In the September issue of Red Magazine, the talented Kirsten Dunst is featured. To accompany her interview, the magazine has included snippets from people- writers, directors, designers- with whom the actress has worked. One such quote is from Hossein Amini, the writer and director of ‘The Two Faces of January’, in which Dunst starred. He praises her role in the film, noting her character Collette could have easily remained ‘flimsy wife material’, but she made the protagonist ‘more three- dimensional’.
To me, this appraisal is problematic. Amini wrote ‘The Two Face of January’- it was completely within his power and I’m sure talents, to create a complex, multifaceted character. And yet,whilst recognising that his portrayal of Collette was ‘flimsy’, Amini did nothing to create more depth for the character. Instead, the role remained as so many female roles do, the perennial victim, the girlfriend character who merely serves as the beautiful partner for the male protagonist. Amani’s other characters within the film, played by Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac, have drive and determination, they have a purpose outside of their relationship with another character, a trait not gifted to Collette. Similarly, in a review for Simon Pegg and Rosamund Pike’s new film ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’, Pegg’s character is described at length- his likes, his dislikes, his career, his secret passions The latter is given only one line: ‘Pike plays his girlfriend’.
According to the New York Film Academy, only 30.8 per cent of speaking characters in the top 200 films between 2007 and 2012 were women, and only 10.7 per cent of films featured a balanced cast of both genders. It seems madness that in a time where over half of all tickets sold for film screenings in the US were to women, that we don’t have the opportunity to see ourselves being fairly depicted onscreen. I regularly watch a film or TV programme where I cringe at the shallow depiction of the female characters. The hilarious and talented Mindy Kaling talks about this in her wonderful book ‘Is Everyone Hanging
Out Without Me?’ (Which you are seriously missing out on if you haven’t already read, by the way) She talks about the types of women who reside in the film world who don’t exist in real life. These include The Klutz, The Woman Who Is Obsessed With Her Career And Is No Fun At All, The Forty-Two Year Old Mother Of The Thirty Year Old Male Lead and The Skinny Woman Who is Beautiful and Toned But Also Gluttonous and Disgusting. I would like to add to these any woman who appears in a Judd Apatow film. Look, I love an Apatow film as much as the next girl (any film with copious amounts of Paul Rudd in is always good with me), but in his films there are only two types of women, both as stereotypical as each other. We have the nagging wife (weirdly, usually played by Apatow’s actual wife) and the slutty young woman (think Megan Fox in This is 40). Interestingly, in the same NYFA survey, 26.2 per cent of women get partially naked in films compared with 9.4 per cent of men. Perhaps this skewed depiction of women, naked and ready to titillate men, has something to do with 95 per cent of women experiencing some form of street harassment while going about their everyday lives (according to stopthestreetharassment.com).
I recently went on a date with seemingly normal, nice guy. But almost as soon as I greeted him I faced a series of sexist ‘jokes’ about the many things women can’t do. Now I love comedy, and I love to laugh, but to me, this just wasn’t that funny, or true. When I objected, his response was that he had just been watching ‘Anger Management’, and Sheen’s humour must have rubbed off on him. And suddenly I wasn’t so surprised. In my opinion, the female characters in ‘Anger Management’ are grossly stereotyped and flimsily written (perhaps with the exclusion of Smith), and seemingly, all of them can’t wait to jump into bed with Sheen, no matter what crudeness he throws at them. As website ‘The A.V. club’ notes, the female roles seem to exist only in the group mind of a sitcom writers’ room- they’re written like a man. If someone watches a lot of this type of humour, is it any wonder if they repeat it, expecting the same response the women on the show give to Sheen?
There are so many different types of women in the world, those who are funny, clever, independent, resourceful, hardworking and kind. I have never met any woman who is simply a nag or a slut. I would love to see women that I recognise on the big screen, a woman who is allowed to have complexity and depth. A woman who yes, may be vulnerable, but can also stand up for herself, and who doesn’t always need a man. The demand is there, as proven by the popularity of shows like ‘Orange is the New Black’, a fantastic, female heavy programme, where the characters are interesting, multi-faceted and witty. I hope that with the rise of incredible talents like Lena Dunham and the aforementioned Mindy Kaling, the depiction of women will become more honest and well rounded. Because who better to write about women than a woman?