|"The world is round, people."|
(Yes, I know it was a Woody Allen movie.)
This is about culture.
In each of these cases, someone in power sanctioned this behavior. Celebrities pal around with Terry Richardson all the time. They defend Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. Governments and police forces support laws that keep women suppressed and abused all over the world. And all of that speaks to a culture that subconsciously (or in some cases, consciously) believes that women deserve what they get.
We as artists have the power to instigate change. Making movies isn't like curing cancer. It's not "important work." Or is it?
A recent study showed that the MTV series Teen Mom helps to reduce rates of teenage pregnancy.
There are no statistics to back it up, but many believe that the magnificent David Palmer, the black president on the TV series 24, helped Americans open up to the idea of a black president. It seems likely that Will and Grace made being gay a more acceptable part of our society.
Art begets change. The Jungle changed the way the government handled meat processing in this country. Look what happened to fast food menus after Super Size Me. Black Fish is already having an effect on our perception of animals in captivity.
We can make a difference with what we write. We don't have to, but we can, even if we write the silliest B movie to hit VOD.
When every black person you see on film is a thug, you are more likely to believe that black people are plotting to shoot you. When every gay person you see on film is a sexual predator, of course you believe that the gay community is coming for your children. And when every woman you see in film is a wife/mother/victim, you're far more inclined to believe that we're not capable of anything more.
This is why I write female protagonists so often. I don't write them just because I'm a woman. I write them because I want to SEE women - women I can relate to, women who aren't just running scared or trying to please the male lead.
This is why Frozen and Hunger Games were so successful this year. Girls are starved for female characters who carve their own path. And guess what? Boys watch this stuff too. Yes, boys are capable of enjoying films about girls.
One year when I was a teacher, the Big Read chose The Joy Luck Club as that year's novel. I volunteered to lead the related activities at our school. As the English teachers were meeting to discuss our plans, one of our male teachers protested teaching his students this novel. "I don't think the boys will be interested in reading a book about women," he said.
Before I could even begin my angry response, the teacher beside me handled it much more simply. She said "Why not? Girls have been reading books about boys forever and they don't complain." And in my classroom, I had no such complaints. I taught a room full of first-generation Americans, and even those without immigrant parents could relate to the parent/child relationships raised in the book. There's more to being a woman than having a vagina. We have a lot of the same thoughts and feelings as men do. And sometimes, we have a different take on those thoughts, one worth hearing.
If you're a boy who can't dare to watch a movie about a female protagonist, you're a fucking idiot.
You don't even have to write a female protagonist to have interesting women in your film. Most writers default to male. The only characters who get to be women are the characters who MUST be women. But when you change a character's race or gender or sexual orientation to something other than the default, cool things happen in your story. Your characters suddenly become more interesting.
So do this for me today: find a character you defaulted to male and make that character a woman instead. Most likely, you don't have to change anything else. Don't make her a love interest or somebody's mom or a murder or rape victim. Just make her a person. Give her some good lines to say that have nothing to do with her gender.
If we all do this in every script, imagine the difference we could make together over time. Imagine the fate of the celebrity rapist. Imagine the rape victim who at least knows that these men are buried so far under the prison that they will never touch another girl again. Imagine the woman who doesn't have to carry her rapist's baby to term because she failed to buy "abortion insurance." Imagine the women who will know it's okay to stand up to their abusers. But most importantly, imagine the courage we give to girls all over the world to become the best version of themselves.
It kind of starts with us. People all over the world watch movies. It's the easiest, most subtle way to send out messages, to influence culture. We have that power.
It's not just words, you know. It's a decision that you make every time you write: BE THE GODDAMN CHANGE.