Beauty is Talent

“In her new memoir, GIRL WALKS INTO A BAR…, (Rachel Dratch) explains:

“‘I am offered solely the parts that I like to refer to as The Unfuckables. In reality, if you saw me walking down the street, you wouldn’t point at me and recoil and throw up and hide behind a shrub. But by Hollywood standards, I’m a troll, ogre, woodland creature, or manly lesbian…. Trolls, ogres, and woodland creatures can be done with CGI, so that leaves yours truly to play the bull dykes.’

“Other roles offered to her: ‘(l)esbians. Sometimes secretaries who are lesbians.'”

In her article “Is Rachel Dratch Too Ugly For Hollywood?”, SLATE’s Torie Busch examines whether the former SNL comedian doesn’t measure up to Hollywood standards because of a lack of beauty or a lack of talent. She backs up the actress’ claims of bias based on beauty, but still preceives the actress’ lack of career success post-SNL to also be based on lack of talent. According to Busch, she’s not very pretty, but she’s not very funny either, at least not enough to play leading comedy roles like her SNL castmates Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Kristen Wiig.

Well, for one thing, humor is very subjective, and I for one always enjoyed watching Dratch. I don’t think the fact that Busch doesn’t find her roles to be very funny to indicate a lack of talent on Dratch’s part, especially since those other women find her very funny. And secondly, those other actresses are also much more conventionally attractive than Dratch. This is one of the things I think Busch misses in the article. In Hollywood, beauty is talent. This economy works differently between men and women, but having enough beauty often means having enough talent, to get parts, to bankroll projects, to at least get publicity to have the opportunity to get parts and bankroll projects. A man without beauty can still carve out a career from talent. A woman without beauty… well, they better have unreservedly irreproachable talent, or they better be able to exploit what makes them unattractive enough to carve out a niche as a career. Yes, it’s no surprise that this is the double standard, but to act like looks are independent from talent for women in Hollywood–including the world of comedy with its supposedly “looser” rules for women’s looks–is naive at best.

There’s a lot more that could be said about this too. One thing would be that Hollywood doesn’t write enough stories about female protagonists that are The Unfuckables. The starting point for most women in Hollywood is often fuckability, to wit, fuckability as subjectivity. That goes for queer characters as well, since Hollywood seems to have no trouble with attractive straight women playing heterosexually-desirable lesbians. And of course, there’s a gendered double standard in the opportunities for Unfuckable roles too. Another thing would be the role of writing and producing in helping women in comedy, especially SNL, to make a career. This seems to be the model that is pitched as having worked for Fey, Poehler, and Wiig, but that also seems to be the road Dratch followed. Why should it work for some and not for others? Busch seems to indicate that her work was just not good enough, but there seems to be at least a little more at play here. Dratch seems willing to continue this path with her book and tour. Maybe there could be other opportunities, like JEZEBEL’s Dodai Stewart suggestion that “(w)hat Rachel Dratch needs is a self-aware new cable show, about the totally hilarious actress Hollywood calls for troll roles. A behind-the-scenes look at the biz, in the vein of Ricky Gervais’s EXTRAS, that exposes the grody stuff women have to deal with, in a funny way. I’d watch the crap out of that.” I would too.

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