Why Hollywood Going Gender Blind Will Create More Space For Interesting Female Characters

jane-the-virgin

It’s no secret that Hollywood has a gender problem. The thing about stereotyping, it doesn’t just damage women, it also hurts men’s perceptions of themselves. Hollywood being arguably the loudest and most dominant vehicle of communication we have in the world today, the messages that are subconsciously received from TV and Film can often leave us with a bad taste in our mouth, or leave us wanting more.

We are seeing a huge trend of women pushing the boundaries more and more to create space for more interesting female characters on screen, and at the same time there is a surge of women taking up key positions behind the camera in order to ensure these diverse female roles are getting to see the light of day.

Is there a one-size fits all approach that will unlock the key to creating a more gender equal industry? Or will it be a slow and steady race won by relentless boundary-pushing from women across the board? We dare to say the latter because women speaking up about inequality in film isn’t exactly something new, it’s just that every voice has a more amplified platform these days thanks to online and social media carrying more messages at a much greater speed and to many more people.

In an interview with Variety, award-winning actress Sally Field, whose career has been enviable at every stage, says one of the biggest problems with the film industry is that they are hesitant to write and create lead roles for women over a certain age.

“They don’t write roles for women anyway, and they certainly don’t write roles for women of age and women of color. It is the way it is. Since the industry is run by men, men have a tendency to want to make stories about themselves and things they identify with. Then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” she said.

sally-field

She says there is a huge disconnect between what audiences say they want (by what they pay to see) and what executives think audiences want. The solution is for more women to lean in by occupying key executive roles at studios.

“There’s totally an audience. They are wrong about that. It has to do with women getting into better positions. It isn’t just the motion picture business. It’s politics. Women have to come to the table in every arena, in every single country all over the world. Until they do that, the world won’t be a healthy place — we’re out of balance.”

Unlike film, TV has been much more welcoming to more diversity on screen and added to the fact there are multiple platforms competing with broadcast (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu etc). Sally’s role as the matriarch in the ‘Brothers and Sisters’ TV series is an example.

“The roles weren’t there. I had been doing theater. I was going to take a play to London. The television series came up, and I said, ‘This is a good group, I’ll give this a good shot’ thinking it wouldn’t go out of the gate. And then it went out of the gate for five years. Certainly it was a long time between starring in films. That’s what women do with long careers. There will always be a time when you’re scrambling and a transition time.”

bechdel-cartoon

MTV News put the spotlight on a handful of TV shows that are breaking more barriers than Film is right now, in an effort to encourage women, rather than depress them about the state of gender in the industry.

“From high-brow streaming shows like “Orange is the New Black” to female-powered young adult fare like “Pretty Little Liars” to even the katana-wielding lady warriors of “The Walking Dead,” television has become a place for female actresses, writers, producers and more to finally use their voice — you know, to chat about something that isn’t men,” writes Shaunna Murphy.

She also brings up the Bechdel Test, and says that while it is not a regulation, it is fast becoming the standard by which many productions compare themselves to as it sets the bar high, but not high enough. Jason Rothenberg EP of ‘The 100’ believes the industry needs to take it to the next level because if gender is one of the first 5 traits that we use to describe a character, we need to dig deeper.

Jennie Urman, award-winning showrunner of ‘Jane the Virgin’ agrees that the more comprehensive representation of female characters is a much-needed change.

“I think about women as having full lives — not just romantic lives, but work lives and goals and dreams. Things that they’re going after besides romance. I think it’s just the way I write women because I’m a woman, and because those are the women in my life. We don’t just sit around and talk about boys all the time. I wouldn’t really know how to write a woman who is just boy crazy, because it doesn’t feel real to me. We’re much more complex than that.”

JTV won the CW network its first Golden Globe award back in February and is not the only show raising eyebrows.

AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ which features a very diverse cast in terms of age, ethnicity and a healthy balance of men and women has on more than one occasion beaten Sunday Night Football in the ratings.

The-Walking-Dead-Women

The executive producer, Gale Anne Hurd, is an anomaly in the sci-fi/action-adventure genre but is kicking ass and paving the way for others in her wake. Her secret to success and diversification is by going “gender blind” when writing characters.

“If you look at a script and the characters in it — if you white out their names and you feel as if one of those roles could only be played by a woman, because they are always subservient [and] really don’t drive the plot forward in any significant way, then it’s failed,” she said.

“If you go to ‘Alien,’ when Walter Hill wrote the script, Ripley was a male. She was not changed when Sigourney Weaver was cast. That’s important, to have roles that are gender-blind, and that let the best actor play them, and that could be a male or a female.”

Marlene King, executive producer on ABC’s ratings-winner ‘Pretty Little Liars’ is proud of how the show’s four main characters have female friendship at their core, ahead of story and relationships. This is somewhat rare. A lot of this comes down to conscious decisions made at the writing stage.

“I’m often surprised by how men view women versus how women view women. It may even be just a line of dialogue that we are discussing, but often we interrupt what that line means to the character differently. Diversity equals balance, and that’s a very good thing for our ‘PLL’ room,’ she said.

pretty-little-liars-cast

“I think it’s really important to have a lot of diverse voices on a writing staff,” Jason Rothenberg added. “More than half of the writers on our staff are women. My entire life, I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by strong women, and obviously some of that has made its way onto the screen in the show.”

So where do audiences fit in in terms of playing their part to demand more diverse representations on screen? By voting with their wallet.

“If we all go see a movie about interesting female characters on opening weekend, that speaks very loudly to the studios. Or if we watch a TV show with interesting female characters live instead of recording it, those ratings spell success for the networks. And success breeds success. Let’s make the Bechdel Test irrelevant!” said Marlene.

We like the idea that Jason mentioned, that we should be able to describe characters with traits other than gender. Until then, we’re in full support of the men and women who know how to think outside the box, and push for equality in all aspects of the entertainment industry.

The-100-cast

 

 

 

 

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Link Love #51 - Gluten-Free Cover Up, Afraid of Emotions, Comparison Traps & More | Allison Bryant

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.