storytelling. I’m looking forward to hearing more of your insights into the film industry, too.

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