Letters

Readers respond to Stephanie Zacharek's review of "Satin Rouge," ponder Christian films and discuss female directors.


Salon Staff
September 6, 2002 11:00PM (UTC)

[Read "Where Are the Female Directors?" by Michelle Goldberg.]

In response to the question (despite its rhetorical nature) I would say: Who gives a shit? Audiences don't care who directs a movie at first, as long as it's good. When a particular director establishes a reputation as a crafter of quality films, then their individual identity (not their gender) becomes important. If a few feminazis are mad that women represent only 4 percent of directors, then boo-fuckin-hoo. Write and finance your own movies and distribute them yourselves if the problem annoys you so much. Don't whine that the Man isn't sensitive to your particular sensibility.

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-- Carl Beatty

The simple fact is that there aren't many big-budget movies directed by women because women haven't really shown themselves to be good directors. Now, don't get all pissy, it's true.

Name three high-quality, universally enjoyed classic movies that a woman has directed. Where's a female director's version of "Star Wars"? "A Clockwork Orange"? "The Matrix"? "American Beauty"?

Are you going to tell me "Bridget Jones' Diary" is their answer to "Citizen Kane"?

You could argue that they just don't get the budgets to prove themselves. Well, OK, then where are the low-budget classics? Where's "Requiem for a Dream"? "Six-String Samurai"? Where's "Clerks"?

The reason women generally make poor directors is because they feel the need to make movies that exclude the male population. Maybe these female directors need to realize the hard truth about Hollywood, the same truth that male directors have known for a long time: You need to make a movie for an audience.

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Note to female directors and writers: Stop vomiting all your tangled emotions, thoughts and feelings about yourself on the screen, and instead tell a good story that men and women can both enjoy.

And maybe you too can one day be a famous director.

-- Jeffrey Turner

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As a woman cinematographer just starting to claw my way into the working world in Los Angeles, I appreciated Salon's article on women in Hollywood (or lack thereof).

One of the reasons I chose to go to the UCLA Department of New Media, Film and Television for graduate school was because the professors were completely supportive of my desire to be a director of photography. No one ever once insinuated that it's an unusual or unlikely role for a woman, and in an intense learning environment, I needed that.

I've taught a film-lighting workshop at a local high school for the past two years. Do you know how happy it makes me to hear the boys yell across the room, "Hey, Camerawoman, how do I do this?" Of course I wish there were more female students in my class, but the few that are there tackle the lighting challenges with as much muster as the boys.

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In my utopian fantasy, getting a project made will not include issues of race and gender. Really, isn't filmmaking hard enough without all that extra crap to contend with?

-- Vanessa Holtgrewe

Once again we are treated to frightening tales of "boys' clubs" and "boys' networks" as the reasons that there aren't as many female directors in Hollywood. I think it's time to learn a new song, folks.

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Why aren't there more female directors. I dunno!! What I do know is that when an influential woman in Hollywood, like Rita Wilson, exercises some of that influence, a great female-directed movie like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" becomes the sleeper hit of the summer.

Cries of sexism and racism are beginning to wear thin. As the article states, women are running major Hollywood studios. There are major actresses who pull down $20 million a picture who have their own production companies. Where are they? Why aren't they doing anything to improve this ostensibly "horrible situation"? Before continuing to screech about the evil men, take a look in the ladies' room first.

-- Jeff Stockwell

Is the U.S. culture still a sexist one?

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Take a look at France and its enviable roster of highly respected, prominent, active female directors: Claire Denis, Diane Kurys, Agnes Varda, Agnes Jaoui, Catherine Breillat, Nicole Garcia, Jeanne Labrune, Chantal Ackerman, etc. For a supposedly "macho" culture, French men seem awfully comfortable with and unthreatened by women working as film directors. Additionally, these female directors tackle subject matter beyond that normally considered fit only for so-called "women's films" or the more dreadful "chick flicks." Note, too, that actresses are given strong lead parts in films directed by men. The striking contrast in the situation for female directors and actresses between the USA and France compels one to ask:

Are they more evolved over there, or what?

-- Teresa Limjoco

Michelle Goldberg's piece on female directors certainly raised some important issues. Any film fan should be uncomfortable with the idea that Martina Scorsese is out there, unable to break into the industry due to her gender.

