(A Male Filmmaker/Critic’s Perspective) Women in Film

Women in Film from a dude’s perspective
By Bret Dorman

Motorcycle? Check. Shotgun? Check. Sunglasses? Check. Manliness? DOUBLE CHECK!

Recently I posted the AFI’s Top 100 Heroes and Villains list on the facebook wall of my podcast co-host, Kate Peterson. Why? Because I had found out that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Terminator character is the ONLY character to appear on both sides. I, being a huge fan of The Action God Himself, found this as further proof of his greatness. Kate, being a sometimes fan, needed help in becoming an Ah-Nuld convert.

The first thing that she points back to me is that there are more women on the bad side than good side. (I would like to take this brief opportunity to point out she never countered the Arnold Achievement, because of course there is no counter point. Arnold is great!) But looking at the list, yes, it is a bit lopsided.

Beautiful on the inside? Not really…

There are 13 women on the bad side (I don’t count Linda Blair in The Exorcist since really it’s the demon who is the baddie, although I guess you could argue it represents how men think all women are evil?). There are 5 women on the good side (6 if you count Lassie). Women (and separately, other groups of underrepresented people) are often playing second fiddle or sidekick or eye candy to men (white men!). However, I am a white male, thus making it harder for me to really get enraged by this (disappointed for sure, but not enraged).

In fact, I feel sorry for those people who can’t just sit back and enjoy something because their perspective comes from a different place (whether it be gender, race, or even suspension of disbelief). I don’t want to seem condescending. I don’t pity them. In fact most the time I think the way they approach the subject is annoying and whiny.

I don’t want to make it sound like I’m singling Kate out on this or that she is one of the annoying whiny people (a good sense of humor always helps). I know Kate and I have our disagreements (True Lies), but I know Kate is as much for machismo ass-kicking as she is strong female leads. I know Kate wouldn’t think that every movie has to pass the Bechdel Test. In fact, here’s a great piece written on why not every movie has to pass the test. As the author, Jennifer Kessler points out:

“The point of the Bechdel test is something else entirely. Upon realizing how rare these scenes are, the average person is stunned enough to wonder precisely why these scenes are so rare?”

Hey babe, stay back here while I check everything out. Got it toots? Stay… stay… Good girl!

Why are those scenes so rare? Because most people are idiots. The problem of ‘bad characters’ isn’t just limited to female ones (although yes, the ratio is much higher for bad female characters). In fact, as I’ve often pointed out, the new trend in Hollywood is pretty much to make your main character as much of an asshole as you can get away with (Sam from Transformers) and this type of behavior is IDOLIZED! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been talking to friends and either a woman walks by or comes up in conversation and one person will say “I’d like to tap that!” (or one of its variations, crude or not). Really? Okay…

So how does this really affect me? I am currently writing two scripts. One is a bizarre idea that can only be done as a first time passion project and the other is a more marketable main stream story. In the first, I have basically three women characters. One is a misguided person of authority, one is bat-shit crazy (inspired by two separate real life crazy women I overheard talking on public transportation), and one is an indecisive ‘love interest’. The other project features two girls on a road trip, like a teen version of Thelma and Louise.

Women sticking up for themselves… then sticking up convenient shops!

What I’ve come to notice is that MOST the time a woman is on screen, she stands for ALL women. Put a dude on screen and he’s free to be a character. Put a woman on screen and she magically represents all of woman-kind. As a male writer, this distresses me. I have no interest in writing realistic male or female roles. I want to make movie characters. I’m not interested in undermining women or advancing some sort of hidden sexist agenda. In my first script, all the women are crazy because ALL the characters other than the main character are crazy. In the second script, I chose a female protagonist and ‘sidekick’ because that was the first thing that popped into my head.

Much like with the Bechdel Test, its interesting to look at the why. A lot of people get screwed over or misrepresented in film. But there are also WAY more films being made now than ever before, with basically at least one major release every single week. That means there are a lot of movies out there. Both good and bad. Its interesting that of AFI’s Top 100 Heroes and Villains most the women on the baddie side are just bad people, regardless of gender. Most the heroines are explicitly women who are underestimated or out to prove something. Part of their strength specifically comes from them representing women or being a role model for girls.

I guess, If I HAD to sum up this whole thing… my point is… Arnold Schwarzenegger is awesome.

Arnold lurching forward like a T-Rex, only his arms are MUCH bigger!

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