Thanks for all your interesting comments on the last post! I found I wanted to continue the conversation with a few. I hope, in the cases where I disagree, this doesn't feel like an attack. I rarely respond to comments because I'm aware that the structure of a blog puts more emphasis on the post than the comment, so my voice is louder and can seem aggressive. I respect you and value your opinion, whether we agree or not. Thank you!
Amy Wilson Marshall (from facebook comment): "A good story should stand on it's own, no matter the cast. It really takes away from the movie for me if there is an effort made to include a member of every race and gender in the most unoffensive proportions. Trying too hard to please everyone results in failure. Always. "
I think I know what you mean. I have an artist friend who in the 1970s was hired to update some educational materials. Her jobs was to "color every third face brown."
However, I'm not sure I understand your point in this context. Are the screenwriters making every single character male by default and then going back in and making every third (or fourth, or fifth) character female? The numbers are way too heavily weighted on the side of male to be natural. I haven't counted all the characters in my books who have dialog, but I suspect you'd find it pretty even between male and female, some books slightly heavier on one side, the next slightly heavier on the other. This isn't an effort for me. I know as many men and boys as I know women and girls. It's natural for me to include male characters. When there are people in your life who aren't white, who are gay, who are different than you in some way, it's natural to also create characters with these traits.
If your story takes place in an all-boy school, then of course, most of the characters will be boys. If it takes place on the all-female island of Amazonia, then naturally, mostly girls. But if it takes place in the natural world, then there should be about as many female characters as male. If there aren't, then I'm suspicious about the writers. Are they making an effort to exclude female characters? Or do they only find male characters interesting and worthy of the story?
Eg., before Calamity Jack, before the Tangled movie, someone big was very interested in making Rapunzel's Revenge into a movie. I was told that if it went through, they'd rewrite the story to make Jack the main character, because female-led movies don't do as well. This is a common belief in Hollywood. They make movies accordingly, and our kids suffer the consequences. I do believe there are consequences. I used to think that kids were color blind and gender blind. Then I had kids. My kids notice race and gender, they are SO aware, far more aware than I am. They are trying to figure out their place in the world, they are trying to figure out what it means to be a boy or girl, and they look to stories to provide answers. Movies are visual, it's impossible to forget about gender and race in a movie, as it is in a book. Movies are shaping so much of children's awareness of themselves, for good or ill.
Valia wrote: "To be fair, though, "The Adventures of Tintin" is based off of the original comic series and there weren't very many females in that at all"
Absolutely, but part of my point is they chose to make Tintin into a movie. There are plenty of other books and graphic novels they could have adapted, but they chose this one. I don't mean to say that Tintin doesn't deserve to be a movie, and if it were the only (or one of the only) ALL-BOY-NO-GIRLS-ALLOWED movie I wouldn't blink an eye. But I don't see major directors choosing ANY girl-heavy stories to make into movies.
The numbers don't lie. This can't be an accident. If you flip a quarter enough times you'll get heads. In Hollywood, you can flip that coin dozens and dozens of times, and you'll always come up with movies with mostly male charters. That tells me it's not arbitrary.
MKHutchins wrote: "I'm going to be a wet blanket and say I'm not excited to see "Brave." The previews make it look it's all about how hard it is to be girl. Bleh. Why does a movie with a female protag have to be _about_ being female? (Media staring people of color has also had this problem, where the story's focus is _about_ being of whatever ethnicity) I guess I've read/seen too many stories like this."
I had a very similar reaction, MK. When I saw the teaser trailer, I thought, Wow! A movie about a redheaded girl who fights a bear! This is new and exciting. And then I saw the full trailer and realized the storyline followed *sigh* a princess who feels constrained by her gender and wishes she could do boy things. It's interesting, I think books embraced and then wore out this storyline long ago. Maybe Hollywood is just now catching up? That means film is about 20 years behind books, so maybe by the time I have grandchildren there will be animated movies with more natural ratios. I'll definitely see Brave and I'm happy it exists and that Pixar seems to finally be interested in girls. I hope my misgivings are wrong and I'll be pleasantly surprised. After all, many people dismissed Princess Academy unread, saying, "Not another book about girls primping and hoping to marry a prince!"
