Roxane Gay presents Pretty Woman at TIFF followed by a conversation about the romantic comedy genre and how the message of the film holds up 28 years later.
Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, follows Edward, a billionaire hotshot who needs an escort for some deal-making social events, and hires Vivian, a beautiful prostitute he meets on Hollywood Blvd, only to fall in love.
Since it’s release in 1990, the film continues to find a place in the hearts of many, including Roxane Gay, who remains consistent in her love for this legendary rom-com. When asked about how that love has evolved over time, Gay says, “what I appreciated when the movie first came out was the fairy tale. I love fairy tales. What I appreciate more is the craft now. It’s actually a really well made movie despite the problematic nature of how it deals with sex work and how it deals with gender and the fact that black people are only in service roles. Other than all of that, it’s a really tight screenplay.”
In the current cultural climate, representation of both race and gender, are both very important issues. And though it’s been said before, it is important to continue talking about these issues. Gay has been covering the topics for years in her literary works such as Bad Feminist (2014), Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (2017) and Difficult Women (2017). She has become the voice of feminists everywhere, an inspiration and a leader, helping to move the conversation forward.
So how does a feminist icon rationalize her love for romantic comedies, which are typically portrayed as girlie fluff? The answer is two-fold. For one, we need to stop being ashamed of our love for the romantic-comedy genre. The problem in Gay’s opinion, is that things that women like are often treated as frivolous. “Ultimately it comes down to misogyny as usual. Because women are the primary consumers of romantic comedies and so anything that women are interested in is terrible. Romantic comedies rely on normal life and love and living and of course they have these idealized versions of life and love, but they’re still interesting.”
Secondly, Gay explains that she is, “able to love things despite their bad issues and in the spectrum of problematic pop culture, this is actually not that bad.” Immediately after saying this Gay chuckles, endearing the entire audience to her even more, as she realizes she quoted the title of a collection of essays she edited, Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture (2018). And she’s right, Pretty Woman is not that bad. In fact, it’s great in the way it continually emphasizes active consent through Vivian’s repeated words, “I say who, I say when, I say how much.” The root of which says that Vivian’s body is hers to control. A message that applies to all women (and men for that matter) and that is just as important today, as it was 28 years ago.
Gay outlines that rom-coms do have a formula: boy meets girl, boy or girl falls in love, there’s an obstacle, and then a happily ever after. And that that formula is tried and true. She also expresses the lack of need to re-invent the wheel when it comes to the genre, because attempts to do so are often done badly. Instead of changing the genre, she wants to see more character development for the male leads. Often times the female lead has to be so many things, as is the case in Pretty Woman, where Julia Roberts’ character has to be charming, sexy, interesting and elegant. This is in stark contrast to Richard Gere’s character who simply has to show up in a suit. “Like, what does he do with his free time? What does he look like in jeans? I think that we’re supposed to think that she should just be grateful that this man is going to treat her with a modicum of decency. No. Let’s have some personality, some texture,” pleads Gay.
If you have trouble with the endless options on Netflix, then look no further. Here are Roxane Gay’s top five romantic comedies, outside of Pretty Woman, along with the reasons that she loves them:
- Imagine Me & You (2005), because it’s so sweet and tender.
- No Strings Attached (2011), because she loves when people say “I’m not going to have in love” and then they fall in love.
- Love Jones (1997), because it’s sexy.
- You’ve Got Mail (1998), because it was like a cultural critique of Barnes and Noble.
- Something’s Gotta Give (2003), because it shows that you can be older and have just as messy a love life as someone forty years younger.
Or perhaps you’d like to revisit Pretty Woman. You won’t be sorry you did. If not for the fairy tale romance, then for the wonderfully 80s soundtrack. Here Gay talks about why she still loves the movie today:
Pretty Woman is my favorite movie and has been since I first saw it, in the theatre, in 1990. Back then, I thought Pretty Woman was so romantic. What’s not to love about a down-on-her-luck, charming sex worker meeting a handsome billionaire and the two of them having a whirlwind romance, falling in love, and rescuing each other, as Vivian (Julia Roberts) suggests at the end of the movie? I am older now. I am a feminist. I recognize the problematic nature of Pretty Woman‘s story. I recognize the fallacy of fairy tales, and still, I believe in them. Still, I love romantic comedies and how they make it seem that life and love are not nearly as complicated as we make them out to be. I love all the moments in Pretty Woman that make my heart swell: when Edward (Richard Gere) takes Vivian shopping to ensure she receives better treatment than she did when she went shopping on her own; the warm relationship Vivian develops with hotel manager Barney; how she handles the snobby women at the polo match; and Kit (Laura San Giacomo) and Vivian’s realness as they navigate life on the margins. But most of all, there is the romance, the sex on the piano, the night at the opera, the wild implausibility of this love story — and how willing the movie makes us to believe in that story anyhow. —Roxane Gay
Gay currently has multiple projects in the works including a book of writing advice, an essay collection, and a YA novel entitled The Year I Learned Everything. She would also like to write a romantic-comedy of her own and has her eyes on a dream cast that includes Bad Times at the El Royale’s Cynthia Erivo and Creed II’s Florian Munteanu.
The cast of ABC’s “The Baker and the Beauty” talks Latina Inclusion, Immigration, and Marital Trends
Descending to ABC spring 2020, rom-com series “The Baker and the Beauty” will premiere on the small screen this April. The show centers around Daniel Garcia, who’s working at his family’s bakery. When he meets the A-list superstar Noa Hamilton during a night out, his life gets thrown into the spotlight. Can this unlikely pairing navigate the fame, and their families differences?
NDLYSS caught up with the cast at SCAD’s 2020 aTVFest to get the behind-the-scene scoop on the upcoming show. Press Play!
Additional camera personnel: Jeqhari Miles for NDLYSS
Indie film ‘Go Back To China’ starring Anna Akana opens March 6 in select theaters
The semi-autobiographical film directed by Emily Ting follows spoiled rich girl Sasha Li (Anna Akana), who after blowing through most of her trust fund, is forced by her father (Richard Ng) to go back to China and work for the family toy business. What begins simply as a way to regain financial support soon develops into a life altering journey of self discovery, as Sasha discovers her passion for toy designing and learns to reconnect with her estranged family. A bittersweet portrait of a fractured family, the film also offers an honest look at the human cost of things that are made in China.
Village East Theater – New York, NY
Laemmle Glendale – Los Angeles, CA
Four Star Theater – San Francisco, CA
Facets Theater – Chicago, IL
Kim Cattrell honored with SCAD Icon Award
The Sex and the City star was honored with the SCAD aTVFest Icon Award along with a celebration of her new Fox TV series Filthy Rich.
Hollywood heavyweight Kim Cattrall was honored by Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, (February 27) with the prestigious Icon Award at the university’s coveted aTVFest.
The actress, 63, said, “It’s a great opportunity to pass along any knowledge that I have” to the next generation as she humbly accepted the recognition.
Earlier in the day, Cattrell was joined by creator and showrunner (Tate Taylor) of Fox’s upcoming TV series Filthy Rich.
Filthy Rich is a 10-episode drama centering a Southern family corrupted amidst wealth, power and religion. When the patriarch of a mega-rich Southern family, notorious for his uber successful Christian channel, dies in a plane crash, his wife Margaret, played by Cattrall, and family are stunned to learn that he fathered three illegitimate children, all of whom are written into his will, threatening their family name and fortune. Taylor’s immediate go-to for the wife part was Cattrall.
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