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October 29 2013

Joss Whedon: why are his strong women characters still so unusual? The Guardian weighs in on the renewed debate.

They're unusual because of the Hollywood machine. Women can be:

A) Pretty
B) Smart
C) Complex
D) Tough

But heaven forbid they be all of the above in a realistic manner.

Yes, men face some of this too. But overwhelmingly, male actors are allowed to take on any role they please without being put under a microscope to see whether they are smart, attractive, or complex enough.

This is one of my favorite things Mindy Kaling has ever written. It's about the types of women you see in Hollywood romantic comedies.

http://www.newyorker.com/humor/2011/10/03/111003sh_shouts_kaling
Most of the shows I watch have strong women characters nowadays. That's less true of movies, for some reason.
I'm seeing more strong women characters too but not necessarily well-written strong women characters.
the ninja report, wouldn't you say that in Hollywood, being 'A) Pretty' is a requirement for B, C and D rather than an option? I agree with the rest of what you say though. Age is also a crime for female characters in Hollywood. I know someone who was told in a screenwriting class not to write female protagonists over 40, because no one would want to make the film.

What boggles my mind is how the sexism in Hollywood prevails and is excused as a response to the market. But half of potential audiences are women and surely a high proportion of male audiences are smart not to resent seeing more female characters on their screens. Or am I being naive in assuming that the demand for shallow representations of women is driven by a minority?
[steps to the podium]

I want to know why Joss hasn't written ME a strong female role. In the last few years I've been a barfly, a slavegirl, a psycho, a dowdy wife, and a femme fatale (you probably haven't seen any of these plays or films) --- none of which were admirable people. I'm capable of so much more.

I'm offering myself to the alter of unusual strong women, so that one day expectations of womankind can rise to their potential, that portrayals of strong women may not be so rare.

[steps down, hopes this worked, waits for her Avengers 2 script]
Bluelark, I don't think that's a rule. "Pretty" is very subjective and rolls right into "thin" category. Sarah Silverman, Melissa McCarthy, Mindy Kaling, Jane Lynch, Octavia Spencer, Tina Fey, Lena Dunham, Ellen DeGeneres, and Kerry Washington can all be considered in many circles to be very talented, but only some of them are usually considered "pretty." But all of those people are successful and all of them award-winning.

And when you throw age into the mix, "pretty" as a requirement becomes even more problematic. Is Kathy Bates pretty? She's an amazing actress, but she's not a size 0 and she isn't 25 anymore. Hollywood used to cast her into the street but now she and Jessica Lange are the best parts of American Horror Story. Margo Martindale won an Emmy for playing the murderous head of a hillbilly crime family. She is neither young nor thin, but she's played characters more complex, tough, and smart than actresses half her age.
That's very true. I think, as others have noted, there's a huge difference between film and TV. And Hollywood is lagging behind independent cinema.

It looks like the biggest problem seems to be with the most high-profile films, where somehow powerful people still think that their target audience isn't interested in female characters. And when women do appear as supporting characters, it's like they're trying to create the illusion that their female characters are 'strong' without giving them anything significant to do. A 'tough' or 'smart' one-liner in their first scene is supposed to be enough, before the character reverts to the stereotype.
I think the problem that is unfortunately still very relevant is not how many strong women might there be on tv, but how many people are still surprised that there are.
There will of course soon be a pretty, smart, complex, tough female character in a movie ... oh yeah, but given that Veronica Mars started on TV, and the movie is fan funded, perhaps this doesn't exonerate Hollywood.

News is that those who have seen an advanced showing of VM: The Movie are raving about it ... perhaps this will be the start of a change in Hollywood. And, of course, as VM is (in some small way) indebted to Buffy Summers, all is shiny.
Bluelark; I'm of the impression that the execs are correct about their target audience. The problem is they won't broaden that target.

I liked the list of TV alternatives and TV "go-alongs" in the comments.

I followed the link to Joss's talk about Close Encounters....; nice to see something great arose from what Asimov called "such a silly film."

(Sometimes wish I'd gotten past the fifth page of my screenplay idea, but even assuming I didn't screw it up myself, rewrite would've killed it.)

[ edited by DaddyCatALSO on 2013-10-30 16:33 ]

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