Warning: William Friedkin’s thoughts on sexism in Hollywood may make your head explode

12.08.15 2 years ago

William Friedkin — acclaimed, mega-successful, Oscar-winning, straight, white, male director of such films as “The Exorcist,” “The French Connection” and “Killer Joe” — has affirmed his stance on the issue of diversity in Hollywood. You ready? Here it is: there is no issue with diversity in Hollywood. No gender bias, no racial bias, no bias of any kind, in any office in Hollywood that he has ever been privileged enough to set foot in. 

In a revealing, sure-to-be-controversial new interview with movie blog Cinephilia & Beyond [h/t IndieWire], Friedkin railed against the idea that prejudice against women and other minorities exists in Tinseltown, telling the site: “I”ve been in Hollywood for fifty years and I have never met an executive of a television or movie company, or a talent agency, that was prejudiced against people of different colors or against women. I”ve never met anyone. Now, why there are more men directing films than women, I can”t answer that.”

Lest I be charged with taking this quote out of context, here are Friedkin's comments in full:

Since you mention civil rights and how the society changed over time, I want to ask you about the position of women in the film industry. There has been a lot of talk about the inferior position of women filmmakers. What are your five cents?

“Well, I”ll give you my thoughts on that. I”ve been in Hollywood for fifty years and I have never met an executive of a television or movie company, or a talent agency, that was prejudiced against people of different colors or against women. I”ve never met anyone. Now, why there are more men directing films than women, I can”t answer that. But it”s not because of prejudice. I think the very best director of action and other films is a woman named Kathryn Bigelow. She”s a great filmmaker, period. It”s a question like why there are more white basketball or football players in America. Most of them are black, or from another country. Why is that? The only answer to that is that they compete and that they”re better! Wherever women can compete, they get the jobs. 

“I don”t know anyone who”s prejudiced against African-Americans or women, I”ve just never seen it. Why is that there are more black athletes? Because they”re better. So what should we do? Should we get some legislation or pass some rules that there have to be more white players? No, you can”t do that! Why are the greatest painters that ever lived mostly white men? I don”t know! Women are free to paint. But you cannot pass diversity laws in an art form.”

“If you could choose to do an exhibition of Vincent van Gogh or a woman painter from the same period, what are you going to choose? Why is that, I don”t know. I”m not a woman, or an African-American, so I can”t speak to that experience except to say that I know it”s an open playing field. And today there are many, many women in the entertainment business here who are in charge of everything. 

“You know, my wife [former Paramount Pictures CEO and president of production at 20th Century Fox Sherry Lansing] was the head of a studio thirty years ago, and ten years ago she ran two studios. Why? Not because she was a woman, but because of merit. When somebody auditions for an open chair in a symphony orchestra, they audition behind a screen for the general manager of the orchestra or for the conductor. The manager or conductor don”t know if they are a man or a woman, or what color they are-they just play behind the screen the pieces they”ve prepared, they don”t talk. 

“So today, for example, if you go to a concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, you see a great many Asian women in the orchestra. The growing number of people in a symphony orchestra around the world are women, and in fact they are Asian women. I can”t explain why that is, but that is an open playing field, and I believe that cinema is too. I have never heard of a man running a studio, talent agency or a network saying, oh, I don”t want to hire a woman for that job. But women have to put themselves forward. I mean, just today, or yesterday, a law was passed in America saying that women will now be present in all areas of combat in the military. There will be women on the battlefield, if there is one, equal to men. 

“So that, among many other things, means there has been progress for women. All I can say is that I”m certain people have faced obstacles in trying to work in all the art forms or in sports. I was a pretty good basketball player when I was a kid in high school, but I could never play on a professional basketball team. There was no way anybody could pass a diversity law so that I could. I just wasn”t good enough. And that”s hard for people to face. If you”re good enough, you”re gonna work. All this other stuff to me is just smoke screen.

“The fellow who directed the movie 'Creed' and was one of the writers is a young African-American man. He”s talented, he”s made only two feature films, he”s basically recently out of college. But he”s got the talent, and nobody gives a flying fuck what color he is. I had people work on my films who are African-American, who are women, and not because they are African-American or women, but based on what I thought was their merit. I don”t know anyone that wouldn”t do that.

“Anyone who would do that, anyone who would deny a talented woman, or a talented member of a racial minority, a job, is just an asshole, and not fit to be in a position to hire. Are there assholes in every business in every industry, in every country? You bet. But that doesn”t mean it”s going to be cured by some kind of diversity rule.”

