I hate sexists. It's like every other form of bigotry, but somehow even dumber because it applies to roughly half the global population no matter what side you're against, as well as applying to one's own relatives. I also really have a problem with people who abuse, mistreat, or disrespect women. Anyone like me will find the following display of its close cousin, chauvinism, moderately offensive.
These days, plenty of people know Helen Mirren as the badass old broad from movies like Red (which sounds like it's the least offensive of Mark Millar adaptations) - she's 69 now, so I understand that a lot of the work that made her famous was a while ago.
Guys closer to my age, however, know her as an exceptional actress and a quite beautiful woman. We do this because we remember her rich performance in The Long Good Friday, or how she kicked ass without resorting to machine guns in amazing movies like The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover:
how lousy it was to be in her prime in the 1960's.
The sound of discrimination, ignorance, and stupidity never seems to change, does it? If you'd like some proof, just watch the below 1975 interview with Michael Parkinson. This one is kind of infamous because of the sheer foolishness of what comes out of Parkinson's mouth, and I hope his mother later told him that she was very disappointed in him.
By 1975, Helen had made 9 movies. It's true that she often portrayed characters who were very sensual, and it's also true that she did nude scenes (I've heard the one in Ken Russell's Savage Messiah was a big deal). But it's not like she was a adult film star or only worked in erotic films. She'd done a lot of theater for many years before '75, and even continued to work on the stage as her film career picked up.
So why - in 1975 - would you talk to someone who's been an actress since high school, and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in the middle of the 60's, as if she were an exotic dancer who'd just transitioned to film work, read her lines stiffly, and was always naked onscreen?
The "professional" interviewer here, in essence, asks his subject how her slim frame and great rack have played into her success as an actress. But, since he can't separate intellectual ideas from practical concerns - or the gorgeous woman in front of him, it just looks like the guy had nothing of import or value to say and then just thought up a massively stupid question.
Parkinson's show started in 1971, so he wasn't some fresh-faced kid who couldn't detect whether his words or behavior might be offensive. He was also 40 in 1975, and that's plenty old enough to know that (a) you don't make an issue of someone's body or appearance, and (b) if you are going to do it, then do it with as much respect and frankness as possible. The way Mirren pushes him to clarify what he's talking about - and the way he tries to avoid doing so - says all you need to know about his maturity or appreciation for sexual matters.
chauvinist who doesn't understand art or beauty, you'd get someone who could phrase these things thusly: "do you feel that physical appearance is too large a factor in the selection and/or success of actors and actresses today?"
Or he could've gone with "do you feel pressured to exploit your looks by filmmakers?" None of my variations are perfect, but was that too hard? For men like Michael Parkinson, obviously the answer is "yes" (He had a similar problem 30 years later with Meg Ryan). At the very least, this moment gave us a great look at the consideration, smarts, and poise of Ms. Mirren. Her grace, intelligence, and maturity are her true gifts, whatever her figure may be.
I'd like to think I could handle the same just as well, but at the end of the day, I may have been too furious to be at the end of those questions, wondering "why don't you ask the same of Sean Connery, or any other male star who looks good and takes off his shirt on screen? Does having cleavage really change the equation that much?" If nothing else did it, Parkinson should've asked himself that and changed his interview topic...