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How Hollywood fails the sexy lamp test on women

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In a first section of Women Vs. Hollywood, Helen O’Hara tells the story of a director so obsessed with his principal wife’s after-hours behavior that he asked someone to follow her on the tray to monitor its activity. The same man made sexual advances to another actress, becoming vengeful and indignant when she refused him.

o, it wasn’t Harvey Weinstein; it was Alfred Hitchcock, and the women were Grace Kelly and Tippi Hedren – who starred in his thriller The Birds. Hitchcock was known for his desire to exert control over actresses, and once playfully remarked, “The problem today is that we don’t torture women enough.”

This great book details the ambivalent relationship between women and the American film industry, both as actresses and behind the camera. O’Hara traces the plight of women in Hollywood from the 1910s to modern times, looking at the #MeToo movement and beyond. It’s a revealing and fascinating tale, though often depressing.

As the editor of Empire magazine, O’Hara is a recognized critic; but the book, she admits, is fueled by anger. Its aim is to probe how and why the voices of women and other groups have been sidelined or silenced in Hollywood for decades, in order to “rebalance the endless stories written about Hollywood men.” The impact of this exclusion is felt far beyond the cinema, she explains. Big screen trends permeate our culture and even play out in children’s cartoons. Her account is supported by a crucial observation: “The stories we tell reflect what we value, who we sympathize with, and how we see the world.”

To close

Women vs Hollywood: the fall and rise of women in cinema

Since its inception, Hollywood has seen itself as a haven of liberalism, and it is fitting to remember how selective this righteous thinking has been. O’Hara notes that actors with disabilities are almost never visible onscreen, and when they are, are played by able-bodied people. Black actors and other ethnic minorities have rarely been able to expect three-dimensional roles. Women have too often been limited to a depiction of sex objects, while black women are doubly restricted, playing maids or characters living in poverty.

O’Hara’s tale begins with the silent film era, in which women enthusiastically participated as actors, writers, producers and stunt performers, often several at a time and with great success. Influential director-producers like Alice Guy-Blach shaped the development of early films. But when walkie-talkies arrived, filmmaking became more lucrative, and women found themselves sidelined. It has become difficult to make films unless you are married to men who could represent them in business. They were written out of movie history, and many of those early silent films have been lost.

Today, statistics on the representation of women in the Hollywood film industry remain surprisingly skewed. Only two directorial films were screened at the Venice Film Festival in 2019, compared to one film in 2018. No female director has been nominated for the 2020 Golden Globes – an award that has only ever had five female nominees and one. winner, Barbra Streisand, in 1984.

The result is an industry that favors a certain type of film and caters to uniform tastes. “War movies, crime dramas, gangster stories, biopics of great men, portraits of damaged men, struggles of men. Not just male stories, but stories about male anger and male violence,” writes O ‘ Hara, which has been the subject of much of Oscar-winning history. Accounts of female experience and female ambition are not only pushed into the background, but also, she says, stories of “men working for some kind of grace or peace.”

O’Hara lists several key tests for determining whether a film correctly describes women, the most famous of which is the Bechdel-Wallace test: Does the film feature at least two women? Do they talk to each other? And are they talking about anything other than a man?

Over 60% of Hollywood movies fail. (Variants of this test can be used to assess representation of ethnic diversity.) My favorite, however, is the so-called Sexy Lamp test. As O’Hara puts it, “Could a female character be replaced by a sexy lamp (like the famous floor lamp in A Christmas Story) without significantly impacting the plot?” Too often the answer is yes.

Women Vs. Hollywood is encyclopedic, enlightening, and passionate at the same time, and O’Hara’s scholarship and love of cinema shines everywhere. She skillfully appoints dozens of little-known producers, directors, writers and actresses, going in a way to rehabilitate them and return their names to the public domain.

Despite its frustrating content, the book ends on an upbeat note, suggesting that social media as well as movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp have loosened control of Hollywood and opened up new perspectives on how the film industry could. to improve.

O’Hara has eloquently shown that portraying the diverse scope of human experience matters not only for diversity itself, but also for the pursuit of a good story.

She herself remains a dazzled and hopeful fan of cinema. “If you really believe in the power of cinema,” she writes, “then you should want to hear a plurality of voices in your local multiplex because the chances are more that something extraordinary will happen.”

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