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Profiles and Reviews of Jude Law and Sienna Miller: A New York Times Double Standard?

October 28, 2009

Women have always had a rough go of it in theater and film.  Whether banned from the stage in ancient Greece or given “lesser” roles due to age or looks (see quotes from Mae West, Meryl Streep, Eva Mendes, Diane Keaton, and a lot of others), women have suffered from double standards and outright discrimination in the performing arts from the start.  As a society we’d like to think we’ve solved the problem, or at least made strong progress, but recent stories about Jude Law and Sienna Miller in the New York Times might make one think differently.

A September 6, 2009, article by Sarah Lyall (subscription only) serves as a profile of Jude Law, mentioning his upcoming performance as the title character in Hamlet.  The 32-paragraph story is generally laudatory, speaking of Law’s physicality and charm, but dealing mostly with the depth and breadth of his acting.  The piece includes a seemingly obligatory, almost oblique nod to his tabloid exploits—in a short paragraph fifth from the end.

This shouldn’t be an issue.  After all, an actor’s profile should by all accounts focus on his acting.  However, Sienna Miller receives less favorable treatment in Charles McGrath’s short profile of October 18, 2009 (subscription only).  In fact, the piece starts with this paragraph:

“’SERIAL MILLER’ is what the London tabloids like to call the 27-year-old actress Sienna Miller, in honor of her long and well-documented romantic history. Her flings have included Jude Law, Daniel Craig, James Franco and most recently the married oil heir Balthazar Getty, with whom she was photographed topless and in a sailor hat. She is also famous for her retro-hippie fashion sense, for enthusiastic partygoing and for occasional miscalculations like a same-sex toe-sucking incident after the 2006 Oscars.”

Notice that Law’s lengthier interactions with the opposite sex are relationships, while Miller’s are referred to as “flings,” even her nearly two-year engagement to Law.  It is not often that being affianced to someone for 23 months is described as a fling.  It might also be appropriate to note that the relationship failed because Law cheated on Miller with their nanny.

I must also draw your attention to the correction that appears at the end page one of the aforementioned Sienna Miller profile, which fixes an October 17 Times article:  “An article on Page 4 this weekend about Sienna Miller misstates the nature of the relationships that she had with Heath Ledger and Sean Combs. She was friends with both of them; she did not have romantic flings with either of them.”  (Thanks to Huffington Post for spotting this).  It seems that Ms. Miller’s “romantic history” has been the subject of frequent and frenzied speculation, much of it incorrect but printed as fact anyway.

Many of the 24 paragraphs in the story expound on her supposedly questionable choices or behavioral miscalculations, with two of the last three paragraphs focusing on her looks and tabloid reputation.  Very little mention of such fodder is made in Jude Law’s story, though he has had high-profile romances since his involvement with Miller, including a “brief relationship” (a fling, perhaps?) with Samantha Burke that resulted in the recent birth of their child.  If indeed Sienna Miller is getting around—it’s none of our business, really—she’s at least having safe or lucky sex, which is more than we can say for Law.

Both profiles briefly review the film stars’ careers, giving mostly glowing reviews for Law’s work but overall pooh-poohing Miller’s resume, mostly because she starred in G.I. Joe, with a half-hearted nod to smaller indie films like Interview and Factory Girl.  No mention is made of Law’s underwhelming fare like A.I., eXistenZ, and Enemy At The Gates.  Law is 36, Miller is 27: give her some time to build up an oeuvre before knocking her down as an actress.

The reader may note that the major complaint here, as with all double standards, is consistency.  The Times doesn’t deliver that in its reviews of Law’s and Miller’s respective plays either.  Their assessment of Hamlet makes no mention whatsoever of Law’s romantic exploits.  It shouldn’t, since it is a theater review.  The analysis of Miller in After Miss Julie, however,  can’t help but throw in a few comments about her good posture and good legs while at the same time admitting they have little to do with the play: “Commendable as these attributes are, they are of limited use in portraying a tautly wound, death-courting neurotic who is eaten alive by her own demons.”  Why mention them at all, then?  It also mentions in the first paragraph her “courting (and wrestling with) the fame that now accompanies her like an unwanted bodyguard,” a nifty little jab at her tabloid run-ins.  Although a juxtaposition of the two reviews doesn’t yield an egregious double standard, it’s bad enough to warrant comment.

A lot of people say that this type of thing is a tempest in a teapot, that profiles and reports written in such a manner simply reflect reality, not shape it.  This may be true in small part, but constructing stories this way does nothing to dispel these notions or correct the problem.  As the parallel Times profiles and reviews demonstrate, not applying the same rules for the different genders perpetuates the iniquity, the injurious double standard that cinema and stage have always had, and still have, for the public romantic behavior of leading men and leading ladies.  It’s interesting to note that Sienna Miller’s profile is titled “What Sienna Really Wants To Do Is Act.”  Why not let her?

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2 Comments
  1. Nicki permalink
    October 28, 2009 10:07 pm

    Amen.

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