In their pieces, “Women Directors: Language Worth Repeating” and “The Revolution Will Be Systemic: A Response to ‘Women Directors‘,”Jess K. Smith and Hannah Hessel Ratner have started an important conversation about the language that directors use in rehearsal and the extent to which it is gendered. As Ratner pointed out, this is a conversation that’s happening in many fields, and it has been…
Few women playwrights have garnered as much praise and generated as much controversy as Caryl Churchill. Her work has been called feminist, post-modern, post-colonial, Marxist, experimental, irritating, innovative, ludicrous and brilliant. She has worked with feminist collectives such as Monstrous Regiment and at establishment institutions such as the Royal Court Theatre, where she was the first…
10. Because they generally earn less than white men, they can save you a lot of money.
9. Women will inevitably bring moderate to major room-odor improvements.
8. When viewers of color get pissed that the one character you wrote that represents them is an offensive stereotype, your minority writer can explain why they’re so angry. Better yet, s/he may be able to keep you from making that mistake in the first place.
7. When women viewers get pissed because all of your characters are defined entirely as mothers, wives, nurses, or sluts, women staffers can explain why that sucks. Better yet, she may be able to keep you from making that mistake in the first place.
6. Chicks dig dudes who hire chicks.
5. Being able to say, “Some of my best writers are minorities,” upon committing a racial faux pas can get you out of some sticky binds.
4. Prostate exam jokes: Cliché. Gynecological exam jokes on the other hand …
3. White dudes making jokes about people of other races: Not cool. People of color making jokes about white people: Hilarious.
2. Even some zombies are women and minorities.
1. Women and minorities represent a paltry percentage of writing staffers but are far and away the majority of the viewing audience, and their jokes, stories, and perspectives make for damn good television
There are four basic ways that sci-fi has approached issues of race. The first, and perhaps most common, is through metaphor. Creators often use analogy to express virulent racism without having to own it—as in the dreadful Priest, in which John Ford’s The Searchers is rewritten with evil, slavering vampires in the role of Indian tribes. Paul Verhoeven nicely critiqued the practice of equating racialized others with disgusting alien monsters in in Starship Troopers, where the fascist heroic humans are clearly the bad guys, and you end up sympathizing with the bugs as the colonized victims.
In other cases, metaphor may be used to try to understand or condemn racism—or, less comfortably, to borrow for white protagonists the experiences of the marginalized. The X-Men are perhaps the iconic example here, with the oppressed, heroic mutants standing in for oppressed groups like African-Americans. Much more thoughtful is Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, in which differences between human/android (or, by metaphor, whites/non-whites) are presented less as absolutes than as profiling tools for law enforcement.
The second way in which sci-fi has handled issues of race is through tokenism. Non-white actors or characters are included, but there is no comment or discussion of racial issues. I presume that this is how the new Star Wars film will handle Nyong’o’s presence, just as it was the way in which the original series handled Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian.
Even after the apocalypse, race and racism aren’t that easy to escape.
It can be heartening to think about a future in which racial difference is no longer the weight it is now, as in Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek. But tokenism’s refusal to directly confront racism can also end up backfiring. The white guy in the original Star Trek leads the diverse crew with the black woman as the space secretary, or the black best friend stands off to the side somewhere, as with Christina in the recently released Divergent.
A third approach is diversity. Instead of one or two white characters, a diverse setting imagines a world in which whiteness is not the default. Novelist Ursula K. Le Guin does this a number of times. In her Earthsea books, the main character, Ged, is red-brown. In Left Hand of Darkness, the main character, Genly Ai, is black, and the androgynous inhabitants of Gethen are, Le Guin says, “Inuit (or Tibetan) brown.” As Le Guin herself notes, she was “wily about [the] color scheme,” making it part of background detail rather than a central focus. This fact perhaps enabled the whitewashing of Earthsea for the television adaptation: Since the non-whiteness was done subtly, the adaptors felt justified in ignoring it. Still, the fact that they wanted to ignore it, and the fact that Hollywood virtually never imagines a future with a substantially different color mix than the contemporary U.S., is a sign of just how much Le Guin was pushing against the racial preconceptions of mainstream sci fi back in the 1960s and 1970s—and, for that matter, against the racial preconceptions of mainstream sci fi today.
