Tag Archives: Film

Hollywoods grim century of fat-shaming: from Greta Garbo to Chle Grace Moretz

The film industry has a long and unhealthy obsession with the weight of its female stars. The more who speak up like Moretz did this week the more chance there is of change

This week, 20-year-old actor Chle Grace Moretz said she had been body-shamed by a male actor on set when she was 15. He was her co-star at the time, in his 20s, cast in the role of her love interest, and he said he would never date her in real life, because she was too big. It was a comment that drove her to tears. Moretz is the latest in a string of Hollywood stars who are prepared to be more open about their experiences of sexism in the industry, from Jennifer Lawrence to Emma Watson. Like the late Carrie Fisher, who revealed she was asked to lose weight before appearing in the new Star Wars series, Moretz touches on something particularly troubling: the pressure on women on screen to maintain a body size that may be unrealistic or unhealthy.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new. Silent-film expert Pamela Hutchinson cites the example of Greta Garbo. Louis B Mayer hired her for MGM in 1925, when she was already a success in Europe, with the caveat that In America, we dont like fat women. Garbo ate nothing but spinach for three weeks and then dieted, rigorously, for the rest of her Hollywood career. There were even more extreme measures. An actor called Molly ODay had her excess weight cut away by a surgeon. In 1929, Photoplay magazine explicitly blamed the death of comic actor Katherine Grant on the Hal Roach studios demands for her to lose weight.

Carrie
Carrie Fisher, who said she was told to lose weight before appearing in the new Star Wars films. Photograph: Chris Pizzello/AP

The issue has persisted ever since. Emma Thompson recently said she threatened to quit the 2008 film Brideshead Revisited after a female co-star was asked to lose weight. I said to them, If you speak to her about this again, on any level, I will leave this picture. You are never to do that. Troublingly, Thompson feels the problem is increasing. Its evil whats happening, she continued, and whats going on there, and its getting worse.

While male actors may be asked to lose weight for extreme roles such as Matthew McConaughey playing an Aids patient in Dallas Buyers Club women are routinely asked to slim down simply to play female leads. Ive heard of women on set being openly poked and prodded by male studio executives who discuss their unsuitable size and these actors are tiny in the first place. Jennifer Lawrence has spoken of being considered plus size or fat in Hollywood, while on Twitter, Amanda Seyfried said she had been considered overweight. X-Men: Apocalypse actor Sophie Turner also chimed in recently. There are often times when I have done jobs and theyve told me that I have to lose weight, even when it has nothing to do with the character, she told Porter magazine. It is so fucked up.

This infuriating pressure prompts the question: why? If this is about idealism and adulation, are audiences really asking for this? Actors such as Christina Hendricks and Sofia Vergara, who are curvier than the Hollywood average, have no shortage of admirers.

The feminist campaigner Laura Bates, who started her career as an actor, says this pressure is absolutely rife, both in and outside Hollywood. The pressures on Hollywood women lead to a screen ideal which then heaps more pressure on ordinary women and girls. That Moretz was just 15 when this happened, says Bates, also highlights how body-shaming can impact girls from an incredibly young age. We know that girls are just five when they first start to worry about their size and shape, and that a devastating one-quarter of seven-year-old girls has dieted to lose weight. They are also bombarded with airbrushed, unrealistic media and advertising images that repeatedly send them the message that their bodies are not good enough, that they will be judged by their looks, and that they must conform to a narrow, media-mandated notion of beauty.

Joan Smith, human rights campaigner and author of Misogynies, agrees. Making girls and women feel uncomfortable about their bodies is a way of attacking their confidence. It makes women defensive and inward-looking, and when you feel like that, you lose your sense of having a place in the world. It happens in Hollywood because the stakes money, fame are so high, but it goes far beyond that. At a time when we have a legal right to equality, its a way of restoring the old inequality women are permanently open to scrutiny. Its not always conscious but its nasty and effective.

Bates also points out the massive double standards in Hollywood, saying women are often more pressurised than men. Women who arent Hollywood thin are very rarely cast in mainstream thrillers, sci-fi or fantasy films, and in dramas they usually appear in character roles, often played by older actors. When bigger female characters are the lead in a film, their weight is never incidental, but rather a defining characteristic, such as the role played by Gabourey Sidibe in the 2009 film Precious. Meanwhile, male leads come in all shapes and sizes Jack Black, Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill (now slimmed down) have all appeared frequently in a variety of leading roles, including drama as well as comedy, and stars such as John Travolta, Russell Crowe and Vince Vaughn have been allowed to change physically over the course of their careers.

