Category Archives: movies

Stumbling Toward Diversity

Pop culture doesn’t reflect the diversity of day-to-day life in America, especially in urban centers. Lena Dunham’s new series “Girls” on HBO — so wonderfully, awkwardly realistic when it comes to depicting bad job interviews, the vagaries of friendship, and bad sex — flails like a dying fish when dealing with race. Its world is so homogeneous that the show would be more accurately titled “White Girls.” NBC’s “The Office,” set in Scranton, PA, is more ethnically-mixed than Dunham’s Brooklyn; so is the Seattle of ABC’s “Gray’s Anatomy,” which led the charge with color-blind casting in 2005. According to the New York Times:

 “Grey’s Anatomy” has differentiated itself by creating a diverse world of doctors – almost half the cast are men and women of color – and then never acknowledging it. …

When Ms. Rhimes wrote the pilot, she didn’t specify the characters’ ethnicities, so her casting process was wide open: Mr. Washington, who once played a gay Republican in Spike Lee’s “Get on the Bus,” was nearly cast in the role played by Patrick Dempsey, who is white; his Dr. Burke was to be played by a white actor who was forced to drop out at the last moment. Ms. Rhimes imagined “The Nazi” as a “tiny, adorable blond person with lots of ringlets,” until Chandra Wilson walked through the door (“I thought it was endearing,” Ms. Wilson said of her part. “Endearing as the word ‘Nazi’ can be.”). And even though some network executives assumed Ms. Oh’s hypercompetitive character would be white, Ms. Rhimes did not – in the pilot’s script she wasn’t even given a last name – so all it took was one “fabulous” audition from the “Sideways” star to christen the character Cristina Yang. …

Ms. Rhimes has also worked hard to extend diversity to her show’s smallest roles. Determined not to have a program in which “all the extras are white, except the lone janitor,” she has created one of the most colorful backgrounds in television, a hospital in which punked-out bike messengers and suffering Hasidim roam the corridors. “Shonda’s only rule is drug dealers and pimps cannot be black,” said Dr. Zoanne Clack, a black writer for the show who also practices medicine. Even the episodic roles – a gay African-American, a young Hispanic couple – are multicultural.

Rhimes’s choices of seven years ago were bold but incredibly successful. Why haven’t they been replicated? After all, following the enormous impact of Twilight, Young Adult bookshelves exploded with copy-cat novels about vampires and virgins and the occult in general, and one fully expects “Mommy Porn” to become its own genre in the near future now that Fifty Shades of Grey has sold 3 million paperback copies in April alone.

One answer is that Rhimes, as an auteur, breathes rarefied air. Like other writer-directors/producers — a talented but small and exclusive fraternity that includes Alan Ball, Joss Whedon, Matthew Weiner, David Chase, and David Simon — she has an unusual amount of creative control over her finished product. If diversity is a priority for her, she can make it happen. Dunham, as this frat’s newest pledge, is still trying to figure out what her priorities are, and some of them are stellar, like being funny and worth watching. As Jenna Wortham of the Hairpin writes, part of the reason that “Girls” has become a lightning rod for the frustration that people of color don’t get to see their experiences reflected on screen is because it “is actually good. It gets So. Many. Things. Right. It’s on point again and again, hitting at the high and low notes about being in your twenties ….”

Dunham prioritizes reflecting her own life experiences and those of her friends in an authentic, engaging way, and apparently this is her world: part Jewish, part WASP-y, and overall fifty shades of pale. She is hardly unique in having a friend circle that reflects her own heritage, although she may be the first well-known person to be publicly shamed for it. Salamishah Tillet in the Nation points out that this larger issue needs to be addressed, since many of us live segregated social lives, and it affects us whether we realize it or not.

Still, we can sympathize with Dunham’s choice to remain true to [her] life and simultaneously be disappointed, because it implies that Dunham, for all her creativity, ambition, wit, and skill, lacks imagination. How hard is it, after all, asks Sarah Seltzer in the NYT, to at last break free of the traditional paradigm where “Characters written as racially neutral (or even as nonwhite) are virtually always cast as white even though movie-watchers and TV watchers of all backgrounds will search for a mirror, an entrance point, among the faces they see on screen.”

