The most lavish praise I received for an interviewee was from Sandra Bullock. Her voice followed me as I left the room after chatting to her about her new film. “Thank you so much for not asking me about being a woman in Hollywood over the age of 40!” Clearly, I had been the only one so far that day that hadn’t raised the question.
I won’t work for gossip outlets or the tabloids, so why do even I, a ‘serious’ culture journalist, find myself outside rooms before I interview a well-known woman, having to frame questions that will bring the ‘quote’ about marriage, babies, bodies and age – as apparently nothing else will make the audience read or view it? Yes, men get targeted for quotes on their personal lives too, but in nothing like the way that women are hounded. A few years ago Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, starring in the same film, both turned 40 within weeks of each other. During their promotional tour, every question about a milestone birthday was directed at Jennifer, as the fortieth birthday career apocalypse was only relevant if you were a female.
I don’t believe this intrusive hunt for a ‘personal’ quote in any way makes audiences discover the ‘real’ woman we’re interviewing. After all, she was talented enough in the first place to get cast in a movie or a TV show or a theatre production; doesn’t her career or her opinion on anything else count for anything? Doesn’t her body of work interest anyone – or is it just her body, and how well it’s holding up against time? Despite the industry ‘waking up’ to the idea its women are in a minority, unless we change the culture, the only future female filmmakers who will find a media platform are the ‘hot’ ones, or the ones with a tangled enough love life to report.
There is an objectification about the way all women are portrayed in the media that filters down through society. And within the industry, the total obsession of the media with the gossip, the hearsay and the trivial, and our prostration before the altar of celebrity, means it’s almost impossible for the really interesting stories of films being made, whether by a man or a woman, to get a platform. There’s the female Afghan director who at 26, overcame partial sight, partial hearing, warfare and lack of education, to get a film into the Cannes film festival. There’s an eighty year old British film director called Ken Loach who has made a film that does more to excoriate the current government’s austerity cuts than a hundred political slogans, and there’s a Moroccan immigrant who was handed a camera by some German filmmakers, and every day he’s recorded his attempts to scale a wall into Europe, until it got made into a film. These are the stories that interest us at Electra as a whole.
Electra exists to change the narrative in Hollywood and beyond, by focusing on the things that matter. We are here to provide an alternative to the cheap gossip and empty soundbites that so often hit from every direction. Firstly, by giving a platform to women working within the film industry all over the world, and by focusing on their talent, their careers, and their opinions. Then by reporting on projects from our industry which truly tell stories that matter, stories involving men as a well as women.
Celebrity, age, beauty - at Electra we look and move beyond the outward. We believe this alternative focus will not only inspire our audience, but also our subjects themselves.
Emma Jones is a BBC News journalist who specializes in arts and entertainment. Her work has appeared across the BBC, the Associated Press, Getty/WireImage and The Independent. Since 2001 she has reported from every major entertainment event in the global calendar, from the Oscars to the Cannes Film Festival, and interviewees have included every A-list filmmaker.