Ever since I’ve known of their existence, I have watched the Oscars every single year, save one. We’re talking decades of Oscar watching. (Why I missed the Oscars that one year is a post in and of itself, but let’s just say there was a pretty girl involved.) I love the Oscars. The era of Billy Crystal hosting the Oscars was a tenet of my childhood. I remember my favorite winners and their speeches and often, yes, what they wore. The Oscars are my Super Bowl. Usually, I throw a fancy little Oscar party, where everyone gets all gussied up, and we drink a lot of champagne and do a lot of celebrating. Sometimes I even roll out a cheap little “red carpet.”

Like everyone else with a sliver of social awareness, I am also very, very tired of the straight white male Hollywood boys club. It’s extremely frustrating every time the nominees are announced, and – once again – people of color and women are not recognized for their cinematic contributions in Hollywood. The #OscarsSoWhite controversy primarily focuses on the acting categories, with some scrutiny of the nominated directors. The sea of white faces (and male, for directors), is tiresome at best, and at worst, it’s a sad reflection of the pervasive racism and sexism that persists in the world’s most dominant creator of cinematic entertainment.

As an actress, I am thrilled whenever I see something different in those categories. “Something different” includes anything other than beautiful, twenty-something white gals. Which isn’t to say that those ladies don’t deserve their spot at the table. It’s to say that the hyper-focus on youth and Hollywood beauty* excludes and invalidates the experiences and stories of older women, women of color, women who aren’t thin or who don’t meet a highly inflated standard of what qualifies as attractive/sexy. Start looking at the women nominated vs. the men. Start paying attention, and you won’t be able to stop.

As a writer, I pay special attention to the Original and Adapted Screenplay nominations, and if a woman or person of color is on either of those lists, it’s like goddamn Christmas. This year, the only women nominated for Original Screenplay are part of writing teams – a phenomenon so common, if you only used the Oscars as a barometer, you’d think women are incapable of writing scripts without the help of a man. In the Adapted category, women fare slightly better, with Phyllis Nagy nominated for Carol, her adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel (The Price of Salt) and Emma Donoghue for her adaptation of her own novel, Room.

This brings us to directors. I’m the most tired of sharing these stats (So. Depressing.) but since it’s important to know, here you go:

  • 88 years of Oscar
  • 4 women nominated for Best Director
  • 1 woman has won (Kathryn Bigelow in 2010 for The Hurt Locker)

If inclusive nominations among the writers is like Christmas, when women** show up among the Best Director nominees, it’s f*cking Christmakwanzakah.

The sexism and racism of Hollywood is not a problem that begins and ends with the Oscars. It is inherent and systemic, and needs to be tackled in many different ways from many different arenas if we are to affect real change.

Since the 2016 Oscar nominations were announced, and declarations of boycotting began to surface, I’ve discussed these issues with many admired and trusted people in my life, both within the industry and without. In the end, I’ve decided to go ahead and watch the Oscars. Because I am a writer and an actor, I believe there is more tangible work I can do from the ground up, to ensure that more and more unique voices and stories are heard and recognized. Through the stories I write, the characters I play, and the films I hope to one day produce, I will help make the seats at those coveted tables more far-reaching, inclusive, and welcoming.

That being said, I’m not having a party this year. I’m watching the awards with two friends and my 15-month-old daughter. We aren’t getting dressed up, and we aren’t drinking champagne. The super fab soirée that is E’s Oscar Party is shut down until further notice. I’m going to watch the Oscars, but I’m not going to celebrate them. I won’t celebrate them again until there is truly something to celebrate.

Oscar Party
On Hold Until Further Notice

*yes, this is different from Real World Beauty

**I looked for stats on PoC nominated for/winners of Best Director. All I could find were stats that either strictly addressed black nominees (there have only been three), or “foreign born” nominees/winners, many of whom are white. If anyone knows where to find stats on PoC nominated/awarded the Best Director Oscar, I’d love to see them.

International Women’s Day and the Bechdel Test

Happy International Women’s Day!

To celebrate, we’re going to stick with our Hollywood mojo and assess some films from 2012 that passed the Bechdel Test. Go ahead and click that link if you don’t know what the Bechdel Test is. Anita Sarkeesian explains it very well, and then you’ll have a chance to get to know her and her work, too. Yay, Women!

Ms. Sarkeesian discusses how this test is useful as a barometer for how HWood is doing in its portrayals of female characters on film. What I want to highlight are the films I enjoyed last year that actually Pass this test. From Academy nominees to movies you’ve never heard of, let’s take a look at some films that are raising the bar for stories about women.