Dunham is far from the only auteur, though, with this failing; as Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic points out, why should a 24-year-old just starting out be blamed for not diversifying media when the problem is a systematic one? Judd Apatow is one of Hollywood’s most successful producer-writer-directors. He’s prolific, too: a typical year finds him involved in 2-4 high-profile projects in one capacity or another. And he’s not afraid to take risks, including, most recently, working with newbie Dunham to bring “Girls” to the screen. Yet no film of his has had a single leading character that Joey Drayton would have to think twice about bringing home to her parents. (Unless Tracy and Hepburn have a problem with emotionally-stunted man-children.) The few non-white characters in Superbad, Knocked Up, Pineapple Express, and the others in his stable, even 40 Year Old Virgin — featuring Apatow’s most diverse cast and his smartest script — exist on the fringes of the story and are there mainly for comic effect.

His most recent foray into relationship comedy, Five Year Engagement, which I recently reviewed with writer Adam Freelander for the Billfold, wastes the talents its few non-white actors by rendering them as depressing stereotypes: the bespectacled, socially-awkward Asian guy, the dick-obsessed black man, and Mindy Kaling, who, as Adam puts it, plays “Mindy Kaling, which is technically not an ethnic stereotype, though I’m concerned it soon will be.” The movie’s inability to deal with race in any kind of sophisticated way distracts from its otherwise poignant, interesting exploration of real-life problems.

Is it better, ultimately, to write minority characters, even when you end up making an ass of yourself, or should you stick to what you know at the expense of relegating minorities to the margins, if you remember to include them at all? Put simply: Try and maybe fail, or don’t try?

Unfortunately, as long as “don’t try” is an option, too many filmmakers and showrunners will quail at the prospect of doing it wrong and getting criticized and will revert to what feels easier. We need a sustained outcry against having movie after movie and TV show after show that is as white as a “New Yorker” cartoon. This is not about Lena Dunham; this is about our culture, and how much more we will all benefit from color-blind casting in our media and, hopefully, in our lives. Studios needs to stop considering it an option to have a totally vanilla cast, or one that pretends to be a sundae just because it has a couple of sprinkles here and there. Producers need to insist on better minority characters, and to recruit minority writers, directors, and producers to help them and their staffs see around their blind spots. Everyone will be better for it.

And writers, have a little courage! Expand your boundaries. Good faith efforts are often rewarded, especially as long as the quality is there. Just ask Shonda Rhimes, whose show was just renewed for a ninth season. Channel the advice of one memorable minority character from a 1977 classic: “Do or do not. There is no ‘try.'”


ETA: Cross-posted to Huff Po here.

Ten Alternatives to “Love, Actually”

My deep antipathy to “Love, Actually” stretches back to the first night I saw it — with friends in college, while I was our school newspaper’s film critic. We borrowed a car to drive to the suburban multiplex and ran out of gas on the way home. We split up so some of us could stay with the vehicle, and others of us could hike to a gas station and back with a bright red plastic jug, and we all swore not to tell the car’s owner what had happened — and that experience was vastly more memorable than the film itself.

That is to say: I didn’t like the movie then, even though I went in with high hopes (Colin Firth! Emma Thompson!). Now, because it has been canonized into something like a Christmas classic and everyone keeps talking about it like it’s some kind of puppy with a bow around its neck, even smart people on sites I adore, I think it should be fucked in the ass with a toilet plunger.

Here are ten far better alternatives to enjoy this holiday season:


1) WHEN HARRY MET SALLY. The original contemporary romantic comedy where everything pivotal happens over Christmas and New Years. (Just like in real life!) It’s smart and insightful and rueful and funny; Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan have the kind of chemistry together that makes you root for them to join the crew of old marrieds whose interviews pop up over the course of the film.

