Rose McGowan on Twitter's Sexist Script Feed: "It’s Popular Because It Is a Guy Behind It"

Ross_Putnam_Rose_McGowan_Split - H 2016
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Ross_Putnam_Rose_McGowan_Split - H 2016

"I think if it were a woman who wrote it, it’d be ignored as bitching," says the actress-turned-director of Ross Putman's @femscriptintros, which has become the buzz of Hollywood and amassed 50,000 followers for calling out shallow depictions of women in screenplays.

Ross Putman had a crazy thought. An L.A.-based independent film producer, Putman, 30, wondered what might happen if he were to spill the contents of a folder on his laptop onto Twitter for all the world to see.

Would his peers chuckle knowingly at his prized collection of cringe-inducing female character introductions, culled from stacks of screenplays he'd read over the years?

In these imagined worlds — 80 percent of which, by Putman's estimates, are conceived by male screenwriters — we meet women who are "stunning" but "trying their best to hide it." We might find them "pouring" a "gorgeous figure into a tight dress," or, perhaps, "a little tipsy, dancing naked on a big bed."

The first tweet went up on Tuesday night: "JANE, 28, athletic but sexy. A natural beauty. Most days she wears jeans, and she makes them look good." (Putman changes all names to Jane, to protect the innocent — and clueless.)

A friend of Putman's, Franklin Leonard — who as founder of The Black List has a finger on the pulse of the screenwriting world — immediately took notice and began retweeting the descriptions to his followers. Within 72 hours, @femscriptintros amassed over 50,000 followers.

"It’s gone a little crazy, but that’s a good thing," Putman says of the account, which has momentarily surpassed #OscarsSoWhite to become the hot topic at Hollywood's watering holes and power-eateries.

The issue is hardly new to anyone who reads scripts for a living — but seeing dozens of these shallow and sexist descriptions stacked on top of each other, compounded by the glare of social media, has served as a wake-up call to an industry that claims to want change, but nevertheless is finding that old habits die hard. 

"The very first time I heard of it, I thought, 'And? '" says screenwriter Andrea Berloff, 42. "I thought it was more widely known that the way female characters are described is pretty unacceptable. But clearly we need to have a larger conversation."

Berloff, who is nominated for an Oscar for her work on Straight Outta Compton, adds that Putman's viral hit is "awesome. I think it's a really great thing he's doing."

It has also struck a nerve with Rose McGowan: The 42-year-old Grindhouse star made headlines in June 2015 after she tweeted wardrobe instructions for what she strongly implied was an Adam Sandler movie audition.

"Black (or dark) form fitting tank that shows off cleavage (push-up bras encouraged)," the notice read. "And form-fitting leggings or jeans." The tweet resulted in McGowan being dropped by her Innovative Artists agent, Sheila Wenzel. (Wenzel then left the agency amid the controversy.) 

"When I was acting, I saw those kind of descriptions and worse," McGowan, who is now focused on directing, tells The Hollywood Reporter. "The female character was almost always described from a cheesy external P.O.V. There is a huge problem with male writers objectifying their female character. No one in this town blinks at it. If these writers are this bad with their descriptions, imagine how offensively lame the rest of their 'work' is."

The problems persist on both sides of the camera: McGowan cites one recent screenplay sent to her as a potential directing project. In it, a female character is never seen without a laundry basket in her hands. "Hollywood writers don’t seem to be aware that a lot of the world has moved beyond their abilities," she says.

As for @femscriptintros, while she admires its sentiment, McGowan can't help but wonder if sexism hasn't played a role in its success, too. "I think it’s popular because it is a guy behind it. I think if it were a woman who wrote it, it’d be ignored as bitching," McGowan says.

To be sure, male beauty runs freely through many screenplays as well — particularly when it's describing a male lead. Says one bemused male screenwriter (who chose not to be identified): "I've seen so many descriptions of men who were 'once handsome and athletic, but time has taken its toll.' They talk about 'square jaw lines,' 'thick heads of hair,' 'piercing blue eyes.' 'He looked like the suit was made for nobody but him.'"

"I guess it's just sexist if you write it about a woman," the writer, who has projects set up at several of the major studios, adds.

Putman disagrees. The producer says he finds that male characters will generally "get the benefit of being described for what type of person they are: Whether it's sarcastic or quick-witted or buttoned-down. They're given a more useful description." 

For Berloff, who is currently writing a screenplay for the Australian actress Margot Robbie, it comes down to lazy writing — and that hurts everyone, males and females alike: "'He's tall, dark and handsome.' I would never say that, because that really has nothing to do with the character you're introducing. Unless there’s some glaring reason why you’d need a physical description upfront, it’s never something I’d lead with." (As for the Robbie script, "anybody reading it doesn't need: 'And she's very beautiful.' That's self-evident.")

Putman suspects it's a matter of time before an irate and overly sensitive screenwriter spots his work on @femscriptintros and "starts yelling at me." Until then, however, he says he plans to continue.

"I’m not delusional," he says. "I realize the internet is a very fast-moving place and no one will care about it in a week or two. But if it feels like it keeps adding to the conversation, I’m going to keep my experiment going. I want to make good stories about real people."

Some of @femscriptintros' greatest hits: