Amanda Knox Movie “ill-timed and inappropriate”

Still from Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy (Lifetime Movie Network)After the fuss last month about the Kennedys mini-series, another movie based on a true story has hit the headlines. This time it’s the turn of the Lifetime Movie Network’s rendering of the Meredith Kercher/Amanda Knox story to attract tabloid ire, thanks to some insensitive comments made by its star, Hayden Panettiere. On playing Knox, who was convicted of the sexual assault and stabbing of her room-mate in 2007:

“You know, she’s a real person. She was a young girl who had dreams and aspirations and was going to Italy to go to school and to broaden her horizons and have experiences and meet new people. And I don’t think that guilty or innocent takes away from that… This is such a vulnerable story, and specifically, Amanda was so needy… My job was to play a girl who, regardless of what happened, was innocent in who she was. She’s not a malicious girl. She didn’t have any intention to do this. This wasn’t an angry or dark girl… Whatever it was that happened that night, people’s lives were ruined. But it was my job to stay pretty true to form in who she seemed to be as a person in court and otherwise.”

The families of both the victim, Meredith Kercher, and Amanda Knox are opposed to the film airing. Knox’s appeal comes up next month, and her legal team feel the inaccuracies in the movie trailer may be prejudicial to that hearing. They’re seeking a broadcast ban.

The Lifetime Movie Network, founded in 1998, mines a rich tradition of true crime ‘movies of the week’, and has always aimed them specifically at a female audience. SVP Tanya Lopez said in a 2009 interview:

“Women like true stories… Women like things that are authentic and that they can learn from. We don’t just do a ‘ripped from the headlines’ movie. We tell the story behind the story, from a female point of view… We’re reporting the emotion and the drama behind the characters. The facts are important to us and we do use them as a blueprint, but what we care about is the dramatic emotional story.”

Although Lifetime haven’t yet formally responded to the fuss, it’s likely that the producers will claim their First Amendment right to interpret the facts as creatively as they see fit, no matter how sleazy, sensationalist and fallacious others might perceive that interpretation to be. That’s entertainment for you, especially entertainment aimed at women, who aren’t meant to be as particular about media accuracy and integrity as men.

Knox Family wanted Hayden Panettiere to Meet Knox in Prison – ABC News
Hayden Panettiere defends vile Meredith Kercher murder film – The Sun
Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy – Lifetime Movie Network
True Stories Offer Cable a Lifetime of Hit Movies– NY Daily News (2009)

Hollywood’s SNAFU: Where are all the women?

For those of us working in the industry, the San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women’s numbers come as no surprise. Their annual Television and Film report states that, despite Kathryn Bigelow’s high profile Best Director win at the Oscars last year, the number of women in prominent filmmaking positions has stagnated since 1998. A paltry 16% of key jobs on the top 250 films of 2010 were held by women (no change from 2009, and equivalent to 1998 levels). Just 2% of the movies had a female cinematographer, 7% were directed by women: it seems the male gaze is the only way we get to view things.

As the list of this year’s Oscar nominees attests (as usual, women are nominated in barely anything but ‘actress’ categories), Hollywood is run by and for men. Women are actively discouraged from even pitching for big-budget projects, according to director Catherine Hardwicke in The Wrap, who thought she might have had a shot at directing The Fighter.

“”I couldn’t get an interview even though my last movie made $400 million…I was told it had to be directed by a man — am I crazy?…It’s about action, it’s about boxing, so a man has to direct it … But they’ll let a man direct Sex in the City or any girly movie you’ve ever heard of.”

This has huge implications – and not just on the aspirations of female creatives trying to break in. Says Martha Lauzen, executive director of the SDSU Center:

“I don’t think people know when they walk into a theater that nine out of 10 times they’ll see a film by a male director…It’s not just an employment issue for women, it’s a cultural one for all of us. Movies make a difference in how we see the world and how we see certain groups of people. These are the architects of our culture.”

Melissa Silverstein, co-founder of the Athena Film Festival adds:

“If this were a Fortune 500 company and they looked at these statistics, they would have a diversity committee working on this immediately… How could you have a company in the 21st century and less than 10% of its leaders are women?”

A diversity committee that could impose a quota system on Hollywood studios, not just to ensure fair representation of women (53% of the US population, never forget), but minorities across the board? Now there’s an appealing thought…

Center for the study of Women in Film and Television
Women still a rarity in top film jobs – LA Times
Despite Bigelow’s Oscar, Celluloid Ceiling Higher Than Ever for Women– The Wrap
Women In Film – let’s make that change

Dynasty: The Movie

Encouraged by the recent rash of TV-to-movie adaptations (The A Team, Charlie’s Angels, Starsky & Hutch, The Dukes of Hazzard and now 21 Jump Street) that have breathed new life (and residuals) into 70s and 80s ‘classics’, it seems the creators of Dynasty want their turn at the trough of gold.

Dynasty, fondly remembered for its big hair, larger-than-life characters and labyrinthine melodrama, ran on ABC in the US from 1981 to 1989.  Originally conceived as a show about a family who ‘lived and sinned in a forty-eight room mansion’, Dynasty was a direct rival to CBS’s primetime hit, Dallas.  The first season followed the Dallas template of oil tycoon shenanigans, but the introduction of Alexis Colby (Joan Collins) at the top of season two saw it find its unique selling point, and shot it to the top of the ratings.

