The Oscar winner is guilty of triumphal whingeing in her acceptance speech – and what’s more, she’s wrong: women have never had it so good in Hollywood
But this year’s Academy Awards were memorable in that very few of the winners went on long enough for the orchestra to strike up its funeral march. Only one person – if you listen to the post-Oscar chat this week in LA – veered off-piste: Cate Blanchett.
Now brains are hazardous things to have at these entertainment industry events. Dimwits will keep it pleasingly linear, while the clever ones such as Blanchett – whom I admire enormously as an actress – tend to over-complicate matters and billow out into promoting spurious causes. Which is precisely what the Blue Jasmine star did, thanking Woody Allen and “the audiences who went to see [the film], and perhaps those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the centre are niche experiences. They are not. Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money.” Carried away by her own hubris, Blanchett ended with the war cry: “The world is round, people.” Oh, Cate. Until that moment you were eloquent and on-key, graciously detailing the attributes of your co-nominees – then came that final blast of nonsense. Women “a niche” in 2014? Surely these days it’s men who are lucky to get a look-in.
Triumphal whingeing, I call it. You’ve won, for God’s sake, yet somehow you’re going to use that as a peg to complain. Let’s get one thing straight: there’s very little for women in Hollywood to complain about these days. In film and TV – if not in life – every astronaut, detective, forensic scientist and political fixer is female (and usually flanked by a dunderheaded male who is relentlessly proved wrong before bowing to our superiority).
If confirmation were needed, surely Lena Dunham’s HBO hit, Girls, informed us that there’s a whole post-Sex and the City generation who are still avidly gender-wallowing on the small screen. Far from being “niche” television, its creator won every award going – even gracing the cover of US Vogue.
Certainly on the big screen the roles, both young (Amy Adams in American Hustle, Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave) and old (Judi Dench in Philomena, Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in August: Osage County) are more fully fleshed out, nuanced and culturally important than they have been in decades. The pay gap may still be glaring (last year, Hollywood’s highest-paid star Robert Downey Jr raked in an estimated $75 million – more than double the earnings of his female counterpart, Angelina Jolie, who made a feeble $33 million in 2013). But with those kinds of figures, nobody’s starving.
And certainly in influence, if not yet in dead presidents, female actresses are not so beleaguered. According to one New York Times film critic who applied the little known science of “cinemetrics” (extracting statistical data from movies to reveal their inner workings) to this year’s Oscar contenders in order to quantify the gender gap in screen time, Sandra Bullock was on screen for 73 minutes in Gravity – occupying 87 per cent of the film’s running time – as opposed to Sir Anthony Hopkins’s 18 minutes in Silence of the Lambs. True, he won an Oscar for those 18 minutes, but that’s a whole different argument.
The same New York Times piece tells us that shots of Blanchett in Blue Jasmine and Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave last twice as long on average than those of Matthew McConaughey and Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, creating more empathy with female characters. Blanchett might have suggested that given these findings, women should be paid pro-rata – that is, twice as much as men – but then that would have sounded a little less poetic and a lot more crass.
Nobody is disputing the fact that there are still vast swathes of the world in which women are ignored, marginalised, subjugated and done down; Hollywood just isn’t one of them. And yet, even as we stand up there on stage, clutching that little gold statuette, we want reparations.
I wonder whether the whole “my struggle” thing will ever be left behind, or whether, like the old “ban the bomb” generation of the Sixties and Seventies, women will just keep on trying to relive their revolutionary past, conjuring up smaller and smaller injustices. Because apparently no success is meaningful enough without the element of victimhood. It’s not enough to simply excel at what you do and rejoice in the knowledge that your talent has touched many people; everyone needs a cause.
“Great speech,” viewers were able to lip-read Best Actress-nominee Jennifer Lawrence murmur amid the muted applause that greeted Blanchett’s comments. Which struck me as curious, because I can’t for a moment imagine a woman of Lawrence’s age making a similar point. For her and so many successful women in so many high-paying industries across the world, I can’t help but think that the issue isn’t so much “how can we get what we want?” as “what shall we do with it now that we’ve got it?”