by Kristen Rosser cross posted from blog Wordgazer’s Words
This week I came across an interesting article, We’re Losing All Our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome. The author, Tasha Robinson, names this Hollywood phenomenon after the female character “Trinity” in The Matrix:
[T]he Strong Female Character With Nothing To Do [like Valka in DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon 2] is becoming more and more common. The Lego Movie is the year’s other most egregious and frustrating example. It introduces its female lead, Elizabeth Banks’ Wyldstyle, as a beautiful, super-powered, super-smart, ultra-confident heroine who’s appalled by how dumb and hapless protagonist Emmet is. Then the rest of the movie laughs at her and marginalizes her as she turns into a sullen, disapproving nag and a wet blanket. . . Her only post-introduction story purpose is to be rescued, repeatedly, and to eventually confer the cool-girl approval that seals Emmet’s transformation from loser to winner. . . This is Trinity Syndrome à la The Matrix: the hugely capable woman who never once becomes as independent, significant, and exciting as she is in her introductory scene.
From there, of course, I had to read the link to an August 2013 New Statesman Articlecalled “I Hate Strong Female Characters” by Sophia McDougall, which defines “strong female characters” and identifies the real problem with their ubiquitous appearance in modern Hollywood films:
They’re still love interests, still the one girl in a team of five boys, and they’re all kind of the same. They march on screen, punch someone to show how they don’t take no shit, throw around a couple of one-liners or forcibly kiss someone because getting consent is for wimps, and then with ladylike discretion they back out of the narrative’s way. . . What do I want instead of a Strong Female Character? I want a male:female character ratio of 1:1 instead of 3:1 on our screens. I want a wealth of complex female protagonists who can be either strong or weak or both or neither, because they are more than strength or weakness.
All of this got me to thinking. There is a lot more of this kind of thing going on in Hollywood films than just strong female characters, with or without Trinity syndrome. And by “this kind of thing” I mean unoriginal, uninventive, follow-what-everyone-else-is-doing plots, characterizations and inter-relationships that I’m getting a little tired of. I would say it’s all about the tyranny of “what will sell,” but I think it’s even worse than that. It’s the tyranny of “what we have seen sell already, and we’re afraid to risk trying anything different.”
So here’s my list of what I wish Hollywood would try. Maybe they’d lose some money on some of these efforts, but the fact is that lots of films lose money anyway despite sticking with “what we have seen sell already.” Part of what sells really is inventiveness, and I know Hollywood knows that. So maybe it would be more worthwhile to take bigger risks, than to keep churning out the same sort of thing over and over.
A few disclaimers before I start:
A. I know there are exceptions. I know there have been one or two examples of some of these kinds of movies that actually have been made, some of which have done very well with moviegoers. But they’ve been very rare.
B. I know I’m not a professional or an expert, and maybe it’s a little presumptuous of me to tell Hollywood moguls how to do their jobs. But I have been a member of the moviegoing public all my life, and thus one of their target audience in the various demographics I have belonged to over the years, right? So maybe my opinion does count for something. . .
C. I am a white, middle-class, heterosexual, cisgender, Christian married person with kids. I understand that I’m privileged in many ways, and that a great many more Hollywood movies are made with people like me and my family as the target audience than many people could ever hope to expect. But that’s part of why I do want to see some of the things on this list– because I don’t think only the privileged should have movies made that aim to please them, and the very fact that so many of them areaimed at people like me seems to be contributing to their sameness.
I’d Like to See a Movie About:
1. A smart, adventurous young man who is black, and his best friend and sidekick, who is white.
2. A group of kids having an adventure, in which the leader and her best friend are girls and there’s one, and only one, boy in the group who is pretty much just along for the ride. Bonus points if the girls are black, Hispanic or Asian and the boy is white.
3. A woman over 35 who is not portrayed as someone’s mother, but who gets to be in love with a male character her own age. Bonus points if she’s got some extra pounds on her. Extra bonus points if she’s the main character.
4. An “ugly” female character in a movie on the theme of beauty, who is not actually a gorgeous woman wearing thick glasses. Bonus points if the film doesn’t end with her taking off the glasses, letting down her hair and putting on some makeup to show the audience that she’s a real woman after all.
5. A senior woman who is not portraying someone’s grandmother. Or Miss Marple.
6. A senior, man or woman, who is the main character in a movie that is not about being old. Bonus points if he or she is a person of color in a movie that’s not about prejudice.
7. A superhero movie where the main super-protagonist is female, and of color. Bonus points if she’s the leader of a group of superheroes.
8. Any nerdy character who doesn’t have to stop being nerdy by the end of the film, either by getting the “cool” makeover or by winning the “cool” date.
9. An Asian character (in an American-made film) who is not super-smart and super-good at school, but has other traits that render him or her a fully developed character. Bonus points if he or she is the main protagonist and leader.
10. A female character who is not, and does not end up, in a relationship.
11. A retelling of a myth or fairy tale that does not come from the Western European tradition.
12. Gay, lesbian and/or transgender character(s) in a movie that is not about being gay, lesbian or transgender.
13. Person(s) with disabilities in a movie that is not about overcoming disabilities.
14. Last but definitely not least, an Elfquest movie. That is, a movie based on a comic book series that isn’t about superheroes and which is written and drawn by a woman.
So there’s my list. Would anyone like to add anything of their own?