Monthly Archives: November 2014

Deconstructing Hollywood

Hollywood is ingrained in the American DNA. It is a part of us, the message we send to the world about western culture. Even though Hollywood itself is not a pretty area of town (as only locals know), it’s the idea that comes with the name that sells it. The world funds this place, this concept, this crazy idea. And it all goes under a brand that lives on a hill in Griffith Park.

For those of us in the greater Los Angeles area, we live Hollywood more than the rest of the country. It surrounds us and gets under our skin, both the good and the bad parts. There is a sense of dreaming out here under the bright golden sun that can’t be replicated as well in other parts of the county. It’s why people come from all over the country on Greyhound buses, as the cliché goes. They want to be a part of this. And honestly, I can’t really blame them. It’s kind of amazing.

In the greater Los Angeles area, we’re all really a part of this industry, whether we’d like to be or not. I grew up with my dad bringing home editing bays for me to play on and Variety magazines to read. I swam in the lake at Skywalker Ranch as a kid and rode around the Universal backlot on a golf cart as a teen. My first term paper in high school was on the technical aspects and history of Citizen Kane (my idea). My parents encouraged my creativity. I was a part of Hollywood without being in the industry. But those of us who were raised in Los Angeles and its surrounding suburbs had similar experiences.

We knew celebrities growing up before they got famous, and often they were insufferable then too (trust me — ask anyone who knew Kim Kardashian when she was young. They all have the same story). We know people who have met celebrities or worked with them, and we all have stories if we have run across them. There are nice stories in there, as in, “I once had martinis with George Clooney at the Smokehouse and he was the coolest guy in the world” stories. But more often than not it’s the bad behavior, ranging from crazy coke parties to the numerous women shipped in like party favors, that most Angelinos remember.

In the past, it used to be that these people would be shrugged off. It was show business, and for the people involved in it, if you didn’t put up with the crazy antics that people with money would create, someone else would. We would nod at them during the day and at night share our insane stories with friends, not thinking anything about it. After all, it was the way it was. How could we change it?

It hasn’t been an immediate change, but the tides have been starting to turn over the years as to how the industry deals with bad behavior. And Cosby is the clearest evidence.

Bill Cosby was a part of the very fabric of our lives the idea that Hollywood shipped out for the world to see of American life. He had been a part of this entertainment industry for almost 50 years, telling jokes and creating sitcoms, hosting television programs among other such things. Here and internationally, he was a star.

As we know now, that entire time he was sexually assaulting women. It was a take on the famous casting couch myth: Beautiful young women wanting to make it in Hollywood, and he would offer to mentor them. He would make them a drink and they would black out. They would stand up for themselves, and he would ridicule them. When they wanted to talk about it, people would shrug it off and let it go; after all, who would believe them when this man had not only a squeaky clean image, but more money and power in the industry than most people had?

I wish I could tell you that Cosby was alone. It’s a lie. How many women have I talked to over the years that are actresses — serious actresses — who had higher-ranking men try to take advantage of them? How many Hollywood men have used their power to get women into bed with them, and the women went because they felt like they didn’t have a choice in the matter? And it has never stopped — to the point where the other day, one of my comedian friends was in an elevator and accosted by a guy who wanted to have drinks with her. He claimed to be a high-end producer and said that this was “a relationship business.”

Meanwhile, it seems to translate into what we see on screen. When casting calls go out, you read offensive language that no one bothers to correct, particularly aimed towards women. We are reduced to types: “ugly,” “girl next door,” “hot,” and “too big to be a woman, but there she is.” And then these roles get minimal exposure, maybe a line or two, if that actress is lucky. Meanwhile, the stories that are told are mainly male stories, and if they’re male stories, white male stories. There’s has never been room for anyone else. People have wanted to fight the system from the inside, but the inside has laughed it off and tried to push them off as if they were “little people” who didn’t know, couldn’t know. After all, this was Hollywood.

Over Thanksgiving, I spoke with my uncle about the Cosby case. He recalled visiting a friend in Vegas who was working with Bill Cosby. “Women were just lined outside the door. He was always a philanderer,” he said. “I don’t believe he raped women, though. He could get anyone he wanted.”

My dad and I sat there flabbergasted, trying to explain to him how the evidence was stacked against him, from 20 different women testifying to Cosby’s own comedic bit about Spanish fly. We had to remind him that rape wasn’t about sex, but about the power Cosby had as an individual with money. Rape was just one of the many abuses of it.