As Miriam observed, Brave "seems to be about Merida shunning "elegant pursuits" and proving she's just as good as the boys." This makes me feel sad. Are we still in a situation in this country that girls have to prove they're "as good as the boys"? So the standard for good=Boys, and Girls then must measure up to that? Regarding this kind of thinking, read The Disreputable History of Frankie-Landau Banks by E. Lockhart. It has nothing to do with animated movies, but it applies to this discussion all the same. Wonderful book.
Miss Erin: "The frustrating thing (as an actress) is that this isn't just a problem with animated films. It's a problem with the majority of ALL films."
Preach. With my blog I was trying to focus on one piece of the big ol' heinous pie, but you're right, of course.
Chloe: "I have to say the sheer numbers do not disturb me. I agree with a previous poster that the quality of a female lead far outweighs the quantity of female characters."
Chloe, an examination of what kind of female characters are out there is also very interesting and important. But I disagree. I believe numbers do matter. How few females there are does matter. With so few female characters, they get relegated to the same roles over and over again--mother, love interest, bad girl--where the male characters have so many more options. More roles=more types=more possibilities=more doors open for girls (and boys!). Many have cited Barbie movies as a positive exception, but these are straight-to-DVD movies. I'm glad they exist, but I find it shocking and disturbing how universally females are excluded from major movies.
I won't quote all of Amelia Loken's comment, but go look it up (around number 60?) Talking about a mother of boys who, around puberty, become more interested in movies that some think of as girl movies because they deal with male/female romantic relationships. So helpful for boys trying to figure out that whole mess!
Susan: "My brother works for Alcon (Blind Side, Dolphin Tale), and he was explaining that Tangled was changed around in large part due to international sales. Some countries don't have the Rapunzel story, so there was no name recognition like there would be with Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty."
I don't think that's true, Susan. It's common practice with exported films to change the titles, so it wouldn't matter if it was called Rapunzel in the US. And Disney execs admitted the reason for the change in interviews--THe Princess & the Frog didn't do as well as they wanted in the US and they blamed the female word "princess," so overhauled Rapunzel into Tangled to appeal more to boys. As others have pointed out, internationally, animated movies have more natural girl:boy rations and many more female leads.
Megan Lloyd: "I'm an animation major at BYU. A few months ago, I was selected as the director for our 2013 capstone film, Chasm. The protagonist is a mechanic and inventor, and a little bit older (40s,50s). We decided to make the main character female to try for something different and break our school habit of having guy protagonists. I was floored by the fierce, negative response from a couple of my male classmates--everything from "it's too technically challenging to animate the breasts" to "it's impossible to design appealing older women because men get more rugged and handsome with age and women just get ugly" and even "But women don't DO that sort of mechanical stuff!" It was mind boggling. I hope the completion of our film will prompt the other students in our year to set a standard and fight for gender equality in entertainment."
Wow. It kind of turns the stomach, doesn't it? Thank you so much for this anecdote. Some people have questioned whether children's movies with mostly male characters really have any effect on kids. For one examole, I'd say, look no further than these guys in the college animation program. They grew up on mostly-male movies. That seems to them the only option. When it's all we know, often we don't even question it.
I guess what I'm asking most of all from my blog readers is just this: please question it, if you haven't already. Some of you are now (like Megan) or someday will be in a position to change it. My son and daughters will thank you.
Stories are powerful. Stories are how we make sense of the world and ourselves. If we're limited to one type of story, a world of possibilities are limited too. I cannot believe that these boys in the college animation program (and many others, and many girls too) have this opinion about animated characters and yet are perfectly open-minded about girls and women in real life.
Emily: "To counter this, I have a hard time finding YA boy-centered books for my son. So...there you go."
Really? There are HUNDREDS of great ones! Check out guysread.com for suggestions. Come on, squeetusers, give Emily some good reccs of awesome boy-centered YA books! I'll start it off:
Holes, by Louis Sachar, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, The Lightning Thief series by Rick Riordan, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, Looking for Alaska by John Green, Maze Runner by James Dashner, Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson, The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp by Rick Yancey, Beyonders series by Brandon Mull, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, The Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, Going Bovine by Libba Bray, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Loser's Guide to Life and Love by A.E. Cannon...