2) THE APARTMENT. Billy Wilder knows what’s up. His version of a mid-century NYC Christmas is about drinking, manipulation, bad jobs, worse sexual choices, unrequited love, suicidal ideation, and card games played at pivotal moments — just like the rest of the year, in fact, only more so. When the two flawed but precious main characters, played by Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacClaine, end up finding love and even redemption, we know that they’ve really earned it.

3) THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Before Tim Burton went all CGI-crazy on us and got so involved in his toys that he forgot how to be creative, he gave the world this all-singing, all-dancing, all-Claymation bonanza. A totally creepy and fabulous holiday classic.

4) DIE HARD. An intelligent action movie with a feminist subplot and a delightfully German villain played by Alan Rickman. This movie puts the “pop” in pop culture AND popcorn movie; it is entertainment the way it should be done.

5) Tie: SCROOGED and BRAZIL.  Both of these movies scared the shit out of me when I first saw them — in the best possible way. Who’s more of a genius at darkness, Bill Murray or Terry Gilliam? Now that’s a question for the ages.



6) Tie: THE WEST WING Christmas episodes “Noel” from Season 2 and “Holy Night” from Season 4. Two Jewish guys, Josh and Toby, against the background of a holiday they don’t celebrate, get to show us what they’re made of — courage, intelligence, bitterness, vulnerability — and Aaron Sorkin gives them some of the best writing from the entire show to do it.

7) THE SIMPSONS’ very first Christmas episode, “Simpsons Roasting on a Open Fire,” featuring Santa’s Little Helper and Bart’s inspired tattoo.

8) THE OFFICE’s first Christmas episode pulls on my heartstrings so hard I always fear they’ll snap. Jim quietly tries to express his feelings for Pam via a gift that is misappropriated in a “Yankee Swap.”

9) 30 ROCK “Christmas Special.” Bring Elaine Stritch into anything and it immediately becomes 9o times better than anything Richard Curtis could do. Sorry, Dick. Them’s the breaks.

10) THE OC, “Chrismukkah,” again from Season One. Seth Cohen (Adam Brody, who is no less cute for being like 31) celebrates his family’s made up holiday in one of the most enjoyable eps from a highly enjoyable show’s one and only good season.


There. You’re welcome. You have no excuse to open up that cloying box of nonsense that is “Love, Actually” ever again.

What Makes You Cry

Recently, some friends and I faced an important choice, one approached soberly and with purpose by millions of people across this great country of ours: the Descendants or the Muppets? Most people chose the Muppets, a reportedly sweet reviving of the old-school franchise, which is cool, but the new Alexander Payne tragicomedy, wherein a wealthy man must deal with the dissolution of his family, also did respectable business.

According to the newly-posted Top Ten lists of the Most Important Davids In the Universe, Denby and Edelstein, we made the right decision. Indeed, I was entertained by the film, though I agreed with the Slate Culture Gabfest that it had its perplexing points and that George Clooney’s role was both miscast and underwritten. I enjoyed watching Clooney because, you know, I have eyes, but I didn’t believe the set up (that guy is a cuckolded workaholic lawyer? Come on) and then I most certainly didn’t buy the halfhearted resolution of the land deal.

But what really struck me is that I didn’t cry. Not even a little.

Shortly thereafter, though, I was at the gym re-watching, for the nth time and on my iPhone’s little screen, “Once More With Feeling,” and I was crying so hard I had to keep wiping my face with the locker room towel. Are you bemused by that? I am. My life feels so topsy-turvy these days that a mom dying in a hospital leaves me tepid, while I am reduced to bawling on a treadmill by the 10-year-old emotional turmoil of a scrappy teenage girl. And not just any girl: a BLONDE. (As another brunette once asked Liz Lemon, “Don’t you know there’s a war on?”)

Mr. Ben and I are moving slowly, steadily toward buying — and then moving into — our first apartment. It’s not much, but it’s ours, or, well, hopefully it will be. Meanwhile, everyone in my office is tense and working overtime. I am about to deliver my first draft of my manuscript to my literary agent. (One of the essays I wrote in Virginia has already been published in Bluestem; another is due out in Phoebe in January.) Big things are happening to my friends. I’ve barely had time to blog. Hopefully, in the new year, everything will be a little calmer, a little simpler, but no less fun. Here’s hoping.

