Why Male Directors Need To Be Called Out On Their Sexism

It's never OK to treat female stars like crap -- even if you're a "genius."
John Carney, who hates working with talentless hacks like Keira Knightley. 
John Carney, who hates working with talentless hacks like Keira Knightley. 

"I'll never make a film with supermodels again."

This was director John Carney's passionate declaration, made in an interview with The Independent on May 28. The "supermodel" in question was Keira Knightley, star of his well-received 2013 musical dramedy "Begin Again." According to Carney, while (male) stars Mark Ruffalo and Adam Levine turned in stellar performances, Knightley was a nightmare to work with. 

"Keira has an entourage that follow her everywhere so it’s very hard to get any real work done," Carney said. "[Her] thing is to hide who you are and I don’t think you can be an actor and do that."

For Carney, Knightley was too much of a movie star, unwilling to be "honest" onscreen, unconvincing as a singer and musician, and simply not "ready" to be a proper film actress. Whether Knightley is a great actress or not is certainly a matter of perspective, but the fact of the matter is that she is one of the most seasoned and acclaimed actresses in Hollywood, with two Oscar nominations under her belt. 

It is more than OK for a director to nitpick his own work, or to be unsatisfied with the final performance of one his actors. But Carney's criticisms of Knightley, an Oscar-nominated actress, were steeped in a kind of misogyny that runs rampant in Hollywood. It's absurd to complain about all the trappings of Knightley's success (the paparazzi, the red carpets, the entourage), when these trappings, and "supermodel" looks are practically demanded of women in Hollywood if they want to succeed. 

This is just one of the many sexist double standard of Hollywood. Hollywood wants its actresses, even "serious" actresses like Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett, to be breathtakingly beautiful. It pressures them to work the red carpet as well as they work the camera. But when they reach a certain level of success, suddenly they are "difficult" to work with, divas with no real talent. 

There's a theme of patronizing entitlement that so many male directors in Hollywood have, especially when it comes to their female stars. They can be controlling, overly preoccupied with the way their actresses look, and dismissive of their actresses' needs and boundaries. We've seen this in its extreme with Hitchcock's blonde obsession, but it's also echoed far more subtlety in director's today like David O'Russell and Michael Bay. 

Bay, who allegedly made Megan Fox wash his Ferrari in a bikini as her audition for "Transformers." Bay, who, during promotion for his 2001 film "Pearl Harbor," repeatedly told reporters that he cast Kate Beckinsale as the romantic lead because she "wasn't so attractive that she would alienate the female audience." These anecdotes have traditionally been brushed off, treated as acceptable comments to make about the women these powerful men direct. 

Both Bay and Carney have issued apologies to the actresses they so publicly disrespected this week, within days of each other. This is key. The ease and casualness with which they first made these remarks about their female stars emphasizes the fact that men in Hollywood are constantly given passes for being misogynists, especially if their misogyny is couched with supposed genius, artistry, or box office success. 

The things that directors like Bay, Carney and so many other directors get away with saying or doing at the expense of their female stars are not only offensive -- they're simply unprofessional. Carney's apology was heartfelt and well-written, he admitted: "In trying to pick holes in my own work, I ended up blaming someone else." But Carney shouldn't have had to write an apology at all.

One wonders what made him say those things about Knightley on record in the first place? Even if he truly felt that way? If he had had an equally unpleasant experience with Mark Ruffalo, would he have talked about it, too? Or is it simply easier to respect another man professionally, no matter how badly he messes up, as opposed to a woman? 

Whatever motivated the initial commentary, it's heartening to see these men forced to reckon with their unprofessional behavior. One thing is clear: gone are the days when male directors get to denigrate their female stars and get away with it. 



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