I began watching Entourage a few months ago, toward the end of the summer. I finished the entirety of the HBO half-hour comedy show — all eight seasons of it — unreasonably fast, although the reason why is difficult to explain. Entourage was neither particularly good, nor deep. It was, however, interestingly enough, critically acclaimed, gathering a few wins and several nominations through its seven-year run: perhaps indicating the trend of Hollywood enjoying content about itself.
But the series was insightful. And for someone aspiring to enter the entertainment industry, Entourage is on the word-of-mouth must-watch list. Its name is uttered everywhere, and the series is oddly educational: There’s no better medium to learn who an agent is, how managers and publicists and business managers operate in the grand scheme of an artist’s career. The artist, in this case, is young movie star Vincent Chase (played by Adrian Grenier), and the series follows him and his group of friends as they traverse Hollywood and enjoy the perks of Vincent’s career in the spotlight.
I finished the show a couple of months before the revelations of sexual harassment, assault and misconduct began to wrack Hollywood and displace the powerful men within it. But it is difficult now not to think back to Entourage, and to compare it to what I know now about the industry.
There is not a single female character on this show who has substance or grit or a compelling arc. What every woman on the show does have, on the other hand, is a sexualization to almost the point of ludicrousness: They are all aspiring actresses, models or executives actively willing to seduce and sleep with famous men to get what they want. But this is portrayed in a way that’s unflattering, generic and ultimately dehumanizing: The wife of one of the show’s leads, Ari Gold (played by Jeremy Piven), isn’t even named until the end of the series.
Entourage is intensely filtered through the male gaze, but as such, it provides riveting insight into the way Hollywood looks at women and the way Hollywood likes to look at itself. Perhaps one defense of the show is that it is satire — though that is a genre it cannot really qualify for, never having that second layer of social commentary. HBO is home to innumerable original, complicated, female-driven shows that break ground and push the medium and the industry forward. However, people don’t watch Entourage for the women. They watch it for the men and the very male shenanigans that ensue.
No one, even and especially those who work in the industry, could look at Entourage and mistake it for real life (though Piven was actually recently accused of sexual assault). But for a series that purportedly shows a fantasy of what the movies and their makers live like, it is important to realize that a fantasy for some is not a fantasy for all. Where power dynamics are concerned, the women in the world of Entourage certainly have it worse. They exist only as sexual objects — and so the tools they are given by the show’s writers to wield power, in the rare cases that the women on Entourage are powerful, tend to be sexual in nature. For example, Vincent at one point obtains an agent to replace Ari: Her name is Amanda, but he winds up dumping her because she sleeps with him. In another case, a rising star at Ari’s agency is fired because she sleeps with his old (male) friend — whom Ari is so hesitant to punish, for committing the same transgression.
It is a tendency for television and films that depict Hollywood as a setting to feature women in more vulnerable roles: the ingenues, the bottom-rung players who have to vault themselves upward whichever way possible. Or, when they are not at the bottom, they are sneaky sirens whose only goal is to manipulate men.
But it is paramount, amid today’s climate, for television and film to demonstrate that it is possible for a woman to gain success and wield her own authority, to one day open doors for other women and to do so while being empowered and empowering herself. It is important for the world to understand that each woman, no matter her rung on the corporate ladder, possesses her own power. But in order for that to happen, the media must recognize it too, by portraying strong female characters who open that possibility to everyone else, in audience’s minds.
Zoe Cheng is a junior majoring in writing for screen and television. Her column, “Cross Section,” runs Tuesdays.