Archive for Month: February 2017
Sexism in the film industry
With only a few hours left until this year’s Academy Awards will be kicked off in the Dolby Theatre, I wanted to re-share the editorial I wrote about the issue of sexism in the film industry. I actually first shared this piece two years ago, but the issue is still just as bad — if not worse — and since we’ll have to wait at least another year before we can see a woman receive the Oscar for best achievement in directing again, I feel the need to express what I think about it.
With today’s increased awareness around gender inequality, one would think that the film industry – with all its power and influence – would set an example for equality, but sadly, Hollywood is just as sexist as the rest of America.
This is an important issue to address because research has shown that the viewers’ opinions, values and perceptions are likely to be influenced by the films and TV-shows they watch. Film is one of the few remaining mediums that still possesses such power, and with the descending significance of newspapers and radio in our society, the film industry’s role is more important than ever.
According to Forbes’ list of top ten highest paid actors in 2013, the men made a total of $465 million, while the women collected only $181 million. Before we draw any hasty conclusions, we must take into consideration that male actors are more frequently cast in action films, and those films are more likely to bring in more money than for example drama and comedy – where the females are better represented. But the gap is still too big to be ignored.
In recent years, the “Bechdel Test” has been used to determine women’s role in the film industry. And to pass the test, the movie must have at least two female characters in it, who talk to each other, about something besides a man. Well, you might not even have noticed why a test like that would be necessary in the first place, but the horrifying truth is that less than 57 percent of the films in today’s popular culture actually passes it. That means women are either excluded or play insignificant roles in almost half of the movies on the market!
It’s nothing short of a shame that the film industry’s power of influence has, too often, been used to glorify the stereotypical male hero, while the women seems to have been placed on the screen simply as “set-props.“ In my opinion, if the character doesn’t speak a single word, is partially naked, or dressed in sexually revealing clothes – which is the case for nearly 30 percent of all female characters, she is, in fact, more of a set-prop than a character.
There has, however, been a positive development within the industry, both on and off the screen in recent years. Marilyn Monroe’s image as an objectified temptress has become less attractive, and an increasing number of actors and female directors have taken a stand in the issue of gender inequality. When Hollywood’s own first lady, Angelina Jolie, was asked to play a “Bond girl,” she refused to take the part, and said she’d rather play James bond himself. Not long after, she was cast for the leading role in the action movie “Salt” – a role originally created for Tom Cruise. This is the kind of change we need!
Unfortunately, the gender imbalance on-screen is just as present behind the camera. Did you know that the first Academy Awards were held almost a century ago, and that during that time, only one woman has won the Oscar for Best Director? Out of all those 88 award ceremonies, Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman who has had the pleasure of stepping onto the podium and receiving that 8.5-pound golden wonder with the inscription “Best Achievement in Directing” on it. This, of course, cannot be blamed solely on the Academy, as they are voting on the best films regardless of who made them. Whether or not the voting is fair and unbiased is a topic for another editorial, but there are too few female directors out there, and too few producers who are willing to give them a chance.
Maybe not surprisingly, there has, according to the New York Film Academy’s research, been shown an 11 percent increase in female characters on the screen when a woman directs the film. So, if we want a change, we, the women, will have to take matters into our own hands. There is absolutely no reason why a female should be any less equipped for creating movies that will both pass the Bechdel test, win Academy Awards, give a voice to other women within the film industry, as well as contributing to creating a healthy female ideal for the rest of the world to follow.
I entered the world of blogging precisely two years ago, and in that regard I took the time to look through the stats of my most popular posts. So consider this my blogaversary gift to you guys. None of these posts would’ve made it to the list without your continuous interest, you know. Thank you!
And speaking of interest, I must admit that looking at the numbers surprised me. I try very hard to entertain you with all my film work and journalistic pieces, but according to the stats you find my non-existent love life more interesting?! I don’t know what to make of that. Scandalous, really quite scandalous, haha.
Inside the Head of a Meth Addict
Feature story: The longest and, by far, the most explicit journalistic piece I've written.
The tumors that changed my life
Personal: The blog seem to have caught a little bit of a personal vibe lately, and after a lot of faith-related questions, I thought it was time to share the story that changed everything for me.
A Place to Belong
Mini documentary: "I didn't pick theatre because I wanted a lucrative career, I picked theatre because I wanted a place to belong." - Sam Mettler.
