Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s recent remarks about beautiful funny women are a winning bingo card of film industry sexism. Here’s a summary of what Eisner said while onstage with Goldie Hawn at the Aspen Ideas Festival, as reported by The Guardian’s Ben Fraser Lee:
“The hardest artist to find is a beautiful, funny woman,” he said. “By far. They usually – boy am I going to get in trouble, I know this goes online – but usually, unbelievably beautiful women, you being an exception, are not funny.
“I know women who have been told they’re beautiful, they win Miss Arkansas, they don’t ever have to get attention other than with their looks. So they don’t tell a joke. In the history of the motion-picture business, the number of beautiful, really beautiful women – a Lucille Ball – that are funny, is impossible to find.”
He claimed that Hawn was an exception to the rule because she didn’t “think” she was attractive. Hawn confessed to thinking of herself as an “ugly duckling”.
I hope every woman Eisner meets from now on talks to him in Rachel Feinstein’s mocking “sexist’s idea of a woman” voice. (The following clip is from “Women Who Kill”, a comedy special produced by Amy Schumer that Eisner should watch. It features nothing but profoundly beautiful women being profoundly funny.)
Eisner is simply wrong. Beautiful funny women aren’t impossible to find; they’re impossible to miss. The past, present and future of film and television is filled with incredibly beautiful women who are hilarious as actresses, stand-ups and scriptwriters, and often all three.
There’s Claudette Colbert, Carole Lombard, Mae West, Rosalind Russell, Myrna Loy, Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck, Hedy Lamarr, Betty Grable, Katherine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, Shirley Maclaine, Lucille Ball, Judy Holliday, Jean Hagen, Doris Day, Stella Stevens, Diane Keaton, Mary Tyler Moore, Barbra Streisand, Jamie Lee Curtis, Madeline Kahn, Meryl Streep, Gilda Radner, Candice Bergen, Goldie Hawn, Meg Ryan, Emma Samms, Phylicia Rashad, Marlee Matlin, Sandra Bullock, Cameron Diaz, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Marissa Tomei, Mira Sorvino, Melissa Joan Hart, Jennifer Anniston, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Fran Drescher, Christina Ricci, Alicia Silverstone, Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler, Portia De Rossi, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ellen Cleghorne, Sofia Vergara, Whitney Cummings, Chelsea Handler, Alyson Hannigan, Betty White, Aisha Tyler, Kristen Wiig, Debra Messing, Anjelah Johnson, Amy Schumer, Nikki Glaser, Rachel Feinstein, Marina Franklin, Kristen Chenowith, Anne Hathaway, Zooey Deschanel, Jenna Elfman, Nasim Pedrad, Jessica Williams, Alyssa Milano, Jessi Klein, Debra Messing, Riki Lindhome, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Cecily Strong, Cobie Smulders, Natasha Leggero, Chelsea Peretti, Rashida Jones, Alison Brie, Mindy Kaling, Anna Kendrick, Paget Brewster, Jenny Wade, Aubrey Plaza, Kaley Cuoco, Kat Dennings, Lake Bell, Mila Kunis, Iliza Schlesinger, Emma Stone, Peri Gilpin, Leslie Mann...
This list is far from exhaustive but even if it were—even if ran to the length of an encyclopedia and featured every single woman who’s ever been both gorgeous and hilarious on screen—it wouldn’t persuade men like Eisner that beautiful, funny women are easy to find. Assuming they took a break from writing comments under PornHub videos long enough to read that (or any) list of beautiful, funny women, men who share Eisner’s sentiments would just grunt perversely that everyone on it either isn’t funny or isn’t beautiful.
And so it is not enough simply to refute Eisner’s sexist statements with evidence of funny, beautiful women. What is important, for film as an industry and us a society, is to analyze what his views tell us about the way Hollywood’s most powerful figures think about half the population.
It might seem that, like his views, Eisner is old and out of date, and so should be ignored, but his statements give us an insight into the thinking of a Hollywood CEO who, having now given up the role, is free to say what he really thinks, unafraid of losing his job or causing a slump in share prices. How many movie executives hold similar views but are just more guarded about what they say in public?
Eisner is right on one point: the number of “unbelievably” beautiful women who are great comic performers is small. If something is “unbelievable” the human mind literally cannot accept it exists. The number of human beings possessed of beauty so astounding that other humans struggle to believe they are real is, as a percentage of the world’s population, rather small. The number of world-class comics is rather small, too, and so the number of people who belong to both groups is tiny.
This is obvious, and as true of men as it is of women. But Eisner didn’t say it about men, because it is not a standard to which men are held. To be a Hollywood comedian, a man just has to be funny. To be a Hollywood comedienne, a woman has to be funny and so beautiful men like Eisner can’t believe she exists.
The most pernicious part of Eisner’s nonsense is the idea that Goldie Hawn is an exception to his ridiculous rule because she doesn’t realize she is beautiful. Here is a Hollywood power broker actually saying what Hollywood movies often imply: a woman can only be beautiful if she believes herself to be ugly.
We teach this awful lesson to all young women, and movie theaters are the classrooms in which that lesson is learned. It is a lie that should be exposed by those who write films and those who write about them. And it is a lie that Hollywood movies—and Hollywood CEOs—should no longer be permitted to tell.