Monday, April 27, 2015

Helen Mirren vs Old Chauvanism

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:

What I'm stressing here is that it doesn't matter how she looked then - quite pretty, for the record - or how she looks now - excellent for a sexagenarian, with many of her youthful features preserved - what matters is that she is an acting powerhouse, and that she's excellent at her job. But, even back in her heyday, a heyday that predates my existence on this planet, homegirl has had to deal with men being condescending (or simply as---les) to her. Hell, just two weeks ago, she talked about 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.

What's also sad here is that it would actually be vaguely possible and somewhat interesting to discuss these general issues - you'd just need to have intelligent, mature, and thoughtful people behind the questions. So instead of an immature 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...


  1. Idiocy is something that is harder to yank out than weeds,in my opinion. Just recently, Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans(Hawkeye and Captain America) were being interviewed regarding the new Avengers movie and asked about Black Widow's love life.

    Their response were rude and vulgar, with Renner thinking it funny to call the character a slut and Evans giggling along with "yeah, she's a whore." That whole thing caused a fury of fan anger, which lead to two apologies.

    Evans:"Yesterday we were asked about the rumors that Black Widow wanted to be in a relationship with both Hawkeye and Captain America. We answered in a very juvenile and offensive way that rightfully angered some fans. I regret it and sincerely apologize."

    Renner: "I am sorry that this tasteless joke about a fictional character offended anyone. "It was not meant to be serious in any way. Just poking fun during an exhausting and tedious press tour."

    Now, I have already forgiven Evans for his lapse in verbal judgment since he apologized in the manner of a true gentleman. Renner, on the other hand, comes off as more of a crass lout than before. You could ask why such a stupid question was asked in the first place but that doesn't excuse a rude response.

    1. Oh, f--k. Damn. Well, I can imagine Chris Evans laughing at stuff a lot, but not necessarily joining in - he never gives off a dude/bro vibe.

      I have no similar experience to make me see the best in Renner's joke, though. It was a stupid question to have to field, and I do believe that comedy is its own special beast, but he definitely should've known better.

      I am a little less bothered with Renner's apology - not because it seems quite sufficient, but because it's fair to clarify "fictional person" as a way of saying "I'd never make this kind of joke about a real human being." That said, man, these guys are not teenagers and they know these are high profile films and that they're popular right now.

      What I wouldn't give for them to have responded with: "well, I don't think Scarlett's character should be defined by her romantic life. Black Widow should get her own movie, and maybe deal with it there - hopefully, Marvel and Disney are willing to make the investment in a movie about a minor role that stars a high-salary actress."

  2. Renner's apology still leaves a sour taste, as his "fictional character" reference(which,yes,is true but that character is being played by who I assume is a good friend of them both) sounds more like a cop-out than a grounding in reality. Your answer is, of course, the best-maybe you should be their PR person:)


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