Sexism in the Film Industry
Editorial: "With today’s increased awareness around gender inequality, one would think that the film industry – with all its power and influence – would set an example for equality, but sadly, Hollywood is just as sexist as the rest of America."
Do I know who I am?
Personal: "I never tried to change my voice through my looks, but the way I looked changed the way I was heard."
It also appears that whenever I happen to use any variation of the words “sex,” “meth” or “Hollywood” the number of views doubles, triples and sometimes even multiplies. I must’ve found the National Inquirer‘s secret formula, but as a journalist, I really don’t know how to feel about that.
That, however, says more about you than me, I think. Out of almost 200 posts, only a handful of them contain those words, and guess what — they made it to the top of the list. I think we could perform an interesting study on this, you and I <3
Also, I’m back in New York City to take care of some business. Haha, I know that sounds sort of pretentious, but I’ll tell you all about it later.
The caption in the picture above refers to my post Fight or Flight, Read it HERE.
If this post feels familiar it’s because I had to publish it twice. The shortlink got messed up the first time.
I just wanted to thank you all for the wonderful response I got on my last post “Inside the Head of a Meth Addict”
It’s funny how that type of writing feels so much more personal than regular news writing — I almost felt nervous about publishing it, and it wasn’t even about me. I guess telling someone else’s story just comes with a feeling of more responsibility. But to me, storytelling is about expanding horizons and stepping outside comfort zones, so I’m glad I did it.
To read the whole piece and watch the video click on the picture below.
Since last time I’ve been very busy with school. Yup, last semester at Augustana, and I’m taking a math class, Good Lord. I actually spent so much time looking at numbers and graphs this week that I decided to treat myself with spending 10 hours inside the movie theatre over the weekend.
Okay, calm down. It’s not what it sounds like.
You’re probably picturing a film binge where x-gallons of popcorn was consumed during the course of five movies back to back — an attempt of escaping the responsibilities of college life and homework. But not so fast.
Cinema Falls hosted a weekend of Oscar nominated short film screenings, and I had the pleasure of volunteering at the event and got to watch every single one of them. Needless to say, it was awesome, and the after party was great as well. The fact that I could run away from my homework for a while was merely a bonus.
I would choose a classy cocktail night at the country club with people three times my own age, over a house party with loud music and red plastic cup, any day. (You already know that I avoid those parties to the best of my ability) Many of the guests at this party have watched thousands of movies over four or five decades, so the topics of conversation were significantly more fulfilling than the ones I associate with the beer-pong-and-plastic-cup kind of setting, haha.
As an aspiring filmmaker I do take the experienced movie-goers’ perspective very seriously. I’m just a little disappointed the people at my table didn’t like Forrest Gump. Seriously?! But other than that, I feel truly enriched by this weekend’s film fuel.
Inside the Head of a Meth Addict
**Reader discretion advised because of strong language and explicit description.**
In my previous post I promised to share the long-form journalism piece I wrote about meth addiction, but before you start reading, I would like to point out that this portrait is strictly based on the interviews and research I did, and that I went into this process without any agenda other than attempting to tell the story from a meth addict’s perspective.
This is Callie’s story, and I simply had the privilege of telling it.
An Orchestra of Animals
The rolled-up dollar bill vacuums the stripe of white powder from the table. Anticipation is replaced by a blast of warmth, like a blanket covering every inch of the cranial cavity; it morphs into an orgasmic nuclear wave that tickles every cell of the body. Minutes melt into hours while eruptions of neurotransmitters raft through veins, forming avalanches of pleasure that stroke every nerve in just the right way. Breathing. Shivering. Soaking in lukewarm lava. Dissolving into the void of dilated pupils in sheer euphoria: it is the rush of methamphetamine
2001: The rapid drumming from Elvis’s Jailhouse Rock bounced off the walls in the overcrowded apartment that night, and a thin layer of musty marijuana haze gave the dim lights an even softer glow. As the crowd grew and Mr. Presley’s efforts became overshadowed by the thumping noise of revelers, Calvin and his newly acquainted lady friend escaped down to the quiet of the basement. A single bulb dangled in the ceiling above them, forming a strewn circle of light on the weary pool table. The cool air surrounding the two titillated bodies gleamed with expectation, sexual tension and the muffled hum of Elvis’ voice penetrating the boards that separated them from the party upstairs. Calvin had watched Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz snort buckets of white powder in the movie Blow earlier that day, so when his new friend suddenly pulled out a bag of crystal meth, curiosity took charge.