“Oh, loverboy!”

This is not a good time to be asking people for money and, um, that’s my job. Earlier this week, a woman flat-out laughed at me. I imagined her with a scotch in one hand and a gun in the other.

So I think it’s a good week to do things other than work. Like think about the fantastic Dirty Dancing, which I just saw for the first time in a theater as part of a Jezebel / Abortion Access Fund event. The screenwriter-producer Eleanor Bergstein came to encourage us all to take risks, as people and as artists, and, when we put controversial events in our commercial movies, to make them impossible to remove.

“I’m so sorry,” Lipman told the acne cream company that was willing to sponsor Dirty Dancing, as long as the illegal abortion — which, in the film, has near-tragic repercussions — was removed. “It’s the linchpin of the story. Nothing would make any sense if it were removed.” The acne cream bowed out, the film was released regardless, and it became an international success.

“Always make it the linchpin,” she instructed us. “That way you can’t cave to pressure even if part of you wants to out of fear.”

Fun facts about Dirty Dancing:

* Like Wet Hot American Summer, this is a movie about Jews that never explicitly says it’s about Jews.

* During filming, the seasons changed, so the crew had to spray-paint the leaves on the trees green.

* Jennifer Grey was 27 during filming and Patrick Swayze was 35.

* The crawling-on-the-floor dance scene was improvised

* Sarah Jessica Parker and Val Kilmer were considered for the lead roles

* It won an Oscar (Best Song)

* There are like 15 plotlines going on. That’s pretty ambitious for a movie about school kids on vacation with their family.

* Some folks don’t like this movie. (I know, right?)

* I didn’t see it all the way through until I was 27 myself because my proto-feminist high school self caught a glimpse of it on TV and was insulted by the fact that the main female character was called “Baby.” Little did I realize that that was intentional — that the film was about the infantilization of women. Her liberal, well-meaning parents named her Frances after the first woman in the cabinet but then called her Baby! What could be a better example of the mixed messages affluent white girls received in the mid-20th century? Go to college but then marry some Ivy Leaguer and be content raising his children. Read and think, but not too much or no one will want you. And so on.

* Of course, the movie is also about class, back-alley abortions, and how people in 1963 would look if they had 1980s hair and dressed like they were on their way to a Jane Fonda aerobics class. (See above re: plotlines.)

It’s too bad Eleanor Bergstein didn’t write more movies because this one really is near perfect for what it is. Why would anyone try to remake it? What could they possibly add?

A Little Frivolity

What with all the growing up around these parts lately, my brain feels pretty fried. The growing up is not over, either — or rather the acting grown up, on the assumption that, like faith, if you act as though you have maturity, maturity will be given ye. We are looking at real estate. Yeah, that’s right, REAL estate, and it is called that for a reason. (Um, because it is real? I’m only guessing.)

There’s a great, affordable condo in a house in Sunset Park with its own garden and so many bathrooms every one of you could come over and use one at the same time. It’s close to the park (that view!), close to the subway (the R train counts as subway, right?), pretty, and well-kept.

There’s another great place on the fringe of Ditmas Park that’s even cheaper because it’s on the wrong side of the tracks. How much do the tracks matter? That has yet to be determined. The apartment itself is really lovely, recently renovated by its artist owners, and it just feels great — lots of good juju there. Prospect Park isn’t far away, and neither is Courtelyou with all those white-people amenities like coffeehouses and bagel shops, brunch places and farmer’s markets, that Sunset Park lacks.

For more money, there are smaller-but-nice places with gardens in Park Slope I’m checking out this week. There’s even one place close to where are now in our price range. What has made it affordable when all other local apartments are hundreds of thousands dollars more? I can’t wait to find out!

All this has made me equal parts excited and exhausted, and I can’t wait to say “Fuck this shit, I’m going to Montana,” just like the New York Times advised all of you to do this past weekend. Come stay with us! We’re renting part of a house while we’re in East Glacier and you can totally sleep on the couch.

