There’s a great piece up on NY Magazine this week about Shailene Woodley and Brie Larson, two great friends who also happen to be reshaping Hollywood. They are very much themselves. They do not cultivate particularly Hollywood-friendly images, and they are outspoken about their hippie-granola ways. I like them both, although Brie Larson has set herself apart by starring in some of the best indie flicks of the last few years (I’ve noticed on Facebook many folks coming around to marvelous wonder that is Short Term 12 on Netflix). But I do appreciate that both are outspoken about certain personality traits that don’t always endear them to broader audiences: Their feminism (or Woodley’s “humanism”) veganism, gluten-free-ism, and their general attitude toward the glamour of celebrity.
During the course of the piece, however, the interviewer — Lynn Hirschberg — attended a taping of The Tonight Show with Shailene Woodley, and noticed that a section in which Woodley had harshed the Fallon mellow had been cut. Fallon had asked Woodley how she felt about being compared to Jennifer Lawrence, and Woodley did not appreciate the question, perhaps rightfully:
On the afternoon of the Fallon taping, Woodley was dressed in her glam public-appearances attire: high heels, long legs, short dress. She looked fantastic. She brought on a large, rather phallic-looking horseradish root and discussed its virtues with the host, who looked frightened. Halfway through the conversation, Fallon, who can border on golly-gee cheerleading during his interviews, said, “How do you feel about being compared to Jennifer Lawrence?”
Woodley paused. “Well,” she said. “Comparisons always lead to despair.” There was sudden silence, and then the audience, which was shocked and angry, began to boo. Fallon said something like “Whoa,” and Woodley held her ground. “As women, we are constantly told that we need to compare ourselves to a girl in school, to our co-workers, to the images in a magazine,” she told me later. “How is the world going to advance if we’re always comparing ourselves to others? I admire Jennifer Lawrence, but she’s everyone’s favorite person to compare me to. Is it because we both have short hair and a vagina? I see us as separate individuals. And that’s important. As women, our insecurities are based on all these comparisons. And that creates distress.”
The audience in Studio 6B wasn’t listening, and neither was Fallon. That section of the interview was cut by the Tonight Show producers: Later that evening, when the show aired, Woodley’s gender politics were erased. “It bothered me, because it’s human nature to feel bad if you are booed by an entire audience,” Woodley said, sounding completely unbothered.
A reader over on Twitter, LLCanada (hat tip!) asked whether it was “sexism or business” behind the cut, and personally, I don’t think it’s either. I think it has more to do with the Fallon-ization of The Tonight Show, which is to say: Jimmy Fallon doesn’t really allow for moments that might temper the audience’s good spirits. It’s something of a shame, really, because it also means weeding out thoughtful commentary that might otherwise challenge his audience. But Fallon has no interest in challenging his audience; he only wants to delight and entertain them, and when a guest pushes back against comparisons that put all female actresses into the same box by virtue of having a vagina, he erases the conflict.
God forbid, a Tonight Show viewer stop beaming for a moment to consider something beyond a celebrity’s lip-syncing skills.
It’s unfortunate, and while I don’t think Fallon cut it out of maliciousness, the audience’s reaction — booing in response to her answer — was distressing. Why in God’s name would you boo that, anyway?