There are things in Hollywood I would very much like to see changed. Not because of a political agenda. Not because I’m “White Knighting.*” And not for any specific feminist1 reason. But because it will make for better story-telling, and therefore better viewing experiences. If breaking down gender and racial stereotypes is the natural result of creating better art, that’s icing on the cake.
There is more than one type of woman
Variety, they say, is the spice of life. But it’s also reality. We see it every day, walking down the street, at work, at home: men and women of all shapes, sizes, styles, and races. But not in television or movies. At least in America.2
I understand that movies and television are fantasy, an escape from the harsh realities of everyday life… but in order to be effective, there should still be a semblance of reality, some attempt to represent the audience. And I’m hoping I’m not being overly optimistic when I say that the average male wouldn’t just be fine with the casting of different types of women, but would welcome it.
If you want to drag it down to the basest, crudest level, all you have to do is look at porn. I mean look at porn statistics (I will skip some kinks for my more sensitive readers, full results here), and you’ll see that people are into a wide range of things… or all the things.
- Step Mom
- Step Sister
Yes, teen is way up there, but can this be any surprise given the fetishization of young female sexuality in the media? But Step-Mon and MILF are almost equal in popularity, and black and Japanese are not far behind. BBW (a.k.a. large) also saw a 47% increase since 2013. To be clear, I’m neither endorsing or condemning any particular preference or kink, I’m just pointing out that human sexuality spans a wide spectrum, something that is not represented in current casting choices. So stop pandering to one relatively small demographic. It’s boring, insulting, and extremely damaging.
Not only that, but you are robbing us of great art. Just when women are reaching artistic maturity, capable of giving nuanced performances informed by life experience and wisdom, they are cut off and the next, hot 19 year-old supermodel is hired. If art or altruism isn’t enough for you, by casting older, heavier, or ethnically diverse actresses, you’ll be creating a demand for them and broadening your viewing audience. You already recognize this by putting Asian actors into leading or significant supporting roles (Avengers–Age of Ultron, Independence Day–Resurgence, et al) to get the Chinese market. So cast more women, and do it for all of us.
I understand that with big-budget movies, there is legitimate cause for conservatism. Going with a big name with proven box-office draw is a prudent move. It is very easy to accuse a studio of ageism or sexism or racism when it isn’t your $150 million on the line, or when you’re hoping to recoup all your money within the first two weeks. Big names. Quick profits. Sure, this works (or not), but so does the slow-but steady approach.
If Hollywood were to start making or distributing mid-price/b-movies again, or at least helping in the distribution of independent films, it could be used like a minor-league system (as indeed it used to be) to cultivate new actors and directors. Not only would this build the vital skills and experience they will need to handle larger projects (something Josh Trank would have benefited from), but name recognition. With smaller projects, strong word of mouth and the savvy use of social media can lead to a longer theatrical release. Blair Witch Project managed this even without the benefit of social media, but we can see modern examples in Paranormal, 12 Years a Slave and others. Even if the film loses out in terms out outright grosses, good reviews for the cast and crew can still lead to future success.
More Women in Film
There needs to be more and better roles for women in Hollywood–and not just for the sake of equal representation, but for the sake of better films. To be clear, I’m not saying that every single movie has to have a 50/50 cast. Obviously if the movie is about the mission of a team of Navy SEALs (Lone Survivor) or about a group of women on a pleasant getaway (The Descent), then of course, cast appropriately. But in any case where the plot isn’t dealing with gender specific issues, if it’s well written, it doesn’t matter if part is filled by a man or a woman. Or at least, it shouldn’t.
The Avengers (the ’60s British spy series) is a perfect example of this. The show was originally conceived to star Ian Hendry in the lead with Patrick Macnee in more of a supporting role. When Hendry decided to drop out after the first series, they had to scramble to re-cast the part. Instead of hiring another male actor, they went with Honor Blackman. As they didn’t have time to re-write scripts meant for Hendry, they went ahead with filming merely changing the name to Ms. Cathy Gale and leaving the action and dialog the same. The rest, as they say, is history. After two series, Blackman left to pursue a Hollywood career, staring in such films as Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and Goldfinger (1964). Then in stepped Diana Rigg to create another iconic female lead as Mrs. Emma Peel. Pity that such parts are so few and far between. Oh, and you know what you never hear anyone say? That they think The Avengers would have been better with two guys.
I admit there may be some element of personal preference and experience here. It would probably be fair to say that I’ve seen a lot3 of movies over the years, everything from silent films to 3D tent-poles, American and foreign. As a result, there are some archetypes that I am really, really sick of seeing. Things may have changed a little in the last couple of decades, but in many ways, things have stagnated. For example, Buffy the Vampire Slayer may have demonstrated the viability of strong female characters with her own mind and goals (you know–a character), but for as ground-breaking as it was, it had the unfortunate side effect of creating yet another unrealistic archetype–the warrior waif. Who needs it? I also don’t need another female to act as an Achilles heel to the hero by getting caught or threatened. Or acting as the muse in another coming-of-age story. Or another hooker with a heart of gold. Or another manic pixie dream girl teaching the meaning of life to a stuffed-shirt, repressed male. Or the pampered cry-baby who magically becomes a kick-ass, empowered hero by story’s end. And so on.4 I just want to see realistic, complex and well developed characters–is that really to much to ask for?
