A friend who likes to share war stories from the writers room had this news to impart this week: According to a network mandate, female characters must now be depicted as seizing the initiative wherever possible; passivity is passe. While most writers support this point of view in theory, he pointed out, its implementation in storytelling terms has triggered tensions.
This is perhaps inevitable in a #MeToo and #TimesUp environment. A top cable executive tells me that more writers rooms these days are divided into all men or all women in an effort to encourage equanimity. “There is a tension that did not exist in the past,” he comments, a problem exacerbated by a heightened male paranoia. Its cause: The stepped-up efforts to achieve diversity have fueled a degree of male paranoia among those who feel that women are now sometimes favored for jobs — jobs that once automatically went to men. At some companies, such as Amazon, where harassment has been an issue, HR executives have been especially diligent in recruiting women to fulfill diversity objectives.
Given this background, to be sure, its hard not to notice the increasing clout of girl power both on Broadway and in film. Tina Fey last week unfurled the talons of her Mean Girls musical</a> to empowering reviews. In her show, the clique of mean princesses accost their prey at an Illinois high school, some 14 years after doing so in the film, their capers carrying greater bite than in the earnestly aspirational Frozen or even Anastasia. Equally daunting are the schemes in the new raunchcom, Blockers — a mom and two dads bent on deflating their daughters furtive plans to lose their virginity.
Clearly the gentle, self-effacing Jane Wyatt moms of the 1950s are creatures of the past (we all knew Daddy didnt know best); actresses like Katherine Hepburn or Shirley MacLaine who complained in memoir after memoir of their difficulty in finding strong roles would surely be happier in this moment.
But heres one upshot: Reflecting on this environment, some players are surveying their past work with a heightened self-criticism. This was signaled by the intense reaction to Molly Ringwalds new essay in the New Yorker, in which she strongly critiques attitudes embodied in John Hughes 80s films like Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink. Hughes movies elevated Ringwald, Judd Nelson and others to the level of folk heroes, but now, in retrospect, she feels their attitudes were subtly misogynistic and even racist. It may have been amusing to watch Nelson peek at girls panties from under school desks, but did those actions effectively condone sexual harassment? Hughes movies had a major impact on teens of that period, but, by todays standards, did they convey a negative impact? Further, did they ignore the obvious emotional and moral ambiguities confronting the male characters?
Critics of Ringwald argue that it is futile to re-assess “guy” movies like Porkys or Animal House from the framework of current attitudes. Filmgoers were once moved by Woody Allens traumas in Annie Hall, and admired the small-town naivete of American Graffiti and laughed at the nihilistic nonsense at Ridgemont High without being freighted down by todays revisionist analysis. Sure, men may have been delusional in the pre-empowerment era, and women mistakenly passive, but the work still represented its moment with all its faults and frailties.
And all of us knew that Wonder Woman one day would come along to repair our sensibilities.
‘Antebellum’ has a ‘Get Out’ vibe, but doesn’t live up to its twist
“Antebellum” is built around a provocative twist, and it’s a good one — as well as one that definite..
“Antebellum” is built around a provocative twist, and it’s a good one — as well as one that definitely shouldn’t be spoiled even a little. Once that revelation is absorbed, however, the movie becomes less distinctive and inspired, reflecting an attempt to tap into the zeitgeist that made “Get Out” a breakthrough, without the same ability to pay off the premise.
Originally destined for a theatrical run, the movie hits digital platforms trumpeting a “Get Out” pedigree in its marketing campaign, since there’s an overlap among the producing teams.
More directly, the film marks the directing debut of Gerard Bush + Christopher Renz, who have championed social-justice issues through their advertising work. The opening script features a quote from author William Faulkner, whose intent will eventually become clearer: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
If that sounds like a timely means of drawing a line from the horrors of slavery to the racism of today, you’ve come to the right place.
The story begins on a plantation, where the brutal overseers carry out grisly punishments against those tilling the fields. A few have just tried to escape, led by Veronica (Janelle Monae), and they pay a heavy price for their resistance, which does nothing to curb her defiance.
Also written by Bush + Renz, the script take too long before revealing what makes “Antebellum” different, but the middle portion — a “The Twilight Zone”-like phase when it’s hard to be sure exactly what’s going on — is actually the film’s strongest. (Even the trailer arguably gives away too much, so the less one knows, the better.)
The final stretch, by contrast, veers into more familiar thriller territory, and feels especially rushed toward the end, leaving behind a host of nagging, unanswered questions. That provides food for thought, but it’s also what separates the movie from something like “Get Out,” which deftly fleshed out its horror underpinnings.
Although the filmmakers (in a taped message) expressed disappointment that the movie wasn’t making its debut in theaters, in a strange way, the on-demand format somewhat works in its favor. In the press notes, Bush says the goal was “to force the audience to look at the real-life horror of racism through the lens of film horror. We’re landing in the middle of the very conversations that we hoped ‘Antebellum’ would spur.”
“Antebellum” should add to that discussion, so mission accomplished on that level. Monae is also quite good in her first leading film role (she did previously star in the series “Homecoming’s” second season), but otherwise, most of the characters remain underdeveloped.