The Soapbox: Why Will Ferrell’s New Female-Focused Production Department Isn’t Cause For Celebration

Yesterday, Will Ferrell’s company, Gary Sanchez Productions, announced that it is launching a female-focused film and television department called Gloria Sanchez Productions. The idea came from Jessica Elbaum, an exec at Gary Sanchez, who will head the division.

This is exciting news, but I think they missed a major point. I believe people are at their funniest, smartest, most moral and most complete when they exist together. Gary Sanchez Productions is like an apartment with no living room. Yes, it’s vital and sanity-saving to have your own room, but all the best stuff happens in the living room, where people congregate and everyone feels like they belong. While I love the new Girls Room of Gary Sanchez Productions, it doesn’t improve what has been going on in the Boys Room at all.

First, I need to explain why I’m generally not a fan of Will Ferrell’s work — which is to say, most all of mainstream comedy. When I tell people I don’t like his movies, they often look at me like I’ve purposely said something morally offensive. It feels as though disliking Ferrell’s movies is somehow un-American, where the rest of “America” lives by certain Ferrell-crafted values. Being American through the lens of many of Ferrell’s movies — “Anchorman,” “The Campaign,” “The Other Guys,” “Step-Brothers,” “Blades Of Glory,” “Semi-Pro,” “Talladega Nights,” “Old School,” “Zoolander” — means something specific. Men are the stars and their problems are paramount. Men are funny and women, even funny women, are sidekicks. Jokes are intended for men, and women’s role in a story are to be bothersome hags, ornaments, or both. Of course, a notable exception is “Bachelorette” (which Ferrell produced), the 2012 comedy staring Rebel Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher. That’s just one movie, though. In general, if a woman yells in a Will Ferrell movie, it’s to make her boobs jiggle.

And it’s a bummer. Because of course I want to laugh. Of course I want to be in on the jokes. But it’s so hard when female characters are repeatedly objectified (and even seem to enjoy it!). Take, for example, how Jenna Fischer’s character is fine with getting her boobs rubbed and grabbed by Ferrell in “Blades of Glory.” Or how the ball girls of “Semi-Pro” are happily objectified from the court side. Or the repeated boorish sexual jokes in the two “Anchorman” movies. When male characters crack all the jokes and objectify women, I can’t help but feel there is no place for me in that world. I think many women have trained themselves to ignore or accept this same feeling.

This essay is not intended to attack Will Ferrell personally. When I say I’m not a Ferrell fan, a common response is, “How can you hate Will Ferrell? He’s such a nice guy!” Okay, I believe you! I also think Funny or Die was a stellar invention. I’m not trying to say Ferrell’s a horrible person, it just sucks that he pumps out blockbusters — mainstream comedies — that don’t seem like they’re for me, about me, or even acknowledge that women like me (you know, thought-having human beings) exist. It makes me feel sad and uncomfortable, and I’m a grownup lady with a hard shell! These effects are even worse on younger consumers.

All of that brings us to yesterday’s news. The inception of the new female-focused department is wonderful in two ways: 1) There are now going to be more movies and TV shows with funny, three-dimensional female leads, and 2) the creation of a female-focused department implicitly acknowledges that the “mainstream” comedy department has been more or less a boys department all along. Those of us who’ve had a suspicion that “mainstream” actually meant “mainstream minus women” are validated. Phew — we weren’t crazy after all.

So yes, I’m curious to see what this new department delivers — optimistic, even. Hell, I’d feel like a champion of the universe if the inevitably hilarious team behind Gloria (Steinem? Just wondering.) Sanchez Productions thought I was cool. This addition is not a waste, and it seems like too big of an investment to be disingenuous. But what I think would show even more integrity would be if Gary Sanchez Productions also hired a person (man or woman) to rewrite comedy in the boys room so that everyone — actually everyone — could laugh. Of course, there are already scenes in all Will Ferrell movies that appeal to both genders, and that’s great. What I’m referring to is the overall worldview in many of these movies, the one that degrades both genders by portraying men as selfish babies, while soft-spoken boob-jobs-with-heads clap on the sidelines.

I’m not asking that all movies be about me. I’m not asking that stripper characters be banned from films. Mostly, I just don’t want what we consider “funny” to be the same movie over and over. I have trouble seeing many of these movies as valuable—culturally and comically—when they’re just same shit, different costumes. Alas, the box office disagrees.

But does appealing to the box office masses mean I can’t go to a movie with my boyfriend? I have a vision of he and I splitting a bag of popcorn and then heading in opposite directions — he’s seeing a Gary Sanchez production in Theater 1, while I’m at a Gloria Sanchez film in Theater 2. And sure, maybe we both laugh our heads off, but when we come out, we’ve just had two totally different pop culture experiences. So what are we supposed to do — boycott sexism and stereotypes in films, aka most pop culture? Woof. I resent being made to feel that I have to acquiesce to bullshit or live under a rock. Neither, please.

Will Ferrell’s team is now committed to making comedies for everyone, separately. It’s fantastic they’ve realized a deficit in their comedic work. But if they’re going to acknowledge the problem of too few female voices, they should also be willing to help fix it by making comedies for everyone, together.

[The Hollywood Reporter]

Emily Winter is a standup comic. She hosts a monthly Backfat Variety Show in Brooklyn. 

[Photo: WENN]