Before dawn, Calvin had bought his first ticket to the meth-train, and the ride was, as he put it, “ecstatic.”
“She offered, I took it, we got naked, and we were not just friends anymore … if you know what I mean.”
A few chuckles follow, and a smile runs all the way from the prominent chin up to the winged eyeliner before it stops to give room for the next sentence.
“I felt powerful. It gave me a tremendous sex drive, you know. Some people say meth makes it hard to get it up, as far as your penis, but it was never like that for me.”
A decade and a half has passed, and the only remaining trace of infatuation from that night is Cal’s romance with crystal meth – a relationship that has proven to be a resilient one, surviving a three-year prison sentence and several breakups.
15-year anniversaries are, ironically, known as crystal anniversaries.
After getting caught stealing 1,300 dollars from the safe at his job, then later in possession of four narcotic pills, Cal was sentenced to three years in prison.
The penitentiary, however, was nothing compared to the closet he lived in for 46 years.
“I started wearing girls’ panties at seven, so yes, I knew I was transsexual from a very early age.”
Yet, that remained a secret until four years ago. A marriage, four sons, a divorce and a felony had to be taken care of first, but once the decision was made, “it was amazingly simple.”
Calvin is now Callie Lynn Swick. She’s tall, lean, fashionable, and walks like a slightly hunched-over Kate Moss. With loose hips and hingy joints she glides, a little stiffly, across the pavement. The blonde bob-cut wig needs frequent adjustments and the smile is missing a few pearls, but seven red-polished fingernails, a carefully matched outfit and the fresh smell of perfume testify that Callie is a woman with a sense for details.
She lost three fingers in an accident while working as a landscaper, but rolls cigarettes with impressive speed and accuracy.
Underneath the denim jacket and navy-blue tank top rests layers of ink concealed in the shapes of a tiger, “Turbo 420,” “Aron” and an eagle that is yet to be finished. She earned the nickname Turbo because of her workaholism, and decided to accompany it with 420 because of its longstanding connotations with the marijuana culture. Aron is the name of her youngest son, and she got the tiger with the red tongue “sometime in the 90s.”
She talks in patterns, starting with diplomatic words like “I don’t care what people think about me,” continuing with a nonchalant “they can go to hell for all I care,” and ending with a high-pitched, almost humming “which they probably will, for judging me.” Always accompanied by an animated head-fling, sassy wrist-bend and a sting-relieving giggle.
She says “what the hell,” (with an emphasis on the “E”) whenever she talks about things she passionately detests, such as people who steal from family members, hit women or “let the drug rule them.”
A Phonecall with the Sheriff
She has worked as a landscaper most of her life, but got fired after her most recent employer discovered the felony in her records. When she could no longer pay the rent, she picked up the phone and shared the news with the Sheriff herself.
“Hello, I can’t live here anymore. You gotta come kick me out.” Just like that. She laughs while holding the imaginary phone in her left hand to demonstrate how the December-eviction transpired.
Callie moved into the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House, a shelter for the homeless in Sioux Falls, right away. And after having picked up yet another box containing parts of the wardrobe she left at her son’s house, she realizes that the one-locker-per-person-policy may need to be stretched. She expresses her concern with having to ask for more room, but when one of the shelter’s volunteers glazes over the packed-to-the-brim locker, and the tub-sized box on the floor, she starts laughing and says:
“Well, you sort of need it.”
“These aren’t even all of my clothes,” Callie responds.
The volunteer nudges her head back a notch and widens her eyes like a cartoon, but doesn’t get to give a vocal response before Callie interprets the reaction and starts explaining.
“I have my men’s clothes too, you know, for when I visit my grandmother.”
Callie looks down and points to the glittery leggings sticking out of the black sneakers and mumbles, “She isn’t ready for this. She’s 95. She’s had enough.”
Callie’s mother, on the other hand, would have handled it, but she passed in ‘99. Her father, too, died that same year, “but only on the inside.” Losing his spouse and seeing his son come out as trans a few years later was hard on him. Callie is, however, extremely close to her sister – a result of them both getting dumped on prom night and ending up dancing together, refusing to let the night go to waste. It was a happy time, high school.
