Feminism / Films

Women & Gender at the 2012 Indie Spirit Awards

Originally published at Bitch Flicks.

So I groaned the moment I discovered Seth Rogen was hosting the Independent Spirit Awards, which aired last Saturday night on IFC. I mean, after his shitshow appearance at the Golden Globes, making that sexual harassment comment to Kate Beckinsale on-stage, I’m all set with him. When announcer director John Waters (yep, you read that right) said he had “an erection just saying his name,” I thought for sure the show would be a sexist bonanza. Luckily, the Spirit Awards were fairly free of sexism and some interesting gender commentaries emerged.

In Rogen’s opening monologue, he humorously deemed actor Michael Shannon “looking creepy” (ha!) but also went on a “dick” tirade dissecting Michael Fassbender’s full frontal nudity in Shame. Rogen talked about how awards shows unveiled director Brett Ratner’s racism and bigotry, all while criticizing the Grammys for exalting a domestic violence abuser. He said:

“I honestly bet though Ratner really wishes he was organizing the Grammys because they seem much more forgiving than the Oscars altogether. Seriously, you say a few hateful things they don’t let you within a few hundred yards of the Oscars. You could literally beat the shit out of a nominee they ask you to perform twice at the Grammys.”

Now, I love, love, love celebs condemning domestic violence abusers like Chris Brown (keep it up Miranda Lambert!). But I’m all set with DV jokes. However, Rogen’s joke was more of a commentary on the utter ridiculousness of the Grammys glorifying Chris Brown (who mind you, is still on probation for another fucking 2 years! Ugh) rather than exploiting survivors.

There were some other great moments in the show, including presenters Kirsten Dunst and Jonah Hill who were surprisingly silly and funny together (hmmm…did somebody have a few too many cocktails??). But my fave quote of the night came when Rogen talked about his love of Albert Nobbs and Glenn Close’s “fucking awesome” performance:

“They say there’s no good roles left for women. Which is bullshit, there is. You just have to play a man.”

An astute observation on the glaring gender disparity in film.

In the Best Supporting Female category, the roles consist of a mother of a cancer-stricken son (Angelica Huston, 50/50), a woman living as a man (Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs), a stay-at-home mother whose husband is struggling with demons (Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter), a transgender woman whose father has returned from prison (Harmony Santana, Gun Hill Road), and a young woman whose mother is dying (Shailene Woodley, The Descendants). Both McTeer and winner Woodley gave phenomenal performances.

Of the Best Female Lead nominees, all of the roles featured were in female-focused films. The characters comprise a “poverty stricken” single mother (Lauren Ambrose, Think of Me), a girl who escapes a cult (Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene), a religious woman bonding with her husband’s illegitimate son (Natural Selection), Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn), and a young lesbian African-American woman exploring her sexuality and finding her identity (Adepero Oduye, Pariah). Sadly, Oduye was the only woman of color nominated in this category.

When Michelle Williams won, in her endearing acceptance speech, she talked about being an outcast and finding acceptance. She said:

“I first came to the Independent Spirit Awards 10 years ago and I wore my own clothes which were not very good. And I cut my own hair which was also not very good. I remember, I still remember the feeling in this room, unlike others, that was okay. Possibly even preferred. And what I thought then, and still feel now, it’s because this is a room filled with misfits, outcasts, loners, dreamers, mumblers, delinquents, dropouts, just like me!

“I want to say thank you for supporting me and welcoming me and making me feel at home in this room and in this community all the way back then and now, when the only thing that I own that I’m wearing is my dignity.”

Now, I can’t really picture Williams an outcast or delinquent. But I liked that she talked about individuality and acceptance, as well as a commentary on beauty.

So the nominated performances embodied interesting, complex female characters. But what about the screenplays and films nominated? Did they boast women behind the scenes or female-focused films?

