Female Characters: Good for Television, Bad for Movies?

equalitynowThe casting for Star Wars VII is out, and besides everyone’s favorite former bikini-clad slave princess Carrie Fisher, there is only one new female character in anything resembling a major role… out of SEVEN. Throw in the original Boy’s Club cast of six and that’s two out THIRTEEN principles.

This shouldn’t be a big deal, right? There ARE women in Star Wars, just not many with relevant or speaking parts ON FILM. Oh, and the so-dubbed “expanded Star Wars universe” was declared null-and-void and not official movie canon, so apparently there ARE only two relevant women in the entire galaxy. Worse yet, those two are related and the younger one (SPOILER!) died after childbirth – because, you know, that’s what women do: have babies and die. Really?!

MovieVsTelevisionSay, isn’t this a J.J.Abrams production? What’s interesting is that his television programming (“Lost,” “Alias,” “Fringe”) have meaty roles for ladies and often many of them, but his film production credits (Star Trek, Cloverfield, Super 8, Mission Impossible) seems to only have room for a chosen few in an ensemble, often ONE. Playing devil’s advocate, maybe this is an informed choice: are relevant female characters too complex for most screenwriters to simply throw them up on-screen and present them believably in a film format?

MrHeroShow a handsome guy stumbling out of a dark alley with a gunshot wound and we already assume he’s a hero saving the day, but swap that same character out for a woman and we immediately think of her as a victim; am I wrong? While Mr. Hero (if I may crib from Shoot ‘Em Up) is obviously trying to save a dame, Ms. Victim couldn’t possibly have gone into that alley willingly, and if she did, there is obviously something unsavory or less than fetching about her. Perhaps if we reflect upon her back story leading up to this point – something that likely won’t reveal one new thing about Mr. Hero – we’ll certainly be informed of Ms. Victim’s near-or-actual rape, her medicated depression symptoms, or her failed attempts to find a worthy man to call her own. Ugh.

Maybe these writers need to start watching BBC’s “Orphan Black” and see how it’s done (over and over again). All I can think is thank the goddess for Joss Whedon pulling strings in the Marvel Universe of filmmaking – because they’re still asking that question.


7 thoughts on “Female Characters: Good for Television, Bad for Movies?

  1. From a Facebook comment:

    To where you ask, “am I wrong?”: Yes. If I see anyone stumbling out of an alley, male or female, attractive or unattractive, I’m first going to think they were just doing something that may not have been a very good idea. All the negative stuff about the female that followed wouldn’t have occurred to me. It seems to me you’re just trying to generate a charged response. Which, if that is the case, well done. I’m not worked up about it or anything but I bothered to comment, which is more than I would usually do.

    It is a bit of a charged response. As a writer myself and a critic, I don’t make assumptions when I watch, but more often than not, I am disappointed by the writer’s intent once revealed on the screen. Mr. Hero and Ms. Victim are too often the archetypes, and when it comes to film, it seems to be a shortcut. Youthful and pretty? Run from the monster with the obligatory “twist” that maybe – just maybe – she steps up when everyone else is dead. I see most plot twists coming, even the good ones, because I think in terms of story, but nowadays I think better stories, especially for women of ALL ages, are found on television, while only a speck of box office fare is aware that someone other than males 18-35 are going to the movies.


  2. Another comment:

    They know how, I’m sure. I think they’re just afraid that if they write a story with a woman who has a brain and kicks some ass and keeps her clothes on that the boys won’t want to watch. It’s much the same with video games.

    There IS a correlation between the amount of skin or form revealed and how others perceive that individual as intellectual or emotional. The problem comes from when that perception defines the character; without additional context, there’s nothing else with which to dispute it.


  3. More commentary:

    Really, there’s an argument to be made that truly complex characters don’t exist outside of television or book series. Most film characters have one or two dimensions with talented actors creating the illusion of more. Most movies just don’t have time for characterization, especially anything with an ensemble.

    I have to agree… movies don’t have the time to show the depth of a character, or even show much character development, unless they are one of the only characters.

    Some screenwriters and directors appear to have NO problem instantly creating relevant characters on-screen; it’s all in the approach. The moment they walk into the story, it feels as if they have a story of their own, male or female. Maybe it’s the portrayal, the skills of the actor or actress in bringing that across – a discussion for another time, perhaps?

    I do think that a lot has to do with the portrayals. Certain actors can suggest a depth that really isn’t there on the page, but that’s what makes them great. Give them one scene and they can steal the movie. Other actors can be the center of the movie and still only deliver one note.


  4. Perhaps if the female stumbled out of the alley with not only a gunshot wound but wearing tight black leather it would make all the difference. I.E. Underworld’s Selena. On a side note now I’ll have to go check out Orphan Black.


  5. Tatiana Maslany is incredible. She plays eight different clones – each one different – but what will really bake your noodle is watching one clone try to pass herself off as another clone… badly, yet true to the character she’s inhabiting at that time. It’s like they found actual octuplets for the show; she’s that good.


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