I’ll start with the big ones – the movies that the Academy was right to honor with nominations, because they were great films, and they pass our simple but super important test to boot.

1. Zero Dark Thirty
Director Kathryn Bigelow got some flack for her award-winning film The Hurt Locker, because many critics said she had made a “man’s movie” in order to secure a place at the Man’s Competition Table (and then handily crush everyone in their seats). While The Hurt Locker was a wonderful and compelling film, it does fail the Bechdel Test spectacularly, with only two women ever noticeably appearing on-screen, neither of whom have names, or conversations with anyone that I can recall.

With Zero Dark Thirty, Ms. Bigelow redeems herself in every way. Here is a film about the greatest manhunt in our time, and central to the story is Jessica Chastain as Maya, the woman who was essential to bin Laden’s eventual death. Maya develops a friendship with Jessica (played by Jennifer Ehle aka Lizzy Bennett!), and they – surprise – have other things to talk about besides men. Not so ironically, Kathryn Bigelow was passed over by The Academy on this one – she wasn’t even included in the Best Director nominations. Coincidence?

Zero Dark Thirty is also a fierce, engaging and powerful film. Five stars.


2. Les Miserables
Bear with me.
Yes, this is a musical, so in this instance, Singing will count as A Conversation.
Many of the women in this story are known as “Factory Woman 1” or “Whore 3” but many others have proper French names and have ‘conversations’ with each other about work, money, the student uprising, prostitution, and in the case of Young Cosette and Madame Thénardier, mothers, chores, and caretakers.

It passes. Three stars.*

*Stars are relevant to passing the test. For how much I love Les Miserables, it gets ten stars.


3. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Hushpuppy and her precocious self has conversations with several women, and they’re only sometimes about her daddy. They’re pretty short chats, but that has as much to do with the voiceover mechanism and Hushpuppy being a six-year-old as it does with anything else. Four stars.


4. Brave
Please just go see this movie, and make everyone you know see it, too. Then buy yourself a copy and a copy for every child you know under the age of twelve. Five stars.



Now for the lesser-known films that theoretically lack The Gravitas needed to garner attention from The Academy, but also might’ve been looked over because they are stories almost exclusively about women.

5. Pitch Perfect

Okay, so you’ve heard of this one, and you may think me silly for including it, but that’s only if you have no appreciation for Fun and Singing and Awesomeness. With an all-girl a cappella singing group at its center, this thoroughly enjoyable movie passes with flying colors. Plus you get to watch Anna Kendrick doing the cups song! Five stars.


5. Bachelorette
Not to be confused with Bridesmaids, this film is a far more sinister look at weddings and female friendships. I confess it isn’t for everyone, but regardless of whether or not you like it, the movie does a great job of passing the test – especially considering that A Wedding is at the heart of the tale. Far too often, weddings on film are romantic comedies that are all about The Bride and/or Her Fiancée.

Bachelorette is about four friends and the nuances of their sometimes effed up relationships. Not their relationships with men, but their relationships with each other, the men being somewhat on the periphery; which is more like real life than most men would like to admit. Five stars.


6. For a Good Time, Call…
Dearest S brought this movie to my attention, initially because she saw a little of me in the brunette lead actress. Turns out, this is a super fun story about two unlikely friends, their resourcefulness, and their incredible agency over their sexuality.

A special consideration of note: The Bechdel Test says nothing about conversations revolving around Sex, but rather conversations revolving around Men. Think about all the movies you’ve seen where women talk about sex and inevitably the conversation is also about men. For a Good Time, Call… gets bonus points for lots of conversations about the former that only occasionally overlap with conversations about the latter.
Five stars+


Now go celebrate International Women’s Day by watching one or two of these great movies! I’ve seen them all, so I’m going to celebrate by singing some kick ass country songs at karaoke.

And in the future, go see female written/directed/centric movies on Opening Weekend. Hollywood pays A LOT of attention to box office numbers. Let your pocketbook do the talking, and we’ll get more and more stories about women made into movies, until the Bechdel Test is rendered unnecessary and irrelevant! We Can Do It!


Our Hollywood, Ourselves

The Oscars are nothing if not contentious. In the information age, one hears everything from ‘outdated, boring, long, elitist, contrived, and total BS’ to ‘glamorous, classic, timeless, exciting, engaging, and it’s-an-honor-just-to-be-nominated.’