Finally, the last approach is a direct one, in which racial issues in a sci-fi setting are dealt with as if they are continuous with, or affected by, racial issues in the present and the past. For example, in The Hunger Games, District 11, the home of Rue and Thresh, is presented as a segregated black city or region, subject to familiar prejudices and inequities—it’s the poorest region, and its inhabitants experience especially vicious policing and persecution. Octavia Butler’s Dawn is more subtle. The protagonist, Lilith, is black and her race inflects her relationships with both alien invaders and the remnants of the survivors of earth. Even after the apocalypse, Butler suggests, race and racism aren’t that easy to escape.
"We’re waiting for the right story" is a pretty clever turn of phrase. It’s a statement that implies interest, but is basically a polite way to express disinterest in long-established female characters. Films like X-Men, Spider-Man, Superman Returns, Iron Man, and Captain America aren’t the result of execs sitting around hoping inspiration would strike; they are the result of active, concentrated work. Marvel’s Louis D’Esposito admitted as much himself: “A lot of R&D goes into it.” There are entire departments dedicated to superhero concepts and visuals, but Entertainment Weekly encapsulates the philosophy: “Better not to do it, he reasons, than reach too far, too soon, and do it badly.”
The fact is, the terrible movies that have been released have allowed studios to hide behind an all-too-convenient fear of superheroines. Sure, we can try and try again on Wolverine, Superman, and Incredible Hulk movies. But no one dares risk the studio’s precarious finances because Supergirl was bad, or because Catwoman was abysmal.
Those films failed not because they starred women, but because they were bad.
Nate Silver shows that films that pass the Bechdel test make more money domestically than those that don’t and sell just as well overseas as movies with no women. They do, however, get smaller budgets, and no more Bechdel-passing films are being made today than 20 years ago.
I’ll never forget one of the first visual effects networking events I went to right after graduating from my MFA program at the top of my class. I expected to be able to mingle and make new contacts as a fellow professional in cool 3-D software. Instead, I’ve never been groped so much in my life.
It was an evening event. A lot of alcohol flowed, and it was very crowded, but only about 10% of the techies were women. Just trying to walk through the aisles, I was grabbed on my ass, my boobs — everything. Most of the other women there were treated similarly. I remember thinking how much it reminded me of the Tailhook sexual-assault scandal.
This is not atypical. Women face these obstacles constantly, which makes it incredibly difficult to get the mentoring and professional connections one needs to move forward. I had another incident just a few months ago, where a man grabbed my leg in the middle of talking with me about editing work. Sometimes it’s just a silent process. I might subtly make it clear I’m not interested in dating, and then I usually never hear back from them.
I thought about making a list of all the times sexism cost me a job. I counted at least 38 specific incidents. Here are a few samples of the kind of direct comments I’ve gotten: I won’t tell you how to get a job here unless you go out with me; You’re too glamorous for the job; You’re distracting; You’re a Hollywood Babe — you don’t need a job. These don’t include the constant unspoken assumptions that you just aren’t competent enough.
5. Slap bets, Slapsgiving, and otherwise seeing the sexist and manipulative Barney get the shit kicked out of him.
4. The complex narrative structure at the heart of the show: stories within stories, jokes that continue to pay off season after season, and a complete disruption of the idea of the present, past and future.
3. A married couple with an active sex life and the frank discussion of…
Female characters in TV and cinema are, she notes, invariably punished for their sexuality. She wanted to avoid that, and indeed Afternoon Delight’s stripper McKenna is a perfectly comfortable human being. Soloway wanted to “just let her be a person. That simple act makes the movie feel different to what we’re used to.” She says she’s trying to repair “the divided feminine, to fill the spaces between the good girl and the bad girl, the mum and the slut, the Madonna and the whore. All women are many women.” She’s found it a struggle to get to the place she’s at now, fighting her way through a male-dominated industry. Does she often despair at female characters portrayed poorly by male writers? “I don’t think they can help it,” she says. “Often it’s about a sort of yearning for a world they wish they lived in.”