Hooray for Funny Women!
When I saw Melissa McCarthy's name on the Academy Award nominations list today, I started crying. Tears of joy. I'm not even exaggerating; I was weeping openly with pride. As a woman who loves doing work in comedy, it was a huge deal to me.
As I kept reading, my joy grew. This year, the Oscars are recognizing some pretty fantastic people, and a lot of them are funny women. Along with Melissa McCarthy, I'd like to congratulate Bérénice Bejo, Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer, Annie Mumolo, and Kristen Wiig on their first Academy Award nominations.
Women in comedy do not get as much appreciation as they should. Just a month ago when Christopher Hitchens died, people again brought up his controversial 2007 Vanity Fair article "Why Women Aren't Funny" that posed the question, "Why are men, taken on average and as a whole, funnier than women?"
As a feminist, a comedic actor, and a woman, I took umbrage at that.
I remember reading about a study a few months ago ("Are Men Funnier Than Women") that showed people misattributing funny things to men and misattributing unfunny things to women. In reality men only rated slightly higher than women did in the rating, but the judges were assuming that men are funnier.
I'm happy that the movie Bridesmaids did so well this year, just as I was happy several years ago when I thought The 40 Year Old Virgin proved to many men I know the genre of "romantic comedy" isn't a reason to avoid watching a movie. The fact that a movie appeals to women shouldn't be a reason for men to disregard it.
It's problematic how often in our society women are expected and encouraged to like things that are aimed at men (how much more "dateable" does a women supposedly become if she likes football and Schwarzenegger films?), but men are judged for liking things that are aimed at women (deemed weak, said to have bad taste, or even subject to gay bashing).
In some ways, I think our society is taking steps backwards. Recently, the book A Princess of Mars was turned into a movie called John Carter. Why? Because according to the writer/director Andrew Stanton, "I don’t like to get fixated on it, but I changed Princess Of Mars…because not a single boy would go." Even though it's a sci-fi action flick, the assumption is that men can't see beyond the word "Princess". (Article -- The director inexplicably goes on to say he also doesn't think women would see a movie with "Mars" in the title. Since when do women not like movies in space?)
Even worse, look at how we're grooming children. When I was a kid, it was totally fine that my brothers wanted to see animated musicals with female protagonists (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast), and then dance around the house singing the songs. But then suddenly, the animated movies alternately stopped being musicals and/or started being more male-centric. How did "Rapunzel" become Tangled? It was a marketing move to make it more appealing to boys (this was after The Princess and the Frog didn't do as well as Disney would have liked at the box office... Was that because it had the word "Princess" in the title?). Because heaven forbid a little boy should want to see a movie about a girl.
That's why Bridesmaids was such a great step forward this year. My boyfriend went to see it his best friend (also male). They actually saw it before I did, loved it, and told me to see it. I think that may have been the first time in my life that a female-centric comedy has ever been recommended to me by men. (Moreover, it was two men that went to see it of their own accord, without being "dragged" by a woman.) It was a very big deal in my world.
(Side note: I loved another female-centric movie this year, The Help... But I can't think of a single male I know who has seen it yet.)
Additionally, comedic actors in general, regardless of gender, are rarely regarded as highly as dramatic actors, despite how incredibly talented they are. Comedy is often more difficult than drama, but it's somehow thought of as a lower artform. Perhaps that's why at the Golden Globes, the "comedy/musical" categories often seem to be won by dramatic musical nominees (whom I always think seem to be miscategorized). And perhaps that's why comedic actors are more likely to get nominations when they take on uncharacteristically dramatic roles. (Congratulations to Jonah Hill for his nomination in Moneyball.)
This morning, when I saw Melissa McCarthy's name on the Oscar nominations list, it showed me that progress is being made. That uproarious comedy is competing with drama. That women in comedy are getting appropriately recognized for their brilliance.
To me, it feels like a step forward. And that was a nice way to start the day.
P.S. Were you excited by the nominations? Thrilled to see women in comedy getting attention? Leave your thoughts in the comments!
P.P.S. Also, congratulations to Gary Oldman for getting his first Academy Award nomination!
(art at the top is by me, circa 2002)