Gabourey
Gabourey Sidibe, star of 2009 film Precious. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Comedy seems more welcoming of female actors such as Melissa McCarthy, though many of her lead roles have been in films made by her own production company, and others such as Rebel Wilson are usually relegated to the funny best friend role. Amy Schumer has something resembling an average body shape watching 2015s Trainwreck, I remember being startled to see someone who looked more like me and my friends on the big screen. I thought, perhaps, this signalled a cultural shift, but since then Ive mostly been reviewing romcoms with stick-thin heroines perhaps the kind that Moretzs cruel co-star was comparing her with. And sadly, his kind of body shaming isnt confined to Hollywood far from it.

Actor, comedian and writer Arabella Weir thinks Moretz should name and shame the man in question. The problems, as expressed by this particular guy, she says, are all his, not hers and her BMI. To allow comments about ones size to cause one pain is to validate them. Name, shame and circulate as widely as possible all comments of this nature and let their authors attempt to justify them theyre in the wrong, the subject never is. Until women refuse to be categorised by their size, and that includes naming the person, then well always be seen as participating somehow in the myth that thin equals good.

There is hope on the Hollywood horizon: the Sundance hit Patti Cake$ (out on 1 September) is a joyous celebration of a female rapper (Danielle Macdonald) that shows her character suffering from body shaming while she challenges expectations of what a performer should look like. While the story tackles the subject of her weight, its as much about her character and her career aspirations. Moretz herself is in an upcoming body-positive take on Snow White, although she spoke out after its poster seemed to body-shame her character. Also in animation, last years Disney teen Moana had a more realistic shape and this is in a genre previously well known for its preposterous female figures.

But animation is one thing, living, breathing actors another. Hollywood has the power to change things by showcasing a far greater diversity of womens body types, shapes and skin colours, rather than reinforcing suffocating stereotypes and impossible standards, says Bates. It has an opportunity to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Shes right. We need more female actors to speak out and for Hollywood to listen.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/aug/11/hollywoods-grim-century-of-fat-shaming-from-greta-garbo-to-chloe-grace-moretz

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To the Bone confirms there are (almost) no good movies about anorexia

The Netflix drama, which stars Lily Collins, leans on some outdated tropes. But only a handful of novels and films have evoked the reality of the illness, or explained why so many women turn their unhappiness on themselves

No talk about food. Its boring and its unhelpful, announces Keanu Reeves playing (hold on to your hat) a doctor specialising in eating disorders in To the Bone, the much-discussed upcoming film about anorexia, starring Lily Collins and distributed by Netflix. And this is excellent advice, but it can be hard to see beyond the surface issues when you are dealing with someone who is literally starving themselves to death: the shoulder blades jutting out like birds wings, the food hidden under place mats, the limbs so wasted you can circle them with your fingers. It is even harder if a part of you is turned on by skinny, self-destructive women, as the movies invariably are, and this one definitely is.

Its not easy to make a good movie about anorexia, which is why almost almost none exist. How to depict a mental illness that unlike, say, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder has such a well-known and hard-to-fake physical manifestation? To the Bones writer-director, Marti Noxon who based the movie on her own experiences with the illness got around this by getting Collins, who has spoken about her own struggles with eating disorders, to lose an astonishing amount of weight so that she looks credibly anorexic on screen. Given how thin female actors now have to be just to look slim, your heart breaks at the thought of how much weight she must have lost to look so painfully ill.

To the Bone has been wildly praised since it debuted at Sundance in January, and I can only assume this is because critics get weirdly overexcited when actors undergo physical transformations. The truth is To the Bone is not a good movie about anorexia. In fact, it is a bad one. We could talk all day about the ethics of hiring a young woman who is known to be vulnerable to eating disorders, and then telling her to lose weight to look anorexic, but lets give Collins the benefit of the doubt and say she is an adult woman who is free to make her own career choices. Instead, lets talk about To the Bones real problem, which is that it is shallow, sexist and sick.

The only justification for making a movie like this is that it is going to provide some insight into a much-discussed if little understood problem, a requirement Netflixs earlier and similarly exploitative foray into self-destructive young women, 13 Reasons Why, notably failed to meet. But from the very first scene it is obvious that To the Bone leans on some wearily outdated tropes. We first see Ellen (Collins) in an in-patient unit, in which she and her fellow anorexia patients are beautifully styled in the universally recognised signifiers of crazy-but-sexy young women: heavy kohl eyeliner and mascara, Tank Girl-esque distressed clothing and biker boots. We have gone from 1999s Girl, Interrupted to 2017s Meal, Interrupted.

