By Dan Webster
When Hollywood criticizes itself not much is made of it. When a movie critic calls out Hollywood for its obsession with a certain film genre, the wrath of Sunset Blvd. in unleashed.
Alan Alda wrote and directed “Sweet Liberty” in 1986. It starred Alda, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Caine and the late Bob Hoskins. The story is how Hollywood takes liberties with a history book when turning it into a movie.
The pivotal scene is an argument between Alda, a college professor and author of the book, and the movie’s director played brilliantly by Saul Rubinek. Alda is yelling about the historical inaccuracies the movie is taking. Rubinek takes the history professor to school giving him the formula for financially successful movies with young audiences: 1) defy authority, 2) destroy property, and 3) nudity.
Ann Hornaday, movie critic at the Washington Post and active member of the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation, Baltimore, took on Hollywood for its male-dominated creative structure and its pandering to young male audiences. She did so following the May 24 mass murder in Isla Vista when the presumed shooter, Elliot Rodger, left a YouTube video announcing his reasons. The murderer also turned out to be the son of a Hollywood movie maker.
“For generations, mass entertainment has been overwhelmingly controlled by white men, whose escapist fantasies so often revolve around vigilantism and sexual wish-fulfillment (often, if not always, featuring a steady through-line of casual misogyny),” Hornaday wrote. “How many students watch outsized frat-boy fantasies like ‘Neighbors’ and feel, as Rodger did, unjustly shut out of college life that should be full of ‘sex and fun and pleasure’? How many men, raised on a steady diet of Judd Apatow comedies in which the shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl, find that those happy endings constantly elude them and conclude, ‘It’s not fair’?”
Having seen “Neighbors” I can tell you all three elements delineated in “Sweet Liberty” are there in spades.
Leading roles for women have been questioned for years. As Hollywood executives sought to provide more high profile characters they were mostly women acting like men. “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” “The Hunger Games,” and “Divergent” all have female leads who are prone to violence and use their feminine form to attract viewers while performing testosterone-enhanced actions.
Hollywood knows what sells. It knows who will buy what. It uses Hornaday and hundreds of other critics to push its product. When Alda takes pot shots, it’s overlooked. When a critic does her or his job, it’s gloves off. Hornaday’s email and Twitter accounts were inundated with pro and con posts but enough to move her to explain her original column.
I don’t think Hollywood’s research ever told them about the fear and deep rage among women. The #YesAllWomen Twitter hashtag has brought the voice of women worldwide to a resounding conversation that men better listen to. And Hollywood would do well to listen, as well. Seeing more of the feminine side of humanity in movies would more accurately reflect the divine image I think our creator had in mind. Our culture would be better for it.
The Rev. Canon Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Maryland. He is a former network news producer, diocesan communications director and was media relations director for the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. @RevWeb is currently Canon for evangelism and ministry development for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland