Friday, July 28, 2006

Brief Interludes of Slight Exploitation

And back again to sexism in movie reviews. I can't decide whether or not I feel better about this just because Manohla Dargis is a woman. I don't think I do.

I mean, I'm glad Woody Allen isn't sleeping with Scarlett Johansson too, but do we really have to hear so much about Scarlett Johansson's "lovely lush body" for the point to be made? How much do we have to hear about her bathing suit? At what point does Ms. Dargis cross the line between imagining the possibility of Allen's exploitation of a young movie star and participating in that exploitation herself? Is it better because she's a woman? Would it make a difference if I knew her sexual orientation? I think not, in either case. I think a reviewer's power in the New York Times, at this point, is not itself limited by gender, which is to say, she has the same influence as A.O. Scott or Stephen Holden in how audiences who have read the review will focus on Scarlett Johansson's breasts and figure in a bathing suit, and her lack of making out with Woody Allen, over actual cinematic content.

I have to say, I preferred Scarlet Johansson when she was a disarmingly gifted and centered child actor. Or at least, I preferred seeing her in movies then. Now she seems constantly cast in roles too old for her based upon her sex appeal alone. Certainly she's got plenty of sex appeal, and certainly that changes movies, and certainly a reviewer is entitled to comment upon those changes. I'm not asking Manohla Dargis to say Johansson's sexuality is invisible or not part of the movie (I haven't seen the movie, so I couldn't be sure, but certainly her sexuality has been asked to play a role even in ostensibly non-sexual films like Lost in Translation), but it seems to me there's a line reviewers often cross between acknowledgment of sex and sexuality in art and mimicking or exceeding an exploitation usually limited to the camera. Whoever's crossing it, I still am not a fan.


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