Elizabeth Banks: 'I messed up'

Publish Date
Saturday, 17 June 2017, 1:11PM

Elizabeth Banks has apologised after facing criticism for calling out director Steven Spielberg over the lack of female lead characters in his films. Many queried why the actress and director had apparently "forgotten" Whoopi Goldberg's starring role in The Color Purple.

Speaking at Women in Film Crystal Awards on Tuesday, Banks said: "I went to Indiana Jones and Jaws and every movie Steven Spielberg ever made, and by the way, he's never made a movie with a female lead. Sorry, Steven. I don't mean to call your ass out, but it's true."

Goldberg played the lead role of Celie in Spielberg's 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker's The Color Purple, a tale of a black woman struggling against oppression in the Deep South. The film also starred Oprah Winfrey.

'The Color Purple' director Steven Spielberg. Photo / Getty

According to some accounts of the event, the mistake was pointed out at the time by an audience member, but not addressed by Banks, who chose to move on.

The fact that the star omitted any mention of the title, which was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, has enraged some commentators, who have suggested that it makes the white actress, and her particular "brand" of feminism, seem exclusionary and dismissive of women of colour.

Fuel was added to the fire after some mistakenly assumed that Banks had also called The Color Purple, a critically acclaimed box office success, "a flop", although it quickly became apparent that she had not done so, and that the remark in question had instead been made on Twitter by a film critic (who later deleted the tweet).

One observer was more generous, pointing out that, while her statement was factually incorrect, Banks was perhaps thinking more of Spielberg's blockbusters when she spoke.

Banks has now apologised to Spielberg, explaining that she "did not mean to dismiss the import" of The Color Purple.

But while the 43-year-old was wrong to downplay the The Color Purple, for many her wider point still holds. When it comes to the issue of female main characters, Spielberg, like many veteran male Hollywood directors, can hardly be exonerated.

Whoopi Goldberg on the set of 'The Color Purple'. Photo / Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty

Across his career, which spans five decades, the filmmaker has made only two movies with adult female leads: The Colour Purple and 1974's The Sugarland Express. Ruby Barnhill also arguably played the lead role in the 2016 film The BFG, but Mark Rylance, who played the titular Big Friendly Giant, has top billing.