...and one who isn't a princess, please. "Dear Pixar, From All The Girls With Band-Aids On Their Knees" is a recent post from Linda Holmes to her NPR.org blog, Monkey See. The post is an open letter to Pixar in praise of their films, but in it, Holmes also identifies a notable omission from their cinematic corpus: a lack of a single leading female character.
"Of the ten movies you've released so far, ten of them have central characters who are boys or men, or who are anthropomorphized animals or robots or bugs who are voiced by and imagined as boys or men. These movies feature women and girls to varying degrees -- The Incredibles, in particular -- but the story is never ‘a girl and the things that happen to her,' the way it's ‘a boy and what happens to him'."
Decrying biases and stereotypes is often too-easy [look hard enough for some data to confirm your beliefs and you can find it most anywhere, a phenomenon known as confirmation bias], but Holmes's argument hardly seems like "P.C. B.S.". Animated films have traditionally allotted roles for women as princesses, as damsels in distress, evil witches/stepmothers, dead mothers, or princesses in distress. Par exemplar, Disney is hailing their return to a proud tradition of 2D animation with The Princess and the Frog (if you think Disney's gender roles are bad, you should check out their ethnic stereotypes).
Pixar hardly seems a particularly malevolent offender as their films do have a number of engaging female characters, but ones who mostly, as Holmes notes, appear as "a side dish". This isn't the first time such an argument has been leveled at Pixar (though the criticism could be made of American movies in general). A year ago, Caitlin GD Hopkins wrote that: "What I am taking issue with is the ad-nauseam repetition of female characters as helpers, love interests, and moral compasses to the male characters whose problems, feelings, and desires drive the narratives." Just as big a problem perhaps, is what happens to storylines and characters of girls grown up.
One argument typically made when these discussions come up is that female-driven storylines outside of the romance or drama genres are harder to market and won't sell well. While that might hold some water, I don't entirely buy it. Coraline has done just fine, as has her literary ancestor, Alice in Wonderland. Persepolis, anyone? To paraphrase a man who chronically suffered from Pixar's plight of not writing female leading characters (despite most of his writing being completed under a female monarch), Would not that which we call a Potter by any other gender (a Haley Potter, perhaps) be still as sweet? For action, there's Aliens and Alias and Kill Bill and Buffy. And then there's the case of ‘a girl and the things that happen to her' which involves a girl, her dog, the tornado that sweeps them off to a strange land, and some friends she meets and leads along the way. After that, a whole lot of people were very interested and paid a lot of good money to see what went on in that strange land before Dorothy dropped in.
A good story well-told can always be sold. The dearth of quality female-led films in multiplexes is surely more a problem of supply than it is of demand. Perhaps the problem starts with the fact that about 90% of mainstream American movies are directed by men, not to mention how many men are doing the writing and producing. And if any of them think like As Good As It Get's Melvin Udall, then we're all in trouble.
What's your take? Why's a good woman so hard to find? Comment below!
Jared DeFife, Ph.D.
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