Sunday, August 17, 2008

Why Hollywood Is Like A Petulant Teenager

Jennifer Kesler of The Hathor Legacy did a link roundup of discussions spurred by her earlier post on why film schools teach their students to epically fail the Bechdel test. She was kind enough to include a link to my earlier post, along with a passel of other fascinating posts, which again has me thinking about why most mainstream films can’t get their shit together when it comes to strong female characters.

Well, first of all, as I’m writing this I’m watching a repeat of The Sarah Connor Chronicles on FOX and, hey, look at that – awesome female characters. Television is so insanely far ahead of movies in that respect. I mean, yeah, there’s Supernatural, which is oh so very wrongheaded when it comes to women, but that’s also probably the reason I’ve never been able to get into the show despite usually loving that kind of monster fighting thing. I even have a Tivo season pass for the show and I end up deleting 98% of the episodes unwatched. Almost every TV show I love features women who kick ass and who have strong relationships with other women. The latter is especially important to me in fiction because it’s important to me in real life. I have a personal rule, you see – don’t trust a woman who can’t get along with other women. Every time I’ve gotten completely hosed by a female friend, it’s always been one of those women who go around saying “I normally don’t get along with other women, but you’re cool and laid back, you’re different!” Hear me when I say this, if you are a woman and are ever in the same situation? You are not the exception, trust me. Whatever makes that woman hate herself and her own gender that much will eventually make her turn on you, too. My most satisfying and lasting friendships have always been with men and women who can sustain platonic relationships with both genders. I love my guy friends, too, and I admit that sometimes my friendships with guys can be easier than my friendships with women, which can be tricky and need work, but if it’s worth having, it’s worth working for. I would be nothing without my girls. So when I see a female character on a television show who prides herself on being one of the boys and has no time for “silly, superficial girls,” I get nervous. If I’m gonna devote an hour a week for a few years of my life to following the trials and tribulations of a few characters, they’ve usually gotta be characters I would want to be friends with in real life, and I have no patience for guys or girls who are dismissive of the entire female gender.

Anyway, on to movies. I think it’s as important to have well-written, fleshed out female characters as it is to have multiple female characters. As I pointed out in my last Bechdel post, 27 Dresses had more female characters than Iron Man did, but I’ll take one Pepper Potts over three bland rom-com characters anytime. What still has me scratching my head, though, is why, with the veritable superhero movie explosion, is Wonder Woman still stalled? Why no attempts to get a Birds of Prey franchise up and running to capitalize on the success of Nolan’s Bat franchise? Why are they making a movie about the Avenger Ant-Man (seriously? Ant-Man?) but no Wasp, a female Avenger who might not even appear in the Avengers movie in 2011? Sure, the producers can point fingers at Elektra and Catwoman as proof that female superhero movies don’t work. Of course those two didn’t work – they were crappy movies. I have probably an unreasonable and blinding love for Jen Garner and I could barely sit through Elektra. And you know, the first Hulk movie bombed due to crapitude, but a studio was still willing to give the character another go with a different actor/writer/director. But Catwoman only gets the one shot? Really? The whole thing just reminds me of what happens when you ask my surly teenage stepbrother to do anything resembling a chore. He does a spectacularly bad job - “See, I did it, happy now?” – to ensure that you never ask him to do it again. Ask him to take out the garbage? Hope you don’t mind finding the garbage can lid left open and the whole can infested with maggots and half the garbage strewn about the yard by wild animals. Eventually, you stop pestering him and just start doing it yourself. I can’t help but wonder if, even on a subconscious level, Hollywood puts out sub par female-driven movies so they can then point and say, “See, we gave you a female-driven movie and it bombed! Now can we go back to doing things the way we usually do?”

I mean, I just watched a commercial for The House Bunny. That’s definitely a female-driven movie, but it also looks potentially insulting to the female gender, if not the human race. If it bombs, I know they’ll blame the girl quotient. When a guy-driven movie bombs, they don’t turn around and say the penises caused it to fail, do they? It’s just depressing because it feels like there’s still so much work to do to make Hollywood more female friendly. We need more movies with prominent female characters, and more movies with prominent female characters that are also well written. For that to happen, we need more women working behind the scenes as writers and directors and producers. You know what happens when you let a woman run things behind the scenes? You get a television show like Weeds that is whip-smart, features complex female characters, and appeals to guys and girls. It’s an all around win. And yet Hollywood is still a boys’ club. It seems like so much to change, it's almost overwhelming, but even if the change comes incrementally it needs to come. The Women, which they have finally started promoting at least, doesn’t really look like my kind of movie, but I’m going to try to see it in the theatre anyway, to vote with my dollar.

Anyway, after I see Pineapple Express, I’ll do another 2008 Bechdel roundup. (Any guesses as to how PE will score? When even Apatow’s leading lady says his movies are sexist, you know you’re in trouble.) Later this week I’m also gonna write up a review of Mirrors, which I saw on Friday, and which, in addition to being a fun horror flick, had some solid female characters to boot.

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