We are writers and makers. We all know this, but it would seem we mix up our PERSONAL responses as audience members and our writerly responses far too often when thinking about what works – or doesn’t work – on screen … And a result, end up like THIS:
So here’s a round up of 4 arguments that seemingly NEVER go away, especially on Twitter, plus my counter arguments on how it’s probably not as simple as we all think! But more importantly, how we should be thinking ENTERTAINMENT, if we want to reach audiences and make that all-important connection with them (whatever that means) …
1) There should be a female Dr Who (and anyone who doesn’t think so is probably evil)
For the record, I really don’t care about this one EITHER way: I can see arguments for both. After all, the word “regenerate” makes no mention of gender if you check out the DICTIONARY DEFINITION (it also talks about “makeovers” and BETTER FORMS – just sayin’! Couldn’t resist. Sorry – NOT SORRY!). And another thing: presumably if The Doctor can regenerate his FACE he can regenerate to NOT to have a penis?? That’s surely just a tiny (arf) job, non?
But then following through on that sorta logic, also presumably he’s an XY chromo (or whatever his alien DNA actually is) and he can’t just change his entire genetic makeup. Because someone said so in like 1962 or something before any of us were even born.
But also, oh yeah: he’s an alien. AND THIS IS FICTION.
So really we can do whatever we like with this storyworld and if that includes stuff like elevating Daleks now, why the hell can’t Dr Who be a WOMAN. And yes I know it’s just “Doctor”. FFS. But also: who cares!!! Bloody geeks. QUIET ALL OF YOU.
But anyway. Where was I? Oh right. I have a point to make on this that has absolutely nothing to do with whether it’s RIGHT or WRONG to have a female Doctor, but it is different and radical and you may want to hold on to your pants in case they blow off in the nerdfest hilarity:
We’ve already had a female Doctor.
That’s right. Her reign was tragically cut short by real life, but the kids loved her best and whilst technically she was not an alien, she was a mum, a teacher, a protector, a spy and she helped save the universe, multiple times. For me, she was easily the best goddamn “Doctor”, ever.
Her name was Sarah Jane.
So yeah whatever, I’m sure I’m totes wrong and you’re dying to educate me but guess what: kiss my scripty ass, biatches! I’ll love Sarah Jane forever and so will my WGs and you can’t take that away from us. Why would you even want to?
But regardless of whether you agree Sarah Jane fufils this role or not, accept there isn’t going to be a female doctor anytime soon. We started with a (white) male Doctor and I think it’s probably more likely we’ll get a PoC Doctor before we get a female one, officially. There’s even an argument to say it would be more groundbreaking to get a PoC Doctor anyway, especially as black men in particular have been sidelined in the Whoniverse (thoughy that’s an argument for another time). But even if there NEVER is a female Doctor, it’s not some grand conspiracy at work to keep women out of your favourite show, UNLESS gender-blind casting suddenly becomes a thing in the industry … who knows? MORE: DR WHO – British Superhero?
2) Michael Bay is a misogynist and everybody who watches his movies is one too and probably brain dead and definitely evil
So once upon a time there were filmmakers that were fantastic like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron and a load of other (probably white) guys who made Hollywood movies into these fantastic CGI-laden epic arenas … And guess what, some of their stories were even good but ultimately who cares about about all that shit because THEY CHANGED OUR LIVES AND EXPECTATIONS FOREVER. And now, we’re stuck with Michael Bay. Supersadface.
This is the thing. As much as everyone apparently hates Michael Bay films, EVERYONE HAS A FAVOURITE MICHAEL BAY FILM. Everyone! The number of times I’ve had *this* conversation:
WRITER: God I hate Michael Bay films. There’s no story to them.
ME: Maybe not, but that [SOMETHING] in [THIS ONE] was A-maze-ING!
WRITER: Actually, yeah and this [SOMETHING] too, now you mention it. And I must confess I have sneak liking for ARMAGEDDON / BAD BOYS / TRANSFORMERS* (delete as applicable).
