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A Tribute or a Demeaning Reflection? : Movies: Hollywood is abuzz over Vanity Fair's focus on the industry, some calling it sexist and insulting.


If women in Hollywood have made any inroads into what has always been a man's world--and empirical evidence says they have--you certainly wouldn't know it by picking up the latest copy of Vanity Fair.

Outraged industry folks--males as well as females--say the magazine's current special issue on Hollywood is sexist and demeaning to women, who are largely depicted in suggestive high-fashion undergarments, or high-fashion designer-wear made to look like undergarments.

A group photo of the industry's top screenwriters overlooks women altogether. Two female directors are pictured with 22 of their male counterparts; eight of 36 producers are women.

The April issue--also featuring an apparently topless Susan Sarandon hugging her beau, Tim Robbins, dressed in a black turtleneck, and Michelle Pfeiffer in a barely-there black slip dress by Giorgio Armani--has generated an outcry in Hollywood circles since its publication last week.

"From cover to cover, the entire issue is an insult and affront to women," bristled one female executive.

"It diminishes the accomplishments of all women, not just in our business, and it shows a great insensitivity to the changing role of women in the world today and how we feel about ourselves," said Paramount Pictures chairman Sherry Lansing, who was particularly outraged when she opened her copy of the magazine only to see a 7-year-old photograph of herself posed poolside in a low-cut bathing suit showing lots of cleavage.

Lansing, a former model-actress turned successful producer and studio executive, was incensed that Vanity Fair would use the photo, shot years ago by the magazine's Annie Leibovitz as part of an American Express campaign spoofing Hollywood glamour, without her permission or knowledge.

"I started to scream when I saw it. I thought it was totally inappropriate," said Lansing, who immediately called Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter demanding an explanation. Lansing said Carter told her he meant no harm by it and thought she'd be flattered.

While Carter was said to be too busy to be interviewed for this article, Vanity Fair executive editor Elise O'Shaughnessy told The Times: "Graydon was surprised and chagrined she was upset. We just thought it was the quintessential Hollywood photo." On Tuesday, Carter sent Lansing flowers and a note of apology.

But angry executives and creative types also were reeling over the magazine's fold-out cover shot of 10 scantily dressed young actresses in risque underwear-like garments, and a two-page photo of 18 male screenwriters.

They say despite a two-page spread of "Oscar's Leading Ladies," in which nine winners are tastefully outfitted in formal evening wear, and the "token" few women in the group photos of directors and producers, the net effect of the issue perpetuates a nagging image of woman as sex object in Hollywood.

A number of people criticized Vanity Fair's depiction of Hollywood, calling it a myopic, inaccurate view of the industry that is highly unfair to the many women who contribute more than their sexy looks.

"This says more about Vanity Fair than it does about the industry," said MCA Motion Picture Group chairman Tom Pollock. "This is one magazine's opinion and it is not reflective. . . . They made a poor editorial choice."

Producer Sarah Pillsbury ("Love Field," "River's Edge") agreed: "They should absolutely be called on the carpet for their editorial judgment. What about speaking to people's hopes and aspirations?"

Said Disney motion picture group chairman Joe Roth: "I understand Vanity Fair's decision because ultimately they are in the business of selling magazines. But sexiness is a subjective issue. For me personally, it's always been more powerful if something is left to the imagination."

Vanity Fair's O'Shaughnessy said the spread "is absolutely an accurate depiction of the power and glamour of Hollywood."

She pointed out that the 10 young actresses on the fold-out cover, including Nicole Kidman and Sarah Jessica Parker, chose to appear and "picked these dresses."

One Hollywood publicist asked: "Where were all the handlers that these people pay thousands of dollars a month for advice? Didn't anybody say this wasn't a good idea?"

Expressing shock at the negative reaction and taking exception to those calling the issue sexist, O'Shaughnessy said, "It's wonderful that women can have power and be sexy and glamorous. . . . When Hollywood treats men and women equally, maybe everyone else will too.

"Hollywood sells sex and scantily clad Hollywood stars sell magazines."

(Some of Vanity Fair's best-selling issues featured a nude, pregnant Demi Moore, Sylvester Stallone in the buff and a bare-chested Brad Pitt.)


Some in Hollywood agreed that the magazine is only mirroring inequalities that still exist in a heavily male-dominated industry.

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