I definitely fall into the latter category. While I can’t say I’ve watched the Oscars every year since birth, I can say that I’ve watched them every year since I can remember, except for one year that I (amazingly) forgot, and I (unsurprisingly) cried a little when I realized. Basically the Oscars are my Super Bowl.

This post won’t be about how host Seth McFarlane lived up to my expectations (mediocre and frequently offensive), or how the broadcast was less satisfying than other years, mostly due a severe lack of cutaways to audience reactions (Stop showing me Seth! Show me more Meryl, Bradley, George, Naomi, anybody!), or about what in the hell Anne Hathaway was wearing.

This post will be about women in Hollywood and how delightful it is to slowly, steadily, witness the subtle diversification of Women on the Red Carpet.

In case slowly, steadily, etc., didn’t drive it home, allow me to further temper this observation. What we are witnessing is not a magical utopia of women of All Shapes and Sizes strutting their stuff toward the Dolby Theater. The prevailing silhouettes are still slim, young, and white. However, in 2013, it felt like there were more alternatives to slim, young, and white than there have been in years past. Here are a few of my favorites:


Before you get all uppity about how Jessica Chastain is slim, young, and white, allow me to counter you with a few key points. Yes, she is young, but she isn’t Super Young. According to IMDB, she is about to turn 36, which is an unusual time for a woman to develop her fame. To wit: 36 is not someone you would refer to as a starlet. She is simply, and more accurately, a star.

She is also slim, yes, but she is healthy slim and not crazy slim, and I love the realness of her – the softness of her arms, the subtle wrinkles by her eyes – and how she is not fighting it tooth and nail until she looks like starved, wet fowl injected with food coloring.

As for white, I have no counter. Girl is white as all get out. Some of the people I mention will be white.

85th Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals

…Such as Hugh Jackman’s wife. Yes, she is not Hollywood herself, but she is married to Hollywood, and often times that is enough to make women feel they need to meet certain physical requirements.

Sure, she’s getting some flak for the ponytail, but oh how I love her pants suit and how I love Hugh Jackman for loving her and probably loving her pants suit as well, and every time I see them together it helps me un-see just a little bit more LA phony madness.

85th Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals

Okay, so this in’t the bombshell Salma that we’re used to, but nothing can truly contain those curves. Maybe it’s curmudgeonly of me, but I wanted to punch Seth McF in the face after his asinine ‘accents are hard to understand but who cares when she’s hot’ “joke” as a method of introducing her. In a battle of the wits between those two, my money is on Salma every time.


I really want this picture to speak for itself, but I do have to say this: Tiny meets Statuesque and it was black sparkly midnight magic.


Kerry Washington in motion…. The more I see this dress, the more I like it. I especially like it here, in its candid fluidity that showcases the wee lass’ athleticism and grace.


Ugh, just look at her. Pure class. Every time. There is a reason we call her Queen. Also I have never been a hater of white dresses on the red carpet. It’s antiquated and reductive to claim that white gown = wedding dress. This is not a wedding dress. This is a gorgeous woman in a gorgeous gown.


Thank you, Sally Field, for not relegating the drama of the evening to a younger woman’s wardrobe. You are slightly batty, even by actress standards, but this dress was a brave, savvy choice. Your saccharine-saturated apprentice should stop studying your oh-so-sweet speeches and take some cues from your fashion sense instead.

85th Annual Academy Awards - ArrivalsI know, I know. Shirley Bassey was only there for the Bond tribute, to blow us all over with her performance of Goldfinger. She’s more Motown than Hollywood. Still. Can we make this a thing? Can we arrange for phenomenal, seasoned vocalists to be at the Oscars every year? So they can show up looking amazing and add some pizzazz to the broadcast while they’re at it?


kelly-rowland-oscars-2013-red-carpetThis dress is not my style. I would never choose this dress for me. But for Kelly Rowland, this dress is perfect. She is strong, and lovely, and was a consummate interviewer on the red carpet. Her enthusiasm was genuine and friendly, and her bangs make me want to abandon the side-sweep I have going in exchange for this bold, blunt perfection.
While she is slim, young, and white, I do have to take a moment for Jennifer Lawrence. What she brought to the Oscars last night (and keeps bringing to all that she does), is authenticity. The girl is talented, as humble as an actress can be, and unguarded in a way that Hollywood does not typically support. It helps that she keeps making buckets of money for everyone, but I’m confident that we never, ever have to worry about her turning into this.


Les Misérables Beauty

Today I am cheating a little.

