Feminist Filming: no BS need apply

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On Tuesday John & I attended Seattle Webseries MeetUp, a monthly shindig discussing all things webseries related. This was our first appearance. When I RSVP’d, the moderator invited me to be a panelist on a small round table on this month’s discussion,“Women in Webseries”.

I don’t consider myself a woman in webseries. We at Battleground Productions haven’t produced a webseries yet past the pilot of Norm Owenson, Medieval Mercenary, which was made under someone else’s production company. Brass’s upcoming short film, Lair of the Red Widow, was originally conceived as a proof of concept for a network television pitch- essentially, a short film that can stand alone. I find this a strength. Given the financial risks of film production, especially for the unknown returns in online entertainment (makes us sound like porn doesn’t it?), it serves the artists and the audiences to enjoy self contained stories; tales that don’t depend on never-ending crowfunding campaigns to see our characters through to an end. Much like our politicians, artists get tired of having to constantly campaign for your votes, your likes, your donations. Really, we just want to tell you one good story at a time, mic drop and recede back into our creative hovels.

So I questioned my place on that panel. But I tried to make good use of my position by instigating debate & demand straight answers to tough questions, which is a challenge amongst Seattlites, let me tell you.

Some women love to discuss the challenges of being a woman, in any given field. And I’ll admit there are some real statistical challenges facing women in entertainment.

However, this tendency to then insist on female character-driven stories or female-chartered production teams, to target female audiences, and then claim that the end result will inevitably be somehow more progressive, egalitarian, aesthetically or artistically interesting is frankly bullshit.

In my opinion, The Hurt Locker is a better film than Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Am I therefore imprisoned by a deeply ingrained, disturbingly warped, cultural & gender biases? Dude, I went to an all girls prep school. My classmates are published authors, naval engineers, international activists, professional singers and way to many HBS grads. If anyone can touch my shade of feminism, it’s Sheryl Sandberg.

Non-gender bias should mean that you get the best artist for the job, regardless of gender. And yet, so much of the roundtable discussion was in laser focus regards to gender.

Strong-Female-CharactersWe all thankfully agreed that the term “strong female character” is now an overused wash. It is possible to write a female character so strong that she could grow a pair (and probably did have a set in earlier drafts until someone insisted on having a more even ratio of male:female in the story). As an actor, I am not interested in cookie cutter characters, regardless of whether they are the “dumb blond” or the “bad ass bitch with a shotgun”. As storytellers, we all want to explore the intricacies & complexities of the human experience. It gets a little difficult to pull that off when the collective conscience or actual co-workers are judging & reminding you to second guess the writing as being biased, no matter the genre. Meaningful characters demand flaws, even from the ladies. The challenge becomes: how do you make her flawed as an individual, rather than a stereotype?

And that just comes from good writing, which no one wants to talk about. It’s so much safer to complain about external factors and feel part of a collective demographic that is fighting on the side of the right. It is scary, uncomfortable & sometimes depressing as hell to take an inward look at your craft and work it.

Webseries “content creators” are new to the game, even if they have years of experience in another medium. And no one knows how to create a webseries audience without big marketing budgets or in the absence of traditional curators like TV networks, published critics, and film financing firms. And we live in a culture that values youth, immediate gratification, and the illusion of overnight fame.

In the end, we are a community of frustrated actresses & writers turned filmmakers, producers, one-woman marketing machines, all clamoring for attention, community, and validation. And maybe sometimes we inflate our art’s value, claim that it’s pioneering a new frontier, against enormous odds and is somehow special because WE ARE WOMEN. Honestly, it’s hard enough making good art, regardless of your gender. No special pleading should be required.

2 Comments on “Feminist Filming: no BS need apply”

  1. Go you! I couldn’t agree more. Somehow the struggle for gender equality in the arts has gone full circle, in many circles, and arrived at gender obsession. Arbitrarily tossing a woman or two into a story doesn’t automatically make it better, and often results in tokenism or “just a guy in a dress” situation. I see a lot of tallying going on, where a work is praised because it checks all the right gender/race boxes. Also: the poop-storm from prickly ninnies on the web over Black Widow in Avengers 2 was utterly ridiculous. The mob is so ready to be outraged by anything at all, that content creators can’t help but step on toes these days. It definitely takes a kind of bravery to dare to write without checking every single box every time, but it’s certainly more true to life.

  2. I saw your essay via a Seattle friend’s Facebook post. Here’s what I think. I think people overestimate the dangers of “political correctness” and undervalue its importance. Yes, it can be tedious when people use these clumsy new tools to try to achieve some kind of significant and durable equality in various work places. And yes, people who have been on the front lines in these battles can sometime sound strident or dogmatic or even “shrill”. And yes, people on all sides of every big societal debate sometimes say unambiguously silly things. But consider the other side of the equation. The truth is that in the arts women experience huge and systemic disadvantages. Women actors get paid less, women directors get fewer projects (even when compared with men with far less accomplished resumes), women writers get fewer serious reviews in all the most important places where writing is reviewed. Women painters get fewer shows. And on and on. So when you nod briefly at the “statistical” imbalances that still exist in the arts, you’re actually nodding at an entire generation of artists who are still being forced to be better, smarter, more aggressive than their male counterparts simply to achieve fairness and parity. Yes, things have gotten better. Yes, sexism in the arts isn’t as extreme as it was in the 1950s or the 1990s. But when you express impatience with women (and men) who want to continue acknowledging this systemic unfairness, you are also giving (I think) short shrift to the people who’ve come before you, fighting to get us to this stage of evolution. You want to just be viewed as ‘an artist’ and not a ‘woman’ artist. Fair enough. That’s obviously your right. But I think it’s important to acknowledge the struggle that made that possible. And it’s important to acknowledge that many of the tools that got us to this point were (and are) clumsy, imperfect things like political correctness. The bottom line is that I think it’s fair to say that for every woman who is making inflated claims about her art based on her gender, there are ten women artists who are being ignored or undervalued because of their gender. For now, I’m more worried about the latter problem than the former one. -Brian Mann

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