Monday, October 8, 2007

Chick Flicks

Here's something every writer of fiction knows: if your protagonist is male, readers will probably follow him; if your protagonist is female, no guarantees, bitch.

[I can only imagine how this must affect you if you are a woman who writes non-fiction.]

I've seen this at work in my own stories: gender is rarely an issue in my stories, but being a woman, I often use a woman protagonist by default. Much to my bewilderment, my less wonderful stories are usually considered more interesting by others (especially men) when there's a guy at the center of the plot. And much better stories featuring women are (for some reason I am always told this) "about" strong women. [Instead of being about all the other things I'm writing about -- so what I'm to take from this is, if I use female characters, their very female-ness will suck all the air out of the story and no one will see anything but boobs? Are the stories with male protagonists "about" strong men? I mean, this is fiction, and not fiction where gender matters: I can switch the genders back and forth at will...?]

This phenomenon is apparent from a very young age: young boys and girls are equally willing to follow a story about a male puppet, male fish, male rat, male ant, male lion, et ceteri, but a lot of boys tune out when the protagonist is a chick.

I mentioned this to my fiction class on Friday in the course of a very lovely lecture about mirror neurons and empathy and the social good of stories that feature outcasts - people not accepted by their societies. If we read about and empathize with Paul from "Paul's Case," or Desiree from "Desiree's Baby," how can we dehumanize them and dismiss their plight? I mentioned that in the past boys have been resistant to stories featuring females and white audiences resistant to films featuring black actors, but that these are trends that are slowly changing for the better... and I think what I said is true...

But on Friday, the very day that I'm sowing these seeds of hope in the minds of impressionable youths, this series of tubes to which we are all so glued, the interwebs, lit up with word that Warner Bros. production president Jeff Robinov has decreed: NO MORE FILMS WITH FEMALE LEADS.

Now, I understand why he would come to this conclusion. As I told my students: book publishers and movie-makers know that stories featuring white male protagonists will be accepted by almost everyone, while stories starring (for example) black females will be "rejected" by very many (especially white males): the profit motive discourages change.

So I understand your plight, Mr. Robinov. The profit motive tells you exactly what kind of movies to make: shiny big blow-ups with bouncing boobs one of whom is a famous tough-guy male actor who kills the bad guy, gets the girl, and saves the day, if not the world, hooray. So you just keep on making that movie. You make it and make it and make it and make it. And see how well at the box office you do. We'll talk reason with the person they hire to replace you. [Yeah, that might be a while...]

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