“There is a concept that still exists – decades later – that male themes are universal, and appeal to everybody. Women’s concerns (or themes) appeal only to women and they are separate from human, universal concerns that men deal with, and you see that played out in movies.”
These are the words of long-time stage and screen New York actress, and Second-Wave feminist Nancy LeRoy.
I had the fabulous opportunity to speak with Nancy, and glean from her thoughts as it pertained to the variety.com article which lists the winners of the Women in Film Foundation’s Film Finishing Fund. This lists detailed femalefilmmakers whose films covered a cross section of themes; both “female oriented”, and some others telling stories beyond these themes. I was quite intrigued. Are we seeing women filmmakers moving away from the “female oriented stories”?
Being quite active in feminist causes throughout the 70s and the 80s, Nancy worked with me, through out our conversation, to look beyond the concept I termed; “female oriented themes / stories”.
“Women are intelligent human beings” She asserted. In Nancy’s mind’s eye, the real issue is that women get more opportunities to make films, period, regardless of what story they choose to tell.
She cited the success of the Kristen Wig movie Bridesmaids. Men had always been viewed at being successful at this type of film, Nancy informed me, then a woman proved that it could be executed, and be quite profitable. Nancy also directed my attention to the NYTimes.com article which highlighted Selma director Ava DuVernay. The article shines a light on DuVernay and ““a small sorority” of black female filmmakers, who are part of another modest American sisterhood: female directors of any color.” The Selma film, deals with politics and history, with a male lead. It has received accolades in the Hollywood community, and has been added to the “Oscar-Watch List”. We also talked about Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, about a male solider, World War II POW, and Olympian, as well as Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. It was here that Nancy mentioned, that although Ms. Jolie maybe in a position to fund her own films (and not require the assistance of WIFF) it is important for women to get more involved with letting their own stories be told – whatever it is – as women are “intelligent human beings”, as a whole. “The problem” Nancy underlined “is that they (women) haven’t been allowed to bring it (their stories) to the stage till now.” “Women bring a lot to humanity.” She continued. Therefore in her opinion, their themes can be just as universal as their male counterparts.
Apart from female filmmakers obtaining more opportunities to pursue their craft as “intelligent human beings”, I was also curious regarding what female audiences looked for in their movies? Do they purposely seek out movies containing “female oriented themes”?
Nancy shared in our conversation that she didn’t necessarily believe women sought out films based on whether they contained “female themes”, or not. In response to whether she thought female audiences were expectantly looking out for female oriented stories at the box office, Nancy responded; “They’re not thinking about it.” Still Nancy celebrated Tommy Lee Jones film, The Homesman. She looks forward to observing how Hilary Swank’s character, and roles of the other women are portrayed. Nancy appreciates that women are bravely taking on these roles on film, to display the woman’s perspective. Reese Witherspoon’s Wild is another film Nancy eagerly looks forward to viewing. She praises these two films, and sees them as current movies which depicts the female experience well.
When I approached the subject with Washington, DC female filmmaker, Eulonda Kay Lea, she confirmed Nancy’s point and informed me that she does not seek out films based on whether the theme centered around women or not. For Eulonda, though it would be great to see more movies with strong female lead characters, she believes that a good movie is about a good story whether the chief character or the story theme is centered around a particular sex. In her recent feature length screenplay, French Onion Soup, with a male lead, Eulonda explores the dynamic of varying and unexpected relationships in the face of personal challenging circumstances.
With the rise of women moviemakers producing films beyond female centered stories, I began to wonder whether this meant the decline of female issues being addressed on film. DC metro area actress, Stephanie Glass shared with me that; “If female oriented stories are lessening on film, then half of society’s population will not be represented fully.” She also believes, “Female filmmakers should not be charged with the sole responsibility for producing female oriented stories. Mainstream media producers should be held accountable for producing stories with themes representative of more subsets of society in general.”
This links back to “the concept” Nancy LeRoy mentioned at the top of this piece. It appears that we are beginning to gradually move toward dissolving the notion that women’s topics, or issues are not universal.