There’s a new King Kong billboard overlooking the world famous Sunset Strip, but it wasn’t approved by director Peter Jackson. The Guerrilla Girls have been battling sexism in the art world for years, but their latest project brings them to Hollywood for a go at sexism and racism in the film industry. On the eve of the Oscars the anonymous group of neo-feminist artists have put up a legal billboard that proclaims: “The 800-pound gorilla in Hollywood isn’t King Kong - it’s discrimination against women directors!” While I agree with the critique, I feel it doesn’t go far enough when it comes to the question of race - and it certainly doesn’t address the issue of mindless escapism, which has reached near psychotic proportions in the U.S.
The original 1933 King Kong movie was produced at a time when membership in the Ku Klux Klan numbered in the millions - a fact that shouldn’t be forgotten when considering the portrayal of the savage black “natives” who kidnapped the beautiful white woman, Ann (Fay Ray.) Kong himself embodied white America’s racist view of black males as animalistic brutes obsessed with white women - which of course is why the giant ape had to be killed. Kong was the ultimate distraction for an America trying to ignore Depression-era woes and the rising tide of Fascism that was consuming Europe. Is it so bizarre then that Kong is back while America occupies Iraq and spirals ever deeper into denial? The world is in flames and Americans are transfixed by a digital ape. I find this even more disturbing than the facts found in The Guerrilla Girls’ Press Release which follows:
“The Guerrilla Girls and Movies by Women unveil a new billboard at Sunset and Cahuenga in Hollywood, California, February 1st through March 5th, 2006. We took Kong, gave him a sex change and a designer gown, and set her up in Hollywood, just a few blocks from where the Oscars will be awarded March 5, 2006. Why? To reveal the sordid but True Hollywood Story about the lack of women and people of color behind the scenes in the film industry:
Only 7% of 2005’s 200 top-grossing films were directed by women. Only 3 women have ever been nominated for an Oscar for Direction (Lina Wertmuller (1976), Jane Campion (1982,) and Sofia Coppola (2003). None has won.
More embarrassing Hollywood statistics: Of 2004″s top-grossing films: 5% had female directors - 12% had female writers - 3% had female cinematographers - 16% had female editors - Only 8 people of color have ever been nominated for an Oscar for Direction - Hollywood guilds are 80 to 90 % white - Only 3% of the Oscars for acting have been won by people of color.
In the 21st century, low, low, low numbers like this HAVE to be the result of discrimination, unconscious, conscious or both. Hollywood likes to think of itself as cool, edgy and ahead of its time, but it actually lags way behind the rest of society in employing women and people of color in top positions. There may be women heading studios these days, but what are they doing for women and people of color? Why do they keep the white male film director stereotype alive? Here’s an easy way to change things: open up that boys’ club and hire more women and people of color. It worked in medicine, business and law. It worked in the art world. Now it’s Hollywood’s turn. Rattle that cage, break those chains!
LET WOMEN DIRECT!”
[ Large pictures of the new billboard can be downloaded from www.guerrillagirls.com. For more info, visit: www.moviesbywomen.com - a grassroots collective that works toward increasing the awareness of women's contributions to film and television history. ]