Til then, I’m distracting myself with frivolous thoughts. Like, Mila Kunis or Natalie Portman?

Battle of the Tiny Jewesses

Mila Kunis, right, by a long shot? Natalie strikes me as being forced and stiff on camera. Though apparently millions find her sexy, I found her attempt to portray a stripper in Closer pretty horrifying. Whereas Mila radiates warmth and intelligence, as the reviews of Friends with Benefits attest.

What about Mila Kunis or Emma Stone? That’s really hard. I think I’d go with Emma Stone, who is also a charming presence on screen and is apparently livening up Crazy, Sexy, Love in theaters everywhere; it’s pretty early in both women’s careers to say definitively, though. Emma Stone or Amy Adams is also  hard (battle of the comedic redheads). I’d probably have to go with Amy because she’s been around being consistently good for a longer time. Thanks to her, I even enjoyed Enchanted. But the fact that it’s even kind of close already speaks really highly of Ms. Stone.

Clearly, when I go to the writer’s retreat later this fall at VCCA, this is what I should write about. This is my very first writer’s retreat, by the way! The idea of getting to spend two weeks in the idyllic-looking town of Amherst, Virginia — a name that strikes me as a being something of a contradiction in terms, like jumbo shrimp, but never mind — working on a manuscript in the company of other keyboardists is so blissful that I want to go RIGHT NOW.

I will contain myself. Glaciers first. No, house-hunting first, then glaciers, then keyboardist camp. But it is so nice to have things to look forward to.

Why O Why Don’t I Love “Paris”?

My take on the new Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris is up on The Film Experience:

“I understand the impulse to make ourselves hoarse praising the man. After all, we’re talking about Woody Allen, auteur extraordinaire, Oscar-winner, redefiner of comedy, granddaddy to a thousand less-talented copy-cat narcissists. He’s so prolific he probably doesn’t even remember making one of my favorites of his films, the wistful and imaginative Purple Rose of Cairo. (Such small, delightful movies are often called “gems,” which confuses me as gems come in all sizes; in fact, a woman I know recently received one that may weigh more than she does. But that’s neither here nor there.)

Friends, a mediocrity is a mediocrity, whether it comes from Shakespeare or Dan Brown. Why do we insist on grading Woody Allen on a curve?”

Read more here.

Fame! I’m gonna live forever!



Glorious actresses graphic via NR

Film Experience emperor Nathaniel R. has shined the “Reader’s Spotlight” on me and I am now famous throughout the land. Behold, my splendor:

“Imagine yourself as supreme empress of the cinema. What would you do?
I would…

  • + Declare a moratorium on anything to do with superheros, vampires, or superhero vampires. (Exceptions may be given for pre-adolescent Swedish vampires and Lisbeth Salander.) Sequels would have to be justified in a five-page paper about what their purpose is beside the making of more money to be spent on more sequels.
  • + Have Pixar lead workshops on Film 101 that are mandatory for any director, writer, or producer whose movies score in the red on Rotten Tomatoes or MetaCritic.
  • + Take away all of Tim Burton’s CGI toys.
  • + Double the budget of Focus Features (and appoint myself to their development department).
    + Bench Michael Bay and divert his money to Amy Pascal to produce several strong, smart, female-driven comedies.”


There’s more, including my thoughts on what Tarantino does better than anyone else, “When Harry Met Sally,” and red-headed women. He also asked who’d write the movie of my life (Tamara Jenkins) and who would play me in it (what’s that little girl from Curly Sue doing these days?) though that part of the Q&A didn’t make the cut. Check out what did here. And thanks again, Nathaniel!

Maiden America: Virgins in Film, 2010

True Grit and Black Swan have, superficially, not much in common. One is a blackly humorous Western where men shoot at each other, and at cornbread, with little provocation. The other is a ballet melodrama of the old school where most of the violence is self-inflicted.

One is literary & masterful; the other is (almost) camp.

One is funny; the other is — well, also funny. Certainly it makes its critics hilarious.

I enjoyed both to varying degrees but I recently realized that they do have a very interesting theme in common. They’re about virgins. What are virgins capable of? Can they be taken seriously, by men, as avengers? How about as artists?

