Our choices are illuminating. This is true on a personal level, as well as collectively. Since the height of the #MeToo movement some are under the impression that things are changing in Hollywood. Last night’s big Oscar winners are more evidence that very little has changed in Movieland.
The Oscar for Best Picture went to Green Book, a story about two men, in which women, for the most part, are simply part of the background. This was not the first time the Academy chose a story about two men (e.g. The King’s Speech, Rain Man, Midnight Cowboy)—or stories practically devoid of women (e.g. The Hurt Locker, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Platoon, Patton, Lawrence of Arabia).
The Oscar for Best Actor was awarded to a man who plays a superstar, while the Oscar for Best Actress was awarded to a woman who appears in a very unflattering light. Indeed, Olivia Colman is humiliated and demeaned throughout The Favourite. Her character is dim and self-absorbed. She eats cake immediately after throwing up the cake she has just eaten. She has tantrums and lies on the floor crying. She falls on her face in parliament. She even falls out of bed. This is hardly a flattering portrait of a world leader. Rami Malek, on the other hand, is portrayed as a creative genius and is adored and applauded by huge crowds.
The Oscars awarded are telling of what the Academy likes to see, the type of stories its members are interested in, as well as the way they like to see women and men. Like I said, very little has changed in Movieland.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
After learning that the R-rated Netflix drama Roma (2018), directed by Alfonso Cuaron, was a contender for the Oscar for Best Picture I decided I would analyse it—not for my book, just for this blog. In a strange coincidence the last movie I analysed was also directed by Cuaron: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004). One of these two films was very entertaining. It was not Roma.
The story had lots of potential: "A year in the life of a middle-class family’s maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s" (IMDb). The problem isn’t the absence of women. It scores well for women’s presence and voice and passes the Bechdel Test (a test that serves as an indicator of the active presence of women in movies). The story revolves around one woman, the maid (played by Yalitza Aparicio), and to a lesser extent two others, the family’s cook and the lady of the house (Nancy Garcia Garcia and Marina de Tavira). Unfortunately, Roma is one of the slowest moving movies I have ever seen, and life is just too short for movies in which we are shown water being splashed on a tile floor for the entire length of the opening credits. It isn’t that I dislike slow-moving movies generally. I prefer movies and BBC series based on Jane Austen novels to action movies. And I speak Spanish, so I could follow along without the subtitles. However, Cuaron takes things so far in Roma that shots and scenes become tedious. If the pace had been faster it would have made for a more enjoyable film.
Roma includes things we see in most movies: women crying, lying in bed, undressing, exercising and doing housework. A focus on their looks occurs throughout: de Tavira says of her daughter to Aparicio, the maid, “Not for Sofi, she’ll get fat”; Sofi’s brother reluctantly shares food with her saying, “Here. Get fatter”; one of her brothers say to her “Because you do stink, fatty”; a woman says to a girl, “You look great, Lola”; and a man says to de Tavira, “You’re not even that hot, comadre.” Moreover, a character makes light of violence against women (VAW): during a shooting party when a man says to another about his wife’s abilities, “She’s going to expropriate your hacienda” he replies, “Nah, I’ll whack her first.” Finally, threatening language is used on a woman: when Aparicio goes to find the father of her baby and tells him she is pregnant he says, “What’s it to me?” When she tells him the baby is his he replies, “No f*cking way. And if you don’t want me to beat the shit out of you and your ‘little one’ don’t ever say it again and don’t ever come looking for me again. F*cking servant!”
Roma includes some congeniality between women, and it was nice to hear a little girl in a hospital looking through the glass at the newborns tell her grandmother about her new sister, "I'm glad she's a girl." It is also devoid of physical VAW. However, with the exception of the setting--Mexico, as opposed to the United States—it's really more of the same that female viewers get in most movies. I won't be watching Roma again, but I will likely watch Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban next October—ideal time because of its Halloween feel. Considering all the interesting movies that have come out in recent years owing to women's increased presence behind the camera it is strange that Roma is a contender for the Oscar for Best Picture. Mind you, that historically homogeneous group of old white men (AMPAS) and I have rarely seen eye to eye on what makes for quality entertainment.
© 2019 Alline Cormier