There, laid out in front of me, were the three generations of Hollywood: My uncle, who would shrug his shoulders and turn away from unacceptable behavior, pretending he didn’t know; my father, who would stand up against it but be shunned by people in higher positions of power; and me, who sees the change occurring and is willing to stand up and wants to be a part of it.

The social media age given people who don’t normally have a voice one that resonates and can make the world shake. It gives a rallying cry to voices that weren’t as loud before. It has allowed us to gain more information than we could in the past and make more informed decisions in media, and able to shun unacceptable behavior publicly.

Women are responding to harassment and fighting back against the Hollywood status quo, whether it’s by using the Bechdel test in trying to give more of a voice to women, responding to sexist casting calls or even putting their money more into movies with female lead characters than other movies. It’s incredible to watch us the power shift.

We still have a long way to go — women only hold three percent of decision-making positions in Hollywood and there are still improvements to be made in helping women advance in post-production, direction and more. But we are starting, and we will only grow. The Cosby case is a reflection of how far we have come. I keep reading in articles that people believe the story will die soon enough when there is a new focus. But it’s not going away. Bill Cosby is being held accountable, and while he thinks he still lives in that Hollywood age where celebrities can hide their bad behavior and make up for it in other ways, it doesn’t work that way anymore. This is a new era that will not put up with it.

When we make Hollywood a safer place, imagine the creativity that can come to the screen from everyone — men, women, black, white, Latino and more. When we keep deconstructing, we break down the walls so that the world can see us. And they need to see Hollywood, the real one — the grit and the love, the passion, sweat and tears by people who understand the responsibility we have as artists. It’s the reason why we love this place. It’s how we have ended up calling Hollywood home.

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Confessions of a Former Playerette

In the past three years, I haven’t had a relationship, so therefore I’ve had a lot of sex. A LOT OF SEX. I have jokingly called myself a playerette (read: female player) in the past and have refused to settle for less when it comes to having a relationship… or probably the main reason why I haven’t had one since my divorce. Instead, I have dated and had sex, half in trying to find a partner, half in living a liberated single life.

The other night, I was sitting around drinking with my cousin and her boyfriend after my show at the Ice House, and we were joking about guys and having sex as we would do if he wasn’t around. And I made a joke about a guy friend’s beard — one that I would say out loud in a comedy act but never post to the great wide Internet. And my cousin’s boyfriend stopped me.

“Do you have any idea how you would sound if you were guys?” my cousin’s boyfriend said to my cousin and me. “You sound like those chauvinistic dudes, except in female form.”

It wasn’t in an accusatory tone, but rather pointing out something that perhaps I missed in my quest for sexual freedom. Three years after discovering what it meant to be sexually liberated and unbound, and I had become a stereotype that disgusted me on the opposite end of the aisle. Or had I?

Before my ex-husband, my sex life was, for the most part, unrestricted. It was never out of love, but rather out of my own seeking of pleasure. There were rejections and difficulties, but I never felt shame in having sex at any time. Before I ended up dating my ex, I stopped having sex for about nine months. It was my longest period of not having sex since I lost my virginity. I thought that love would be worth it.

When my ex and I started having sex, it seemed out of mutual desire, except I noticed something after about a year of dating: I was initiating every time. When I stopped, the sex problems in the relationship began. He swore after we were married and living together he would make sure to have sex with me at least once a week. Of course, my ex loved words more than actions, and I was back to initiating — which meant begging, coercing, anything.

He wouldn’t kiss me lovingly or show me gentle touches outside of sex, so the only way to get it was to have sex, which rarely happened. Every time I would try to masturbate and he caught me, he would cry for me to stop and ask why he wasn’t enough. It was easy to manipulate me when all he needed to do was get me to beg to have sex with him. As a result, I felt more and more insecure about having a roaring sex drive, among everything else that was making me feel trapped in that life.

When I was thinking about leaving my ex, I was talking to a guy friend of mine on the phone with the anxiety dripping from my lips. After he calmed me down, I remember how out of the blue these words he said quietly to me were: “Reina, don’t move on right away.”

“Oh, no!” I laughed. “I have no desire to get involved in a relationship so soon!” A pause, and then, “I am open to casual sex, though.” His nervous laugh responded. He didn’t know me before the marriage, so he had no idea.

When I finally left my ex, the fear gave way to liberation. The playerette was born. Finally, I could have sex whenever I wanted without having to beg for it. I could touch myself as much as I wanted. I didn’t have to have a guy stand around me and eye me as to when I was cooking dinner, yell at me constantly about not wearing my wedding ring 24 hours a day or make me feel insecure about the fact I had a sex drive. It was my time. I was ready to not feel guilty about wanting sex.