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The piece begs an important question, however. Is there really a Martina Scorsese out there? Most would agree that we have had at least one great female filmmaker in Leni Riefenstahl and that there are several excellent ones working now, like Mary Harron, Catherine Breillat and Agnieszka Holland. But, for whatever reason, female filmmakers rarely hit the same highs as their male counterparts, even considering that they get fewer opportunities, especially if the best female directors are the ones given those opportunities. The action directors mentioned in the article, like Kathryn Bigelow, haven't been able to put asses in seats nearly as well as, say, Michael Bay. Sure, Michael Bay's films are dogshit, but the asses love them.

Something similar applies on the artsy-fartsy circuit. The article points out that studio execs are swept up by the idea the boy wonder as exemplified by Tarantino and the Andersons and uninterested in the idea of the girl wonder. But where are the would-be girl wonders? Would anyone really put "I Shot Andy Warhol" and "American Psycho" up against "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction?"

-- Erich Schulte, Ruthlessreviews.com

I think the article showcases the biggest problem facing female directors: the assumption that women can only make movies for women. Even getting past the fact that young, middle-class males are the most lucrative market for movie houses, the stereotype that a woman can't direct non-feminine fare is outrageous. "You've Got Mail"? "Bridget Jones' Diary"? Why not consider a woman for the next Bond film? Or to save the Batman franchise? And not for any reason that she would add a "feminine touch." Isn't the point that we should exist in a gender-neutral society? That we should support a director because they are -- gasp -- good? To think that women can only speak for women is a bias itself.

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-- John Schloman

I found Michelle Goldberg's article to be timely and thought-provoking. Perhaps, groups like the First Weekend listserv can help break through the layers of sexist bias in Hollywood. Please share information with your readers about how to join this listserv.

-- Sally Tyler

In response to Michelle Goldberg's article, I would like to thank her for bringing up some very important issues. I produced a film, "Margarita Happy Hour," by female director (and single mom) Ilya Chaiken that played at Sundance and Toronto. We got great reviews but were constantly told that the film, which details the life of a rather unorthodox single mom, would be too hard to market. People did not want to take the chance on a film that dealt with real women in a thoughtful way. We wound up self-distributing and the film is currently available on video and will be on Sundance Channel in January, but it was a frustrating and demoralizing experience to see how films by women are still perceived in our society.

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-- Susan Leber

[Read Stephanie Zacharek's review of "Satin Rouge."]

Stephanie Zacharek's review lauds "Satin Rouge" as being a movie that can offer a glimpse of attitudes toward women in Islamic countries. Ms. Zacharek's review also offers a glimpse of uninformed journalists' ignorance of the diversity of said attitudes.

When Ms. Zacharek writes: "'Satin Rouge' is only partly a movie about the misogyny of Islamic culture (and there's no other word to use for a culture that would sentence a woman to death by stoning for having a child out of wedlock)," she assimilates an entire culture to the practices of a few countries.

Is Ms. Zacharek really unaware of the fact that stoning women for adultery attracts attention in Western media precisely because it is so rare? How is this remark relevant in a review about a Tunisian movie, given that -- at least the last time I heard -- stoning of adulterous women is not practiced in this country?

How would Ms. Zacharek feel about the following sentence in a review of movie made in California about the sexual experiences of a young gay man: "This movie is only partly about homophobia (and there's no other word for a culture that has laws on its books criminalizing sodomy)"? A fair representation of the USA?

-- Sigmund Toth

It is very unfortunate that, in the first paragraph of her film review, your writer could make a sweeping accusation of Islamic society as a whole based on the recent Nigerian case of stoning a woman for having a child out of wedlock. What does this have to do with the movie?

I am a Muslim and a single mother, and go back to the Middle East often, and there's not even a single rock's imprint on my very-much-alive body! Please urge your writers to refrain from making such cultural generalizations when writing a film review. Oh, and by the way, I belly dance.

-- Randa Jarrar

According to Stephanie Zacharek, "'Satin Rouge' is only partly a movie about the misogyny of Islamic culture." Thanks for throwing that disclaimer in. It's truly impressive that you were able to confirm with each and every member of Islam that we condoned that stoning. Nowhere in the Quran does it tell us to stone a woman to death for bearing children out of wedlock, but evidently only in Islam can 20, 10, even one atrocity be indicative of the entire culture.

