Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More on Stud Flicks

This is fascinating stuff:

While writing Female characters exist to promote male leads for network profits, I realized something I had never quite put together in so many words. It's important enough to deserve its own article (thanks, Bellatrys!), so here it is: my screenwriting professors taught me not to write scripts that passed the Bechdel/Mo Movie Measure/"Dykes To Watch Out For" test, and I can tell you why, and this needs to be known.

The "Dykes to Watch Out For" test, formerly coined as the "Mo Movie Measure" test and Bechdel Test, was named for the comic strip it came from, penned by Alison Bechdel - but Bechdel credits a friend named Liz Wallace, so maybe it really should be called the Liz Wallace Test…? Anyway, the test is much simpler than the name. To pass it your movie must have the following:

1) there are at least two named female characters, who

2) talk to each other about

3) something other than a man.

So simple, and yet as you go through all your favorite movies (and most of your favorite TV shows, though there's a little more variety in TV), you find very few movies pass this test.

It's not a coincidence. It's not that there aren't enough women behind the camera (there aren't, but that's not the reason). Here's what we're up against (and for those who have requested a single post that summarizes my experiences in film for linking reference, now you've got it).

When I started taking film classes at UCLA, I was quickly informed I had what it took to go all the way in film. I was a damn good writer, but more importantly (yeah, you didn't think good writing was a main prerequisite in this industry, did you?) I understood the process of rewriting to cope with budget (and other) limitations. I didn't hesitate to rip out my most beloved scenes when necessary. I also did a lot of research and taught myself how to write well-paced action/adventure films that would be remarkably cheap to film - that was pure gold.

There was just one little problem.

I had to understand that the audience only wanted white, straight, male leads. I was assured that as long as I made the white, straight men in my scripts prominent, I could still offer groundbreaking characters of other descriptions (fascinating, significant women, men of color, etc.) - as long as they didn't distract the audience from the white men they really paid their money to see.

The quoted post also explains why there will never be a movie about a snake goddess who draws men to her like wasps to a honey pot, and the reason is that the major markets for movies are seen to be young men and they are not interested in identifying with me. Or with any other female character.

Or so the powers that be have decided. Movies must appeal to men. Hence we call stud flicks just general movies while reserving a specific name for movies which appeal to women: chick flicks. (Note how nicely I restrained from inventing the rhyming name for stud flicks).

You should read the whole linked post as it's most interesting and instructive. It connects the profitability of movies with such odd things as how grating female voices might seem and how men don't really want to listen to women. Or can't hear them when they speak. Or assume that they talk about lipstick or love or some other gooey topic that might give them girl cooties.

There's even a connection to that Sudden Muteness Syndrome so many women have experienced: You make a suggestion at a meeting and it drops like a rock into a pool of murky water. Then some guy makes the same suggestion and suddenly it is discussed, debated and so on. And you leave the meeting wondering why you suddenly seem to have turned into a mute and digging deep inside yourself for all sorts of self-blaming explanations. Until you learn that the Sudden Muteness Syndrome is really common among women who attend meetings, and that it should really be renamed The Sudden Male Deafness Syndrome.

I'm not saying that most young men really are totally uninterested in women as persons or unable to identify with female characters, but at least some teachers of film seem to believe that. So the teaching goes around the vicious circle and solutions to the "stud flickiness" of most mass-market movies will not be easy to find.