Tuesday, June 1, 2010

More about female characters

John August's latest post offers a nice extension of the discussion of female characters I brought up in my last post. (Basically, a vast majority of films cannot pass a simple test: 1. the film has two or more female characters with names, 2. the characters talk to each other and 3. they talk to each other about something other than men.)

It's not a perfect test, but John himself admitted that he didn't used to think about these things before, and that he will now. Like I said, it's a choice: It's up to us, as writers, to choose how we portray women (and to portray them at all).

I think it's also worth mentioning that TV shows fare much better than movies when it comes to this test.

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28 comments:

Mark Thomas said...

It's a very interesting question. Maybe it's because movies tend to be broader -- not only because of the market they must command, but because movies are necessarily microcosmic, as opposed to TV, which is more historical. In other words, in the grand scheme of things, the only two things that matter are love and death (see Woody Allen), and with only 90-120 minutes to fulfill the Quest (or not), find the Grail (or not), conquer death and consummate love (or not), there's not a lot of time for chit-chat.

I should probably stop writing about writing and get back to writing.

GregM said...

"Henchmen" does. "Yo, Let's Save Jesus," I'm sorry to say, does not.

Dan Williams said...

When I saw "Ironman", Gwynith talks to the other woman and it really seemed like something new was happening -- you're right! -- women don't talk to other women in movies.

But I would argue that this is because of genre rather than choices made by the writer--you just don't have a Bond movie if the Bond-Girl saves the world along with Bond!

A "woman-movie" might go like this. There are 5 acts. She is a girl, a newly-wed, a young mom, a university mom, an empty-nester. So the characters age during the movie. She is a really loving and truly good person, wife and mom. But none of the other characters understands this. They are so busy with themselves, they don't get it that she's always putting them first. Only in Act 5 does she blossom into herself. And then the other characters get it. The THEME is that "women are good" and that "women must eventually find themselves in order to be happy" -- something like that. In this way, the movie, the genre pattern, plays to the strengths of women in general -- patient, loving, giving -- as the Bond movie plays to the strengths of men.

Movies about women as women would not put a women into a traditional man's role. That's not equality. That's just unnatural.

Amanda said...

Dan - saying "it's just the genre" is exactly the kind of sexism I'd love for us all to acknowledge and learn from.

You say "woman movie" but I bet you'd never say "man movie."

Dan Williams said...

No, Amanda. I'm saying that a Bond-movie is a man-movie. That's not sexism. It's a genre, meaning, it's a typical series of moves made by a man to solve certain types of problems.

I'm saying that a woman-movie has to flow from the series of moves that women normally make to solve the problems that women normally solve in life.

To me, that's natural. You can't have a man-movie about a man havign a baby unless it's screwball comedy. Authentic women-movies are about women's problems, not placing a woman in a man's role and saying, "see, she can do it too."

Sarah Mathews said...

I'm sorry, Dan, but I have to agree with Amanda. And your comments both in the last post and in this one are unbelievably sexist.

All your descriptions have to do with whether a woman is married or has children. "She is a girl, a newly-wed, a young mom, a university mom, an empty-nester... She is a really loving and truly good person, wife and mom." And "Movies about women as women would not put a women into a traditional man's role. That's not equality. That's just unnatural."

Good god, I feel like I'm reading something from 1952!

There are many fabulous movies out there that both men AND women love, and want to see more of, that have strong women doing things that have NOTHING to do with marriage or children.

Luc Besson's Nikita
Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2
Erin Brockovich
Million Dollar Baby
V for Vendetta
just to name a few

And in television, we have the fabulous Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena Warrior Princess, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Scully from the X-Files, Painkiller Jane, etc, just scratching the surface.

PLEASE don't tell me these characters are "women put into a traditional man's role" or "unnatural" or you will sound even more sexist than you already do.

Jeff said...

Women and film and TV is an interesting topic. It is true that they are extremely one dimensional especially in movies.

