SUBJECTS — Drama; U.S./1945 – 1991 & New York;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Romantic Relationships;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect.
AGE: 13+; MPAA Rating — PG;
Comedy; 1982; 119 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Movies as Literature Homework Project.
A Broadway actor can’t get parts because he’s difficult to work with. To prove his prowess as an actor, he impersonates a woman and tries out for a woman’s role in a soap opera. He gets the part, becomes a star, falls in love with his female co-star, and lives a double life until….
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
1984 Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress (Lange); 1984 British Academy Awards: Best Actor (Hoffman), Best Make-up; 1983 Golden Globe Awards: Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical; Best Actor – Comedy/Musical (Hoffman, Best Supporting Actress (Lange); 1984 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (Hoffman), Best Director (Pollack), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Best Sound, Best Supporting Actress (Garr), Best Screenplay; 1984 British Academy Awards Nominations: Best Film; Best Director; Best Screenplay, Best Actress (Lange), Best Supporting Actress (Garr), Best Song; 1983 Golden Globe Awards Nominations: Best Director (Pollack), Best Screenplay.
“Tootsie” is ranked #2 on the American Film Institute’s List of the 100 Funniest American Movies of All Time (2006). It is ranked #62 on the American Film Institute’s List of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (2006). This film is listed in the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress as a “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” film.
Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Dabney Goleman, Charles Durning, Bill Murray, Sydney Pollack, George Gaynes and Geena Davis.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
This film is useful in health classes for discussions on social and romantic relationships. Dustin Hoffman said that “Tootsie” is about a man becoming a better man by experiencing what it’s like to be a woman. The film explores the different ways in which people act and the different ways that they perceive life, based on their gender. It also leads viewers to think about some of the differences and similarities between men and women. The film is excellent for teaching boys not to mistreat girls and for teaching girls to be less tolerant of male misbehavior.
Certain scenes in “Tootsie,” like Shakespeare’s wonderful comedy Twelfth Night, explore the nature of attraction between people of the same and different sexes.
MODERATE. There is frequent profanity. Michael sleeps with a woman that he has known for a long time. It doesn’t work and they both regret it. Fortunately, they remain friends. This is a minor event in the film.
Some view this film as flawed because the major female characters, Sandy and Julie, permit themselves to be mistreated by men. Only Dorothy (who is really a man) is unwilling to put up with male misbehavior. But this is a comedy. Sandy and Julie are intended to represent women who are submissive and allow men to mistreat them.
This movie has strong social-emotional learning and ethical messages.
For Sons: Tell them what Hoffman said: that the movie is about a man learning to be a better man by being a woman. Explore this concept. What was it that Michael learned through the course of the film? Why do certain men treat women badly? Here’s the answer: Some have poor role models but for most it is rooted in their own sense of inferiority and low self-esteem. They try to drag women down to their own abysmal level because they feel that they themselves are not worthy. What these guys need is therapy for their own self-image problems. End by explaining why you believe that women are owed respect.
For Daughters: Tell your daughters: never take the type of abuse that characters like Ron dish out; you are too good for guys like that; you deserve better; don’t try to reform them, probably no one can; they operate out of some psychological injury suffered long ago; what they need are years of therapy; life is too short for this; just go on to someone else. Women who are raised to be self-respecting will not allow themselves to become enmeshed with this kind of man.
The lives of the vast majority of actors are quite difficult. Jobs are extremely scarce. Most actors make their living through employment unrelated to acting, such as waiting on tables in a restaurant. (There is a lot of truth to the saying that being an actor is the state of being unemployed.) Many actors spend the money that is not needed for bare subsistence on classes: acting classes, dance classes, fencing classes, etc.
Before he became a star, Dustin Hoffman was an actor in New York for many years. To support himself, he taught acting classes and took menial jobs. He also developed a reputation for being hard to work with.
Hoffman spent four years working on “Tootsie.” Long before the producer/director, Sydney Pollack, was involved in the project, Hoffman was editing the script, interviewing actresses for the leading roles, etc. Even when Pollack came on board as director and producer, Hoffman was involved in the decision making. Hoffman and Pollack would often come in on a Monday with separate rewrites of the scenes to be filmed the next week. They would then spend the day working together to come up with the final script.
Hoffman was a recognized star by the time he acted in “Tootsie.” He insisted that Pollack act the part of the agent. Hoffman contended that Pollack was the only person that Hoffman could believe had power over him because, as the director of the film, Pollack actually did have power over him.
