Personality first, gender second?
The Bang2writers are writing more and more female characters now, but it’s not just as simple as that. We can ALL fall into “the usual” representations, or screw up and write trite, incorrect or two dimensional stereotypes. It’s also important to note any one of us can do this regardless of our experience with writing, or even if we *are* women ourselves! As I often say, I have seen NO correlation between gender of writer and how bad OR well they write female characters, yet I’ve literally read thousands of screenplays over the last decade and a half.
So, as writers, what do we need to think about … ?? Over to the experts again and remember, don’t forget to click their names and check them and their projects out!!
Over To The Experts:
1) Gabriella Apicella, Director Euroscript & co-founder, Underwire Festival. I’d love to see more women in film full stop. Not just lone female characters in an ensemble, but women taking up 50 per cent of speaking and leading roles on screen. Individual female characters have the weight of representing all of womankind, but increase the numbers, and the varieties of women’s experiences can be represented with truth, difference and originality.
2) Debbie Moon, screenwriter & showrunner. I’d still like to see more female scientists, technicians and especially engineers and designers in movies. More roles for older women are still needed – they may be mothers and grandmothers, but they also occupy senior possessions in professions and in public life and we rarely see that. I think there’s a gap in the market for the female versions of the “genius biography” – I’d love to see female figures in popular biographies like the Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing movies. And weird as it sounds, I’d like to see more women in crowd scenes! Research suggests that only 17% of the extras seen in the background of Hollywood movies are female. Subconsciously, we’re programming ourselves to believe in a world where the vast majority of human beings are male, which is of course not the case. It may seem like a small detail, but it’s a big step towards making movies represent more of the human race.
3) Linda Aronson, screenwriter and consultant/teacher. More and diverse women characters, particularly some interesting ‘baddies’ – ‘lazies’, cynics, psychopaths, women who don’t give a rat’s and say so. At the moment, as with racial minorities, most women characters with significant roles are super-worthy. Can we get beyond the tokenism?
4) Frances Teehan, Oldcastle Books. Just more strong female characters, please!
5) Vanessa Bailey, actress, writer & producer. A great role for women is one that’s well-written. It’s not about having MORE women, it’s about having rich, relatable, aspirational, inspiring, intriguing, horrifying, disturbing, funny, tragic, vulnerable, struggling characters that happen to be women. I’m now ever-so-slightly bored with the “strong women” thing. We fell into the trap of that being ball-busting business women, or assassins, or women who don’t need anyone else in their lives, they just need to find themselves. Fascinating characters come in all shapes and sizes. A strong female character for me can be weak, conflicted, murderous, vulnerable. But if they pull me in and wrap their storyline around my brain and heart, then that’s a strong female character. Let’s have more of those!
6) Katie McCullough, Festival Formula. All shapes, all sizes, all colours; all women.
7) Jean Kitson, Literary Agent. I’d like to see that depth of character storytelling grow into film more, and for writers to be braver about just letting a character be who they are in the moment rather than feel the need to explain every bit of behaviour … I’m quite bored of the sop to female characters which is a ‘capable woman’ supporting a ‘brilliant but in other ways useless male character’ and I think there is loads of room to explore the modern phenomenon of women feeling that now they can have it all,they ought to – and not surprisingly, feeling they are failing at that.
8) Barbara Machin, screenwriter & showrunner. AHA naturally (writer’s answer) I am writing what want next and she’s a lead woman protagonist and you’ll be shocked! I want brave /bold/unexpected and I want to feel something, expose what we know but don’t often see.
9) Shawna Benson, Writers’ Room Assistant. I hope we’ll no longer care about women living up to some impossible ideal of beauty, but find ways to bring out the innate beauty within women of all shapes and sizes. It’s still a challenge to put real women on TV as characters people can embrace. Right now, broadcast TV in particular (less so for some cable outlets) need women to still be tall, thin, and stunningly beautiful. While we do want our actors to have certain “cinematic” qualities, there are a multitude of great male actors who wouldn’t win any beauty contests who are revered for their talents and find plentiful work in TV and film. I hope that there will be more opportunity for women of this stripe for women. And, of course, continue to present women as people with strengths and flaws and all of the complexity we put into male characters. And that is key — we don’t want to keep moving women forward at the expense of men. Male characters must continue to be fully developed — we just need women characters to be on par.
10) Tony Lee, screenwriter & comic book writer. I for one think women are making a strong headway into film and television right now. The problem is teaching the directors and producers why some of these women *are* strong, and what exactly that means.
11) Yvonne Grace, script consultant. I would like to see more female characters who do not take themselves so bloody seriously! The key to a truly resonant character for me, in especially female character development on screen, is those characters who know they are flawed, but keep on trying anyway. And have the capacity to laugh at themselves … So more sense of humour and less ‘knowing’ please for me.
12) Rhianna Pratchett, video games writer. I’d like to see more risks being taken with flawed female characters. More Carries, Nurse Jackies, Vees, Cerceis. Women who are textured and monstrous and wonderful.