In True Grit the two main male characters, played beautifully by Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges, don’t know what to make of Mattie, the 14-year-old heroine who comes to them for help in tracking down her father’s killer. She’s too old to be a child and yet she’s not fuckable either — she’s called ugly at one point, and she wears her father’s over-sized clothes. Her in-between status unsettles them. Matt Damon’s character, the blustering Texas ranger, tries to solve the problem one way or the other: he turns her over and spanks her. She refuses to react like a child. Though humiliated, she refuses to cry, and by continuing to act like an adult — albeit an unfuckable one — she earns the respect of both men.

In Black Swan, which is much sillier and more over-the-top, the question seems to be, Can a virgin make art? Does a woman need to be sexually experienced to portray depth of emotion on stage? This is funny to me since I consider ballet to be profoundly unsexy, but here it’s a real dilemma. Nina (Natalie Portman’s character) is hemmed in on one side by a mother who infantilizes her and on the other side by a creepy French ballet teacher who sticks his tongue down her throat and tells her to touch herself, or she won’t be able to dance the starring role.

Once you start looking for virgins in 2010, you see them everywhere. The teenage daughters in The Kids Are All Right and Please Give (two of my favorite movies of the year so far) both gave earnest, moving performances; the teenage daughter in, and heroine of, Winter’s Bone, another of my favorites, was the raw force that propelled that film forward to its resolution, which is almost unwatchable, except you can’t look away. There was no vanity in any of those performances, or in those of Hailee Steinfeld or Natalie Portman. And that is pretty impressive.

More impressive: Their virtue isn’t introduced only to be overthrown, in the manner of American Pie or similar. You could argue, in a way, that — SPOILER ALERT! — Nina even dies to preserve hers. The sexuality of these young women isn’t the focus of any of the films; largely, in fact, it’s incidental, which is no small feat in Hollywood. Only Nina is really the subject of the male gaze, and it kind of — SPOILER ALERT AGAIN! — kills her. Through penetration, of course. The Freudians probably have been having a field day with that movie.

Jewish Christmas

As far as I’m concerned, the holiday season has already begun. My email inbox at work looks like Target on a Sunday afternoon, while the only phone call I’ve gotten has been from a guy in Ghana. In a couple hours, the office closes completely.

In terms of seasonal semiotics, I’m set. Boston got coated in snow while I was there for a multi-day conference, and last night, my friend Logan and I toured the famously — and egregiously — ornate neighborhood decorations of Dyker Heights.

All presents for Russian Christmas, to be observed this year on Sunday the 26th, are bought. They require only ribbons.

But before we get to the beets-and-vodka version of this holiday’s celebration with the family in Westchester, we have to make it through Actual Christmas Eve and Actual Christmas Day in Brooklyn. Which means deciding between:

OPTION I: X-MAN: A True Grit and Fighter double-header.
PROS: Great acting. Or, at least, great-looking guys acting tough.
CONS: Too much testosterone can make hair sprout in odd places.

OPTION II: XX-MAS: Tiny Furniture and Black Swan
PROS: Spending time with the ladies. Body image issues engendered by one will be canceled out by the other.
CONS: That would be a lot of obsession for one holiday.


OPTION III: XXX-MAS: Love and Other Drugs and I Love You, Phillip Morris.
PROS: Beautiful naked people doing what beautiful naked people do best.
CONS: The movies are supposed to be flawed, even if the bodies on screen aren’t.

Things I Loved and Forgot

It can be such a thrill to rediscover something one lost sight of, for whatever reason. The Film Experience blog, for example, provides an oh-so-useful list of the films of 2010 grouped into categories like “Don’t Miss,” “Recommended with Reservations,” and “Make It Stop.”

According to Rogers’s list, cross-checked against the Indie Spirit Awards results, the most important films I haven’t seen yet are Black Swan, Blue Valentine, and Rabbit Hole. And I don’t have to feel bad about missing Alice in Wonderland and Iron Man 2! What a relief.

