On 27 October 2023, The New York Times published an interview with Sofia Coppola in which the Priscilla director spoke about some of the hurdles and challenges she has encountered over the years as one of the few successful female filmmakers.
One of these hurdles was a project with Apple TV which was first announced in 2020. Coppola had partnered with the streaming service to adapt The Custom of the Country, the 1913 Edith Warton novel, into a five-episode TV series. The book tells the story of Undine Spragg, a young and beautiful woman from the Midwest who becomes mesmerised by the glamour and extravagance of New York and attempts to rise up into the city’s high society.
The project was set to star Florence Pugh, however, it never came to fruition. According to Coppola, the Apple TV executive took issue with Undine, who is described in the book as a selfish, materialistic and negligent social climber.
“The idea of an unlikable woman wasn’t their thing,” Coppola noted. “But that’s what I’m saying about who’s in charge.”
According to the New York Times, Apple did not respond to a request for comment about the claim. However, upon the revelations of the interview, netizens had some comments of their own.
“They didn’t get the character or Undine. She’s so ‘unlikable’, but so is Tony Soprano!” Coppola added in a new interview with The New Yorker, published Monday 22 January. The director was clearly exposing what she perceived to be a sexist standard—wouldn’t be the first time, that’s for sure.
It should be noted that similar unlikeable male characters, such as journalist Georges Duroy from the 1885 novel Bel-Ami have successfully made it to the screen for decades. Bel-Ami details the story of Duroy’s corrupt rise to power. The character advances from a poor French colony in Africa to one of the most successful men in Paris by charming and seducing a series of powerful, intelligent, and wealthy women.
Many netizens felt like it was disappointing to see Apple tighten its purse over concerns of a woman’s likeability when the one of men never seems to be in question.
This is especially prevalent because the names of powerhouses such as Pugh and Coppola on the project already made it appear like a guaranteed success.
Over the past few years, it felt as though TV shows such as Queen of the South starring Alice Braga, or Griselda starring Sofía Vergara and movies such as Promising Young Women removed the limitations for what was defined as acceptable and likeable behaviour for women on-screen.
This explains why many might feel disappointment over the limitations female characters still face due to “who’s in charge.”