I already posted on the discussion about Renee Zellweger’s changed appearance in 2014. As the link shows, I do have concerns about not only the changes to Zellweger’s face but also the criticism of their scrutiny. The topic has reemerged thanks to release of the trailer for Bridget Jones’ Baby, third installment in the series on the plucky British chick lit heroine.

 

It has raised to a fever pitch due to Owen Gleiberman’s Variety post asking “If (Zellweger) No Longer Looks Like Herself, Has She Become a Different Actress?” and actress Rose McGowan’s (mostly ad hominem attack) Hollywood Reporter response calling Gleiberman’s post “vile, damaging, stupid and cruel,” Social media is buzzing about the two pieces; most of what I have seen is very critical of Gleiberman.

It’s right to note the double standards that women face compared to men when it comes to appearance and its regulations. It’s also right to be concerned about men in the media industry writing critically about women’s appearance. However, I don’t think it’s fair to outright dismiss Gleiberman’s piece based on those concerns. For one thing, he’s asking a lot of the same questions I admit asking in my own research. What does it mean when a mediated body changes? What are the effects? How is the body used and interpretedly different in relationship to these changes? How do identity factors like race and gender relate to this? How are those changes perceived and by whom?

For another thing, in my interpretation, he is speaking exactly to the concerns that people have about the pressures actresses face over appearance. This quote below is my focus for understanding the piece. Read More

Allen and SatchelHere are my thoughts on Woody Allen and the continuation of his career in the midst of continuing questions about sexual assault. You may have seen Ronan Farrow’s Hollywood Reporter column, some of the reports from Cannes about accusations being avoided in Allen interviews, and the big news of Allen’s upcoming series on Amazon. Here’s my take.

I spent a lot of time this weekend on the road, and at one point started to think about what kinds of crimes would stop me from appreciating someone’s art. Of course, it’s an age-old question: can you separate the artist and their work from their life? Should you? Why or why not? Tweets from Wesley Snipes and about Sean Penn’s defamation case against Lee Daniels sparked my thoughts. Snipes, as you may remember, spent time in federal prison for tax evasion. Sean Penn was accused of domestic abuse, and Lee Daniels contrasted the treatment of his Empire star Terrence Howard–also accused of domestic abuse–to Penn’s. Thinking about all of these actions–some alleged and some convicted–I wound my way through my own system of judgment. Out of all the offenses I could imagine, the worst were the ones that caused more vicious, invasive bodily harm: violence, rape, murder. Those made it more and more difficult for me to separate the artist from their actions, especially when they seemed to be reflected in their work.

This has become more and more important to me in the last few years in the wake of persistent questions about Woody Allen and the ongoing allegations of sexual abuse against his daughter over twenty years ago. I became a media scholar in the wake of my Allen fandom, but in the past few years, I realized that I had to let that lifelong love go. If I was going to truly consider myself a critical and feminist media scholar, I could no longer take an ambivalent approach to him and his work.

I had to admit that whether or not any accusations could be proven, there were too many questions remaining and too many issues reflected in his work to be open-ended about what they might mean. They were troubling and could not be sufficiently resolved. Nor was his work changing. The men were getting older, the love interests younger, the romance with elitist (and white, wealthy enough) cultural objects was ongoing. I’m glad that my appreciation for his work in the past got me to where I am today. I’m also glad that my criticality has kept me from remaining nostalgic about his work and his career, to stay blind to the crimes he may have committed and to the ongoing offenses in his work. In the end, I say when in doubt, believe the survivor, so I can’t anymore with Woody Allen.

 

ELLE's 21st Annual Women In Hollywood Celebration - Arrivals

Alright, are we really being Internet busybodies by talking about Renee Zellweger? Let’s be honest here since Zellweger and company haven’t been. The problems here are due to sexism, ageism, and lookism in the US entertainment industry, true. But her own comments make Zellweger complicit in this. She is not “revealing the hard work of beauty” but eliding it. By attributing her “new look” to tropes of aging and wellness, she’s leaving this look up to nature as if scalpels had nothing to do with it. A good rest–even spanning several years–does not stretch your skin tautly across your face, changing the shape of your eyes and nose. Audiences may not deserve to be privy to all the intimate details of cosmetic procedures, but to show up to an industry event–where you’re expected to be photographed and interviewed and to gain attention accordingly–and act like your “new look” won’t–or shouldn’t–cause a stir is ludicrous.

This is an industry-wide–indeed, culture-wide–problem and Zellweger’s just one part of it, but reflective of the changes that need to happen to make this a better business for women, on and off the screen. In teaching prep the past few weeks I’ve been watching doc after doc on women in the industry, and it gets tiresome after a while hearing these women talk about the dangers of Hollywood’s representations of women while seeing how little their faces move and how much bigger their cheekbones are than when they were in their 20s. Part of chipping away at the problems with these -isms is going to have to involve ending the conspiracy of silence around these fitness regimens and cosmetic procedures, and being honest about what “work” is really going into these bodies.