Film

Everything Russell Crowe Got Wrong About Women In Film

If there’s one thing I look forward to more than more women in film, it’s a middle aged white guy telling me what to think about women in film.

If there’s one thing I look forward to more than more women in film, it’s a middle aged white guy telling me what to think about women in film.

Which is why I was delighted to find that noted gender and film studies expert Russell Crowe had spoken on behalf of all women in the industry this week, in an interview with Australian Women’s Weekly. His assessment? Gender inequality in the film industry is not an issue, because he can namecheck the same two (massively talented) old chicks that everyone else namechecks — and if he doesn’t see the problem, it doesn’t exist.

“The best thing about the industry I’m in – movies – is that there are roles for people in all different stages of life,” Russell said, in the interview published online this morning. He used Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep as examples, because of course he did. “To be honest, I think you’ll find that the woman who is saying that (the roles have dried up) is the woman who at 40, 45, 48, still wants to play the ingénue, and can’t understand why she’s not being cast as the 21-year-old.”

Diversity isn’t the problem, Crowe says: the problem is women, with their uppity expectations; the problem is that “women [should] act their age”.

Nope. There Are Facts For That.

What Crowe forgot to include in his argument was any actual information. A 2013 gender diversity report ‘It’s A Man’s World’ studied on-screen representations of female characters in the top 100 films of that year, and found women only take up 30% of roles across film and television. 30% is not only less than a third, it’s also nowhere near half.

This lack of on-screen representation is neatly mirrored behind the scenes, where the New York Film Academy finds far less women directors, producers, and writers than men; in fact, there is an industry-wide ratio of 5:1. Even when women do manage to get in, they are paid less than their male counterparts. The industry will tell you there’s no problem with diversity: the film world is a meritocracy… where only white men seem to merit anything, ever.

Not only are there less women in speaking roles, but the amount of roles available shrinks drastically as they age. The “ingénue” roles Crowe refers to are the only ones readily available for women; on the flip side, the majority of male characters in film and TV are aged between their 30s (27%) and 40s (31%). That could be because we’re more likely to want to watch lead characters based on their fuckability – and the older a woman gets, as any executive will tell you, the less fuckable she becomes.

In fact, we’ve had to come up with special terms for the few women that manage to be both older, and desirable (because such an anomaly begs for classification). So comes the rise of “the cougar”, which is apparently any lady over the age of 35. (And let’s not forget The Daily Mail completely losing its shit after 50-year-old Monica Bellucci was cast as “world’s oldest Bond girl”, which sounds like the most disappointing X-Men character yet.)

Mummy Dearest?

As women age from their 20s to 30s and magically become gross hideous beasts unable to be thought of as worthy damsels or people, they’re shunted into the maternal sidelines. These (often supporting) roles offer a wealth of diversity: you can either play a warm inspirational maternal figure with no back story, or a cold inspirational maternal figure with no back story. But who needs a back story when you only exist to support the male protagonist?

Even then, Hollywood is so screwed about how women age that their casting decisions take a surreally idiotic turn. Like the one year age difference between Angelina Jolie as mother to Colin Farrel’s Alexander. Or the derpitude in Blow, where Rachel Griffith plays Johnny Depp’s mother — despite being five years younger than him.

Even if women should “act their age”, Hollywood won’t let them.

“That’s what I love about these actresses, man; I get older, they stay the same age.”

Meanwhile, male actors continue to be cast as lovers and sex interests no matter how old they are. After researching Hollywood’s top actors and their on-screen partners in 2013, Vulture found that ‘Leading Men Age, But Their Love Interests Don’t.’ That’s why the majority of female love interests in film are under 40; and a 30-year age difference betweent them and their on-screen partners is more common than you think. Allowed to age well into their 50s, men remain appealing to Hollywood, whereas women become a fetishised niche if they have the temerity to age over 35 – which, as we all know, is when our vaginas run away to a monastery.

Hilariously, Crowe argues that “If you are willing to live in your own skin, you can work as an actor. If you are trying to pretend that you’re still the young buck when you’re my age, it just doesn’t work.”

Like in his just-released film The Water Diviner, in which his 50-year-old character develops a deep unconsummated bond with the highly attractive Ayshe (played by Olga Kurylenko) — who just happens to be a good 15 years younger than him.

And here’s the punchline…

“The best thing about the industry I’m in – movies – is that there are roles for people in all different stages of life.” This is Crowe’s way of explaining that all the different stages of life — as recognised by Hollywood — are white, male and aged 30-40.

It’s tempting to think the world looks really equal when it’s weighted to give you preference. Like, for instance, if you’re white, male, rich and given the authority to do what you want by other white, rich men.

When the world is structured to shine a mirror image back at you, it’s easy to assume everyone gets by on merit and enjoys the same opportunities. The problem is, they don’t.

Amy is a Melbourne-based writer who enjoys politics, culture, social issues and the gentle art of sitting. Tweet her @_AmyGray_

New York Film Academy takes a look at gender inequality in film