Something I've found is that everything women do in scripts somehow becomes politicized in a way that doesn't happen to men. For example, I had a script where a girl sleeps with a guy on the first date. Now I thought, it's the 21st century and this happens all the time. She's a grown up she likes the guy she knows what she wants. What I got back in notes, interestingly enough notes from a female were, "she needs to not be such a slut. She doesn't know what love is. She doesn't love this guy after sleeping with him(the script never said she loved him but the reader seemed to think if a girl sleeps with a guy she must be in love)." Also, unfortunately I have written a feature script that doesn't pass the test(in my defense, it was based on material that doesn't pass the test).

Amanda said...

Thank you, Sarah!!

Jeff - you make an interesting point about women and sex. I love WEDDING CRASHERS, but it's about men looking for sex, and I've heard plenty of industry people say that audiences don't want to see women looking for sex. You might argue that WC turns noble since both men end up falling in love, but still.. there's definitely a double standard. It seems as though society won't accept women having sex unless love is involved.

There ARE a lot of female sex comedies in development, so maybe things will start to change once these movies come out.

Sarah Mathews said...

>>It seems as though society won't accept women having sex unless love is involved. <<

So true. I wonder if Sex and the City, both the tv show and now with 2 movies, has made or will make any headway in breaking the double standard.

Dan Williams said...

No Sarah, you're not getting it. I said the THEME of the movie could be "that women have to find themselves in order to be happy", meaning that traditional role-playing won't get them to fulfillment. The movie would be about the journey to this realization and past it to fulfillment. That's not 50's. That's not sexist.

Second, it's not sexist to see that men and women are different. If you remake a Bond film but change the gender of Bond to that of a woman, you don't get a good movie, otherwise, they'd do it. These movies celebrate something about men. That's a fact, it's not sexist.

Third, SATC is authentic. It's about sex and women and these characters. It celebrates being a woman -- "I'm fifty and I'm fabulous." This show is not sexist just because it's about woman. And I'm not sexist because I see this and say it. Sexist would be to dismiss the show as being "about chicks."

So what do you celebrate about women in your scripts. Amanda, in your romcom, why does the woman get the guy?

Rene said...

Dan. A note on genre. There's no such genre as Man-movie and Woman-movie. Bond films are spy/espionage/action films.

And Samantha Caine (Geena Davis) in The Long Kiss Goodnight is one of the best action characters in film.

Who'd have thought?

Dan Williams said...

Rene, I know. I've got my M.A. in English. Man-movie is a term I invented to include genres that celebrate something about men, as the Bond movies do.

Sarah, re: my five-act movie: if you don't like seeing movies that show women ONLY in relationships, the movie could go like this: playing with other little girls, as a teen in an all-girls club, as a young woman who choses a college degree over marriage, starting her own successful business, chosing to adopt a child and raise it on her own without the help of a man.

Now this isn't from 1952, is it?

The THEME is still "a woman needs to find herself" but this genre plays to the strengths of a woman and this is my point. Choices about characters often reflect little more than genre. To escape genre choices, stories have to go outside genre if writers want to be fully in control of their choices.

Amanda, another question: in your romcom, what is it about the hero that your heroine loves? Why is this the right guy for her? (What about guys is that you are celebrating, and about women?)

Sarah Mathews said...

Dan,

The only thing I have left to say is that clearly you will never be working with Joss Whedon as a writer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoEZQfTaaEA

Dan Williams said...

Okay, Sarah, you win. Men and women are totally equal, there are no diffences between them, strong women characters should be on the movie screen doing everything that James Bond does. Buffy's fight scenes are not cartoonish and unbelievable. She wasn't a total bore until she fell in love with Angel. Season 4 wasn't a total disappointment once Angel left. Joss will go on writing "strong women characters" who copy-cat what men are doing so they can say, "See, so there." You will go on believing you are superior to men, that society is holding you back from having sex like a man, that all men are inferior to you.

Gosh, aren't we all privileged to have somebody like you amongst us.

Jeff said...

