Who Tells Your Story? Women in Media

As a writer, I spend a lot of time studying storytelling.  One of the main takeaways I’ve always gotten from many things I’ve read on storytelling, is that stories have to tell the truth in some way.  Usually, these truths feel very personal to the author, which means they also have the chance of feeling personal to the reader.

While our stories may be unique, our pain, our joy, generally isn’t.  That is why we love stories, because they often remind us we are not alone, while allowing us the chance to escape the mundane.  They make us feel like we are apart of something bigger, that we are not alone.

One problem we have in our current state of movies and media, often women don’t get to tell their own stories.  A recent study by the Sundance Institute found that only about 29% of filmmakers are women.  This includes writers, directors, producers, cinematographers; and editors.

You may be wondering why this matters?  Hollywood tends to have a bad reputation for underwritten or poorly written female characters.  In many movies, even very popular ones, there may not even be more than one female character, and if there is more than one, it may be rather rare to see her speak to another female character on screen.  This can be gaged using the Bechdel Test, which is admittedly a low bar for female representation.

I recently watched Dr. Strange and though I enjoyed the film, the female characters in it felt either stereotypical or underdeveloped.  While I liked Rachel McAdams’ performance as Dr. Christine Palmer, the character felt more like an accessory for Strange’s breakdown, rather than an independent and interesting character of her own. For those that know of characters like Clea Strange in the comics, Marvel may have missed an opportunity to include a dynamic and layered female character in their story.  Arguably, Dr. Strange is Stephen Strange’s story so it is expected that he would be the central figure in it.  But when Marvel has yet to have a movie led by a woman, and still only has one movie planned to be led by a woman, I think it’s probably okay to look at their female leads with a critical eye.

To me, this problem seems to be systemic.  If women aren’t there to write and tell their stories, then it seems to follow reason that we lack diverse and interesting female characters.  I am a firm believer that women have just as interesting and complicated inner lives as their male counterparts, but it is likely we don’t often see this portrayed because women are not allowed to tell their own stories.

The upcoming Wonder Woman film will be directed by a woman, but the writers are male.  It seems somewhat odd to not have a female writer involved in developing the story of one of the strongest feminist icons of the last century.  This is not to say that some men can’t write amazing, complicated and full female characters, there are many male writers that can and do.  There is still a certain authenticity when women are allowed to tell their own stories.  I think this goes for all people, that we are the ones most uniquely qualified to tell our own stories, in and out of fiction.  The problem is that women do not have an equal opportunity to do so.  I also believe that everyone can benefit from interesting, authentic and diverse stories.

 

 

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Review – Suicide Squad

First off let me say, I enjoyed the movie.  It’s a decent popcorn flick and if you have a general idea of the backstory of the characters involved, you can fill in the blanks that may have ended up on the cutting room floor.  That being said, the action scenes were very entertaining and did not drag on.  From here I will warn you, there may be SPOILERS ahead.  If you have not seen the movie and don’t wish to know the plot, stop here for now, and come back when you’ve seen the film.

I was in the apparently small camp that did not enjoy Jared Leto as the Joker.  My favorite Joker is probably Mark Hamill, and he probably sets unrealistic expectations for anyone else who takes the role for me.  Leto was a bit over the top for me, and his “grill” distracted me with each scene he was in.  I also felt like they missed a big part of the Harley/Joker relationship.  The Joker seems obsessed with Harley and their relationship is not shown to have some of the more negative aspects we see in the comics and cartoons, partially because some of those moments ended up on the cutting room floor.  Personally, I’m dying to see what scenes were cut.  I also felt as if the entire storyline in the present with the Joker could be removed from the film and it would not heavily impact the plot, as long as the flashbacks that showed Harley’s origin remained.

The plot felt a little contrived, and some of the relationships felt forced.  For a group of villains that seemed to have no contact prior to the forming of their team, it felt as if we were supposed to believe they were family, with very few moments that established them as such.  Again, I’ve read the Suicide Squad comics, so I had a little more to go on to be able to believe the relationships between the Squad members could be tight.  That being said, the characterizations felt dead on me.  Harley came across perfectly, both playful and a bit demented.  At one point they showed her deepest desire, and it was simply a normal life with the Joker.  Robbie did an excellent job with the character, and she did not feel over the top.  Will Smith was also very good as Deadshot.  The other members of the Squad were distinct and entertaining, even if it felt like at times we were still missing a few flashbacks for them.

Suicide Squad did suffer from some of the cutting that Batman Vs. Superman seemed to struggle with, but overall it seems to keep the plot rolling along until the end of the movie.

