"Not to point to the elephant in the room," said moderator Jay Fernandez to Catherine Hardwicke today, "but what does that have to do with being a woman?"
He was talking about the relationship she had with young actors, often described as intimate. Shiloh Fernandez (no relation), who appears in her just-released Red Riding Hood, was also on the stage at Hardwicke's South By Southwest event, and he had been raving about the way she rolls up her sleeves and connects with her cast. "She has a mind that isn't shut off yet," he said.
Hardwicke deflected the gender question — she said she'd seen Richard Linklater be plenty sensitive with his actors. For whatever reason, at a festival that appears to be at least two thirds male (an unscientific guess), her audience today was about half made up of women. Before them, Hardwicke was loose, friendly, engaged with the audience, whom she spoke to without condescension, and had a way of flipping her hair that was incongruously charming.
I haven't seen Red Riding Hood, but as it happens, shortly before the event began I read this piece in The Daily Beast. In it, Chris Lee accuses Hardwicke of employing the "male gaze," with the camera constantly creeping up on Amanda Seyfried, and said the film "brainwashes teenage girls by sexualizing certain childhood awakenings."
Without getting too detailed, I raised my hand and asked her about it filming sex scenes and intimacy generally, with Thirteen and Twilight both sharing that focus on sexual awakening, and said I'd just read something alleging that, in this case at least, it was exploitative of her actors.
She said she was interested in the period because it's "the most volatile, most romantic time in your life. The volume's turned up in most areas. I like the drama. I like romance and intensity. I like to see something that feels like It has sparks." This was not quite what I'd asked her, but she acknowledged there would be "different opinions" on a "tough subject."
"With Red Riding Hood," she continued, "that's what it's about. The girl is on the brink of discovering herself and her desire. I didn't want to shy away from it." She said Seyfriend had been an enthusiastic participant, and someone in the audience referenced her graphic scenes in Chloe.
In Thirteen, she said, the scene in which the two teenaged girls "seduced" the neighbor boy had involved a welfare officer hiding behind the couch. "There was a three inch radius around the boy's nipples that they weren't allowed to touch," she recalled. "Every time they would get close, the officer would shout, 'nipple alert'!"
"Whoever wrote that is sorely mistaken," said Shiloh Fernandez. "Catherine's whole idea is to create a strong female character and run with it. She wanted to make a film for women to enjoy. Actually, I would say that it was kind of to exploit us," meaning the male actors.
Jay joked, "I guess what he's saying is that he felt exploited."
Shiloh conceded, "My nipple zone was impacted."