Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Talking with Film Reporter Alicia Malone, Author of Backwards & In Heels

The only thing I love as much as watching movies is talking about movies and that’s why I was thrilled to talk to film reporter Alicia Malone. Malone is the host of the weekly show Indie Movie Guide on Fandango, and a host on Filmstruck, a movie streaming service by the Criterion Collection and Turner Classic Movies.

Malone was in Toronto to cover TIFF and promote her first book, Backwards & In Heels: The Past, Present And Future of Women Working In Film.

TorontoVerve: How did you become so passionate about film?

Alicia Malone: It started at an early age. My dad loved classic movies, so he used to drag me out of bed at night to watch the late night classic films. My mom also loved movies, and we would go to the video store every week and I would get 7 films for 7 days for 7 dollars. It wasn’t until I was a bit older at school that I realized that it was kind of a strange thing that not everyone loved classic movies as much as I did. But luckily, I now found the dream job where I get to see movies for a living.

TV: Do you recall the movie that really got you interested in film?

AM: I remember that Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock was one of the first films that I saw that made me realize that someone was making it. That it was a director, that it was his vision, and that everything was there for a purpose. I thought that was really fascinating, so that led me to start reading film books and film history books to try to learn more about the art of cinema. I never went to university, so I studied on my own — trying to watch all the classics and figure out why they were so important.

TV: What got you the most frustrated and the most excited when doing research for your book?

AM: Most frustrated was how often this happens: how every time that there is a movie that’s successful that’s directed by a woman or starring women, how it seems to be a fresh surprise to Hollywood – and then they quickly forget about it. I noticed when I stepped back and started researching the whole history of American cinema how many peaks and troughs there were for women. That was frustrating because it seems like history repeats itself time and time again for gender and racial diversity. But the most exciting thing was when I was talking to people like Ava DuVernay, Geena Davis and JJ Abrams — people who are working inside of Hollywood to try and change things — they were so optimistic about the future that it made me excited for the future of Hollywood.

TV: Which female filmmaker's story resonated with you the most?

AM: I love the story of Lois Weber who was one of the earliest female filmmakers of the world. In 1916, she had the highest grossing movie and it was a film about abortion. She was someone who was focused on social issues and paired that with incredible visual images. I love her story because she also helped a lot of women get into the business. She was a great mentor. She was very strong with her vision and paved the way for so many women in the future.

TV: I really appreciate the diversity in your book and how you shared stories about People of Colour like Hattie McDaniel, Anna May Wong, Dorothy Dandridge and Pam Grier, to name a few.

AM: I try to be inclusive as possible. I’m a white girl from Australia, so I don’t know these stories. I don’t know what it feels like to be a person of colour in America. I tried to consult as many diversity experts as I could and do interviews, and then come at it from like a fact-based thing. But I wanted to tell their stories. It’s hard enough being a white woman, let alone a woman of colour in this industry.

TV: Geena Davis told you after Thelma & Louise and A League of Their Own that she thought "everything would be different" for women in film. And it wasn't. Now that Patty Jenkins has broken all records and expectations with the success of Wonder Woman, how hopeful are you that "everything will be different”?

AM: I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ve seen some articles now about Wonder Woman saying, “Everything is different now. Everything is getting better because Wonder Woman is successful.” But we don’t have another female-led superhero film until 2019 with Captain Marvel. And if you look at the statistics of today’s Hollywood, nothing has really changed. However, I remain hopeful because of the level of conversation, and that’s brought about with social media which we didn’t have back in those days. I think that there’s a real awareness now that there’s an issue, and I don’t think that people are as willing to let the studios get away with it as they used to, and we saw that recently with Ed Skrein and the whitewashing issue with Hell Boy. He stepped down from that because people — rightly so — took to social media and there was an uproar about it. So, I think that with the level of conversation, it’s virtually impossible for studios to get away with it now. They’re not going to change by themselves, but they will change because we will push them to change [Update: As of yesterday, Hawaii Five-O's Daniel Dae Kim will be playing the role vacated by Skrein].

TV: It’s concerning that Warner Bros. hasn’t signed Patty Jenkins yet to direct the Wonder Woman sequel [Update: As of two days ago, Warner Bros. has rehired Patty Jenkins to direct the sequel].

AM: It is. Yeah, it’s really concerning. I’m hoping that she gets signed to the sequel and gets a good decent amount of pay. Again, it was frustrating to see people say, “Wow! We didn’t know that this woman could direct a superhero film, and it’s been successful.” For Jenkins, she directed Charlize Theron in Monster, and it was 14 years between her two feature films, and that’s ridiculous.

TV: There would be a huge outcry if Warner Bros. didn’t rehire her.

AM: Exactly. They’re going to be under pressure, and that’s a good thing.

TV: What are your thoughts about this trend of all-female versions of male dominated films: Ghostbusters, Ocean’s Eight, and now the newly announced Lord of the Flies?