To dan- What on screen does James Bond do that would be so crazy to see a women do? Shoot a gun? Women have hands so that is fine. Bed hot people? Last time a checked, women can have sex. Operate a gadget? Contrary to popular belief women can use buttons quite well. Also, Buffy is a superhero with super-powers, so yes she achieves feats of strength beyond that of a mere mortal, just like Batman, Superman, Spiderman, and every other character in tights. All are a bit cartoony.

Also, in one of my fave Bond films, Michelle Yi helps Bond save the world by helping to kick ass. Somehow the universe didn't implode.

It is true that the female voice is uncharacteristically vacant from hollywood. Just like the Black, Latino, Asian, Gay, Lesbian, and African American voice barely exists in hollywood. This has nothing to do with whether woman are better than men, which is a stupid idea to bring into this(people are more than sex organs). It just is what it is.

Barbara said...

To Dan: I'll quote Woody Allen, a great male writer/director/actor if failed human being,so your male brain won't be confused by something it must interpret from a female..."what an a**hole."

danny said...

Ha ha, this thread is awesome.

And yes, the script I'm writing right now fails the test.

I'll be thinking about that--thanks, Amanda!

Dan Williams said...

Jeff, I am so glad you contributed to this post, because you have obviously thought about the issues and have something unique to contribute. And your contribution is phrased in the form of a question, which provokes thought, unlike Sarah who is so utterly filled with arrogant and ridiculous Feminist doctrine that she feels she is the judge of everybody's attitudes: "Does James Bond do anything a woman couldn't do?"

Okay, let's test it: let's make a movie where a woman is named "Jane Bond" and let's let her do all the things James Bond does, and let's let the audience decide who they would rather watch.

And let's let Amanda write the Jane Bond movie. Hey, if I have a different take on an issue from Amanda, I'm a horrible guy!

Look, Amanda. I'm trying to support you. If you can't handle having a person taking your idea in a new direction, you will never make it in the writer's room. Don't look for reassurance. Look for creativity. When the other person moves with your idea, move with his or her idea. That's creativty. And when the Sarah's of the world are so filled with arrogance that they dare to judge to the attitudes of honest thinking persons who are honestly sharing ideas with you, tell these Feminist Monsters to go f- themselves.

Hey, Sarah, don't you dare judge me. You aren't the Attitude Police. I will think my thoughts and form my opinions from my experience and express them, and if you don't like it, too bad.

danny said...

I'm gonna judge you. I think you've got a screw loose.

Sarah Mathews said...

Dan, I can and will indeed judge you. I won't say what I think of you, as my Grandmother always said, if you have nothing nice to say to someone, don't say anything at all.

But yes, you better believe I am judging you.

Sarah Mathews said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TooAdorkable said...

So... according to Dan, we can't have strong female characters because male characters went there first...

Dan Williams said...

Sara, you are arrogant. You are not the judge of me. Keep your knee-jerk Feminist opinions to yourself. You need to learn to respect the opinions of others even if you disagree.

Okay, let's say a woman can do everything James Bond can--and I agree. But this happens in stories in the news all the time. But does it work IN FEATURES? Does the MOVIE AUDIENCE want to see Jennifer Aniston in an Ironman suit? Or are her strengths in her looks and her sexiness and her wit and her character?

If I SAY THIS, being a man, you call me a sexist, but how about if a WOMAN says it? Take a look at this blog in which a woman MAKES GENERALIZATIONS ABOUT WOMAN:

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,594227,00.html

It's not wrong to try to reason about gender differences. It's not sexism.

Finally, a STRONG CHARACTER can show strength buying a package of chewing gum, cracking jokes, and flirting. It doesn't take a fighting like a man to do it! If a writer puts his or her women characters into physical fights with men, their not getting it.

PS: I admit it wasn't too cool of me to rant.

Sarah Mathews said...

Dan, your link takes us to an article entitled "5 Mistakes Guys Make Early On That Scare Women Away"

Dan Williams said...

Yes, Sarah, that's right. But look at the generalizations that the female writer is making about women.