This isn’t exactly a post about women, or confidence, or media representations… but it is about beauty.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I am a musical theatre geek. When musical theatre once again became a Hollywood phenomenon (yes, it happened before), it was like a never-ending Christmas for me. Now a group of insanely talented individuals has gone and blown all of it out of the water with a musical film that is sure to tear me to pieces: Les Misérables.

Annie was my first musical love. I was four when that movie came out. The musical version of Les Misérables (available only on stage and via soundtrack) was my teenage musical obsession. I literally believed I would never see the show live until I was 30 and living in London, because to fourteen-year-old me, that’s how magical it was.

However, I am (without the slightest bit of irony or humility), a complete Daddy’s girl, because my pops and I have a shared love of all things theatrical, cinematic, and musical. Truly, all of his children enjoy these things, but I was the only one Consumed by them. This mutual infatuation is what caused him to pick me up from driver’s ed one day and present me with an envelope of five tickets to a traveling production of Les Misérables, appearing at the Ordway Theatre in St. Paul.

It tore me up in the best possible way. Opening the envelope and seeing those tickets. Gluing my eyes to the stage through every second of that performance. Taking home my prized fancy deluxe program and book of the musical score. Two months later when my high school honor’s choir rehearsed on the Ordway stage – the Same Stage where Eponine had died in Marius’ arms only weeks prior. It killed me. It wound up my teenage heart with love and longing and heartache in the way that only teenage hearts can feel.

Until now. Now my thirty-four year old self crumbles a little inside every time I watch one of the Les Misérables trailers, or make yet another unsuspecting friend sit through the ‘making-of’ featurette which Blows My Mind because *They Are Singing LIVE.*

It may seem a small thing. It isn’t. It is groundbreaking.

Singing live in a movie musical will make every moment that much more. More torturous. More riveting. More beautiful. This film promises to be cinematic beauty at it’s best. Stick with me a moment… Tyra Banks tosses around the phrase “ugly-pretty” for when models make crazy faces but still look good, therefore doing their job as models. Les Mis will be the film version of ugly-pretty to the tenth power. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that it will be so heart-wrenchingly beautiful that it will haunt me for months after I’ve seen it. It’s going to be Hideous-Gorgeous.

See for yourself. If you don’t get chills watching the featurette, perhaps musicals aren’t your thing, or perhaps you have an emotional fortress around your heart. For the rest of you, be sure to have your tissues at the ready.

Proof That You Can Be Curvy, Outspoken, and Successful

If ever I were to find myself navigating the perils of Hollywood fame, I can only hope I would do so with the ferocity and grace of Ms. Kate Winslet.

Not only has she been a critic of absurd standards of beauty since the attacks on her physique back in the Titanic era, but she has gone so far as to spearhead a campaign against plastic surgery among her fellow actresses, known as the British Anti-Cosmetic Surgery League.  (Side note: I can’t resist including Jezebel’s vision of this club… “we imagine the (British Anti-Cosmetic Surgery League) is mainly taken up by drinking, drawing Sharpie moustaches on overly-Photoshopped luxury ads, and shining each other’s Oscars” …heehee)

Winslet has condemned photoshopping of her own image, turned a standard clothing campaign into a platform for promoting body positivity, and has even been called out as a Body Image Warrior. Personally, I think she should start signing her letters that way: “Sincerely, Kate Winslet, BIW” It’s a title I wouldn’t mind claiming for myself – second only to MW (Master of Wine).

Winslet has come under fire for “lying about her exercise regimen,” claiming to workout with DVDs at home, aiming for at least 20 minutes a day. She rightfully retaliated, and was ultimately granted a libel settlement. I applaud her for this because I believe her. I believe her because she’s one of the few actresses out there whose body even comes close to looking like mine, and my workout habits are pretty similar.

In addition to her physical confidence, Winslet is also a fierce promotor of her own talents. And why shouldn’t she be? The woman draws you into the screen with every character she embodies, and to anyone who knows what a hard job acting can be, it’s clear that she works really, really hard. Many years ago, back before the Internet existed (yes, I’m that old), I read an interview with Kate Winslet shortly after the release of Heavenly Creatures, one of her first films. She candidly spoke about how she Insisted they give her the role. She said something to the effect of “No one will do this as well as I will.” And again, when casting happened for Titanic, she told James Cameron he “couldn’t give the role to anyone else.” She had to be the one to do it.

Can you imagine a world where every woman had such a strong understanding of her own abilities? Where we all voraciously pursued the things we deserved, knowing ourselves to be dedicated, passionate, and capable?

Let’s all raise a glass (MW!) to Ms. Winslet, for being an inspiration to her daughter, for challenging the status quo, and for being about as real as it gets.