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Guerrillas in our midst

{THE OSCARS} | THE PROTESTERS

This year's Oscars can't seem to escape all sorts of politics, as a women's group puts Hollywood bias on display.

February 26, 2006|Shana Ting Lipton | Special to The Times

JUST when some may have thought that the 78th Annual Academy Awards could not get any more political, masked feminist arts crusaders better known as the Guerrilla Girls are trying to up the ante with some roadside commentary.

Near the northwest corner of Sunset and Cahuenga boulevards, just blocks from the Kodak Theatre, where the Oscars will be held, drivers and passers-by see a transvestite King Kong towering above a building -- on a highly provocative billboard, that is.

The gown-clad, lipstick-wearing Kong is depicted in chains, Oscar statuette in hand, next to the phrase: "Unchain the Women Directors!" The image -- which costs $4,500 a month and will stay up until the day after the Oscars -- was created and funded by 13 women's organizations, including Women in Film and the Fund for Women Artists.

The billboard cites these statistics: "Women directed only 7% of the top 200 films of 2005," and "No woman director has ever won the Oscar. Only 3 have been nominated."

Sporting gorilla masks and pseudonyms of deceased female artists, the Guerrilla Girls are a 20-plus-year-old global secret society that challenges the art and entertainment worlds to be female-friendly through creative campaigns and speeches. "We have figured out a way to take our anger and misery over the state of the world and make it not only fun for us but for other people too," said a founding member who goes by the name "Kathe Kollwitz."

The "Unchained" campaign marks the third attempt in an ongoing campaign to get Hollywood power players to take notice of the dearth of female directors. Despite gains for female studio executives, the only women nominated for Oscars for directing a feature film have been Lina Wertmuller (1976), Jane Campion (1993) and Sofia Coppola (2003).

In 2002, the Girls introduced the "Anatomically Correct Oscar," with a billboard depicting the statuette as a bald, hairy white male, "Just like the guys who win!" The Guerrilla Girls' last Los Angeles offensive came three years ago and featured an Oscar statuette with the face of Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.). It claimed that even the U.S. Senate was more progressive than Hollywood, with 14% of senators being female versus 4% of directors.

However, this latest billboard has ruffled some academy feathers because it is the first to depict an Oscar -- a trademarked image -- sans caricature on an advertising billboard, yet the academy's response is "No comment."

It's been difficult to gauge reaction to the "Unchained" billboard. Guerrilla Girls' "Kollwitz" said she's heard backlash on conservative talk radio: "Some guy called up and said it was disgusting and that naturally women shouldn't be directors." Other responses have been more hopeful. Sebastian Dungan, a producer of "Transamerica," whose Felicity Huffman is nominated for an Academy Award for playing a transsexual, said: "The statistics are an undeniable sign of discrimination. I certainly want to be part of changing that."

And, in the true enterprising style of a producer, Dungan invites female directors to send him their scripts.

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