There were weeks of makeup tests on Hoffman before production of the movie began. Hoffman’s contract provided that if he didn’t appear to be a woman in the screen tests, he didn’t have to make the movie. Hoffman would dress up as Dorothy Michaels and see if people could tell that he was really a man. Reportedly he met friends who didn’t recognize him and he had a long conversation with the teacher of one of his daughters, all dressed as Dorothy. The crew could only shoot scenes that included Hoffman for a couple of hours a day because after four hours his beard would begin to show. It took two hours or more to put on the makeup.
2. As a person, who do you admire more, the character of Julie or the character of Sandy? Evaluate their characters.
There is no one correct answer to this question. Julie was successful but until the end of the film, she was not willing to stand up for herself. Sandy was a nice person who was trying very, very hard but meeting with minimal success. No one knows if Julie would have persevered as long and with as much good grace.
1. Although Julie was drawn to Dorothy she wouldn’t even let the old Michael Dorsey get to first base. Why was this? What were the filmmakers trying to tell us in the scene at the party in which Michael propositions Julie with the line she told Dorothy Michaels she would respond to? (Michael got a glass of wine thrown in his face.)
It relates to style and looks. Ron had the style and looks that Julie liked and Michael Dorsey didn’t. The point the filmmakers were trying to make was that style and looks are misleading. Michael and Julie could have been great friends but Julie was not willing to give him a chance as Michael Dorsey because of his presentation.
2. At the end of the film Michael Dorsey tells Julie that “I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man … I just gotta learn to do it without the dress.” Describe the ways that Michael Dorsey was a better man as a woman.
He was non-sexist and considerate. He valued friendship more than sex.
3. What did Michael Dorsey learn about the way he should treat women?
He learned that he should treat women as people rather than sex objects.
4. What do you think of the way that Ron treated Julie? How should he have treated her?
He was condescending, sexist and unfaithful. He should have been considerate, polite and faithful.
5. Is Ron’s chauvinism and mistreatment of women typical of men?
There is no one answer, except to say that it is not typical of men who are emotionally mature.
6. What would happen today if someone was as blatantly sexist in the workplace as Ron was in the film?
The women wouldn’t take it, unless perhaps he was someone enormously powerful. He would be ostracized. If his behavior continued, he would be sued for sexual harassment in the workplace.
7. How different were Michael Dorsey and Ron (the director) in their approaches to women? Did this change through the movie?
At the start, it was really not that different except that Ron was more successful than Michael. By the end, Michael had learned how it felt to be treated badly and was trying to change his behavior.
8. Both Julie and her father were heterosexuals, but they both were attracted to Dorothy. Can you explain this?
Attraction and personal chemistry transcend sex. (See Learning Guide to “Twelfth Night“.) This is our theory: With a person of the appropriate sex and when the situation is right, it can become sexual attraction. If not, it becomes friendship. If a person is sexually attracted to someone who is inaccessible due to marriage or involvement in a committed relationship, the person would acknowledge the attraction to him or herself, but should not act on it.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)
1. What did this film tell you about the way boys should treat girls?
Always treat girls with respect.
2. The film shows Michael Dorsey seeing things differently when he looks at the world through the eyes of a woman as opposed to when he is himself, looking at the world through the eyes of a man. Give some examples of this.
Here are a few: Michael Dorsey would not have been outraged at the treatment of women on the set of the soap opera if he were not treated that way himself; Michael Dorsey would not have had to worry about resisting the attention of Julie’s father had he not been masquerading as a woman; handling conflicts (see response to following question).
3. Remember when Dorothy said, “Well, he [Ron] told me what he wanted. I didn’t agree with him. I did it the way I wanted to. He bawled me out. I apologized to him and that was that.” Would Michael Dorsey have acted that way? What are the advantages and disadvantages of such an approach?
Michael Dorsey would have told the director exactly what he thought of him and there would have been a big argument. However, when Michael was playing a woman, he adopted at least one approach to conflict that many women would take, which was to let the man feel powerful and then do what she wanted. This is sometimes called passive aggressive. The advantage of the direct approach is that everything is out on the table and the conflict can be resolved by discussion. The disadvantage is that if the disagreement is not handled diplomatically, people will become angry and someone (usually Michael) would be fired. The advantage of the second approach is that everything continues to move along fairly smoothly. The disadvantage of this type of manipulation is that disputes are not resolved, ideas are not exchanged, and conflict is brushed under the rug.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
BRIDGES TO READING
“Tootsie Taught Hoffman About the Sexes,” New York Times, Dec. 21, 1982 available in New York Times Biographical Service, Vol. 13, No. 12, pp. 1631 – 32.
In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:
- Making Tootsie by Susan Dworkin, 1983, Newmarket Press, New York.
This Learning Gude was last updated on December 18, 2009.