As a writer, I spend a lot of time studying storytelling. One of the main takeaways I’ve always gotten from many things I’ve read on storytelling, is that stories have to tell the truth in some way. Usually, these truths feel very personal to the author, which means they also have the chance of feeling personal to the reader.
While our stories may be unique, our pain, our joy, generally isn’t. That is why we love stories, because they often remind us we are not alone, while allowing us the chance to escape the mundane. They make us feel like we are apart of something bigger, that we are not alone.
One problem we have in our current state of movies and media, often women don’t get to tell their own stories. A recent study by the Sundance Institute found that only about 29% of filmmakers are women. This includes writers, directors, producers, cinematographers; and editors.
You may be wondering why this matters? Hollywood tends to have a bad reputation for underwritten or poorly written female characters. In many movies, even very popular ones, there may not even be more than one female character, and if there is more than one, it may be rather rare to see her speak to another female character on screen. This can be gaged using the Bechdel Test, which is admittedly a low bar for female representation.
I recently watched Dr. Strange and though I enjoyed the film, the female characters in it felt either stereotypical or underdeveloped. While I liked Rachel McAdams’ performance as Dr. Christine Palmer, the character felt more like an accessory for Strange’s breakdown, rather than an independent and interesting character of her own. For those that know of characters like Clea Strange in the comics, Marvel may have missed an opportunity to include a dynamic and layered female character in their story. Arguably, Dr. Strange is Stephen Strange’s story so it is expected that he would be the central figure in it. But when Marvel has yet to have a movie led by a woman, and still only has one movie planned to be led by a woman, I think it’s probably okay to look at their female leads with a critical eye.
To me, this problem seems to be systemic. If women aren’t there to write and tell their stories, then it seems to follow reason that we lack diverse and interesting female characters. I am a firm believer that women have just as interesting and complicated inner lives as their male counterparts, but it is likely we don’t often see this portrayed because women are not allowed to tell their own stories.
The upcoming Wonder Woman film will be directed by a woman, but the writers are male. It seems somewhat odd to not have a female writer involved in developing the story of one of the strongest feminist icons of the last century. This is not to say that some men can’t write amazing, complicated and full female characters, there are many male writers that can and do. There is still a certain authenticity when women are allowed to tell their own stories. I think this goes for all people, that we are the ones most uniquely qualified to tell our own stories, in and out of fiction. The problem is that women do not have an equal opportunity to do so. I also believe that everyone can benefit from interesting, authentic and diverse stories.