A week ago, Bret Easton Ellis taught us all the reason why there isn't a long history of talented women behind the camera. It's not about society and gendered barriers. It's about biology. As part of a week-long discussion with the author, Movieline asked him about his thoughts on female directors. This wasn't because Mary Harron helmed the most successful adaptation for his work, but rather because of a Tweet he wrote after seeing Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank. That February 8 message stated: "Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank blew me away, easily the best movie since Inglourious Basterds. I've gotta stop saying 'Women can't direct.'"
While he professed to stop this strangely insane notion, three months later, Ellis was at it again with the interview. Though he loved Fish Tank and Floria Sigismondi's The Runaways, he wasn't "totally convinced" that women can direct, noting Arnold, Bigelow, and Sofia Coppola as the exceptions, and Mary Harron, "to a degree." He continued: "There's something about the medium of film itself that I think requires the male gaze." When asked what that "something" would be, Ellis responded: "We're watching, and we're aroused by looking, whereas I don't think women respond that way to films, just because of how they're built." (Hello, biological determinism!)
Adding even more insult to injury, he wondered if Lost in Translation's beauty (or rather arguable beauty) is because of cinematographer Lance Acord. He questioned why there's never a female Hitchcock, Scorsese, or Spielberg (who apparently don't have to share cred with their cinematographers) before finally noting that the big studio movies directed by women were far worse than the male ones (picking out The Proposal as the prime example, as if that has anything on some of the other crap out last year).
Was it meant to be infuriating? Most likely, but it's still a pretty apt example of the ridiculous assumptions swirling out there.
Obviously, the argument is flawed in every direction, in every possible way. There's no biological link to cinematic talent, nor is there a sex-specific way to watch cinema. Ellis perverts Laura Mulvey's decades-old discussion of the male gaze to describe a woman's biological limitations. Most surprising for any educated person, however, is his questioning of why there's no iconic female filmmakers from Hollywood. Women hadn't even had the right to vote for five years before Alfred Hitchcock started making movies. And even today, there are countless accounts in mainstream press from women all over Hollywood who still face shocking sexism.
Quite simply, Ellis' comments are ridiculous and lazy. But what's most interesting is how, this year, he balances his sexism with claims that he's got to rethink his opinions. Obviously, he's not committed to that goal. If he was, he wouldn't be downplaying Sofia Coppola's artistic contribution to Lost in Translation, or attempting to use biological assumptions to explain the state of cinema. Three months after vowing to stop saying that women can't direct, he is still trying to explain -- in his opinion -- why they can't. In fact, just yesterday he tweeted: "Yet another reason why I might be wrong about women directors: Nicole Holofcener's best film so far: Please Give."
It's no longer an opinion, but rather a badge to piss people off. He doesn't just praise Holofcener's film, he calls it a reason why he "might" be wrong. Ellis is clinging to that notion that women are cinematically inept quite desperately, refusing to give it up no matter how much he's proven wrong. Oh, the power of the all-mighty assumption.
Sad thing is, as easy as it is to blow off such notions as the easy-to-ignore thoughts of the ignorant, such ideas are not relegated to the ill-informed. We've got a best-selling author and college graduate thinking that someone's sex figures into their ability to make films. We've got Sigourney Weaver -- a Stanford graduate who went on to get a Master of Fine Arts from Yale's School of Drama -- saying that Kathryn Bigelow won the Best Director Oscar because of her boobs.
I guess Bigelow's breasts were just percolating, growing stronger and stronger, more and more bitter, until they were so powerful that she had to win over James Cameron. Maybe her boobs finally gained the favor of the Academy because she had that anti-filmmaker part of her body, that bit of anti-arousal, surgically removed. Or she's just an alien who dispersed its power through fake human woman breasts, making us all dumb suckers. Same with the anomalies that confuse Ellis' brain. Maybe Arnold, Coppola, and the rest are just robots.
That's it! Beware, Earthlings and moviegoers: The Fembots are planning to take over the world. Keep the women out, or they'll destroy everything with the power of their breasts.