WRITER 2: Sorry can I interject? Are you out of your tiny minds? NO ONE likes Michael Bay films.
WRITER: Actually, turns out I do. OMG.
Michael Bay makes movies for teenage boys. He even says it, “I make movies for teenage boys. What a crime.” And the fact he can STILL pull in audiences who aren’t teenage boys is pretty bloody amazing.
So we can learn from Bay, especially with reference to pulling in the audiences WE want to speak to. Or we can call him evil and audiences stupid. What’s more productive?
3) Disney Princesses are totes bad for girls and any woman who doesn’t think so probably going to raise daughters who are NOT FEMINIST and also EVIIIIIIIL
You know what, I actually like Disney Princesses and there’s an obvious reason for this (that seems to get left out of the debate over and over). Instead, everybody’s attention is given over to proving whether Disney Princesses are PASSIVE, so really surely what we mean instead is:
Are LITTLE GIRLS a passive audience?
Um, hopefully not, though if they are, could it be because we simply don’t trust them enough to make their OWN readings?? Now I wouldn’t and couldn’t speak for ALL little girls and certainly some are at more of a disadvantage than others, but generally speaking I would bet actual money the female contingent of the next generation are every bit as media literate as their male counterparts, especially growing up in the digital age … Patriarchal poison might be everywhere, but SO IS THE ANTIDOTE.
But whatever. Let’s work on the basis Disney Princesses are capable of sucking out little girls’ brains and turning them in pinkified zombies who just want to get married and have babies and do all those apparently terrible things that will DESTROY HUMANITY. (Okay maybe I’m exaggerating. But only about the destruction of humanity. OR AM I??)
So, apparently Disney Princesses have a lot of power. They’re everywhere. Little girls LOVE them and apparently their entire lives could go off the rails because of them. Stuff like FROZEN or TANGLED or THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG could literally scar for them for life, especially once we consider these cartoons subscribe to Caucasian ideals of beauty – HOLY SHIT THEY’RE RACIST TOO IS THERE NO LIMIT TO THEIR EVIIIIIL??
Sorry, my sarcasm was showing again there (I know, so unlike me). Where was I? Oh yeah, my point:
If Disney Princesses ARE so bad for little girls because they are SO powerful and apparently SO passive, is taking them away and leaving them with – well, VERY FEW female protagonists, especially if we look at the market for family audiences – a good idea?
That’s right… whether we like them or not, Disney Princesses kept the home fires burning as one of the only, consistent canons of female-centric characters for girls for years, DECADES even!
And whilst we still live in an imperfect (and sometimes shitty) world, when it comes to movies and TV, we’re living in unprecedented times when a princess character like Elsa can be seen – AND celebrated! – as gay, no?
4) GRAVITY is for stupid people (who are probably misogynists and also evil)
i) The story is too simple. Aaaah yes, because simple is so easy! How dare Cuaron and friends short change us so … OH WAIT! What the hell am I saying? Simple is REALLY DIFFICULT. If it was easy, my own job as a script editor would be a lot less challenging. I honestly only read perhaps 3 or 4 simple, straightforward stories a YEAR! Convoluted is the name of the game and whilst of course that can work, 9/10 it doesn’t, especially in the spec pile.
So swap “simple” for DISSATISFYING and maybe you might have my attention, except PSYCHE!! You actually don’t ‘cos guess what: I was satisfied by GRAVITY’s story, as was a whole bunch of other people. Storytelling is not a zero sum game: you NOT liking it doesn’t mean I will magically not like it either, nor vice versa, which is why I don’t understand the point of film critics post-social media.