In the Best First Feature category, only 1 film, the strangely intriguing and tragic Another Earth featured a female writer or director (actress Britt Marling co-wrote and co-produced). But 3 of the 5 nominees revolved around female protagonists (Another Earth, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Natural Selection). Yet none of these won. As Molly McCaffrey tweeted:

“Margin Call, a movie about a bunch of Wall Street d-bags, beats Another Earth, a movie about a complicated woman #SHOCKING.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Despite illusions that Hollywood is oh so liberal, films usually depict white, straight characters and couples. But several films nominated for Spirit Award contained LGBTQ themes: Pariah, Beginners, Gun Hill Road, In the Family, Circumstance and the documentary We Were Here. Christopher Plummer won Best Supporting Male for his touching performance as a father coming out of the closet at 75 in Beginners and Harmony Santana became the first trans actress to be nominated for a major Hollywood award.

The Oscars completely overlooked THE best film of 2011, Pariah, an exquisitely beautiful film about a young lesbian woman of color asserting her identity. Thankfully, the Spirit Awards didn’t. Awarded to films with budgets of $500,000 or less, Pariah won the John Cassavetes Award! WOO HOO!!! What’s interesting about this category is that it boasted two nominees written and directed by women with plots focusing on lesbians of color (Pariah, Circumstance). Writer/director Dee Rees made me laugh when she said:

“Any Saturday where you get to wear a sparkly hoodie and drink two whiskeys before noon is fucking awesome.”

Right on! Then she thanked the amazing Adepero Oduye and the other Pariah actors:

“It’s about performance above all else.”

Pariah Producer Nekisa Cooper talked at the Athena Film Festival about the importance of supporting “women in front of the camera and behind the camera” because there aren’t enough women in film. Winning the Cassavetes Award, she said:

“It took a village to make this film.”

Aside from Pariah and the gender designated acting categories, where are the women?

Of the Best Screenplay nominees, all were written by men with movies all revolving around men. At least The Artist had Peppy Miller and Best Screenplay winner The Descendants (based on Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel) had sisters Alex and Scottie. But even those 2 films still revolved around men. Of the Best First Screenplay nominees, only 1 woman, Britt Marling as co-writer (Another Earth), was nominated. But Will Reiser won for 50/50 won.

Sadly, none of the Best Director nominees were women. Even amongst the Best Documentary nominees, only 1 had a female director (Daniele Anastasion, General Butt Naked) and documentaries usually boast more female filmmakers.

The absolute best part of the night was lady duo Garfunkel and Oates. “Comedy folk singers” Riki Lindhome (Garfunkel) and Kate Micucci (Oates) gave a “morbidly funny” tribute to each of the 5 Best Feature nominees. They summed up all of the nominees with:

“You’ve got the spirit of murders, coma, cancer, schizophrenia, cancer, suicide, independence and dreams.”

 Adorbs, quirky, hilarious…just watch. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

What Garfunkel and Oates didn’t mention is that you could also sum up all the movies like this…men. All the Best Feature nominees revolved around male characters or were told from a male protagonist’s perspective. Now, I really liked Best Feature winner The Artist. I loved that Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) was never rescued…she was the harbinger of her own success and destiny. And of course I adored Uggie the Dog (cute overload!). But even The Artist still ultimately revolved around George Valentin…a man’s dreams, a man’s failures, a man’s perspective.

Announcer John Waters ended the Spirit Awards with this command:

“Now go out there and make your damn movie!”

I love this rousing call to action…that anyone can and should follow their dream of making movies. It got me thinking that more women need to create films. They need to write, direct, film, produce and act. Women need to flood the studios with their creations. But the cynic in me couldn’t help but wonder, what’s the point if the films made by women aren’t even making it to theatres and not being awarded with accolades?

I was happy to see the Spirit Awards weren’t bogged down by sexism. But I erroneously assumed they would award more ladies in film, in front of and behind the camera.  I just wish more women, other than the gendered categories, and female-focused films had won. Hollywood, even amongst indie circles, keeps perpetuating the dude machine.


2 thoughts on “Women & Gender at the 2012 Indie Spirit Awards

  1. “Take Shelter” and “Martha Marcy May Marlene” were both incredible!
    Everytime i hit up Redbox, at my local Stop & Shop or Shaws, i keep finding ANOTHER
    damn movie i want to see.
    “Another Earth” is one that i’m very much intrigued by.
    Oddly enough, i never put it in my cart, and go with something else.

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