13) James Henry, screenwriter. Would love to see more female protagonists in genre movies that are less kick-ass martial arts experts and more like believable people. Really hoping the Jennifer Jones series (about a rather rebellious private detective who used to be a cheesy superheroine) can live up to the excellent comic.
14) Andrew Ellard, writer & script editor. I’d like a majority of the sitcom first drafts that come to me to do better than “Five characters: the hero, the quirky one, the rude one, the handsome one … and the girl”. As if gender is a character type! In film, Female action heroes – like comic book adaptations before – feels like the next Big Problem to solve. We’re getting close, though I find The Hunger Games a little anaemic and, crucially, not so great a formula that people are finding it easy to duplicate. When someone makes it work – and maybe that’ll be Captain Marvel – there will be a rush of imitators. Just like I’m hoping there will be for the new Ghostbusters.
15) Julie Gray, writing coach. I would like to see LESS objectification of women on film. Women are used as props, as a shorthand, in other words, to indicate a man is wealthy (slinky model-esque woman reclining in bed in the background) or that a man is wild and crazy (babes in bikinis giggling) or that a man is a nice guy (earthy-looking wife smiling in the kitchen with her passel of children). Everybody talks about stronger roles for women and that’s important but we are seeing many interesting roles for women while totally overlooking more minor character objectification/sexualization that happens so routinely in film that we don’t even object to it.
16) Stephen Gallagher, screenwriter & showrunner. I think we’re witnessing an easing out of the ‘woman in a man’s world’ trope in favour of displays of female competency from the get-go.
17) Ian Craig Walker, screenwriter. Complexity … Someone capable of dealing with a wide range of situations in ways that reveal a great deal about her, rather than stridently reiterating a single character facet over and over each time. Make your female charcacter a real person that viewers of both sexes can connect with. Make her whole & rounded. Personality should act as the catalyst for the character’s desires/goals, as well as her actions in driving the story forward. She should be a problem solver – reveal her insecurity, heartbreak, and loss, yet her ability to keep muddling forward … Lastly, make her vulnerable, but not a victim. Strong enough internally to survive their own difficult stories, and strong enough narratively to support a feature story.
18) Adrian Mead, writer/director. As with any male characters, I want to be convinced of their authenticity and hopefully intrigued and surprised by their choices.
19) Chris Jones, writer/director & head of LondonSWF. Change can only come by demonstrating that female-cenrtric stories can consistently deliver success. And by success I think the only real metric that matters to the people we need to have faith is box office / viewing figures / VOD royalties etc. To me, ignoring female centric narrative makes no sense as 50% of the population is female and should in theory be interested in female-centric yarns. So this is either a weird anomaly (the female population would in fact rather see male stories with male stars??) or it’s the great unexploited frontier. Personally I believe it’s the latter and there is going to be enormous growth in these stories in the next few decades. In fact I would argue we are seeing it manifest now.
20) Pilar Alessandra, script consultant. I’d like to see the complexity that’s currently being given female characters on tv brought to the big screen in feature films. I’d like to see their rough edges and their flaws. Female characters in movies always seem to represent one thing. They’re either terribly noble or they’re extremely wicked. But the women who live in the grey areas; the ones who aren’t that easy to categorize? They’re much more interesting to watch.
21) Sarah Phelps, screenwriter & showrunner. BOLDNESS! I can’t stand it when people say ‘strong woman’ as though we’re fucking not … And fuck off with your ‘feisty’ because it’s always in the shadow of some wise cracking, dick-waving dude … Give us the mess and the reality and the dreams and idiocy and the selfishness and courage and morality and murder … You know, all that shit that people give to men. WE do that stuff too.
22) Martin Gooch, writer/director. Well obviously I’d like to see my movie Alice on Mars, she is the female time lord they have all been asking for… She’d kick Batman and Superman’s arse that’s for sure.
23) Ellen Gallagher, Media Dept Associate. Next, I’d like to see more female characters written and directed by women. Not that men can’t do a great job at presenting female characters, nor because only women are able to breathe real ‘truth’ into them, but because the gender balance in ALL industries, the movie biz included, is still out of whack.
24) Ashley Pharoah, screenwriter & showrunner. Hmmmm. I would like the next Doctor Who to be female. My 10 year old daughter would just love that. Long overdue.
25) JK Amalou, writer/director. Let’s forget about “female characters” and “strong women” and all that … let’s write great characters, who just so happen to be female. The longer we make this about gender politics, that line in the sand, the longer there will be that difference.
26) Sally Abbott, screenwriter. I want to see female characters that are allowed to be as prickly, unpredictable, inconsistent, mercurial, unconventional and “unlikeable” as any of their male counterparts. Women who go out on a limb pursuing their goal – whether that’s finding the truth or a version of it (often what I write about). Women who don’t have to follow men. Who aren’t purely defined by their relationship to others – wife/mother/assistant. Women with funny lines and attitude who are in jeopardy without that jeopardy being they’re going to get raped. I want to see characters who are mothers who aren’t shit with their kids but brilliant at their jobs. I’ve seen that SO much. I want women who are clever, who have secrets, who drive the story.
27) Steve La Rue, Development Exec. I want Scarlett Johanson as Black Widow to get her own damn Avengers movie. That’s a great character with a lot of story to tell.
