As someone who tried, often unsuccessfully, to promote female stage directors in Washington, D.C.’s professional theater scene, I am sympathetic to the cause of providing more opportunities for women to direct at a high level, including Hollywood, as well as addressing directly the many and varied obstacles women face. One is a dearth of historical role models in the field. Quick, now, name five successful and respected female film directors. One just died, Penny Marshall. The pioneer in the field, actress Ida Lupino, always turns up on such lists, but which of her six films in the 50’s is a classic? “Hard, Fast and Beautiful?” “The Bigamist?” I’ve seen all of the films she directed, and she was a solid, professional director (and also an excellent actress). But Stanley Kubrick she wasn’t. Katheryn Bigelow has to be on the list, and she’s directed several excellent films, including “The Hurt Locker,” which won a
“Best Picture” Oscar. But her resume would rank somewhere around 500 or so in a gender-blind list. Okay, that’s three.
The reasons for this are not merely discrimination in the show business industries, though that is certainly a major factor. However, as we have seen and continue to see among activists for other traditionally marginalized groups, admitting inconvenient truths that counter a group identify narrative is neither popular nor common. Unfortunately, such activists have a bad and unethical habit of hyping the accomplishments of members of their favored groups, perpetuating falsehood “for the common good” and making themselves less credible and respectable advocates as a result. In politics, we saw this repeatedly during the 2016 campaign when Hillary Clinton was described as being one of the “most qualified” Presidential candidates in American history, as assertion that is simply untrue by any objective standard. As with the Clinton hyping, it is particularly troubling when the talents and accomplishments of a an individual are hyped by journalists to advance an agenda. Journalists are not practicing their craft ethically when they intentionally try to deceive the public and distort the record, regardless of their supposedly good intentions.
Now, you might say, and I might be inclined to agree, that when current journalism standards have sunk as low as they are now, and when the news media appears to be capable of previously unimaginable deceptions in an effort to advance one political party over another, a New York Times female film critic’s efforts to bootstrap the cause of female directors by absurdly hyping the directing skills of Elaine May is small potatoes indeed. However, “The Marvelous Ms. Elaine May,” by chief Times film critic Manohla Dargis, is worthy of genuine alarm. In it, an accepted “authority” sets out to claim that black is white, that May has been an outstanding film director when she hasn’t even been a good one. She relies on the ignorance of her readers to make this argument, because May’s films—she’s directed four–have been such flops that the odds of a readers having seen all of them are daunting. Worse, I have to assume that Dargis is doing this for political reasons. Either that, or she is so gender-biased that she can’t see straight.
The article’s existence in the pages of the Times tells us that even arts reporting is now polluted beyond trust and recognition by political agendas and propaganda. Moreover, its goal is to intentionally misinform the public.
Let me note here that I admire the talents of Elaine May, whom I first encountered when she and her long-time partner Mike Nichols did a series of beer commercials tha ran during Red Sox games. She was a deft sketch comedian, and also a sharp writer of satire. My theater company in Arlington, Virginia produced her most successful play, the Off-Broadway hit “Adaptation.” However, after the team of Nichols and May broke up, Nichols became on of the most critically-acclaimed and successful film directors of the last 50 years, and May didn’t. Dargis hints that sexism and discrimination were the culprits, because May was also a “brilliant” director. This is worse than claiming the Hillary was the most qualified candidate in history. It’s more like saying that she ran one of the best campaigns in history. I’ve watched all four of Elaine May’s movies. Can’t fool me! Continue reading