Click here to watch the trailer for To the Bone.

From there on, the anorexia stereotypes are ticked off with the regularity of hospital mealtimes. The movie disregards its own advice almost immediately about not focusing on the food and does so with voyeuristic intensity, without ever asking why so many women feel so unhappy, and why they then turn this unhappiness on themselves. All the anorexia patients, with one male exception, are young, attractive, middle-class white women, when the illness affects a far broader demographic. Reeves, as Ellens psychiatrist, Dr Beckham, is a self-described unconventional doctor, who proves his unconventionality by swearing occasionally and insisting his methods are totally different from anyone elses (theyre not: they rely on therapy and healthy eating, as almost all eating-disorder treatments do). He also clearly enjoys his power over his mainly female patients and a braver, less conventional film would have explored this more. Instead, To the Bone merely accepts the doctors version of himself as the brilliant, patriarchal medical professional who can fix women.

I am going to show my cards here and say that I am undoubtedly biased on this issue, because I had a doctor similar in some regards to Beckham during my first three hospitalisations: Dr Peter Rowan, then based at the Priory in Roehampton. I was only 14 when I first met him but even then it seemed to me that he revelled too much in his authority over a ward of vulnerable women, who in turn viewed him as god-like. In 2011, 18 years after we parted ways, he was struck off when it emerged he had what was described as a blurred and secretive relationship with a female patient, who left him more than 1m in her will.

Now, clearly, there are plenty of excellent male psychiatrists who work with eating disorders, and my experience was an outlier. But given that anorexia is often a form of rebellion against gender norms, with female and male sufferers rejecting, respectively, sexualised femininity and macho masculinity by starving themselves, it is ironic that a movie should re-enact such gender cliches. The doctor is a man, the nurse is a woman, the women in Ellens life (her mother, stepmother and her mothers girlfriend) are all self-obsessed and bitchy, her father is absent but hard-working. The one male anorexia patient is wise and selfless in a way none of the female patients are, and spoiler alert he, along with the male doctor, helps to save Ellen. Many brilliant women are now the leading lights in eating-disorder treatment, not least the woman who treated me through my last three hospital admissions, Professor Janet Treasure, now the director of the Eating Disorder Unit at the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College, London. So the idea that all that these hysterical female anorexia patients need is a couple of calm men to save them from themselves is, to put it mildly, grating. The film even tacks on a frankly ludicrous romantic subplot, and anyone who thinks patients with eating disorders are making out with one another on hospital wards has clearly never bothered to Google what starvation does to a persons libido.

There is currently a petition online demanding that Netflix pulls the show for two reasons. The first, that it might trigger sufferers, is a point I feel sympathy for but cannot agree with. Legislating against anything that might trigger the mentally ill or vulnerable is an impossible game of Whack-a-Mole. But the petitions other complaint, that it glamorises anorexia, will be less easy for the film-makers to dismiss. Contrary to what the character of Ellen might suggest, anorexia is not all thigh gaps and eyeliner. By the time I was admitted to hospital for the first time when I was 14, most of my hair had fallen out, I could barely walk because I was so cold and my knuckles bled constantly due to extremely dry and cracked skin. Instagram-ready, I was not. There is a line between rendering a complex subject filmable and sexing-up a serious illness, and To the Bone crosses it from the first scene. And when all a movie about anorexia tells you is that people with anorexia have issues with food, and that this makes them thin and unhappy, you have to wonder what the point of the movie is.

Anorexias physical manifestations distract even those of us who have suffered from it from grasping the internal issues. Indeed, that is the point of the starving: we dont have to think about the unhappiness that led us to this point. In one interview, Noxon said that being around Collins and the other actors who were losing weight was difficult for her. I started to need to turn to the other female producers quite frequently and say: Im going to need you to tell me that I dont need to lose weight, she said. When there is a part of you that still gets turned on by not eating, you will not be able to discuss anorexia properly, because you are still preoccupied by the surface symptoms.

