At the Miami Book Fair in 2013, I had the pleasure of reading together with a former film director whose words about Hollywood standards for a gender-equal screenplay stunned me with disappointment. Apparently, all it takes for Hollywood to consider itself egalitarian when it comes to gender roles is a screenplay that has at least two female roles — and they must be speaking roles. “(In other words, they can’t just be stand-ins in a crowd.) I am paraphrasing, and maybe misquoting due to memory failure (a thing that happens to those of us who suffer from prolonged insomnia), but I do remember clearly the film director saying, “That’s a mighty low standard, folks.”
It is quite the low standards, but Dawn of The Planet of The Apes, the latest installment in the prequals to the 1970’s original cult movie, manages to break even those. Aside from the fact that the movie has dialog that would make me cringe if I’d heard it from human characters let alone apes, (“Humans destroyed themselves…I thought apes were different, but we are so much like them.” and other similar “on-the-nose” clinchers) and that for at least half the movie, we are tortured with scenes that seem produced out of some Hollywood-Mart shelf stocked with cliches (wife sick and dying, oh so sad…babies are so cute, sunshine on the sea so wonderful), there is also only one woman speaking role, where the actress is, of course, a healer.
Although I confess that I’d rather see a female lead play a healer than I would playing some concocted Schwartzennagerized caricature of male kick-ass power enclosed in a luscious shell of tits and ass (such as we have endured for decades now since Angelina Jolie made the cut as Lara Croft), I really have to ask Hollywood, really? I mean, how hard would it have been to include just one more, one more female role? The kid who reads comic books could have just as easily been cast as a girl. We know how you love casting women in passive roles. That kid did nothing except smile at the baby chimpanzee and share comics with the orangutan.
It’s hard to imagine that this omission of female leads was casual. With all the gatekeepers in Hollywood, all the hoops a movie has to jump through as it goes from concept, to screenplay, to development, to production, it’s hard to imagine that no one at any of those stages piped up and said, “Hey, where are the women in this movie?” Deliberately, women were omitted from this particular post-apocalyptic view of the world.
The movie doesn’t even have leading female ape roles. All the apes talk except for the women, who only make groaning sounds and put their arms gently around their male partners. When war begins, the male apes go, literally “ape-shit” with machine guns, semi-automatics and other killer gadgets, but the female apes remain submissively behind, with the young. They make clucking noise when their leader, Ceasar, approaches his partner, but other than that, they are non-entities.
Out of curiosity I looked up gender roles in chimpanzees, just to see if this blatant regression to 1950’s thinking may have been based on scientific observations, but although some studies do show slight patterns of gender distinction, “research has shown that, although male dominance of groups is common, females of many species are fiercely competitive, resourceful and independent, sexually assertive and promiscuous and, in some cases, more prone than males to wanderlust at puberty” (The New York Times)
So, ok, it’s a bed movie, and it’s sexist, to boot. Who ever thought that ape-drama would be interesting to humans? Who ever thought this was a good idea? Apparently someone did, because the movie got made, sexism and all, and it’s still getting good reviews from viewers. I mean, seriously? Isn’t anyone paying attention?