Directing Film: “Strong” Female Characters

When watching Miss Representation, the question of female directors seemed interesting, especially in the case of Catherine Hardwicke. It is unnerving to know just how few films are directed by women, and it seems especially disheartening that so few of them were blockbuster films.

However, I think that taking some of this information at face value can be misleading. As Tyler brought up in class, Catherine Hardwicke was offered the director’s slot on Twilight: New Moon but refused – and in the documentary, said that a man was chosen for the next two films. There could have been a female director on both if she had accepted, though it may not have changed much about the content. I think another important point is that the biggest film she directed was Twilight. I’m not going to get into an extremely in-depth rant about everything wrong with those books, but I believe that they are some of the biggest offenders of many of the things brought up in the documentary – weak women, dependence on men, abusive and unhealthy relationships, etc. I think that there is a difference between having a female director for the sake of having a female director, and actually having positive content for a film, which Twilight does not.

However, Twilight is very obviously a bad example of a film directed by a woman. Catherine Hardwicke also directed Thirteen, which I have not seen but won quite a few awards and I have had recommended as a good film before. A League of Their Own, which Geena Davis talked about in the documentary and is one of my all-time favorites, was directed by Penny Marshall. Katherine Bigelow directed both Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker. Female directors do have the potential to create films that portray women realistically and make them multidimensional characters – which seems to be the problem with a majority of the films they showed clips of in Miss Representation. The example that comes readily to mind is Megan Fox in Transformers. She was often relegated to sex object and was there for the pleasure of men in this film (and the sequel didn’t make it any better). The scenes she was in were often extremely sexualized – she was leaning over, sweating and fixing a car in very little clothing, and the shot showed her in gradual pieces and made her an object, rather than a multidimensional person.

On the other hand, I don’t think we should ignore films directed by men, or even assume that they will objectify or flatten women into “cartoons”. A prime example is Ridley Scott, who has directed films such as Thelma & Louise, Alien, Blade Runner, and Prometheus. Thelma & Louise is one of the quintessential “empowering women” films that Geena Davis talked about in the documentary and that many people appreciate for its feminist approach. In Alien, Ripley is often cited as one of the best female characters in film because she shows such tremendous strength and character growth. Personally, I think Joss Whedon is another example of a male director who creates some of the best female characters – he wrote and directed Marvel’s The Avengers, created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and its film sequel Serenity, and wrote and produced The Cabin in the Woods. One of my favorite quotes from an interview with him was when he was asked why he wrote such strong female characters, to which he replied “because you’re still asking me that question.”

Which is, I think, the point of this class. Why are we still asking that question? Why do we have to tag “strong” onto “female characters” at all? Can we change anything so that women in film and on television can be portrayed as actual characters rather than cartoons? I think the fact that a class on “Feminism and Film” even exists says a lot about the film industry today – that we do need to have these conversations about female and queer representations in film. One of the strongest ways to influence society is through the use of popular culture, as we saw in Miss Representation. So the challenge becomes to change the way we see women and queer characters represented so that they are people we can look up to and learn from positively, rather than enforcing negative social norms.

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