Still, get set for a tear-soaked holiday season, y’all! Maybe I’ll blow off all those movies and just re-watch Babies, which is basically one long YouTube video capturing the cuteness that transpires when small people with big eyes and no motor skills play with things (rocks; cats; goats; their siblings).

Not listed, presumably because Rogers hasn’t seen them yet: True Grit and Love and Other Drugs, both of which I’m curious about if only for the glimpses of little Gyllenhaal.

Speaking of films, a site called Jon’s Ego printed an argument against the Bechdel test (which I call “the Ms. Test for Movies“). It’s simply explained this way:

all credit belongs to A. Bechdel, friends, for this brilliant 3-part movie test:

1) Is there more than one female character? If so,
2) do the female characters talk, and if so,
3) about anything other than men?

You would be amazed at how many movies don’t pass this test. Good movies. Great movies, even — go ahead, count.

I don’t think you need to self-flagellate over this, for what it’s worth. A movie can flunk the Ms. Test — I mean, the Liz Wallace via DTWOF and Ms. Test — and still be quality. But for what it’s worth, one of the reasons I’ve never been crazy about Scorsese is that virtually none of his movies pass the LWVDTWOFAMT Test. It’s all-macho-all-the-time with Marty, with the glorious exception of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, which you could say is the only Scorsese movie he’s only made once and which almost no one talks about.

Is it so hard to have women be real people in good movies? I mean, even master-of-macho, Russell-Crowe-worshipping Ridley Scott hasThelma and Louise AND Alien on his resume.

But Jon’s Ego has a problem:

I hate the Bechdel Test. It seriously annoys me every time I see it brought up and used as proof of sexism in movies (Even when they’re used by esteemed coworkers of mine. Sorry, Rachel!). Hollywood is clearly filled with sexism but the Bechdel Test proves nothing. …
let’s try something else. Think of a movie that has a female main character. I’m not talking ensemble piece here. This has to be a clearly defined main character who is a woman. Now do an inverse Bechdel Test about the male characters. Does it pass? I’m gonna guess it doesn’t. Does that mean that that movie is sexist against men? Of course not.

Jon seems like a good guy, and I don’t mean to get all patriarchy-blaming on his ass, but he’s pulling a total Limbaugh here. First of all, his main evidence is that he’s “gonna guess” that if flipped on its head the rule will still apply — i.e., in a movie featuring a clearly-defined female lead, there will not be a substantive conversation between two male characters. I’m gonna guess he didn’t spend five minutes thinking that through. There are always prominent men in movies, even female-driven ones. And they always talk.

Check out IMDB’s Top 250 list. You may notice that you have to scroll before you find a film that even fits Jon’s criteria, which to his credit he acknowledges is a problem. Depending on your point of view, the first entry is either Psycho (#24, which, btw, is bullshit — that should be in the top 10) or Silence of the Lambs (#27). Either way, both of those films also feature very prominent male characters, characters who have, in fact, arguably juicier roles than the ostensible female leads.

If you want to be more orthodox about his rules, we can keep going til we get to Amelie (#45) which is beyond debate a movie centered around a woman. Even there, the male characters have conversations with each other about things other than women. In French, sure, but that still counts. Or Pan’s Labyrinth (#74 — also bullshit; that movie is amazing), where the only thing dudes are gossiping about is fascism.

He can’t be thinking of “Sex and the City,” since he specifically says he doesn’t mean ensemble pieces. Even if you were to consider “Sex and the City” as a counter-point, though, I’d argue that, as a 25-minute TV show starring four women or a movie based on same, it’s a very different kettle of fish. Men are shortchanged in the show and the movies alike, sure, but sitcoms involve time and narrative constraints unimaginable to most filmmakers.

No, Jon’s “guess” is plain wrong. The fact that, in the entire top 100 list, there are maybe five films where it’s arguable a woman is THE lead character — and male characters outnumber female characters in just about every film by about four to one — is all the information you need to call Hollywood sexist. The Bechdel/ Ms. test helps make that clear in a straight-forward, accessible way. It’s not an indictment, but it’s a fair and a useful tool.