But we need more women behind the camera as well. Writing, editing, directing–all levels of the creative process. First, because it is the right thing to do. But don’t think this is some sort of affirmative action appeal, or that I am saying this from some sort of moral high-horse (or the previously mentioned White-Knight mentality). No. I think that I as an individual, as well as an Asian man, have a vested interest in the success of women in creative fields.
First and foremost is artistic quality. Just as genetic diversity is vital to the health and well being of a species, a diversity of perspective is necessary to the evolution and creation of good art.
Second, art acts as a conduit for passing on values and as a means for examining society. By stifling the voice of half of the population, it isn’t just art that suffers, but everybody.
Lastly, because of the abuses in Hollywood. There is the well-documented casting couch, sexual abuse of child actors, and both emotionally and physically abusive work environments, all of which I believe are caused by having a very closed, white-male dominated system. Would this all magically go away if women were suddenly 50% of the system? Probably not, but I can’t help but think that things would improve. Prove me wrong.
Schlubby Guy/Hot Wife
Kill it. Kill this trope with fire. This is primarily a TV sit-com thing, but in movies it tends to translate to a young leading woman with a much older leading man. Why is Hollywood still following the Honeymooners formula after 60 friggin’ years? Am I the only one sick of the plucky, intelligent, cover-model beauty married to the slovenly man-child?
For all the reasons I stated above and more, please try something new… or at the very least, flip it around. I thank you, and my TV thanks you.
Enough with the Heels
This isn’t about me hating on fashion or a woman’s choice in footwear (Footshaming? Shoebashing?), but on Hollywood’s absolute insistence of putting every single woman in high heels, regardless of circumstances. The only reason I can think of for doing so is the sexualization of the character.5
I am not talking about characters going around and doing normal people things, like going out dancing, going on a date, to a party, a wedding, or any other special event, but sci-fi/superhero/action characters who are required to run, do stunts, and fight. There is a time and place for everything, people, and that ain’t it.
There is a reason you don’t see people in the octagon fighting, or running marathons, or climbing mountains, (or doctors, soldiers, cops, teachers, any occupation that requires the complex task of standing for long periods of time) in high heels–because you can’t do any of those things well, or at all, in them. Hell, I have a pair of boots with a 3/4″ Cuban heels, and those things try to kill me every time I wear them. Time to turn in my cowboy card.
In the case of martial arts, all your power comes from the ground, that is, your feet. Whether it is a punch or a kick, being able to plant your feet solidly and pivot or shift your weight is critical to power and balance. This is not to say that some women can’t function well in heels/platforms, but to perform at the highest (or even mediocre) levels in the fighting arts, the heels have to come off.
So not only is it unrealistic and sexually objectifying, in the case of Jamie Alexander, it was nearly fatal. On the set of Thor 2, she had a horrific on-set accident which almost resulted in her paralysis… not from some Jackie Chan-style death-defying super stunt, but from walking down stairs. The real surprise isn’t that she was injured, but that it doesn’t happen more often… but then again that would require that more than one woman be hired at any given time.
So if you want women to be taken seriously as action stars, put them in flats… like Sigorney Weaver in Aliens or Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2–two of the most popular action movies of all time. These examples clearly demonstrate that guys will still love a movie even if you don’t objectify every woman on the screen.
It’s simple. Stop pandering. Open your minds. Even if the market didn’t exist (and it does), people would adapt… and we would have better movies and TV for it.
* Trust me, there’s nothing I could possibly write that would impress a woman enough to go on a date with me.
1. Well, also because if we can’t even get fair representation of the white (63.4%) woman (50.4%) majority, what chance do ethnic minorities have? Fair’s fair. They’ve been waiting longest, they should go first. Just don’t pull up the ladder on your way up.
2. As I pointed out in a previous article, casting agents in Vancouver BC are much more open to a wider range of casting choices. BBC programming also demonstrates a much broader ethnic, age, and body-shape range. If they can do it, there’s no reason we couldn’t.
3. During a year and a half period, I made my living as a comic book artist, so spent all day sitting on my butt drawing. While I drew, I had movies going on in the background that I’d picked up from the library. I watched somewhere between 3 and 7 movies a day, seven days a week. Even if I only averaged 3 movies a day, that still works out to 1,643 movies. That figure includes TV episodes and things I’d already seen before as well as multiple viewings, but you get the idea. And that was over 20 years ago. I’ve watched a few more movies since.
4. To be clear, I am sick to death of all the overused male tropes as well. Not just because it’s boring, but it paints male gender roles into such tiny little boxes. Women may be more conscious of the harmfulness of limited gender roles, but men are damaged by them as well, whether they know it or not. Bill Burr sums it up here. Forward to the 1:55 mark. WARNING: Strong language.
5. I love (and by love, I mean appalled by) the mental gymnastics the writers and producers of Star Trek Voyager went through to justify Jeri Ryan’s skin-tight costume–a costume, by the way, which was very hard to breath or bend over in. The thing that no amount of reasoning could possibly explain? The 6-inch heels she had to wear.