Rachel Zegler and Jacob Elordi: Is It Still Harder for Women to be Critical in Hollywood?

This week, Euphoria star Jacob Elordi reflected on his breakout role in the Netflix series The Kissing Booth:

“Those movies are ridiculous,” he told British GQ. “I didn’t want to make those movies before I made those movies.”

Elaborating later at the premiere of his newest film, the actor added, “I just play what they give me. I need a job.”

The reaction online has been mostly humorous with some praising Elordi for being “so real” for his response. It has resulted in comparisons with the way Rachel Zegler was treated for making similar comments about acting in Shazam! Fury of the Gods.

Talking to The Hollywood Reporter about why she decided to act in the movie, Zegler told them, “I needed a job. I’m so serious . . . The reality was, we were in the middle of a pandemic and I was not working and I could not get a job for the life of me because West Side Story hadn’t come out yet and it was really hard to book work for me.”

The interview is often clipped online to suggest that Zegler had no interest in the film itself but the interview continues with her praising it: “I was really excited when this came in my inbox. I love the first movie.” She was criticised heavily online nonetheless. 

Zegler then faced more backlash for comments she made around the upcoming Snow White adaption, in which she plays the titular character. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the actor described the original 1937 version as “extremely dated when it comes to the ideas of women being in roles of power and what a woman is fit for.” 

She faced an enormous backlash online, particularly for the comment “[Snow White’s] not going to be dreaming about true love. She’s dreaming about becoming the leader she knows she can be.” Zegler immediately faced threats of online cancellation, with some people promising to boycott the film as a result. 

The bombardment of negative coverage has continued since, with videos being put up on online compiling all her critical comments. One is simply titled “Rachel Zegler needs to be stopped”. 

This has prompted questions about whether a double standard exists in Hollywood making it easier for men to get away with being openly critical than women. Naturally, Elordi and Zegler are not the first actors to publicly criticize their own projects.

Robert Pattinson famously resented his association with the Twilight movies, telling Vanity Fair in 2011, “It is weird being part of that – kind of – representing something you don’t particularly like.” He had an even more fractious relationship with fans, stating in another interview that he wanted to “break the hands and mouth” of the person who came up with the nickname “RPatz”. 

George Clooney described the script for his 1997 film Batman & Robin as “terrible” and said it was “a pretty horrendous film” in a 2000 interview with Movieline. More recently, Chris Hemsworth criticised Marvel’s Thor: Love and Thunder, describing it as “too silly” for its own good and saying “I cringe and laugh equally at it.” 

The comments and their relative responses can be compared with the disproportionally negative feedback Zegler received for hers. It echoes the backlash Jenna Ortega, another young actor new to Hollywood, faced for comments she made about the script of Wednesday.

Talking to Dax Shepard and Monica Padman on the podcast Armchair Expert, Ortega admitted that she advocated for her character to such a degree that she bordered on being “unprofessional”: 

“There were times on that set where I even became almost unprofessional in a sense, where I just started changing lines . . . I would have to sit down with the writers, and they would be like, ‘Wait, what happened to the scene?’ And I would have to go through and explain why I couldn’t do certain things.”

Though lambasted online for her comments, the team behind Wednesday clearly didn’t believe she was “unprofessional” as they have made her an executive producer on the show for the second series. Women in Hollywood, however, have not always been given second chances. 

Back in 2007, Katherine Heigl gave a now-famous interview to Vanity Fair in which she told Leslie Bennetts that she thought the film Knocked Up was “a little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humourless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I’m playing such a b*tch; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you’re portraying women? Ninety-eight percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie.”

Heigl has apologised multiple times since the interview, but Far Out Magazine described it as the piece of criticism that “derailed her career”. Since then, Heigl has described how the backlash made her feel “betrayed”: “I felt confused, wondering, ‘How could they turn on me so quickly? I’m just trying to entertain people.’”

Zegler, who is about to star in the latest Hunger Games instalment The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, has not had her career derailed, but the online backlash she has received over the last year has been extraordinary considering she was voicing support for a more feminist adaptation.

You have to wonder why it is that such young women are facing the brunt of the backlash for being critical online. Ortega is just twenty-one and Zegler, a year older, is twenty-two. Both, in arguably muddled ways, were trying to advocate for better depictions of female characters. It’s hard to believe we won’t look back on these moments and be surprised by the severity of the reactions online.