Mank (2020) : Hollywood nostalgia and representation in 2021
Herman Mankiewicz gets a second chance in Hollywood by being asked to write the screenplay of Citizen Kane. It looks at the inspirations behind the character of Kane and into the allegations that Orson Welles should not have gotten co-writing credit.
A classic under scrutiny and a peak behind the scenes in Hollywood Golden Age - what more would film lovers want ? On paper, the concept comes as close to perfection as possible. On screen, the story loses itself in useless gimmicks. The editing style mimics Citizen Kane’s but, where it fits the latter like a glove, it makes Mank quite confusing. I loved that part of the film as I am a big fan of the old Hollywood style.
But I have to admit it does not serve the story no matter how nice it looks. For people with little knowledge about the fight around screenwriting credit, it is quite easy to get lost. I have never heard of that story before I saw the film. I didn't understand everything until I read about the real events (which you can do here).
I was still entertained by the film in general but there was one thing I could not get past. Lily Collins’s character Rita Alexander is purely decorative with no personality or off-screen interest of her own. She is purely there to serve the male character. She is in that film for around half the screen time but she is there to sit, type and run to Mank whenever he needs it.
You know, she is "the pretty secretary there to serve the white old man" type. Some might say, “this is how it was in the 50s so they were being truthful to the time”. Are we in the 50s now ? Is it a documentary ? No, so there was no need for her to be the stereotypical pretty girl.
This is a deliberate choice purely driven by gender bias. In 2021, it is time for male screenwriters to understand that secretaries have personalities and lives outside of work and, most importantly, that men too can be secretaries. Frankly, they should understand that any woman has her own personality and we are not stereotypical fantasies walking out of men’s brains.
Also if when we are depicting another time, we are not using the kit of the time or limiting ourselves to what was possible then, there is no reason to bring their narrow mindedness with us. This is why Mank should have been bolder and period films should free themselves from that.
If Armando Iannucci and Ryan Murphy can do it with respectively The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019) and Hollywood (2020), anyone can. The character could have easily been an aspiring writer eager to help his role model.
Times are changing and we should depict the society we want to live in even if it’s in another time period. The 1930s are gone forever. Any modern depiction is fiction so we can at least make it a good one.