28) Gail Hackston, writer/director. I am getting a sense, given what has been getting plaudits and what has been commissioned lately, that we are about to enter a rich period for complex female characters in Film and TV. Not before time … We can be jim-jam wearing, “Fuck there’s no teabags left, lets have Limoncello instead”, calling in sick with a hangover, “no thanks I don’t want children” women. Rich, poor, black, white, glorious, mucky, murky, sullen and undone – we are frankly how you find us and that is beautiful. My big hope is that we see more bold representations of women that women themselves recognise. Female narrative is not a trend or a phase.
29) Michelle Goode, script consultant and writer. It’s this whole REALNESS thing that I love and want to see more of; real ethnic variety, real depth and edginess, real power not based on looks or gender, real portrayals (even if it means making your characters dislikeable), real women (even with wrinkles) kicking ass, women living life how they want with no restrictions based on gender, ability or society’s expectations and women living with and even making the most of afflictions, not being defined or restricted by them.
30) Steve Ince, video games writer and chair of WGGB’s Games division. I hope that they develop a Black Widow film and look at others in that vein, but I also hope someone develops some Sci-Fi and fantasy films or TV with female leads without falling back to Buffy territory, which we’ve moved on from now.
31) Julian Friedmann, literary agent. I want – from writers – characters whom I as a man identify with, feel their emotion, share their pain and joy forgetting all the while that they are female and I am male.
32) Tony Jordan, screenwriter & showrunner. I want them to be tough without the shoulder pads and killer heels. Tough in a onesie. Tough in Waitrose or the fucking dentists. Tough isn’t ONE kind of woman, it’s not about being corporate. It’s not just lawyers or doctors or cops that are strong women. So more diverse interesting strong female characters.
And the last word goes to:
33) Eric Heisserer, screenwriter and filmmaker. We should be seeing a heroine who is the smartest person in the room. We should be seeing a soldier, pro racer, monster hunter, world leader, genius detective, or wisecracking video gamer who also happens to be a woman. We cannot afford to define a female character simply by her role relative to men.
Did you see which female characters these Industry Pros have enjoyed recently? CLICK HERE.
Like female protagonists?
The Decision Book Series confronts a female protagonist with ALL the potential outcomes of a single dilemma. Download them to your Kindle (or Kindle app on your tablet) HERE or click the pic on the left.
I think for me personally, Jean Kitson an Julie Gray hit it right on the nose! That is precisely what is wrong/needs changed when it comes to female leads and as right as the other very talented contributors are I feel the best starting point is to stop objectification especially when it comes to the “more is better” rule (when in fact more minor roles of “hot Comic-Con girl” and “sexy waitress” and “bikini babe” do more to discredit and objectify females) don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the lovely young women and actors who take these roles, after all they are essentially doing what they set out to do which is act..but we have to stop writing female characters as simply that or thinking if we have more of those roles that we are progressing in some way. In short, more instead better and simply writing a strong female lead that is subservient to the male lead won’t help. So thanks for those bold statements ladies! Lets hope this happens!
Personally I think the tables are starting to turn in tv, but in film female characters are definitely still a bit one-dimensional unless they are films based on books- I would argue (and I may well be screamed at here) that Bridget Jones was so successful because she tapped into the “real woman” thing brilliantly- the men were the stereotypes but Bridget with all her insecurities and embarrassing moments was the woman we fear lurking inside every single one of us.
Ellen Gallagher hit on it for me. Before kids, I was a set dresser and stunt performer in the entertainment industry. I would really love to see more female producers, directors, key grips, electricians, AD’s, etc. Qualified women are out there and I’ve worked with a bunch of them personally!
It would be good to see real women reflected in screen characters, without this irritating political agenda box being ticked and (please not!) good examples of ‘female role models’.
In fact, an artificially created ‘strong’ female – the ideal gender role model – can be as nauseatingly fake as the perfectly formed bikini-clad bimbo lying by a pool – and that bimbo probably washed her own bikini, unlike some role models.
Trying to invent a ‘strong women’ character to satisfy an abstract criteria can mean a character who is too busy to do the cleaning – the sort who has one of the old female stereotypes to scrub her bathroom, look after aged relatives, or mind her kids when she’s off doing her ‘strong worthy’ thing. That’s like a man in a female body – just a new sort of Barbi-doll bimbo-type, conforming and serving but flashing brains instead of boobs. And the reality of life for most women is conveniently ignored and not represented at all – again!
Women do the boring stuff because someone’s got to do it and men don’t or won’t. So a true female heroine will know what washing powder was used to clean her outfit, meet the emotional needs of friends and family and still manage to be irritatingly successful at forging her way into a ‘mans world’…. Even a female DrWho will have to make the effort to be friends with her wardrobe manager or her Time Lord P.A. or she will be no role model for women!
So building these unreal female characters to tick a criteria box is fine in fantasy films but even serious films have not, so far, reflected the gender politics of real life.
Of course movies and TV don’t reflect the *exact* gender politics of real life like you describe. Fiction is ‘real life, with the boring bits cut out’.