For example: she says that women "like compliments." If I, as a guy, were to say that "women like compliments", you would tell me I was sexist, that I was demeaning women. This is my point. If a man says it, you call him sexist, but if a woman says it, do you call her sexist?

You called me "sexist". I have never demeaned a woman, ever, ever. My mom used to complain to me bitterly that she couldn't do what men do because it was against society's rules. And she was right. And I agreed with her.

A woman can do anything a man can do. There should be equal pay for equal work. Society should fund day-care so that a woman does not have to give up her career when she has a baby. And here, in Ontario, in Canada, this is happening more and more.

You have the right to call my 5-Act movie about a woman's life, whatever you wnat to. But I draw the line at you calling ME "a sexist." I may represent a minority opinion, but the minority also deserves respect. I just see that women, equal to men, have different, complementary, strengths from men. Women are amazing, there's no doubt. AND, in a feature movie, some genres celebrate man-differences while others, I would argue, celebrate woman-differences.

I love Jennifer Anniston. I want to see her rom-coms, but I don't want to see her in an Iron-Man suit with a helmet over her face, waging war with androids. How does that celebrate her strengths and virtues, her curves and wit, her humanity, her quirky character?

And so I conclude that some genres are guy-friendly and some are female-friendly. And that if we, as writers, want to be in control of ALL our choices, genres might not be the way to go.

Tarentino did it superbly. In "Inglorious Bastards", he had the female story-line, the Jewish theatre-owner who wanted revenge. She talks to men about subjects other than sex and relationships, she is bent on her goal, she achieves it. This is not a standard genre movie but an intelligent comment on motive, and the women is a very strong character.

Men and women are equal, for sure. And men must respect women and cherish their strengths. AND, it is in their differences that they find their deepest need for each other, for commitment and for help in surviving this rather bewildering and chaotic reality we live in.

I like women.

Dan Williams said...

Sarah, I just wanted to make sure that you know that I respect you as an opponent in the debate we've been having. You throw some great round-house punches, and you made me think more deeply about the male-female differences debate. Standing up to you took a lot of courage on my part. But guys have to stand up to females who believe (mistakenly) that it is their right to bash any man who dares to see differences between men and woman, different views, different strengths.

"Women's Studies" seem to come to the conclusion that any differences between men and woman are due SOLELY to conditioning, but "Gender Studies" are rolling back that oppinion. For instance, here is an article about how women run small businesses differently from men: it's called: "Yes, Women Do Run Businesses Differently."

http://ca.askmen.com/dating/heidi_400/403_5-mistakes-guys-make-early-on-that-scare-women-away.html

I would never hold a woman back from doing anything she wants to do. But I do see, every day here in Guelph at the university, that women can take any course they want to and that they are glad to be women, not men. They chose the career they want, they party, they drink, they meet whatever guy they want to, they have sex as they want to (using the pill and condoms), they glory in their bodies, their cleavage, their outlook as women. They have a terrific future ahead of them, filled with fulfillment.

Okay? See, I'm not sexist. But I'm also not blind. These young women want a relationship with a man of their chosing, and they can have it on their own terms. But they would never tell you that they are THE SAME as guys.

Men and women are equal. But they are not the same -- that's my honest opinion. I respect your opinion, I demand that you respect mine.

(I'm having a beverage here, in Guelph. If you were here, I'd offer you one and listen to your opinions with respect.)

Dan Williams said...

Oops! The link is:

http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/0005/ma000503.htm

I'm not perfect, either, and I'm still learning all the time.

GregM said...

Dan, "Kill Bill" (both volumes) and "Wanted" feature women beating people up, kicking ass, and taking names--not to mention "Aliens," so the James Bond test has already been constructed, and the grosses of Aliens, Wanted, the Kill Bills speak for themselves. (There's a reason James Cameron & Quentin Tarantino, both of whom write women who kick ass, have consistently high-grossing movies).

Saying a female James Bond wouldn't work is kind of nonsensical, since clearly, action movies with women *do* work.

Also, something tells me Amanda will do just fine in a writer's room. Your attacks on feminism don't really make sense.