I swore I would never write a big post on the state of feminism/females in the film industry. But after Ryan, who will forever be the rabbit I chase (not insinuating you are a rabbit, Ryan, but you get the metaphor I'm heading for here), posted a piece on Lena Dunham not pushing her case for females being given opportunities in the whole entertainment industry hard enough, I chimed in on the comments section. And hey, in the two hours of lectures that came after that comment, I decided I want to make a post on this ongoing saga.
I've never seen anything Lena Dunham has done apart from This is 40. Girls has been on my watchlist but considering I still haven't seen Game of Thrones season three, I don't think I'll be getting around to it any time soon. So really, I can't judge her standings on anything, but she did raise some valid points at SXSW where she noted that Adam Driver is getting some great role offers, yet the central female cast are not. Ryan said that Lena should aspire to write about more females rather than the ones she knows of. Fair points all round.
I don't claim to know what it is like in the film industry for a filmmaker, and maybe in 20 years if I ever do achieve my dream my tune will be changed. But I feel like all we ever do is talk about these problems. Sure, it's great to talk. It's what I'm doing right now. If I were to ever become famous enough to do a Ted Talk or something (which is one of my many weird aspirations), this is what I'd be saying:
Continuing to talk about these problems with a low rate of females in the film industry is like that eight year old girl who begs her parents to let her have a pony but she lives on the 10th floor of an apartment building in the middle of a city. But she wants one just because that’s the thing you want when you’re an eight year old girl. If she were to have the pony, she’d have to go live on a farm, go back to the grassroots, and work hard to look after that pony. What we need to do is go back to the root of the problem and start again. Work hard to preserve what we want if we want it enough. Creating the opportunities instead of settling with the opportunities made available to us. Because that girl is never going to get a pony on that 10th floor. If she really wanted it, she’d have to create her own opportunities and work hard to preserve it. I'm not saying that the eight year old girl can go out and buy a farm, but it's not entirely impossible either. Her parents may keep telling her no, and then all of a sudden when that girl is able to buy her own farm, she no longer wants to have a pony. If we keep pointing out the flaws in the system, we're going to stop wanting to fix them.
Perseverance is key. The uncompromising power that you threaten the normal with is key. Creating the opportunities that you want to see, instead of talking about them for many people to go "hey, cool idea kid", but they don't actually do anything about them.
But hey, who am I to talk? I'm not a filmmaker. I don't even fully believe in my dream (thanks to other poisonous ideals that come with the film industry). If I still persevere with this dream, this is the change I'd like to see. All I have to do is think back to moments like Kathryn Bigelow winning an Oscar, Cate Blanchett outing the sexism in Hollywood in her Oscar acceptance speech, Jessica Chastain's character in Zero Dark Thirty, the filmographies of the likes of Blanchett, Chastain, Katharine Hepburn, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams etc etc etc to see that great stuff has happened, so instead of complaining, let's persevere.
And yet, the biggest flaw in the system is that we constantly have an arrow in the back of these mythical "strong female characters". You wanna know one of the most underrated characters of 2013? Margot Robbie as Naomi in The Wolf of Wall Street. Here we have a film clearly about misogyny, and an extremely misogynistic man, and in the middle of all this we have this woman who fits Jordan Belfort's misogynistic ideals. People were quick to comment on the fact that Margot doesn't wear much in the way of clothing, but here's what she has to say:
"As for my character in particular, the nudity and the sexual side to her is her main power over Jordan. She uses that to manipulate men to get what she wants. That’s her form of currency in a world where she’s surrounded by millionaires, and she’s come from nothing. She didn't have any money whatsoever. That’s how she became a millionaire, you know? So she definitely wouldn't see it that way. She wouldn't feel sorry for herself for having to take her clothes off. She would do that willingly. In fact, she would pity the men that are dumb enough to fall for it. It’s her form of power, so it wouldn't feel exploitative for my character at all."She's just as materialistic and money-obsessed as Jordan, just in a different way. And at the end of the film, the domestic violence comes into play and that became a big controversy, but does that mean that Naomi loses her power over Jordan? Is she weak? No and no. She's a fighter, Jordan is a heinous and disgusting man. And yet, all anyone wanted to talk about were all her nude scenes, and how that weakened her "feminist standing". She made a complete fool of Jordan and his stupid ideals! Also, it was a perfect deconstruction of the "trophy wife" being a part of the prized American Dream. We see her right from her introduction into the dream and how she gets out of it.
The "strong female character" is something that makes it so hard to be a feminist. Critics are quick to say that Katniss Everdeen is a great female character because she's strong, but she's weakened by her love triangle. As soon as men come into play, females lose their "strength". Maybe it's because of an over-saturation of romantic comedies. But, I don't know, just because I'm a female who might be in love with a guy, does that all of a sudden mean that I'm a weaker human being? Feminism and the "strong female character" seems bent on erasing males. If it's equality you're looking for, you may as well show how they can balance and co-exist and stop trying to have them in a power play that's all based on strength. Weak women are interesting. Powerful women are interesting. Weak women pretending to be powerful are interesting. WOMEN CAN BE INTERESTING. You just need to give them a chance to be interesting.
Also, "strong female character" is basically a synonym for "female character given male qualities to be seen as strong". Can we stop with this notion that males are the end all of strength? MALES AND FEMALES ARE DIFFERENT KINDS OF PEOPLE. This does not mean that they aren't equal. Just because a woman puts a lot of effort into her appearance, is scared of breaking her nails, dyes her hair all the time, wears lots of make-up does not mean that she isn't strong. In fact, actresses are the strongest of all because they have to put up with the bullshit Hollywood standards. That's another post in itself (because the tabloid industry is just ridiculously sexist). Just don't ever think for one second that making a female character with solely male sensibilities will make them a "strong female character". A woman can break down crying if she wants to (case in point: people who didn't understand why Maya was crying at the end of Zero Dark Thirty). A woman can pin all her hopes on a man if she wants to. A woman can yell and scream until she gets what she wants. The moment you start looking for the qualities of a "strong female character", you've lost a good female character.
Let's stop pretending like females don't happen in Hollywood. They have before, they are now. Let's keep persevering and stop poisoning.
Otherwise, people like me won't want to write films about female characters because we don't want them to be so dependent on males. We want to make them appropriations of all of these contradictory feminist ideals, so much so that they aren't human. Everyone's so quick to say that there's a right and wrong way of writing female characters. And it's awfully restricting.
We are never going to have a perfect balance. We are never going to have equal opportunities. But to have people actually trying is better than nothing.
One last thing: it isn't the fault of women that they're under-represented in films. If we spent all of our energy waiting for the person at fault to fix their wrongs, we're going to be waiting an awful long time. Be the change you want to see. That's all there is to it.