As controversy builds around “Richard Jewell” and its depiction of female journalists, it’s nothing new for women music writers on the silver screen.
Although “Crazy Heart,” which premiered 10 years ago this month, was basically 2009’s equivalent of Bradley Cooper’s remake of “A Star Is Born,” it hasn’t had quite the staying power of some other archetypal music-based films. Jeff Bridges won his first Oscar for his portrayal of a washed-up, alcoholic country singer, and Maggie Gyllenhaal was nominated for her performance as the much younger love interest who tries to save him from self-destruction. The main difference in this film written and directed by Scott Cooper (no relation to Bradley) is that Gyllenhaal’s character is not a fellow singer-songwriter ripe for mentoring, but rather an aspiring journalist in search of a story.
Before long, however, business and pleasure intermingle and Bridges and Gyllenhaal wake up in bed together (where she reflexively reaches for her tape recorder instead of a post-coital cigarette). While their relationship proves to be as sad and tragic as a country song, Gyllenhaal’s character at least achieves career success — a star reporter is born — which his arguably the craziest part of “Crazy Heart.”
But then, it’s fairly typical as far as Hollywood’s depictions of female music journalists go. (Spoiler alert: They all stink.)
“The lamest aspect of these depictions of journalists is how cliched they are,” says Evelyn McDonnell, Director of Loyola Marymount University’s Journalism Program and Associate Professor of English and a veteran journalist herself. She’s also the editor of “Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyoncé. Girl Groups to Riot Grrrl” and the “Music Matters” series. “It’s such a facile, formulaic plot device: Female writer plus male musician equals sex. It’s also an insult to the integrity and professionalism of the hundreds of writers who have worked hard to be taken seriously for their reporting and craft.”
And that’s not all. “These movies perform the classic sexist act of negating women’s brains and reducing them to bodies, to adjuncts and worshippers of men — to groupies,” she continues. “But really, they insult groupies, too. Also, the fact is, it’s male rock critics who have most famously hooked up with female rock stars. Think Cameron Crowe and [Heart’s] Nancy Wilson,” who were married for nearly 15 years before divorcing in 2010.
“I think the biggest misconception about female music journalists — a stereotype perpetuated through their portrayal in film — is that they all got into the business as a way to meet, and of course sleep with, sexy male rock stars,” says Lyndsey Parker, music editor for Yahoo Entertainment. “Another common media trope is that they use their feminine wiles to get a scoop or gain access.”
Fortunately, Parker says some of those stereotypes may be fading, at least a bit. “Thankfully, I don’t have too many horror stories about being treated disrespectfully or dismissively by male interview subjects — or colleagues — which I think has to do with the fact that there are now many real-life women music writers these days,” she says. “While ‘Crazy Heart’ only came out 10 years ago, I already feel like those sorts of depictions would not fly in current cinema.
“However,” she concludes, “we probably do still have a ways to go.”
Rolling Stone contributing editor and Sirius XM radio host Jenny Eliscu suggests this trend is emblematic of a larger issue in the film industry — the lack of women directors. “File under: Hollywood is dumb,” she says. “If more films were made by women, female characters would be written more accurately.”
Since we are not exactly holding our breath for positive depictions, we’ve put together a top 10 list of the most problematic portrayals.
“A Star is Born” (1976)
A magazine writer would do “anything” to get an exclusive interview with Esther (Barbra Streisand). So she stalks the singer’s boyfriend (Kris Kristofferson), skinny dips in his pool and seduces him. But when Esther walks in on them in bed together, the writer instantly goes into reporter mode and tries to conduct an interview. Needless to say, she walks away without that exclusive …
“Annie Hall” (1977)
Shelley Duvall plays a Rolling Stone reporter on a blind date with Woody Allen’s character. She makes it clear that she’s on a first name basis with “Mick,” which implies intimacy with the Rolling Stones frontman. She also talks rapturously about Bob Dylan and mentions that for her, sex is a “Kafkaesque” experience. Woody doesn’t ask her out on a second date.
“The Idolmaker” (1980)
This film is actually based on the life of rock producer Bob Marcucci, who discovered Frankie Avalon and Fabian. “Brady Bunch” star Maureen McCormick plays a young writer for Teen Scene magazine who is profiling a pop star played by Peter Gallagher. Naturally, they have an affair, but once the singer’s controlling manager finds out about it, he gets the writer fired from her job.
“The Doors” (1991)
Patricia Kennealy, who is a real-life rock critic played by Kathleen Quinlan in this Oliver Stone biopic, not only takes drugs and has sex with Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) but they also drink blood together as an aphrodisiac. This reporter seduces the Doors frontman by yelling, “Rock god, f— me! F— me good!”
“Wet Hot American Summer” (2001)
A twenty-something reporter (Elizabeth Banks) for Rock & Roll World magazine goes undercover — as a camp counselor! — after she pitches a story about discovering the “real” teenage experience. She constantly reminds her colleagues that she has a masters degree from the Columbia School of Journalism, and her hard work is later rewarded in the sequel with a job as a newscaster.
An employee of the Belgian embassy (Alexandra Maria Lara, who also works as a journalist) welcomes Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis (Sam Riley) to her country by sleeping with him after interviewing the band. They have a long-distance love affair, which somehow culminates in the singer’s eventual suicide — possibly because Curtis’ widow produced this biopic, which is based on her memoir.
“Hot Tub Time Machine” (2010)
Lizzy Caplan plays a Spin magazine journalist covering Poison, and she bravely rides along on their tour bus. But unlike Kate Hudson’s character in “Almost Famous,” she doesn’t sleep with any of the guys in the band. However, she does pick up some random guy (John Cusack) at the bar and tries to get him drunk by forcing him to suck down a “beer luge.” She also engages in illegal behavior — breaking and entering into a ski lodge — so that she can spend some alone time with Cusack’s character.
“Rock of Ages” (2012)
A journalist (Malin Akerman) scores a revealing interview with a rock star (Tom Cruise) who effortlessly seduces her during the song “Wanted Dead or Alive.” Not surprisingly, the role of the writer was turned down by both Amy Adams and Anne Hathaway.
“Someone Great” (2019)
Gina Rodriguez plays a music critic who gets hired by Rolling Stone but she spends most of the movie hanging out with her two best girlfriends and pining over her ex-boyfriend (Lakeith Stanfield), who is not a musician. This journalist may have a healthy work/life balance but she also has a drug dealer and a problem with alcohol (cue the scene of Jane the Virgin throwing up in a fountain). To wit: Taylor Swift recently told Ellen that this is her favorite movie.