Lily
Lily Collins in Netflix drama To the Bone. Photograph: Gilles Mingasson/Netflix/Netflix

Even beyond the directors own issues, it feels almost inevitable that anorexia should be glamorised in a movie made today. We have come a long way from 1983, when Karen Carpenter died of anorexia and people were shocked that someone could actually starve themselves to death, but despite the increased awareness, conversations about the illness still too often descend into voyeuristic fascination. Since the 90s, when skinny became the female beauty standard (a sharp diminution from the more Amazonian supermodels of the 80s), representations of anorexia in mass culture have come wrapped in a weird mix of prurience, spectacle and aspiration. The Daily Mail has a regular, long-running and wildly irresponsible column by a woman writing about her anorexia. The glamorisation of anorexia online is notorious by now, with the rise of pro ana (pro anorexia) websites, which pass on tips about how to avoid eating, and thinspo (thin inspiration) images on Instagram; anorexia has been reduced to an aesthetic expression and To the Bone reflects that.

In terms of art, there is remarkably little that is much better. Poor Richey Edwards, the late guitarist from the Manic Street Preachers, wrote probably the most brutally evocative song about it, 4st 7lbs (I eat too much to die / And not enough to stay alive / Im sitting in the middle waiting). But he himself was so caught up in the illness he could only depict the immediate experience, not the larger overview. In books, there are plenty of anorexia memoirs now both celebrity and non most of which, to be honest, are little more than a mix of food diaries, pop-psychology and self-help.

By far, the best book on the subject is Jenefer Shutes astonishing novel Life-Size, which captures the confusing early descent into the illness, the loneliness of it at its most extreme and the weirdness of hospitalisation better than anything I have ever seen or read. Noxon has responded to criticism of her movie by emphasising it is based on her indidvidual experience, but Life-Size reveals the laziness of this popular get-out clause. Everything is an individual experience, but if your re-telling of it strikes no general chord, the fault is in your telling. Life-Size is a deeply personal story, about a twentysomething with anorexia called Josie. But in its wholly original, quasi-poetic prose style that shifts between memory, the hospitalised present and Josies hallucinations, this is a book that eschews the cliches and, in doing so, touches a wider truth. No one thing can cure someone with anorexia and this book definitely didnt cure me. But it did help me get a fix on my own experience as I was finally starting to recover and, in that regard, changed my life.

There have been only two good movies about anorexia: both treat the subject almost metaphorically and both were directed by Todd Haynes. Most obviously, there is Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, Hayness film about the most famous anorexia sufferer of all, retold with modified Barbie dolls, which perfectly captures the artificially perfect world that many with anorexia feel they need to embody. Then there is his 1995 film Safe, about a woman who seals herself off away into an antiseptic world. While not explicitly about anorexia, Safe evokes the real experience of the illness: the self-imprisonment, the illogicality, the sense you are being eaten up from within by forces you cannot control.

When I think back on my years of being ill, which went on long after I left hospital, I barely think about the food and the weight at all. Instead, I remember the cold, the isolation, the institutionalisation, the time lost and all the things Hayness movies and Shutes book depict so well. Keanu was right: its not about the food. Thats just the boring stuff that distracts even those who should know better.

To the Bone streams on Netflix from Friday.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jul/12/to-the-bone-confirms-there-are-almost-no-good-movies-about-anorexia

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Beyond Bollywood: where India’s biggest movie hits really come from

The global success of fantasy epic Baahubali 2: The Conclusion underscores the power of the countrys billion-dollar regional film industry

The global success of SS Rajamoulis fantasy epic sequel Baahubali 2: The Conclusion has once again brought Indian cinema to the attention of the world. Its forerunner, the $31m-budgeted Baahubali: The Beginning (2015), grossed $100m worldwide but caused little more than a ripple outside India. Within the country, it made waves because the film, made in the south Indian Telugu and Tamil languages, saw the Hindi-dubbed version alone gross more than $20m.

It is a common misconception that the Hindi-language, Mumbai-based film industry known as Bollywood is Indias national cinema. The numbers tell a different story. India produces an astonishing 1,900 films a year on average, of which Hindi-language Bollywood accounts for about 340. The bulk of the rest comes from the Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, Bengali, Punjabi and Gujarati languages. Domestic box office has remained stagnant at about $1.5bn and, while Bollywood might produce more films (Tamil had 291, Telugu 275, and Kannada 204 films in 2016), it contributes just a third of the box office gross. In short, Bollywood has the visibility, but not the profits, with the under-performers far outweighing the hits.

