Is Steven Spielberg under some kind of moral or political obligation to make movies about women? The question arose last week when the actress and director Elizabeth Banks inexplicably blasted Spielberg while accepting one of those hooray-for-women honors (the Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards — don’t worry, I’ve never heard of them either).
“I went to Indiana Jones and Jaws and every movie Steven Spielberg ever made, and by the way, he’s never made a movie with a female lead,” Banks said, bizarrely, adding, “Sorry, Steven. I don’t mean to call your ass out, but it’s true.”
Banks was corrected as she spoke when someone called out The Color Purple, but she blithered on anyway, asking, “He directed?” Banks’s knowledge of her own industry (she directed Pitch Perfect 2) is in question.
Banks later apologized, in strange terms: “I framed my comments inaccurately.” But her mangling of facts isn’t important. What’s important is her mangled assumptions. Demographic diversity simply isn’t applicable to artists. Banks might have cited Christopher Nolan or Stanley Kubrick as her example and been correct on the surface — no film directed by either of these men is primarily about a woman. But it doesn’t matter because they aren’t politicians. They’re artists.
Artists pursue whatever their interests and obsessions might be, wherever they might lead them. Checking all of the boxes on the census is not the goal.
Considering how many films Steven Spielberg has made, a small proportion of them have been about women. But he is under no more moral obligation to feature female protagonists than Spike Lee is obligated to make films about white people or Woody Allen to make movies about farmers. Artists pursue whatever their interests and obsessions might be, wherever they might lead them. Checking all of the boxes on the census is not the goal. “Diversity” is not the goal.
And if Spielberg made The Color Purple today, what would happen? Why, that would be termed a grievous act of cultural appropriation. What right does a rich white straight man have to make a movie about poor black southern women? Why, we would be asked from a thousand corners, wasn’t Ava duVernay (the most prominent black female director) given this opportunity? Once you start reducing art to the bean-counting imperatives of identity politics, you go down the rabbit hole. The only reality you can count on is that no matter what you do, someone is going to “call your ass out” for it.
— Kyle Smith is National Review Online’s critic-at-large.