Christian Toto, Columnists, Exclusives, Featured, National, Uncategorized

Toto: Pandering to audiences no way to fix Hollywood’s gender imbalance

Daniel Craig appeared both shaken and stirred recently when pressed with a tricky question.

Craig, promoting his fifth and likely final appearance as James Bond via next year’s “No Time to Die,” recoiled when a journalist asked if the film’s co-writer, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, got the gig because she’s, well, a woman.

“Look, we’re having a conversation about Phoebe’s gender here, which is f***ing ridiculous,” Craig said. “She’s a great writer. Why shouldn’t we get Phoebe onto Bond?”

Craig has a point. “Fleabag,” which Waller-Bridge created and starred in, is one of the best modern comedies. She also penned “Crashing,” a lesser vehicle but one with plenty to recommend it.

The journalist in question still brought up a valid argument given Hollywood’s rush to fix decades of gender imbalance. It’s no secret that women have been treated shabbily in the industry. Consider how many ‘80s actresses, now in their 50s, scramble for gigs while their male counterparts keep on working. Comedienne Amy Schumer once made a bit about an aging actress’ last bleep-able day in Hollywood.

The laughs stung because they hit a nerve. That, and a paucity of women in power positions, speak volumes about the progress Hollywood needs to make.

So more women in front of and behind the scenes is a good thing, right?

Yes … and no.

We’re seeing high-profile projects meant to elevate women, but too often they end up doing the opposite.

Is there a better example than “Charlie’s Angels?”

The second attempt to reboot the frothy TV series is a box office nightmare. The film will be lucky to crack the $20 million mark at a time when expensive reboots are meant to score $100 million at the U.S. box office … and more.

Director/co-writer Elizabeth Banks crafted a drab action caper drowning in feminist talking points. She doubled down while promoting the film, all but saying her movie’s failure would spell doom for female-led franchises.

Tell that to the “Hunger Games” series … or “Resident Evil” … or “Tomb Raider” … or “Alien.”

Sony, the studio behind the “Charlie’s Angels” brand, gave her the keys and let her wreck the IP, that’s “intellectual property” in 21st century film speak.

The same happened with the 2016 “Ghostbusters” reboot. The media insisted anyone not on board with four women replacing the original’s four male characters were mouth-breathing trolls.

The movie, charitably described as mediocre, lost its studio roughly $70 million.

More recently, we were given a “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” remake which gender swapped the original’s iconic leads, Steve Martin and Michael Caine. The Rebel Wilson/Anne Hathaway reboot, “the Hustle,” crashed with both critics and audiences.

In fact, gender swap remakes – meant to empower women in Hollywood – are often lousy bets at the box office. Worse, they’re collectively not very good. Even “Ocean’s 8,” arguably the most successful of the bunch, is a mediocre heist film.

There’s a similar issue in play about eliminating men from potential directing gigs. If you’re making a female superhero film, for example, studios are all but insisting a woman be behind the camera.

Of course plenty of women are up to the task. Patty Jenkins turned “Wonder Woman” into a box office sensation. Any superhero film would be lucky to have her on board. Still, eliminating half the potential talent pool for a given gig just doesn’t make sense.

In an ultra-competitive environment like Hollywood, every edge you have matters.

Affirmative action style policies are clumsy fixes at best and damaging policies at worst. They also camouflage the problems at hand. Hollywood power brokers should consider women equal partners in the creative process at every level, not trot out generic stories with female DNA in their creative bones to satisfy a quota.

Why? Because this actually hurts women in the long run. The more mediocre, female-led projects crash and burn in the market place, the more likely audiences will avoid them.

Crowds can smell pandering a mile away.

Part of this energy stems from Hollywood’s #MeToo movement, which exploded after mega producer Harvey Weinstein’s past actions came to light. The course correction is long overdue. The fixes in place may not undue decades of imbalance, though.

Studios should keep their minds, and wallets, open to a variety of pitches and perspectives. Let the very best of them thrive. Top-tier female talent will rise to the top, and audiences will clamor for more.

That means more “Fleabag” level successes … and less catastrophes like a trio of grounded “Angels.”

Christian Toto is the editor of the Colorado-based HollywoodInToto.com.

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