Indiewire’s Girl Talk column is a weekly look at women in film — past, present and future.
Over the weekend, the PGA’s annual Produced By Conference in Los Angeles took a strange turn during a panel featuring Oscar winner Morgan Freeman and his producing partner, Lori McCreary. Freeman openly admitted to being “sexist” but “not misogynistic” when he first met the woman who would become the CEO and co-founder of his Revelations Entertainment.
Freeman recalled that McCreary “had on a dress cut to here” when the pair first met in a professional context, but that he was sure “she doesn’t want to be thought of as a pretty face. She wants to be thought of as serious. But you can’t get away from the short dresses.”
McCreary, for her part, seemed nonplussed by his comments, and even admitted that she might be guilty of sexism herself. When asked about the differences between female and male producers, McCreary said, “I think inherently — I might be sexist — my construct is family, bringing people together… I’m not saying men aren’t that way.”
It’s baffling that Freeman would share this story at a professional gathering (for laughs? insight?), but what’s more unnerving is McCreary’s assertion of her supposed sexism. Being interested in “bringing people together” and telling stories about families could mean she’s sexist?
What McCreary seems to suggest is she tends to chooses projects according to more typically “feminine” pursuits. And, even worse, that might be a bad thing.
Sexism in Hollywood is much closer to a truth than a trope, but McCreary’s comments highlight one of the most pernicious lines of thinking: Films about women, or concepts that may appeal more to women, are somehow both sexist (because they may appeal more to one subset of the population) and not worth telling (because they don’t necessarily appeal to the rest of the population).
Look no further than the recent crisis surrounding Paul Feig’s “Ghostbusters” reboot, which swaps out the franchise’s male roles for female stars. The backlash to Feig’s film has been swift, brutal, and unrelenting. That kind of thinking doesn’t just extend to random commenters (and even actual critics) on the internet (though they’ve repeatedly made their thoughts plain.). As Feig shared this weekend, at the same conference where Freeman and McCreary spoke, he’s witnessed it from inside the industry itself.
Feig said he’s dealing with sexism aimed at the film (which won’t be released until July 15) every single day. “It’s my fourth film and we are struggling every day to go against that bias,” he said. “We still get called in the press as a ‘chick flick.’ We are always referred to as the all-female ‘Ghostbusters.’ It’s just an uphill battle and I can’t believe we are having to deal with it.”
He added, “I have been hit with the most misogynistic stuff. The onslaught that came in was just so chilling.”
Making a film “about” or “for” women isn’t pandering; it’s good business. According to the latest MPAA annual report, movie-going audiences in North America skew ever so slightly to women: 51% of movie audiences in theaters are women, as are 50% of ticket buyers.
Lori McCreary isn’t a sexist because she wants to make movies that appeal to them. Paul Feig isn’t a sexist for crafting a “Ghostbusters” film that stars women. The people who oppose them, however? That might be a different story.