I had originally planned to write for today about Martin Scorsese and his comments about Marvel. And then Jennifer Aniston talked about how she doesn’t want to perform in front of a green screen, and people shamed her about the quality of her movies. Which has more than an edge of Toxic Fandom to it, honestly, and some sexism as well, given the specific movies she’s made. And what with one thing an another, we’re getting into all the stuff I hate about film fans, and frankly all the stuff that I’d hoped the Dissolvespora and The Solute could avoid by our attitude of “love what you love.”
Let’s get this out of the way. “They’re not cinema” is a criticism that has been leveled at pretty much every type of film at one time or another, based on the specific biases of the person saying it. However, it is much more likely to be used by people espousing one variety or another of snobbery. Maybe Scorsese didn’t mean it that way, but the snobbery is often specifically sexist, racist, or what have you. Classist, often. It wouldn’t take all that much research to find examples of Scorsese’s own favourites that have been declared “not cinema” by someone.
And of course, that includes many of Aniston’s own movies as well. I didn’t read her comments, but to my understanding, she was more saying it wasn’t the kind of acting she wanted to do. Which is absolutely her choice! If she doesn’t want to be in a Marvel movie, a DC movie—or an action movie that has nothing to do with superheroes but is filmed in front of a green screen—that’s her choice. That much of her film output has been frankly not good doesn’t change that she’s probably doing the kind of acting she wants to do, and it’s her choice.
The main reason I was happy about the casting of Brie Larson as Captain Marvel was that it was obvious that Brie Larson loves comics, and that’s my favourite kind of person to be in a comic book movie. Similarly, we knew Spider-Man 2 would appeal to fans because Roger Ebert gave it thumbs up, and Roger usually gave comic book movies thumbs down because they weren’t, in his mind, as good as comic books themselves. I really wish Roger had lived long enough to really get into the depths of the MCU, though he did like Iron Man. I would have been more interested in his opinion than Scorsese’s or Aniston’s.
Is that my own gatekeeping? Perhaps. But it does go back to my core belief that no one has to like everything, so long as you don’t look down on the people who do. There are obvious exceptions to that, of course. If you like racist films because they’re racist, you know, not cool, and it says you’re a bad person. But liking mob movies or romantic comedies or superhero films is very much up to you, and there’s nothing wrong with any of those. However, just as you probably shouldn’t take my opinion of mob movies too seriously, you shouldn’t worry about the opinions of someone who doesn’t like superhero movies about superhero movies.
It’s also true that Jennifer Aniston probably does have a harder time finding roles than people realize. She’s fifty. Hard to believe, but there it is. Sure, if she wanted to, she could just stop working, but it’s also completely understandable if she doesn’t want to. She’s a little more than seven years older than I am, and at her age, there just aren’t women’s roles. She’s even too old to play most mother roles. Brie Larson is twenty years younger than she is an has already played a mother role in her most acclaimed role; no one would cast someone Aniston’s age in Room except as Larson’s mother—and the person they actually cast, Joan Allen, was thirteen years older than Aniston.
There is a long conversation to have about women’s roles, and we’re not going to have it here. But it’s well established that, yes, there are fewer roles for women in movies than for men. The math on that is indisputable. It’s also not the fault of superhero movies. Or big-budget movies in general. Sure, the numbers aren’t improving, but they aren’t improving for other movies, either. Room has twenty-one credited characters; eight of them are women, and several of those are women who seem to have been cast through the Geena Davis standard of “why not make the cop a woman if there’s no reason not to?” And of course merely counting roles doesn’t give you a complete picture; Aniston’s recent Murder Mystery actually has a near-equal split between male and female credited roles, but men are more likely to have even minor roles like “Captain Wong” and women “great-looking flight attendant.” (To be fair, played by Jackie Sandler, Adam Sandler’s wife. But “Complaining Lady Tourist”?) There are almost always more male leads than female.
So Aniston is complaining that she has a hard time getting the roles she wants, and that she doesn’t want to do green screen work. And that’s legitimate. But two problems stem from this. She’s blaming the success of those green screen movies, not the studios’ disinterest in making anything else. And people are responding by attacking her, not the system she’s actually complaining about on the assumption that she doesn’t like their favourite movies. And when Martin Scorsese says superhero movies aren’t for him, that’s legitimate, but saying they’re “invading” is troubling, and saying they’re “not cinema” is frankly toxic.
We have no sense of proportion. That’s the real problem. We’re a nation that can’t do moderation, so a half-dozen big-budget superhero movies in a year becomes “an invasion.” And they’re taking over theatres, despite the fact that one of the search results for “2019 superhero movies” is Justice League Part 2, which you may have noticed is not a movie that in fact exists. You’d get the same number of big-budget musicals in the mid-’50s, a year where there were actually far more Westerns being released and where Westerns were a lot harder to avoid than superheroes are now.
At the same time, people identify themselves by their fandoms, so an insult to superhero movies as mild as “they aren’t for me” also becomes an attack on people’s identities. I didn’t read Scorsese’s take because I don’t really care if Scorsese likes superhero movies or not; what he likes doesn’t influence what I like. I mean, I don’t like GoodFellas, and that hasn’t changed anything for anyone but me. And wouldn’t even if I were considerably more famous than I am.