I would absolutely recommend this movie for DC fans and fans of comic book movies.  It is definitely not a Marvel film, but if you go in with the expectation of a fun flick filled with action, you will not be disappointed.

 

When one isn’t enough.

My friends and family have probably gotten a little sick of me asking “How many women are in it?” when they recommend TV shows or movies to me.  Trust me, I’m a little tired of it too.  Why do I keep asking though?  A several years ago I was introduced to the “Bechdel Test” by Alison Bechdel.  Initially Bechdel created a comic that became a rule of thumb for meeting the most basic rule for gender diversity in media.

It’s pretty simple.  The piece of media must have at least 2 female characters who have names, and at some point in the film, those two must talk to each other about something other than a man.   Some movies I truly love don’t pass this test, including Pacific Rim, which does include a strong female character with a solid backstory.

The Bechdel Test = The piece of media must have at least 2 female characters who have names, and at some point in the film, those two must talk to each other about something other than a man.

The Bechdel test is not the end-all be-all rule of thumb for representing women, it’s a rather low standard which should be used for evaluation and critical thinking.  The fundamental problem is, you can flip this test on its head, make it 2 male characters and a lot more films pass.  It’s not an odd thing to see a cast of 5-10 men and one woman among them.

And you might be saying, what’s the problem with that?

The problem is, it doesn’t reflect reality.  Women make up half the population.

If you follow my blog, you saw that I linked to my tumblr post about my love for the new Star Wars film a few weeks ago.  That post has gotten 300+ reblogs/likes, which blows any other tumblr post I’ve made out of the water.  Most of the comments were positive from other people who identified with how I felt and my love of seeing women all over the place in the new Star Wars film, and how I, as a life long female fan, finally felt truly welcome in the Star Wars fandom.

One reblogger stated, in a somewhat condescending way, how they did not understand how I could not feel welcome initially, “Have you met Princess Leia?”  It took me back a bit, because, of course I knew who Leia was.  I had mentioned Leia in my initial post and my love for her.  At first I wanted to respond politely and re-affirm that I loved Leia and the original trilogy, but then it hit me.

I responded in a very different way.

I pointed out that sort of gate keeping mentality is exactly why women don’t feel welcome.

I pointed out that sort of gate keeping mentality is exactly why women don’t feel welcome. One female character, even a strong one, does not a warm welcome to fandom make.

My initial post has mentioned how much I loved Leia and the expanded universe novels.  It clearly stated that I had been a Star Wars fan most of my life, but just because I’m a fan of something, doesn’t mean I’m satisfied with one strong female character in a film.  The original trilogy gave me Leia, but the Force Awakens gave me Leia as a General, Rey, Captain Phasma, Maz Kanata and many women in background roles of pilots, resistance fighters and even storm troopers.

Because of this representation, which had me over joyed, the film was boycotted by a group of men (who I will not name, because I do not want to give them more fame than they’ve already gotten) because of the films diverse main characters.  A woman and a black man.  Of course, that boycott is barely a drop in the bucket.  But it is still an interesting thing to look at.  Why would it be upsetting to have a film more strongly reflect reality in terms of diversity?8d550275660caec4515f06af4627e996

This is truly just the start for me.  I want not only more than one woman in a film with a name and an important role, I want to see the varied and interesting inner lives of women.  I want to see scenes where women have friendships and relationships that do not revolve around competition for a man’s attention, because that is what my reality looks like.  I have close female friends who cheer each other on, who build each other up.  When I watch a film that lacks this representation, I quickly lose interest.

Not because there aren’t more women in it, but because it’s usually a story I’ve seen many times before.  The women watch as the men do.

With my own writing, I hope to portray the rich inner lives of both men and women, but especially women, because I am one.  I can speak to my own life and experiences as a woman.  Hopefully movies like Star Wars and Mad Max symbolize a shift in the narrative, that Hollywood and other media facets will realize that women and men want more from their media.  I’m happy to continue to provide those stories from my little corner of the writing world, and I hope you will consider doing so as well.

Star Wars: What it meant to me as a lifelong female fan.

I actually wrote this post over on my tumblr, so if you’d like to read it, click the link and head over there.

Warning: SPOILERS.  If you have not seen the film yet, I did try to make my spoilers somewhat vague.  Most of the information is in comparison to the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels, and I tried to avoid the more major spoilers in the film.

If you were a fan of Jaina Solo or a female fan, this might assuage some of the fears you had about the film.  I know I went into it scared I would feel excluded, objectified or over looked, but that was not the case and my post goes into more depth as to why.

If you haven’t seen the film yet, I’ll leave it at this:

It’s a good time to be a Star Wars fan for my girls out there.