In this context, the numbers racked up by the regional Baahubali 2 budgeted at $39m, made in Telugu and Tamil, with Hindi and Malayalam dubbed versions are astonishing by Indian standards. The film opened on 28 April and grossed $194m in 13 days, making it the highest Indian grosser of all time and putting it on track to become the first Indian film to gross $200m. It easily outperformed the $123m collected by PK (2014), starring Bollywood icon Aamir Khan.

Baahubali 2 consolidated this performance by delivering an extraordinary result in the US, opening in third position at the box office, above The Circle starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. With $17m and counting, it is the highest grossing Indian film of all time in North America.

Baahubali 2 has the perfect blend of action, emotion and all the right ingredients that a moviegoer wants, says Soma Kancherla, of the films US distributors Great India Films. Baahubali 1s success and the curiosity factor had created a huge hype. The conclusion had lived up to the expectations.

Female
Female empowerment saga Parched, directed by Leena Yadav. Photograph: Brisbane Asia and Pacific Film Festival

Has the film broken out beyond Indian diaspora audiences to a broader audience? Yes, says Kancherla. We factored some of that into our promotion and targeted non-Indians, and to some extent it worked. We have seen many Americans in the theatres who watched and appreciated the film.

The film also collected $2.3m across 66 Imax screens around the world in its opening weekend. This included $1.8m from 45 Imax locations in North America, making it the highest ever opening in the format for a foreign language film.

In the UK, rather than the consolidated figure of the various versions charting as in North America, fragmented versions were listed, with the Hindi version bowing in sixth position, the Tamil one in ninth and the Malayalam and Telugu versions lower in the Top 20.

Creating and maintaining anticipation for the larger-than-life saga of warring cousins and fiery queens was a carefully calibrated task for producer Shobu Yarlagaddaof Arka Mediaworks, the company behind the films. As we started preproduction on the film, we knew that for the kind of efforts we were planning to put into the project, financial and otherwise, it would be sad if we didnt at least attempt to go beyond our regional strongholds, says Yarlagadda.

Global
Global hit Dangal has taken $143m worldwide. Photograph: Disney

Getting a wide release in the south Indian language markets of Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam was simple enough as director Rajamouli is a brand name there, with hits such as Eega and Magadheera behind him. For north India and the international markets, Arka promoted the project on social media platforms, as well as attending comic-cons and university festivals.

The so-called traditional market for Indian films is a block of 50 territories with the biggest being the US, the UAE, the UK, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indias south Asian neighbours, Australia and New Zealand, and North Africa, with some pockets in France, Germany and Switzerland. Elsewhere, Indian films were popular in Russia and China in the 1950s, particularly actor/film-maker Raj Kapoors blockbuster Awara, while dancing action star Mithun Chakraborty enjoyed fame there with his 1982 film Disco Dancer. However, of late, Indian studio majors have been striking out into non-traditional territories with dubbed or subtitled versions of films: Ki & Ka was released in territories as diverse as Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe and Gibraltar; Bajrangi Bhaijaan in Morocco, Tunisia and Poland; and Mary Kom in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Indian producers have utilised every trick in the book to reach overseas audiences. Arka hired Franois Da Silva, former artistic director of Cannes directors fortnight, to sell and market the film internationally. Non-Indian behind-the-camera talent is increasingly common. Leena Yadavs female empowerment saga Parched, in Hindi, boasts Titanic cinematographer Russell Carpenter and The Descendants editor Kevin Tent.

Accessible English-language titles are also on the rise. Pan Nalins Angry Indian Goddesses, billed as Indias first female buddy movie, sold to 61 territories internationally. Nalin says: Based on my past movies and gaining some experience with international distribution one thing I realised is that its not enough to just have a great movie. We also need a great title which is universally appealing. Titling it in English has paid off. Across the world, the moment we utter or read Angry Indian Goddesses it puts a smile on faces.

All the major Hollywood films are released in English and in Hindi, Telugu and Tamil dubs, demonstrating that India loves global tentpoles, provided they speak in their own tongues. (Appropriately, the highest grossing Hollywood film in India is the India-set The Jungle Book, which roared to $28m in 2016.) Nevertheless, the dominance being enjoyed by Baahubali 2 could be under threat. Wrestling drama Dangal has taken $143m at the global box office, while fans of Baahubalis spectacle will be waiting for the big-budget adaptations of epic story cycles The Ramayana and The Mahabharata, which are in the works. Its fair to say that, with Hollywood accounting for just 10% of the local box office, the Indian film industry continues to enjoy rude good health.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2017/may/13/bollywood-india-film-industry-baahubali-2-the-conclusion

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