An experiment in interestingness

Consider, if you will, these Fall movies:

A band of women are determined to protect a 19th-century Western outpost from a malevolent industrialist (Annette Bening). Charlize Theron leads the women, as Winona Ryder (a hard-drinking ne’er-do-well) helps – and hinders – the fight.

A baby is dropped on the doorstep of an unsuspecting British man, and he must figure out which of his recent lovers is her mother. Is it the romantic, American businesswoman or the attractive, but cold, ex-girlfriend? This blunder-prone man must stumble his way through this hilarious situation!

An autistic forensic accountant (Jennifer Garner) is recruited by a robotics company to locate a money leak, and she discovers a whistleblowing CPA (Chris Pratt) while also revealing her Beautiful Mind-esque math ability.

A boxing champ (Lupita Nyong’o) faces impossible odds to fight her way back into the ring after breaking her neck in a car accident.

A luckless prospector (Naomi Watts) tries to strike it rich in the Indonesian jungle while her steadfast boyfriend (Brad Pitt) works multiple jobs to keep the couple afloat.

These are all actual movies, but I reversed the genders. Does that make you want to see the movies more? Less? Does it make any difference? This is a game I like to play when I get my Entertainment Weekly, and it has a TV Preview, or a Movie Preview. I also like to do it with book reviews. Switch the gender. Change the race. How does that affect the story being told? Does it affect the story? I have to say that more often than not, the story seems A LOT more interesting. We lose the run-of-the-mill storylines, and open things up to broader topics and statements. The Bridget Jones riff up there looks pretty stupid when the genders are switched. (Though, arguably, it’s pretty dumb to begin with).

Anyway, one could hope that Hollywood execs and TV producers, when reading a script, would also experiment with the gender of the characters. “What would this story be like, if… all the humans on the oil rig were women, all the lawyers fighting over the Very Important Thing were women, the person having the midlife crisis and then going a road trip with a crusty old person was a woman… of color! What happens to the jokes when you switch the characters like this? Do they work? Are they still lazy? Do the caricatures they come across/interact with suddenly hold less (or more) import?

I don’t imagine Hollywood will do this. I imagine they already feel a bit hamstrung and hand-wring-y about the amount of female-driven movies they’re currently producing. (omgwtfbbq the internets hate ladies and movies have ladies and we made two movies with ladies and now we will only make $384658 billion instead of $384659 billion and what is happeninnnnnggg)

So maybe it’s up to the writers? Maybe you finish your screenplay or television treatment or your book (or if you’re lucky, you finish the outline and the first few pages/chapters instead of the whole thing) and then you go back and say “Huh. What happens if…” And you change things up. Maybe you ultimately keep the characters the same gender and same race, but in the exercise of switching them you see the blatant sexism/racism/lazy writing that happens when you depend on every day observations and assumptions. Maybe putting your characters into different shoes makes you a stronger writer, and your characters more interesting. And possibly, doing this will convince you to leave the characters that way and see what happens.

Women can pilot spaceships, and men can clean kitchens. Koreans can have their hearts broken, and African-Americans can be magicians.

I know a lot more needs to be done to diversify the pop culture we all consume, and I don’t have answers to solving that (other than, “shut your whiny pie holes, and make movies about ANYONE OTHER THAN WHITE DUDES that are written by ANYONE OTHER THAN WHITE DUDES and directed by ANYONE OTHER THAN WHITE DUDES”) but since Hollywood, just like my children, will never listen to me this seems like an interesting exercise for the rest of us.

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