Back then, hormones and teenage rebellion was often mixed with marijuana and alcohol, but she never had any problems with the latter – “except in high school.” Callie says she has the ability to get addicted to anything; food, eating food, cooking food, watching people eat her food. Anything.
“I’m majorly addicted,” she says with a large grin, “but I’m a responsible addict. I’m not a ‘fiend.’”
“Fiend” refers to the individuals who are so deep into meth addiction that they’re willing to do anything to get their high; often characterized by a “skeletal body, no teeth and scratches all over.”
Depending on the dose and the method of ingestion, the meth high can last anywhere from three hours and up. Callie never exceeds three days, but even that’s pushing it.
The Porcelain Bugs
“I once saw bugs crawling on my bathroom floor — porcelain is the worst — but they weren’t real, you know. When I tried to touch them, they disappeared.” She thinks on it. “After four days people start heading into la la land.”
Callie spends close to 120 dollars on crystal meth every three months, but for some of the fiends she knows, 120 won’t even cover a day’s usage.
She says that less than ten, or even five percent, can do what she does: making each gram last, keeping it under control, despite the urge to use.
“My counselor struggles with understanding that.” Callie pauses, moves her brown irises to the upper corner of her eyes. “But then again, we used to get high together, and she didn’t know moderation back then either.”
It’s time. Time to get high. She walks into the woods, with the small Ziploc bag in her pocket. There. Same spot as usual. Adrenaline pumping. Her body knows what’s about to happen, and the brain’s natural happy hormones — dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin and serotonin — are already firing the rush of anticipation. She sits down, takes out the bag with the tiny glass-like particles inside. Within seconds, the same particles are on their way up her nose. It’s an instant burst; her pupils widen so rapidly it looks like black holes are eating away the brown in her eyes.
A slow exhale, release of all tension, total and complete relaxation, pure euphoria, overwhelming satisfaction. It’s good – artificially good, too good for the brain to transmit the pleasure in its entirety via the body’s network of nerves. Sensory overload.
It continues. Time becomes fluid, sounds become crisper, colors become brighter and as she is drifting away into an ocean of bubbles, she is more aware of her surroundings than before. The sound of the forest circles around her in melodies as from a symphony.
“It all comes together, almost like an orchestra — an orchestra of animals,” she says, and looks down at the hands resting in her lap.
She takes a breath and bites her lower lip. Braces herself.
“And it … “
“For a moment, it … ”
She raises her eyes, blinks, and looks down at her hands again.
“For a moment, it erases everything that is wrong with me.”
Click to start video:
By Maria Lavelle 2017.
Since last time, I’ve spent a significant amount of time writing a journalistic piece where I tried to take the reader inside the head of a meth-addict. It’s, by far, the longest and most detailed story I’ve ever written within the genre of journalism, and I’m very excited to share it with you all later this week. Stay tuned!
Here’s a sneak peek:
I definitely had to step outside my comfort zone with this piece, and it’s been a very interesting process trying to understand meth-addiction from the inside.
Believe it or not, but this type of writing actually nourishes my inner filmmaker because it allows me to tell stories with all my senses. I can explore what the camera can’t see, and I can create images with just words — which I believe are skills that can help me become a better filmmaker. I tell myself that if I can tell visually appealing stories with just words, I will be able to tell even more powerful stories on the screen when I actually do use the camera as a tool.
I often compare journalism and film to vegetables and desserts. (This will make sense, I promise. Just keep reading)
– Journalism is like a carrot. You eat it as it is; either raw, boiled or roasted, but regardless of how it’s prepared it’s somewhat fresh, unprocessed, crispy and healthy. Even if it doesn’t taste like a dessert, you need the vitamins. The authenticity and enlightenment of a well-written journalistic story will do you good.
– Film is like a carrot cake. You usually need a recipe to create it, and it takes more preparation, processing, mixing and polishing before you can serve it to your guests, but the result is absolutely marvellous. A good movie needs a good story — hence the carrots — but it’s whipped together with carefully selected ingredients to create a well-composed product.
The conclusion to this extremely weird comparison is that no movie will ever be good without the right ingredients, and sometimes journalistic storytelling can be one of those absolutely crucial elements.
Oh my. I just sounded like a complete nerd. Well, I probably am, but I know you love me still.
I want to make films that leave the audience like this.