ii) She’s got a boy’s name, just like so many female protagonists – BOO! “Dad wanted a boy” – how stereotypical, how tropey, how cliché. OR how about this: Cuaoron was asked, over and over, to change Ryan Stone to a male character by “Dad” aka THE STUDIO. He refused. GRAVITY (and thus Ryan Stone!) was a big hit anyway. Thanks Alfonso for facilitating a stack more female leads on the economics front and by the way, Hollywood:
iii) She’s got a dead daughter. Lots of female protags have dead kids, but then lots of male protagonists have dead wives and girlfriends. It’s a shorthand to create sympathy for these characters, to show they’re not JUST the people in *that moment*. It’s overdone, sure, but my argument: if it doesn’t take away FROM the moment in front of us, is it necessarily a major issue? In the case of Ryan, if Cuaron had hired Bang2write (Hi Alfonso, please do) I might have floated the idea of removing the dead daughter at script level but then the knock-on effect of that might have been losing the impact of that wonderful moment of connection when Ryan talks to the Spanish guy on the radio who has the baby with him? SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS, PEOPLE. Also, quit bellyaching. Jeez.
iv) Ryan Stone ain’t all that, full stop. Perhaps one of the most curious arguments against GRAVITY I come up against is the fact Ryan Stone is apparently just shit and it’s actually just the fear of being lost in space that audiences related to. But whether audiences related to Ryan HERSELF or HER JOURNEY, that’s still a connection between an audience and a character – and that’s good writing/filmmaking, non?
Besides which, what I liked most about Ryan was the fact that nothing about her journey had anything to do with gender. Swap her survival for Matt’s and guess what – her actual journey would have been the same. That’s the epitome of feminism in film as far as I’m concerned, especially as I’m always banging on about “great characters who happen to be female”.
But of course, we can’t finish there because Ryan Stone is also lampooned as – you guessed it – PASSIVE. Yes, that’s right: a female character who spends 75-80% of a movie doing stuff ALONE is passive … Why? Because apparently she needs to be saved by Matt … Even though he was never really there and actually just an embodiment of HER OWN PSYCHE. Le sigh. But okay, maybe it was too subtle. So let’s script edit this shit:
– Perhaps Ryan Stone’s dead daughter should have turned up in the space capsule? ZOMBIE DAUGHTER SAVES MOM! W000t! Oh wait, that’s just creepy. Plus it doesn’t make sense cos dead daughter was never *in* space AND it screws up the surprise of Matt of apparently coming back (but not).
– Okay, well how about the other astronaut who gets killed at the beginning? Oh no, he’s a man again and we can’t have that. Want about the astronauts aboard Explorer, or some Russians? Some of them might be women. Oh, we never saw them.
SEE THE ISSUE HERE??
For me, GRAVITY was thus: a cinematical experience. I’m not convinced it was ever meant as an in-depth character study or something that was supposed to TOUCH spiritually: it was meant to AMAZE. And for me, it was amazing. I loved it. And because of that, I loved Ryan Stone. Did it change my storytelling life? No. Was I entertained? Absolutely. Ta very much. That’s what I paid for. MORE: Lucy Vs Gravity: Similarities & Differences between two female leads, plus Why **That Moment You Don’t Like** Is NOT A Deus Ex Machina
Look, no one says you gotta like EVERYTHING (though I will always maintain there’s *something* to enjoy in MOST films and TV). But as I’ve already mentioned: like what you like, except for the ones you don’t. Like normal people.
But entertainment is MISSING from the spec pile. Now you might think it is from produced content too, but countless Box Office and ancilliary market sales say otherwise. Yet still we overthink our stories, believing THAT is key in making audiences connect with them. But it’s about entertainment!! Why the hardcore desire to make any story more than it’s really supposed to be? Is it because we fear, as writers and storytellers, we won’t have meaning? Yet we do. People love us. They also hate us. You can’t get a more meaningful transaction than either of those polarised examples, right there.
So relaaaax writers and filmmakers and stop overthinking EVERY LITTLE THING of stuff that already exists … and start thinking ENTERTAINMENT VALUE of your own stuff. Whatever you desire to see on screen, if you make it entertaining? Audiences will flock to it and love it (or hate it): maybe fleetingly, maybe forever, but you’d have made that connection.
Isn’t this what it’s all about?