Jewel Staite: “Women are capable of playing these roles”
While Some Like It Hot is widely considered one of the funniest film comedies of the 20th century, it isn’t exactly feminist fare.
Consider the premise: two male musicians (played by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) disguise themselves as women after witnessing a bloody gangland shooting. They wind up joining a band that’s fronted by a bombshell singer named Sugar (Marilyn Monroe), who has no idea her new musicians are actually men, or that one of them is lusting after her.
Despite its decidedly un-feminist premise, Some Like It Hot is an apt choice for Feminist Live Reads, according to Jewel Staite.
The veteran actress (Firefly, Serenity, Stargate Atlantis) is one of several performers participating in a live reading of the 1959 film that takes place on October 1 as part of the 2019 Vancouver International Film Festival.
The brainchild of Toronto writer-director Chandler Levack, Feminist Live Reads aims to draw attention to gender inequality in the film and television industry, namely the fact that there just aren’t as many interesting and nuanced roles for women as there are for men. Past editions include readings of the Entourage pilot, Reservoir Dogs, and Almost Famous, and have featured Sook-Yin Lee, Mia Kirshner, Diana Bang, and Ali Liebert.
At 60, Some Like It Hot is the oldest film to be given the Feminist Live Reads treatment – and it’s a window into a different time, according to Staite.
“It’s going to be interesting to hear it said out loud, because I’m sure there are a lot of things that, when they come out of the mouths of women in 2019, are going to sound funny or ridiculous,” says Staite, who will read the part of a sardonic detective named Mulligan (originally played by Pat O’Brien). “Which is also why I love the movies that Chandler picks for these things. She has a knack for picking these films that are male-driven, where the jokes are a little or a lot dated, and to hear it said out loud nowadays tells you everything you need to know.”
Staite says she has a difficult time imagining what life was like for actresses in the 1950s. “I suspect it was incredibly difficult and really frustrating to not be valued and seen as equal, and even now there are issues with that in Hollywood,” says Staite. “It’s not like it’s completely dissipated. There’s still a big discrepancy in how women are paid. It’s still a fight.”
Staite – who played badass twin sisters in the first season of Netflix’s sleeper hit The Order, and portrays a librarian named Phyllis on The Magicians – says she’s noticed some recent changes in the way that women are portrayed in the entertainment industry, particularly in the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp.
“There are several character breakdowns that have come my way where it states that casting is willing to see men or women for the role,” she says. “There was a mercenary role or something that came up that sounded like it was written typically male but they were willing to see females for the role, and I thought that was an interesting switch.”
Joining Staite in Some Like It Hot are actors Katie Findlay (How To Get Away With Murder), Kacey Rohl (Arrow, Hannibal), Bethany Brown (The 100), Nina Kiri (The Handmaid's Tale), and Diana Bang (Entanglement, The Interview). Jill Barber will perform three songs from the film. Proceeds from the show will go towards supporting the work of WAVAW, a rape crisis centre in Vancouver that offers support services to survivors of sexualized violence.
“I think what I would like to have people take away from this event is being impressed and sold on the fact that women can play the same roles as men, and going, ‘Wow, that sounded quite natural to me, I’d like to see more of that,’” says Staite. “I think the more people can picture women in those roles, and the more demand there is for that, the more roles will be created for us to do. It’s a matter of what the audience wants. If we can convince the audience that women are capable of playing these roles, then things are going to change, because there’s going to be a demand for it.”
Feminist Live Reads’ Some Like It Hot takes place at 6:30pm on October 1 at the Rio Theatre. Find tickets here.