I was straightforward with all my partners for the first year: I didn’t want a relationship, but to fool around. At the most, all they were going to get from me was a friends with benefits situation. My intention was never to hurt, although sometimes it inevitably happened. My partners were open and intrigued by a girl like me, who just wanted sex and nothing more. I felt better about myself than I had in years — and it showed.

I bragged and boasted about the guys I slept with to my friends, some of which were way out of my league. Some were utterly beautiful while others were skilled lovers. Some weren’t great at all, but worth the funny stories that came afterwards. My bright feathers were on display, both to people who loved living vicariously through my sexual deviancy and to others who probably should have never have known about them. When some girls would yell at me about how “nice girls shouldn’t,” I laughed my head off and made out with the next guy in line.

If I learned anything from being a playerette, it was this: Sex isn’t a bad thing, and having many sex partners should never be shamed. However, we don’t have sex just because it feels good. Many times there is another issue at hand. There’s a hurt we are trying to mask or a wound we are trying to hide from the world. Players are more than just seducers. We are human beings with complex emotions of how we deal with sex, love and relationships, which isn’t always the status quo.

The first time it came to a head for me was one dark April night around 1 a.m. Wearing a floral dress and boots while curled up in a ball on a bathroom floor, I was drunk, screaming and crying, “I’m fucking all these guys so I can forget!”

My primal scream came with dual meanings. The first was wanting to black out the hell that my life had been in the three months since the divorce, where my life had been completely upended. The second was about the boy who found his way onto the bathroom floor with me, who started pounding on the door ten seconds after I let out my first huge sob, asking me to let him in. The same boy who told me not to move on right away after my divorce touched my hair and comforted me quietly that night, all while my rising romantic feelings towards him so shortly after the divorce were scaring me.

That boy, who looked me in my teary eyes that night and made promises he would never keep, eventually disappeared. After the heartbreak, I lost my flavor for sex for a long time. Although I could still play when I was really motivated to, my post-divorce sexual liberation came with a sense of fun and freedom. His departure from my life made me feel, for the first time since the divorce, alone. So in a weird twist, I pulled back from the playerette lifestyle, seeking true solitude as opposed to hiding behind my body.

Over the following years, I had one-night stands and random dates. Some were good, but for others they would use me more for enacting their sexual fantasies rather than indulging in mine. Guys would reject me and I’d shrug it off and move on. Guys would become my friends and say to me things like, “If you lost more weight, I’d date you” or try to fumble in approaching me for dating to the point where I just assume they weren’t interested at all. Meanwhile, boys would cross my path where I would develop crushes and, in my insecurity, make jokes to my friends about it. (Like when a guy who I had a crush on asked me what my type was, all I could think was, You, half naked, in my bed. That’s my type. When a friend asked me why half-naked, I replied, “Hey, I like to unwrap my presents!”)

During this time, the jokes and the dating stories were rising, where I was talking game but feeling lonelier than ever. It’s a never-ending pattern of disrespect and disrepair, where we feel slighted by the partners who have shared our beds and said they would call yet never do. And in turn there was me, who just seemed to wander the world looking for a partner, being the girl who every guy wanted to marry or sleep with, but none ever wanted to date. So, in turn, I would fool around and kick boys out of my bed with a offhanded comment about my pure desire to wear my Supergirl pajamas, and how few men would ever rank higher than them.

In a world where we all seek connection, I felt more joy from my friends than any sexual conquest, but I still talked game about guys and wacky dating stories. And when my cousin’s boyfriend called me out, I finally felt the guilt that everyone else said I should be. I hated these guys who would talk smack about women and make me feel like arm candy in dating, and yet with my friends I was doing it too. What was I seeking in it, really? Equality? Power? Reassurance that this dating saga hasn’t been all for nothing?

As I sat around and thought about it, it made complete sense. In boys objectifying me for my looks, I fought back by objectifying them. With them not approaching me to date them, in turn I wouldn’t approach either. In being kicked out of beds, I kicked out my partners too. My anger began to take over, and my tactics were becoming just as dirty as the boys’. As I thought about the woman I was when I was married — still considerate and warm, although sexual — a part of me wondered if this jading in me towards human beings was worth it. Having sex isn’t a bad thing in the slightest; the insecurity is.

I still want it all, though: To share my bed with one man for the rest of my life, to start a family while still being desired by my husband, to go beyond a lifestyle that meant either jumping from boy to boy for sexual fulfillment or living celibately. It’s a natural human tendency for most people to not only have sex, but want love from someone. After all, even players and playerettes at the end of the day are looking for the right people. And there’s nothing wrong with that.