Writerly Rant #53
by Dave K. Heath, Writer.
Originally posted on Dave’s Corner of the Universe, Sept. 28, 2014.
Last week due to other people’s work schedules and illness, Uncle Dave was in charge of home schooling my niece Mona. That meant Dr. Who episodes for science class, ice cream with lunch and the writing assignment was a book report on the comic book Lumber Janes. Math was only a fifteen minute exercise on the computer but literature was an hour discussion on in media res, character, and setting.
We talked about whether or not gender was important in a story.
I asked her if the Harry Potter stories would have been different if the main character was Hermione and not Harry? What if Star Wars had been Leia’s story not Luke’s? Her answers where thoughtful and concise for a nine year old.
It also got me thinking about female characters. I do not consider myself a feminist, nor do I consider myself an anti-feminist. I consider myself a humanist. All humans should be judged on their own merits. The same way I consider myself a characterist, all characters should be judged on their own merits.
As a reader and watcher of visual media I really like female characters. This trend continues into my own writing. The nature of visual media (movies, TV, and comics) means that many of the protagonist both male and female have to be good looking, I get that. But it has become that we define a female character mainly by her appearance.
Now, Marvel announced a few days ago that they weren’t going to do a solo Black Widow movie, and on the DC side a Wonder Woman movie is in development hell (personally I think a Wonder Woman movie is a good thing in theory, but I would want to see the scrip first). David Hayter (Writer of the First two X-men movies, and the Metal Gear video games), even wrote a Black Widow script before Iron Man came out. The reason that Marvel is giving for us not seeing BW kicking but by herself is the failure of some big time female standalone movies which tanked at the box office.
The examples that are often thrown around of failed female action movies are Blood Rayne, Aeon Fluxx, and Ultra Violet I will even throw the Hallie Berry Cat Woman movie into that mix. But let’s look at these movies. All of them had bigger problems than the fact that they had female leads. Aeon Fluxx cartoon = brilliant; movie = poorly written and stupid. Ultra Violet, I loved that movie but the editing was so clunky that I had to buy the novelization to fill in some of the gaps. Blood Rayne – two words Uwe Boll. And Cat Woman… “Hey Hallie it’s the academy, after seeing the Cat Woman movie can uh…would you mind giving your award back?” These movies didn’t tank because the main characters were a female.
They failed because they were bad movies.
I get that Hollywood is a business, and money is the bottom line. But let’s look at some action flicks with chicks in the lead that made money. Kill Bill 1 & 2, Aliens, the Tomb Raiders, Lucy, even Salt which really didn’t do as well as was expected but still made almost three hundred million in its worldwide theater run. There is defiantly a market for well written and acted action movies with a female lead.
So, if you are supposed to write about what you know then the question arises, can a man ever really write about the female experience?
There is that scene in As Good as it Gets when someone asks Jack Nicholson’s character (admittedly a jerk) how he writes female characters so well and he responds with, “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.” Are men that so off the mark they can’t create good female characters?
The same question can be justly asked can a white man create a well written representation of an African American? When are differences so deep we can no longer relate? Now, I do agree that no one may completely appreciate what another gender or race truly goes through, it doesn’t mean that we cannot portray people different from us in a realistic and interesting manner. Writers do this anytime they write about people from a different historical period.
The truth is, most of what we watch and a lot of what we read is written by men; less so than a decade before, but still the majority is written with someone with a XY chromosome pattern. Women are spending more money on sci-fi and action based entertainment than they have in the past. So I think that imbalance will change someday.
My hope for Hollywood is not only better female characters, but better characters in general.