Note from Paul Russell: This week I’ve invited actor Joe Hartz to expand his recent social network post here at Answers for Answers about an unspoken sexism in entertainment.
We live in a sexist world. It’s sad, but all too true. Unfortunately, a lot of show business is focused on this sexual exploitation. Far too often, we hear and see examples of talented young starlets reduced to nothing but their physical appearance and implied sexual desires. It happens every day in our industry, and serves one purpose: to fulfill that dirty business end of show business. Simply put, sex sells.
Some may say it’s far more common to see on screen than on stage. Others believe that sexism targets specific people. But the ugly truth is that it permeates throughout our industry and our society, ignoring no one.
While it’s far more common to see the psychological attacks thrown at women by the media, it’s far too easy to forget that men are also its victims. Victims not only because our mental image of women has been distorted by Photoshop and absurd standards, but because men are also portrayed in an unfair light.
Don’t believe me? Think about it:
- Leading men are 6’5” with rippling muscles, a chiseled jaw line, and are capable of doing almost any task. But if they are those things, they’re rarely very smart or sensitive.
- Smaller men? They’d better be really smart and witty, so they can be a sidekick.
- A bit more portly? If they’re very funny, they can be someone’s toady. Maybe a likable villain.
- Somewhat older? They’re either sage with wisdom, or completely insane, right?
But if men can’t fix a car, repair house problems, be well-liked, provide for others, and/or save the world with their abs, pecs, guns and buns on display, they might as well be useless. And God help them if they actually (not comically) enjoy things outside a manly stereotype.
And once the latest Captain America/Superman/G.I. Joe movie leaves theaters, toys and actions figures continue to uphold body standards that rival Barbie’s. The message that starts with our actors, directors and producers mutates and floods the rest of society. So what can be done?
Slowly, but surely society is making a change for the better. Writers are creating more depth and variation. Directors are shining new light on different characters. Actors that would have never been considered leading men ten years ago are breaking down the perceived barriers of the typecast. Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad. Colin Firth in The King’s Speech. Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire. Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris. These are actors who have realized that typecasts are not rules, merely guidelines. Their directors were brave enough to use them. And the producers were willing to make an investment on them.
Please don’t misunderstand. My intention is not to diminish the struggles women face with the media. I simply hope others recognize that sexism is a two-way street. Marketers will not cease to exploit the sexuality of anyone as long as it sells, and they will not discriminate between genders. Male and female is not the issue; dollars and cents is.
As a society, we must give our money and our support to artists who are willing to create and invest in characters that defy sexist stereotypes, and to speak out against media outlets that promote such sexism. When the message is loud enough, the money pays attention.
As actors (male and female alike), we must dedicate ourselves to our art, above all else. Certainly, one must embrace the business aspect of show business, and one’s typecast cannot be entirely ignored. But we’re also responsible on some level for inspiring others to see beyond a typecast. To make them believe that we ARE good enough. That we CAN play the part. That we SHOULD show others something different. In the immortal words of Steve Martin, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
Until next time,
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Joe Hartz received his BFA in Acting and Directing from Southeast Missouri State University and has acted in a variety of plays, musicals, films and videos over the last 10 years. He is the author of several plays, short films and one acts, seen on stage and in film festivals. Joe is represented by West Model and Talent Management of St. Louis. For more information, please visit http://www.westmodelmanagement.com/talent/men/534-joeh.html.
Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.
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