The Patriarchy of Celebrity Interviews

Celebrity interviews are a big part of media, whether it’s in the form of a talk show, YouTube video, radio broadcast, or online article. Unfortunately, many of the questions that appear in interviews tend to be sexist towards female celebrities. These types of questions were most common in the 90s and early 2000s, and they normally focus on the star’s sexuality and private life, asking them about their body or relationship status. They were often either viewed as attractive or childlike and innocent, such as experimental singer Bjork. This misogynistic view of female celebrities has thankfully evolved since the 90s, but there is still much more that needs to change.

 Celebrity interviews first became popular in the 1940s, both by newspaper articles and radio broadcasts. Many U.S. homes in the 40s and 50s had radios, which is how they would listen to interviews before the television had color. In 1954, the still-popular talk show The Tonight Show was created and invited a lot of celebrities to answer questions and play games. From the 50s to now, The Tonight Show has only had white men as the main hosts. However in 1987, Oprah Winfrey became the host of her own show and inspired a wave of female-hosted talk shows, such as the Ellen Degeneres Show. These types of shows got more and more popular throughout the decades.

Not only was there an uprising in talk shows in the 90s, but there was also an uprising in independent female celebrities. These included iconic stars like singer Britney Spears, actress Julia Roberts, and model Tyra Banks. However, the dynamic between the female celebrities and interviewers tended to be awkward. Many interviews from that time period and the early 2000s are infamous for how uncomfortable they and their questions are. Spears is most definitely the best example of this, having multiple cringe-worthy interviews in the early 2000s and late 1990s. She has been interviewed by people from Rosie O’donnell to Tucker Carlson, but no interview was as bothersome as the one she did in 1999 for TROS TV. 


In 1999, pop star Britney Spears did a Dutch TV interview with Ivo Niehe which turned out to be extremely awkward. Right off the bat, the host tells Spears that she looks “even younger than seventeen,” and later says that he is old enough to be her grandpa. Age seems to be something interviewers, reporters, and anyone working for the media is obsessed with. This is shown when movie star Emma Watson turned 18 and was bombarded by paparazzi being asked if they could take inappropriate photos now that she was officially an adult. In Britney’s case, she wasn’t even a legal adult yet being only 17 and having to face uncomfortable questions. The dynamic is off the entirety of the interview, and Niehe discusses her youth and sexuality the majority of the time, rather than her intelligence, body of work, future, etc. Thinking it couldn’t get any worse, Ivo asks something very inappropriate and unnecessary at the end. 


Ivo, “There’s one subject we didn’t discuss, what was that? Everyone’s talking about it.”

Britney: What?

Ivo: Well, your Breasts.

Britney: My breasts?

Ivo: You seem to get furious when a talk show host comes up with this subject. 


This conversation was wrong for so many reasons. Not only is it totally inappropriate for a middle aged man to talk about a 17 year old’s breasts, but he then says he knows how uncomfortable this subject makes Britney after asking her about it. Ivo preceded the conversation, asking her about breast implants. Spears says that she “personally wouldn’t do it,” but thinks it’s alright if people want to get them. Unfortunately, at the time society was not ready for someone to deflect a sexist question or make a controversial statement. Take Fiona Apple’s 1997 MTV speech that was demonetized at the time, but praised now. Times have changed since then, so now it is common for female celebrities to deflect bad questions. For example, the actress famous for playing Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson. 


In 2012, Avengers star Scarlett Johansson did an interview with Jeremy Renner for Extra TV. The questions asked may be uncomfortable, but there is nothing more satisfying than the way the actress shut it down. She made the interviewer know how inappropriate he was being, and decided to flip the script and take the power in the situation. Even Renner was obviously made uncomfortable by what questions were asked:


Interviewer, “Were you able to wear undergarments (when wearing Black Widow’s suit)?” 

Scarlett: You’re like the fifth person that’s asked me that today. What is going on? Since when did people start asking each other about their underwear? 


          This question was very wrong to start with, but the interviewer continues to pry for the answer afterwards Johansson deflects the question. She tells him to leave it up to his imagination what she is “Wearing or not wearing” underneath, and says that it is skin tight with no room for clothes underneath. She then tells him to ask Joss Whedon (the director of The Avengers) and not her, and he says “I did,” which lets Johansson reply with wit saying “You asked Joss what type of underwear he was wearing?” This successfully stopped the prying and put the ball in her court, which is something rarely seen in older interviews. Overall this was a very good example of how times have changed, and how celebrities don’t have to worry about being polite as much anymore. Nowadays female celebrities can shut down inappropriate questions and call out sexism.