Le 14e International Filmmor Women’s Film Festival

And the loser is…

Several prizes ‘award’ sexist behaviour in cinema

Turkey’s Golden Okra Awards name and shame sexism in current movies, as do the EDA awards in America.  K asks leading film-makers and critics for their dishonourable mentions.

Le 14e International Filmmor Women’s Film Festival

Women’s rights in Turkey have some way to go, with domestic violence and wage inequality being two problems at the forefront of society. But Filmmor, a women’s film cooperative that takes its festival around the country each year, is making huge inroads.

Since 2008 they’ve been shining a spotlight on sexism in cinema with their tongue-in-cheek Golden Okra Awards. The okra - a vegetable that aids digestion and combats fatigue - is used by Filmmor as a metaphor to ‘heal’ what’s wrong with Turkish cinema.

Prizes for actor and actress do not reward acting skills (or the lack of); instead they go to male roles that are the centre of all the action, and to females roles stereotyped as diabolical, weak, or self-sacrificing mothers.  Other awards go to ‘best’ film, director and script; there’s a Jury Special Award for Homophobia; and a Diamond Okra Award for showing women in a pornographic light.

Unsurprisingly the winners do not turn up to collect their prizes, but critics, film-makers, LGBT campaigners and international diplomats attend each year, and rave about the ceremony afterwards.

If there were a screenwriting world championship of misogyny, The Wolf of Wall Street’s script would win.

Last year, Recep Ivedik received what is surely the most dubious cinematic honour of all time: the Golden Okra of the Century for Male Character, in a wry nod to celebrating 100 years of Turkey’s film industry. The film-makers attempted to create an endearing protagonist. Ivedik, however, can only be described as a lout who continually objectifies women and makes gay slurs across a franchise of four films. They are also among the most commercially successful at the Turkish box office.

Dinosaurs

Meanwhile in Hollywood, 2015 saw the first ever edition of Artemis, a film festival that celebrates female action figures. Founder Melanie Wise, who’s also an actor and producer, lists Jurassic World and The Wolf of Wall Street as her personal contenders for some of the most sexist movies in recent years.

Of Jurassic World she says, “Chris Pratt's character is the tough guy who saves the day. Bryce Dallas Howard's character is brittle, insecure and all business, a stereotypical nerd woman warmed by the tough, honest man.  Because all a smart woman really needs is a big strong man to make her feel like a special little girl.”

Le 14e International Filmmor Women’s Film Festival

Wise calls The Wolf of Wall Street “an orgy of self-abnegation and female degradation. If there were a screenwriting world championship of misogyny, this script would win.” The film has been hugely debated for scenes such as the one where an employee shaves her hair off in exchange for $10,000 to get breast implants. Some see it as criticism of the inherently sexist world of money and power-hungry investment bankers, while others argue it glorifies the drug-guzzling, abusive behaviour of Jordan Belfort, whom the film is based on, and his cohorts.

Last year, screenwriter Marya E Gates had a project A Year with Women, for which she watched films only directed or written by women. She picked Iron Man 3. “The whole arc of Maya’s character is that she was blown off by Tony (Robert Downey Jr) years earlier for a date and now is a scheming woman out for revenge. Guy Pearce’s character has some absurd line about how he used to be crippled (and therefore not attractive) and now he's beefy so Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) should want to be with him now.”

Le 14e International Filmmor Women’s Film Festival

Let’s talk about sex-ism

“It really all felt like it was trying to be feminist and just failing so hard,” she continued. “It didn't do nearly as much subverting as it thought it was doing and mostly just pushed old stereotypes of nerds, disabled people and vengeful women back into the spotlight. I couldn't believe it was so highly praised.”

There are female-centric films that fail in the eyes of the critics too. In Hollywood the closest equivalent to the Golden Okras are the EDA awards, presented in a similarly humorous vein by the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. The AWFJ promotes films by and about women, whether they’re in front of or behind the camera. Named after actor Eda Reiss Merin, classifications include Best of and Female Focus. But Special Mention categories vary in response to the films released that year, and include Most Egregious Age Difference Between The Leading Man and The Love Interest; Best Nudity or Sexuality; and Actress Most in Need of a New Agent.

Iron Man 3 felt like it was trying to be feminist and just failing so hard.

Jennifer Merin, president of the AWJF, personally believes many of Melissa McCarthy’s roles, from Bridesmaids to Spy, would earn her the Best Actress Golden Okra Award. “She consistently delivers re-runs of the same two dimensional, stereotypical fat female who (big laugh) gets guys despite her size and bad behaviour. Granted, actresses have limited choices in the roles they're offered, but McCarthy continues to accept and create roles that pander to blatantly sexist preconceptions, and I find it both sad and alarming that McCarthy and her films are held up as examples of progress in women's status and opportunity in the film industry.”

Whether embedded in humour or irony, sexism in Hollywood is alive and well. As Merin sums up: “role reversal, even when presented as intended satire, does not equality make.”

The 14th International Filmmor Women’s Film Festival kicked off in Istanbul on 11 March and is visiting seven cities, until 30 April. The Golden Okra Award nominees will be announced later this month.