AM: I know. [Laughs] I’m dubious about Lord of the Flies because it seems like it’s the anti-version of Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman showed a utopia filled with women, and I think these days we don’t need to see women tearing down other women because we get that narrative so often in reality TV shows and tabloid magazines. But I do think in terms of Ghostbusters, etc., it’s a start. It’s a simple way to get more women on screen. The same with Ocean’s Eight because they know that the franchise will work. It’s a safer bet than an original film. Obviously, what I want is original stories made for women, made by women, telling stories about women. That’s when there’s real change, but it’s a step in the right direction.

TV: Made by women. Yes, because Lord of the Flies will be written by two men.

AM: Yes, written by two men and probably directed by a man, and I think it will lose some of the nuance. Lady Bird, which is playing here at TIFF, is a great female-driven film because director Greta Gerwig put her personal story into it. It’s a coming-of-age story about a girl going off to college. The mother/daughter relationship rings so true, and Saoirse Ronan’s character is so realistic. You can really tell the difference.

TV: With Colin Trevorrow exiting Star Wars, a lot of people on social media are calling for a woman to direct a Star Wars movie. JJ Abrams would love to see Ava DuVernay direct one [Update: As of today, JJ Abrams will be writing and directing Episode IX]. Why do you think Disney should consider a female director?

AM: I think they should to show that it can be done. One thing that I’m concerned about – which is why all the directors are leaving – is because the franchise is so important. The brand to the studio is more important than the people in it. They want to protect their brand at all cost, which means there’s less ability to make an original story and have original voices like directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller who have a unique sense of style. What they wanted for the franchise clashed with the studio, so they got rid of them. I would love to see someone like Ava DuVernay, who has proven herself as a director, get a chance at something like Star Wars just to show that women can direct a big action movie like we saw with Wonder Woman, but only if they get their own opportunity to have their voice, and not have to just paint-by-numbers to fill in a franchise.

TV: Did it surprise you when Kathleen Kennedy first came out and said that a woman can’t direct a Star Wars movie?

AM: Yeah, it surprised me when she said that nobody has asked her and they should just pick up the phone. I think that’s a very hard thing to do. I don’t think that she’s that easily accessible, and there is this misnomer that people say to me all the time on Twitter, “Maybe women just don’t want to direct Star Wars.” No, Star Wars is universal. Everybody loves Star Wars. There’s so many fans of different genders and backgrounds. I think that Star Wars is for everyone. It shouldn’t be a surprise that women can or want to direct Star Wars. So, I was hoping for her to be more of an ally for women. Now is her chance.

TV: You mentioned Patty Jenkins and her 14-year gap between Monster and Wonder Woman. It frustrates me when I see white males, like Colin Trevorrow, get their big shot at a major franchise after a few indie films. 

AM: Yeah, it’s so true. Colin made a small film (Safety Not Guaranteed), which was great and very well-received at Sundance. But then he went to Jurassic World — such a big jump for him. That’s what I discovered in writing the book that the pipeline is not the same. That women can make these small interesting films at Sundance and Toronto and other festivals. They can be successful and win awards – but once they have to move up the system and ask for more money from studios or financiers, that’s where they get blocked; because it’s still seen as a risk to give money to female directors rather than male directors. Whereas Colin Trevorrow, he got the job on Jurassic World because [Director] Brad Bird said, “I know a guy who reminds me of me.” And it’s that kind of thing of like they just feel safer if it’s a white guy. It’s just so unfair that it doesn’t work the same way — that pipeline or that jump up for women.

TV: I guess things could change if more women with power in Hollywood speak up — like Jessica Chastain did at Cannes recently. 

AM: Yes, and she’s someone who has made an active difference – not only speaking up at Cannes – but also vowing to work with female filmmakers, and she’s got a movie at TIFF (Woman Walks Ahead) directed by a woman. She’s really someone who practices what she preaches, and we need more of that in the industry.

TV: Your dream is to run your own one-screen theatre. What would your first double feature be, and why? 

AM: [Laughs] Oh, that’s such a good question. If I were to do a double feature of a great female filmmaker, it would have to be Dorothy Arzner. She was the only female filmmaker working during the 1930s. She was a feminist. She was outspoken. She made these great movies. So, I would program Christopher Strong (1933) which starred Katharine Hepburn as a female aviator, and follow it with Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) which is a very scathing look about women in entertainment. That would be my Dorothy Arzner double feature. It would be awesome. One day, I will have my theatre. One day.


Alicia Malone’s book Backwards & In Heels: The Past, Present And Future of Women Working In Film is available on Amazon and in book stores everywhere. 

Check out Alicia’s playlist of some of her favourite dynamic leading lady performances on Fandango Now. 

Follow Alicia on Twitter.

1 comment:

  1. Patty Jenkins had one foot in the door when negotiating for Wonder Woman 2, while WW was climbing the box office charts and she was trying to get the deal for her TV series done. She used the media well, just like Matt Reeves did. And good for her. But this attempt to insert yourselves into negotiations is absurd.