To break it down:

1. Since more men direct films than women — and because gender bias isn't a problem — men must naturally be better filmmakers.

Quote: “It”s a question like why there are more white basketball or football players in America. Most of them are black, or from another country. Why is that? The only answer to that is that they compete and that they”re better! Wherever women can compete, they get the jobs.”

2. Because he's never seen anyone in Hollywood demonstrate prejudice toward women and other minorities, prejudice therefore doesn't exist in Hollywood.

Quote 1: “I”ve been in Hollywood for fifty years and I have never met an executive of a television or movie company, or a talent agency, that was prejudiced against people of different colors or against women. I”ve never met anyone.”

Quote 2: “I don”t know anyone who”s prejudiced against African-Americans or women, I”ve just never seen it.”

Quote 3: “I have never heard of a man running a studio, talent agency or a network saying, oh, I don”t want to hire a woman for that job.”

Quote 4: “I had people work on my films who are African-American, who are women, and not because they are African-American or women, but based on what I thought was their merit. I don”t know anyone that wouldn”t do that.”

3. He doesn't believe it's right to “pass diversity laws in an art form” (forgetting that Hollywood is a business first).

Quote: “So what should we do? Should we get some legislation or pass some rules that there have to be more white players [in basketball]? No, you can”t do that! Why are the greatest painters that ever lived mostly white men? I don”t know! Women are free to paint. But you cannot pass diversity laws in an art form.”

4. Even though he's not a woman or an African-American and therefore can't speak to the experience of being a woman or an African-American in Hollywood, he knows for a fact that prejudice against women and racial minorities doesn't exist.

Quote: “I”m not a woman, or an African-American, so I can”t speak to that experience except to say that I know it”s an open playing field.”

5. He believes that making a comparison between vying for jobs in Hollywood and vying for jobs in a symphony (“they audition behind a screen”) is an entirely fair one.

Quote: “When somebody auditions for an open chair in a symphony orchestra, they audition behind a screen for the general manager of the orchestra or for the conductor. The manager or conductor don”t know if they are a man or a woman, or what color they are-they just play behind the screen the pieces they”ve prepared, they don”t talk. So today, for example, if you go to a concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, you see a great many Asian women in the orchestra. The growing number of people in a symphony orchestra around the world are women, and in fact they are Asian women. I can”t explain why that is, but that is an open playing field, and I believe that cinema is too.”

6. He believes that making an analogy between the struggle for women filmmakers in Hollywood and the struggle for a young William Friedkin to score a spot in the NBA (again implying that women aren't as good at directing as men) is an entirely fair one.

Quote: “All I can say is that I”m certain people have faced obstacles in trying to work in all the art forms or in sports. I was a pretty good basketball player when I was a kid in high school, but I could never play on a professional basketball team. There was no way anybody could pass a diversity law so that I could. I just wasn”t good enough. And that”s hard for people to face. If you”re good enough, you”re gonna work. All this other stuff to me is just smoke screen.”

7. Because at least one person of color has carved out a successful career as a Hollywood director, racial prejudice in Hollywood therefore isn't a problem.

Quote: “The fellow who directed the movie 'Creed' and was one of the writers [Ryan Coogler] is a young African-American man. He”s talented, he”s made only two feature films, he”s basically recently out of college. But he”s got the talent, and nobody gives a flying fuck what color he is.”

In addition to his comments on diversity behind the camera, Friedkin also made clear his feelings on Meryl Streep's recent contention that a gender diversity problem also exists in the field of film criticism (based on an informal count of reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes).

Meryl Streep recently stood out and warned that female film critics are extremely inferior in number to their male colleagues.

“Oh, fuck that! Jesus H Christ! I can”t even comment on that stuff. She is a very successful actress who works all the time and can work whenever she wants. Unfortunately, not every member of her gender is as talented as she is. And that”s all you can say about it. And who the fuck is counting the gender of critics?! What is that? Are we now asking for diversity among film critics? Oh my God! What is the world coming to? 

“Let me just say this to you. I guess in the United States, which is all I can speak about, I think there are probably now more women than men. So the whole concept about how many women will be critics or directors or whatever is bound to change. In terms of African-Americans, there are fewer African-Americans in this country than white people, and as their numbers grow, there are bound to be more African-Americans in all facets of the art. Just by sheer numbers.”

William Friedkin, shooting from the hip. Jesus H Christ.

You can read the full interview here.

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