Levi-Strauss would have had a field day: for the next seven years, the raven-haired, Machiavellian Alexis grappled (often quite literally, the show was famous for its physical fights between female characters) with silvery-blonde Krystle, for love, money, property, and sometimes just for kicks.  The writers toned down the business (i.e. male-driven) story lines in favor of the female stuff, and fed the characters a constant flow of illegitimate children, half-siblings, serial husbands, murder trials, arson attacks and reversals of fortune so sudden and vicious  that it was never sure whether Krystle and the forces of good would triumph over Alexis and her minions.  Women definitely ruled this world.  And viewers lapped it up – the ‘Moldovian Massacre’ cliffhanger episode in 1985 was watched by sixty million people.

Esther and Richard Shapiro are the original creators, and, rather than trying to return to the prime-time glory of the 80s, want the movie to be a prequel, explaining how the characters originally met, and how the battle lines came to be drawn.  They envisage a ‘Mad Men-era’ setting for the young Blake Carrington to meet Alexis, his future wife and nemesis, and plan to take a much more cinematic approach:

“In a way, these characters were prisoners in television,” added Richard Shapiro. “We were always constrained by the smaller budget of a TV series, and all the standards and practices that governed the content of the show. In the movie, if we want to have some James Bond style action, we can afford to do that. If we want to have a steamy love scene, we can do that. If we want to go a few steps beyond what they would allow on 1980s TV, we can move ahead those few steps, and then some.”

Gotta hope it’s awesome, and that it makes it to the big screen. The much-hyped Dallas movie is currently languishing in turnaround, as the studio decided not enough young people remembered the TV show to go and see a movie. However, with older, female-skewing audiences becoming more of a target, this could have legs.

The Wrap

Reading Matters: Pornland – How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality by Gail Dines

Any discussion of the representation of women in the media cannot ignore the ‘pornification’ of the images that bombard us daily. From bootilicious hip-hop music videos to American Apparel underwear ads to glossy magazine photoshoots of actresses, it seems the porn aesthetic is king. How did this come to be acceptable in mainstream culture?
Dines’ thoughtful and sobering book examines how easy internet access means that teenage boys, as never before, develop a sexual identity configured by the vast amount of porn they consume before they have any real world sexual experience. When they finally get down to getting it on, they ape the attitudes and moves of the porn stars they have seen in action, and judge encounters by orgasmic satisfaction rather than intimacy or emotional connection. This creates a prevailing habit of hookups – wham, bam, if-you’re-lucky-a thank you, ma’am – and an inability to form lasting relationships, as the boys fail to develop the negotiation skills and openness required for an equal sexual partnership.

For their part, teenage girls grow up in the same context, encouraged to think that the only value they have is as a sexualized object. Only if they are attractive, with a body type that reflects a plasticized porn actress, and willing to give sexual satisfaction (without necessarily receiving it return), do they have social value. Yet the old double standard is as viciously in play as ever – while women are expected to maximize their assets in terms of appearance and sexual availability, if they are perceived as participating in too much sex, they are still a slut. Even Hugh Hefner’s “girlfriends” have to pretend to be Girls Next Door.

Given that available pornography is increasingly violent and degrading to women (‘gonzo’ porn), this has harsh implications for our culture. Pornography dehumanizes and objectifies women, reducing them to passive objects who, in order to earn a paycheck, have to appear to be grateful for the amount of abuse their bodies take onscreen. Pornography also deals in racist stereotypes, reinforcing a rigid racial value system that mainstream culture would like to think is outdated. And, most chillingly, legally available pseudo-child porn, where young-looking porn actresses (all of them over eighteen) are made to look even younger through the use of costume, make up and props, often provides a gateway to the real thing for increasingly addicted users. Yet the porn paymasters carefully brand their products as “fun”, “sexy” and “cool”, suggesting that anyone who doesn’t enjoy them is frigid and/or out of touch with the times.

Dines’ very readable book reclaims some of the anti-porn ground from placard-waving religious fanatics. You don’t have to be Jack Thompson to feel uneasy about the way woman-hating violence is so freely available as entertainment.

Dines is part of Stop Porn Culture, who provide some great teaching materials for students over 18.

Parents Television Council slams ‘sexualisation’ of girls on TV

Front Cover of Teen Girls Sexualization study, December 2010While the roles for actresses over 40 might be getting better, this report from the PTC makes disturbing reading. Check out their video montage of what they think constitutes a disturbing trend. Glee comes in for particular criticism, especially in the wake of the controversial GQ photo shoot.

“PTC found that when underage female characters appear on screen: more sexual content is depicted; the teen girls show next to no negative response to being sexualized; more sexual incidents occur outside of any form of a committed relationship; and there is less accuracy in the TV content rating.

“The results from this report show Tinseltown’s eagerness to not only objectify and fetishize young girls, but to sexualize them in such a way that real teens are led to believe their sole value comes from their sexuality. This report is less about the shocking numbers that detail the sickness of early sexualization in our entertainment culture and more about the generation of young girls who are being told how society expects them to behave,” said PTC President Tim Winter.” (PTC Press Release)

The Hollywood Reporter has the story here.