The Importance of Our 'Leading Lady Parts'

The Importance of Our 'Leading Lady Parts'

The film industry has long been in a state of turmoil, with whitewashed casting, sexual predators  (both behind the cameras and on screen) and what seems like the same ten actors and actresses winning awards each year. 

Rebel Park Productions, has created a long-overdue masterpiece in the form of a short film- aptly named ‘Leading Lady Parts’. The film addresses the aforementioned issues, in the hopes that it will open the eyes of the public as to what happens behind the scenes of some of our favourite films.

“As Oscar Wilde once said, if ‘life imitates art’ then our ‘art’ needs to change its portrayal of leading ladies.”

In light of the allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein in 2017, with over 75 women filing charges of sexual assault and harassment against him, the film industry has come under a huge amount of scrutiny. This scrutiny comes not just from the public and press, but also from Hollywood’s very own cast and crew. Following on from Alyssa Milano’s 2017 ‘#metoo’ movement, Hollywood actresses and crew members from across the industry created the ‘Time’s Up’ movement. ‘Times Up’ aims for equality and to eradicate sexual assault and misconduct in the workplace. It was in an early ‘Time’s Up’ meeting that the idea behind ‘Leading Lady Parts’ was discussed.

Written and directed by Jessica Swale, the film was published on YouTube the 2nd August 2018 and reveals major issues within the industry; whilst also demonstrating how demeaning, objectifying and convoluted the audition process can be for women trying to get their ‘big break’.

Rebel Park Productions phrases the company’s ultimate goal succinctly in their twitter bio – ‘to create more opportunities for women in film & television.’ Some may argue that there has never been a better time to be a woman in Hollywood; with recent female-lead films such as ‘Wonder Woman’, ‘Ocean’s 8’ and ‘Annihilation’ hitting our screens in the last two years. Yet, in an interview on Rebel Park Productions’ YouTube channel, actor Tom Hiddleston reveals that in the thirteen years he has only worked with five ~ yes, five ~ female directors. As ‘Leading Lady Parts’ highlights, we are still a long way from equality. So, according to Swale’s film, what must a woman sacrifice or endure in order to be a ‘leading lady’?

1)    Her body – once an actress steps into an audition room, her body is no longer hers. In an interview with Rebel Park Productions (available on their YouTube channel), actress Felicity Jones recalled a costume fitting where ‘there would be three producers, thinking it was okay that I did that fitting in front of them.’ Her experience is reflected in the scene within ‘Leading Lady Parts’ where her character is asked to remove all of her clothes at an audition – despite the role being that of a doctor in South London. Other instances within the film demonstrate actresses being rejected for their skin colour, weight, and lack of makeup.

2)    Her acting ability – when Emilia Clarke suggests that her character may cry during a tragic scene, the directors holding the audition refuse, unless it’s ‘sensual sexy crying’ or ‘in a shower’. This scene shows how the audition process is not necessarily an examination of a woman’s acting abilities. In fact, as long as the woman looks pretty and doesn’t ‘ugly cry’, then it doesn’t really matter if she’s got any talent. As Catherine Tate so neatly put it, ‘think of the poster!’

3)    Her voice – similar to the point above, it doesn’t matter what the actress says, nor how she says it. Every woman auditioning for the ‘Leading Lady Part’ is interrupted while acting, with a comment from the directors about her appearance.

4)    Her personality and/or intelligence – these attributes have little to no consequence when auditioning to be a leading lady. When Felicity Jones dares to state that she thought the role she was auditioning for was clever, she was met with ‘[clever’s not] something we want or care about … at all, actually.’

In her Rebel Parks Production interview, actress Wunmi Mosaku emphasises the importance of ‘being able to see yourself represented in art.’ Unfortunately for Hollywood, very few women see themselves as a ‘thin sexy hooker virgin with boobs and hips, but not big ones’. 

It is clear from these examples that the audition process can be completely unfair, demoralising, and intimidating for women. Perhaps the most worrying part about this film is that it is not a reflection on an old injustice. This is a very current and real situation for actresses in the twenty-first-century. The objectification and sexualisation of women in the industry permeates the vast majority of films, in a variety of ways. Whether it be scant costumes, such as Karen Gillan’s ‘child sized clothes’ in the latest Jumanjiremake; or films that fat shame slim actresses – The DUFF, anyone? 

A woman’s appearance seems to come first and foremost in any leading lady role, a message Swale’s film delivered eloquently. As Oscar Wilde once said, if ‘life imitates art’ then our ‘art’ needs to change its portrayal of leading ladies.

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