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Rushfield: Trades Gone Wilde
Industry press roll out the old-time female director treatment for 'Don't Worry Darling'
In the past few years, few causes in Hollywood have benefited from as much trade attention as the plight of female directors in Hollywood. Post-#MeToo, the industry's shameful lockout from the directing chair of any non-white male finally, 100 years later, came under scrutiny.
Since then, acres of trade space have been devoted to examining problems, demanding solutions, celebrating breakthrough directors, encouraging support for female directors and giving close scrutiny to the double standards they face, in terms of who is allowed to break it, how their commercial success is viewed and most importantly, the loaded way we continued to speak about women's directing accomplishment, heavy on gender stereotypes. There were articles, studies, lunches, special issues, roundtables...
A new day was at hand and change began to take hold.
But then Olivia Wilde had a relationship with her pop-star lead and an actress in the film was said to be annoyed about it, and well, you can't just let that get away can you?
In this new era, Olivia Wilde has stood out as one of the brightest lights. After her very solid, engaging debut with Booksmart, great things were expected. The bidding war for Don't Worry Darling was about as hot as the market for a small dramatic film could get in this day and age.
On the road to the theaters, Shia LaBeouf backed out of the project, which, given that it’s Shia LaBeouf, is hardly an earth-shattering piece of news. And LaBeouf was replaced by internet heartthrob Harry Styles, arguably possessor of the most fanatical followings in the history of the internet — a change many would see as a step up, marketing-wise.
The film was shot and rolled towards its release date, launching with a premiere at the Venice Film Festival.
And then, for this celebrated female director in this new age, all hell broke loose. Here’s a little smattering of the trade coverage of Olivia Wilde’s sophomore debut at the Venice Film Festival, from the organs who have devoted miles of space to declaring themselves the leaders — THE LEADERS — in the fight against the double standard for women in the industry:
And from the editor-in-chief of Variety we have this breaking coverage:
Where, oh where to begin.
Let’s start with the accusations. Let’s just lay it out, what went so terribly wrong on this set that this film by a celebrated breakthrough female director may now be treated like a tabloid laughingstock.
Wilde and Styles began a relationship somewhere in the proximity of making this film, which may or may not have been a factor in Wilde’s divorce from Jason Sudeikis. The relationship is said — in rumors, nothing on the record, of course — to have annoyed co-star Florence Pugh, who was bothered by the attention her director was giving another star. There you have it.
So. For starters. Imagine a male director was having a somewhat messy divorce. And had a relationship with an actress on his film, which annoyed another one of the stars who felt he wasn’t getting enough attention.
Would this be a story that the trades would even mention? It would be more of a story on the set where that didn’t happen.
If the actress were a pop heartthrob, you can see the fan web showing a moderate amount of interest, but would it be anything resembling a scandal? That the trades would even comment on?
Just for comparison’s sake, here’s an extremely (extremely x 10,000) partial list of male director/leading lady relationships, many of which began when the director was married: James Cameron and Linda Hamilton, Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, Peter Bogdanovich and Cybill Shepherd, Darren Aronofsky and Rachel Weisz, Joel Coen and Frances McDormand, David Lynch and Isabella Rossellini, Taylor Hackford and Helen Mirren, Martin Scorsese and Illeana Douglas, Danny Boyle and Rosaria Dawson, Sam Mendes and Kate Winslet. Shall I go on?
To the best of my knowledge, the trades have never flown a reporter to a film festival to badger Harrison Ford with questions about whether he was annoyed that Spielberg was paying more attention to Capshaw than to him. Somehow Joel Coen’s career and films weren’t buried under headlines about his personal drama.
Of course, the reports are all framed as meta-analysis, covering the coverage. And critiquing the PR strategy — blaming the film team for letting the tabloid elements take over the story. At which point, what choice do they have but to jump on the tabloid bandwagon?
As you can see from the headlines above, not a single reporter amongst the trade press is stoking tabloid fodder about illicit trysts and actress catfights. They are offering learned, almost academic dry analysis of a case study in marketing management. Right.
Of course, I wish that every time Olivia Wilde is asked one of these questions she would ask the reporter to stand up, repeat their names and the name of the editor who assigned them to fly across the world and ask this question and challenge them to reveal when they’ve ever asked a male director a question like that.
But the fact that she doesn’t ask every reporter to go to hell doesn’t equal, “Okay, it’s fine for us to talk about this. It’s fine for us to treat a female director like we treated Janet Jackson after Nipplegate… she didn’t say we can’t!”
And, omg, what of this director’s morality, her motherhood, her age in relation to Styles?
The best move is the one I’ve seen pop up a few places: writers declaring they would never rumormonger about a female director being “difficult” or any “crazy” or any other stereotype, before reciting exactly those rumors that they themselves would never traffic in.
Let’s talk a bit about the role of the festival trade press on hand at these events, from the Oscar pundits to the junket-seat fillers. The primary mission of festival press is to justify their own travel and expense budgets, which means covering every premiere on a scale from “Most Important Film in History” to “The World Will Never be the Same.”
As servile obsequious creatures, they hunger for the moment when they are given permission to bear their fangs and rip some wounded creature to shreds — always in a pack; God forbid one individual journalist ever sticks their head up to challenge anyone.
Once the trades crossed the Rubicon of — we can talk about this film as a tabloid event; having granted themselves that permission, it thus became a tabloid event. And the bets were off and the fangs came out, making their annual special guest appearance reserved for matters of great importance such as this.
Is the movie good or not? Having not seen it, I have no idea. I’d put a lot of money on this year’s Venice festival screening worse films than this. There also may well be plenty of better films for all I know. But can you watch the film and say, “This would’ve been a home run if Olivia Wilde had just taken the time to get more coverage on that scene instead of hiding in the supply closet with Harry Styles”? I doubt it.
But from the very serious business side, they are covering the release of this $35 million movie like it’s the Russian assault on Kyiv, one of the great debacles in history, spelling doom for all involved.
This is a $35 million movie, currently tracking to open around $20 million. Even if it misses that number by a few, where is the disaster? There have to be 20 streaming shows that in the last three days have lost that on a single unwatched episode.
If a male director makes a dramatic film that falls short, it’s a noble testament to his personal vision.
But even in 2022, even after a million declarations of the end of the double-standard, if a female director makes a film that looks like, it might, maybe, possibly, lose a small amount of money, its veiled takeaways as far as the eye can see are about why another female director just can’t be trusted with something as big and powerful as a film set.