So now can I cite your statement as proof that every American makes grossly sweeping and offensive generalizations? You might want to stand alone on that one.

-- Almaas Qaderi

I'm not sure why Stephanie Zacharek took the opportunity to slam Islam in this otherwise informative article. The religious punishment against adultery (as well as fornication) applies against both men and women, and is a corporal punishment, not capital. Even a simple search on Google would've brought that to her attention.

The way her comment is worded, why you could merely substitute a few words and slam (any political/religion/race/etc.) entity for the behavior of any one of its (members/sects/gatherings/etc.).

-- Faried Nawaz

[Read "Lights! Camera! Apocalypse!" by John Gorenfeld.]

I'm 20 years old, a born-again Christian and a huge fan of your site, so it goes without saying that I love reading these articles about the end times from a "Christian" viewpoint.

I remember a time when I first read the book of Revelation, and it reduced me to tears. I was a little 11-year-old, and I was scared shitless, and now I find that there are these filmmakers (who may or may not have talent) that are capitalizing on what seems to be mostly Christian right's fear of the unknown.

I've watched a couple of end-time/Christian movies (like no more than two) and I wasn't that impressed. For a faith system that is built on hope and redemption, I find that these are utterly faithless and have very few redeeming values.

Many of my Christian brethren will disagree with me when I say I've seen better stuff in Hollywood that deals with these issues over the last few years: "Magnolia," "Contact," "Requiem for a Dream" or "The Royal Tennenbaums." To me these have better messages than anything I could read in a "Left Behind" book or see in a movie.

True, some of these apocalyptic movies have basis in what is called Christian truth, but I seriously question how these people are going about winning people into the Kingdom of God.

God isn't about scaring people into submission. If it was about that, I would have been saying, "Fuck this, I'm out of here." Christianity is about love. God's love.

I want to see a movie from a Christian filmmaker about love. Not washed-over and sanitized love. Raw love. What love is about. And I don't want to be frightened into thinking I'm going to hell because I don't know God's love. If someone can accomplish that, then I may change my tune about the Christian film industry. Until then I'll be content watching "Boogie Nights" or "Wonder Boys" any night of the week over "Left Behind." And twice on Sunday.

-- Dan Revill

I read with great attention your recent article. As a Christian, it is saddening to see these attempts at using poor theology to make even poorer movies. There was a time when the Christian community in the West was known for devotion to Christ, knowledge and learning, contemplation, piety, and social action. I don't believe those days are gone for good. But if all that the world gets to know about Jesus Christ is the bad movies of his followers, it is not any surprise that people see no reason not to reject him as savior and Lord.

While it is clear the author of the article finds these filmmakers interesting in a "kooky" way, as a Christian I do not find them as humorous. Those making these movies would be better served spending their time becoming more devoted to Christ, and their money advancing the kingdom of God by helping the hungry, the homeless, and those who have no hope. A great article to point to the failure of serious Christian interaction with the arts. We can do better and I pray we will.

-- Christopher Morton

I enjoyed your recent article on low-budget Christian filmmaking. The article mentioned that these films have had less success in the mainstream than some of their crossover music and book counterparts. What the majority of Christians -- and Christian filmmakers -- seem to forget is that in order for a piece of pop entertainment to become a hit, it needs to be entertainment first and witnessing tract second, not vice versa. While not revolutionary high art, musical acts like P.O.D. and Dashboard Confessional are basically just musicians that happen to be believers, not Christian musicians, and are thus treated fairly by the public. If these filmmakers ever hope to succeed in winning similar mass popularity, they'll need to learn to stop beating their audiences over the head with their own sin and giving them what it is they actually want to see: a movie, not a sermon.

-- Peter Suderman

I confess that I really don't see the appeal of post-rapture books and movies. Most agnostics are skeptical about the existence of god(s) because of the lack of evidence that he/she/it/they exist. If Jerry Falwell, John Ashcroft, Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, Trent Lott, Dick Armey and any number of other right-wing crackpots all vanished at the exact same time, I think that those of us "Left Behind" would all heartily agree on the existence of an extremely powerful (not to mention extremely benevolent) God. What kind of dramatic tension is left at that point?

-- Frank Probst

I couldn't stop giggling. My thanks to Gorenfeld for watching these so I don't have to.

-- Margaret Moser


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