"Do you think of yourself as feminist?" interviewer David Marchese prompts. "I don't, at least not in those terms. I just try to do what's right whenever I see the opportunity," Apatow answered. He went on to discuss the film Bridesmaids, which many consider to be iconoclastic in the women comedy canon.
"With Bridesmaids, I never thought, 'It'd be great if there was a movie that starred a lot of women, and maybe that will help open some doors.'"
He added, "It's great if that ends up happening, but that sort of thinking is never the starting point."
Apatow seems to have a muddied definition of feminism — these quotes indicate that he sees the word as a sort of mission statement. If he drinks the feminism Kool-Aid, then his work will be dictated by politics rather than artistic impetus. (God forbid art be politically motivated.) He made Bridesmaids because it was a cool movie; the cultural repercussions are just fun little side effects.
And there's the trouble. To the women of the world, Bridesmaids was inherently political. Period. If you are a woman or a minority making movies, just about everything is a Boundary Breaking Big Thing. (Look no further than all the press surrounding Patti Jenkins, the director of Wonder Woman, for proof of this.) As Apatow is neither of those, he is Not Breaking Boundaries. He's just doing his thing, and he doesn't feel the need to declare partisanship. If a woman made Bridesmaids, she would probably admit that promoting women in comedy was part of the mission of the film.
Apatow is also certainly a feminist on paper, which is why his statement is puzzling. Feminism is simple. A feminist is a person who believes in equal rights — wouldn't Apatow, who is by all means a progressive figure, agree with those ideals?
In the same interview, Apatow claimed that his wife Leslie Mann taught him about the Bechdel test.
"People talk about the Bechdel test. Leslie has been giving me that test for decades," he said. As per Vulture, all of Apatow's films pass the test, save for Funny People, a 2009 film starring Adam Sandler. (His television work, such as Love and HBO's Crashing, wasn't evaluated.)
That seems to conflict with his earlier rebuke of feminism. So, you've been making sure your films meet feminist criteria, but you're not a feminist? That doesn't align.
Of course, Apatow is no political saint. It's likely his television endeavours don't pass the Bechdel test. He tweeted support of HBO's problematic show in development Confederate. (The singer John Legend responded to Apatow's tweet, gently disagreeing with Apatow's support.) Most saw Katherine Heigl's comments about the sexism in Knocked Up as the sign of a sour actress; others, including myself, think that maybe Heigl had a point. Then, there's the fact that his work — women-filled or otherwise — is overwhelming white. Paste Magazine gave a thorough run-down of the whiteness of the Apatow canon in 2016, and the numbers aren't good. (Nor is his reaction to criticism about it: When asked about the lack of diversity in Girls, Apatow shrugged it off, saying, "The show will be on for a long time, so there's plenty of time to have every type of person on the show.")
Apatow seems averse to declaring missions with his work. If feminist stuff happens, so be it. If his shows happen to be inclusive, cool. But you know what makes making good, inclusive art a little bit easier? Making it your mission to do so.
Representation for Apatow did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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