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Natalie Portman Lays Down A Truth Bomb About Female Characters


“I want [female characters] to be allowed to be weak and strong and happy and sad – human, basically. The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you’re making a ‘feminist’ story, the woman kicks ass and wins. That’s not feminist, that’s macho. A movie about a weak, vulnerable woman can be feminist if it shows a real person that we can empathize with.”Natalie Portman makes a spot-on observation in Elle magazine about a hurdle female characters often face—namely, that if you’re not an ass-kicking, fearless warrior princess then you get some of your feminist points taken away.

Remember, folks, the “strong” in “strong female character” doesn’t—or shouldn’t, anyway—mean “strong” in a physical or emotional sense. A strong female character is one who’s strongly written, with her own personality, agency, motivations, fears, and goals, whatever those happen to be. Because female characters, like all characters, should be written as complex human beings (except when they’re not human). Imagine that.

(via: Digital Spy)

Previously in the women of Marvel know what’s up

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  • Joanna

    Ugh! Yes! It pisses me off when people say things like how Lara Croft wasn’t feminist because she cried. Lara Croft is fucking human for fuck sake! Let her cry!

  • Penny Dreadful

    Tom Hiddleston conducted that interview.

    Sadly he kinda ruined the moment by following up with “does sexism make you angry?”. err. Well, he’s an actor, not an interviewer.
    Anyway, excellent quote from such an intelligent lady. I’ve so much respect for her brains!!!

  • Debbie Valenta

    Ouch! Take that, Joss Whedon!

  • Dan Wohl

    The more obvious it becomes that most filmmakers don’t get this, the more angering it is. Most of them are still patting themselves on the back for having a (usually singular) female character kick some ass and think they’ve adequately checked the “good about gender” box. aka, Reelgirl’s “Minority Feisty” concept. I’m glad we’ve been hearing a bit more about how fallacious this is and hopefully it starts to show itself onscreen soon.

  • LifeLessons

    Oh well said!!!!!

  • Calum Syers

    The fact that Natalie Portman summed up what 99% of Hollywood screenwriters don’t get in four sentences is the most depressing thing, I think.

  • brilance

    I think that those sorts of unfair judgments are heavily related to Bechdel Test issues, as well.

    The movie Pacific Rim made me think about this a lot. As a knee-jerk initial reaction, I didn’t like Mako Mori. (Bear with me before you rage.) I felt like she was “too weak”, too emotionally vulnerable, and I wanted a badass female character that I could identify with and therefore enjoy watching.

    But as I thought about it, I came to realize that I felt this way because I was holding her up to an unfair standard, and I was holding her up to an unfair standard because she was THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE MOVIE. And when there’s only one, you get one chance to have her be whatever kind of character you want to see, which is incredibly unfair and limiting. And actually Mako Mori is a perfectly realistic and decently well-written character. It’s just that being THE ONLY ONE forces her to unfairly carry too much weight.

    When you have a variety of women in your story, it frees them up to be different from one another. Some can be emotional, some can be stoic; some can be warriors, others pacifistic. And so on.

    I think we will have more diverse, well-written female characters when there are more female characters. Period.

  • http://anna.balasi.com/ AnnaB

    What do you mean? Joss Whedon is excellent at showing different shades of Kickass Women. He’s practically mastered it. Have you seen Firefly? You should watch it. The women on that show are awesome.

  • MeatyStakes

    I don’t think so, Portman is a very intelligent human being that knows her shit.

    What I mean is, if someone is going to best you, better it be Portman!

  • Calum Syers

    That’s true. She’s clearly a fiercely intelligent woman, and an incredible actor as well.

  • Anonymous

    In general, our culture has a real problem with women who have natural, human flaws. People openly celebrate narratives about flawed men and can find the heroism and power in men who make mistakes, struggle and do things that show weakness. But with women? Forget it. If you show flaws…if you make mistakes…if you dare to actually be HUMAN you are automatically labeled a “b**ch” or on the other side of the spectrum labeled weak. It’s like we can’t win.

    On the “physical” front we are owed and really need superhero narratives that star women. We deserve movies about women who have powers. On the other hand, there is this tendancy now to just hand a woman a gun or have her punch someone in movies to “prove” that she’s tough or something. I agree with Portman–that ::is:: macho. I don’t want shows of violence to always be our definition of a fully formed “strong” woman.

  • Marya

    “That’s not feminist, that’s macho.”

    One of the things I love about Lagertha in Vikings is that she’s a kicking-ass woman as well as a wife and mother. She fights, she needs help, she loves, she cares…

  • Anonymous

    She’s very intelligent but I don’t think she’s pointing out anything that is “above” the average person to understand. It’s just that we’ve been trampled with cultural brainwashing in an attempt to co-opt and confuse feminism for so long now that even women themselves often get a mixed message.

  • Anonymous

    I think this also comes back to the understanding that women are not less feminist if they choose to be wives or mothers. There is a problem right now where the whole “she doesn’t need a man” has been taken over the cliff and people have confused “needing” with “WANTING” a man. AGENCY. Too many people make the mistake of assuming that women are weaker or less independent when they CHOOSE to get married or have children. It helps no one. It just continues to rob women of agency to make the choices best for their personal desires.

  • Debbie Valenta

    Yeah, I kinda hate Firefly. I’ve just never drunk the Whedon Kool-Aid.

  • http://anna.balasi.com/ AnnaB

    She *is* fiercely intelligent but ever since that Polansky incident, I’ve been… wary of the things she says. I’m optimistic about her, though, and I can honestly say I still enjoy watching her on screen.

  • Marya

    I agree, and I couldn’t have said it better.

  • http://anna.balasi.com/ AnnaB

    OMG “kool-aid”. Whedon kool-aid. A kitten just died.

  • Debbie Valenta

    There are one or two exceptions, but most of Whedon’s women are pretty effed up emotionally. And the whole point of Portman’s remarks was that being an ass kicker wasn’t being feminist.

  • Anonymous

    Her comments on Polansky were problematic. I think it’s ok to acknowledge that she’s been wrong about other things even if she’s right here.

  • Nirali

    YES.

  • Sara Crow

    Again, this falls under “expecting too much of ‘strong’ female characters (or, in this case, actors),” doesn’t it? Why should we expect Portman to be perfect, simply because she’s extremely intelligent? Smart people say dumb things and have stupid ideas from time to time. Expecting (YOUR version of) perfect feminism from any human being is just as impossible a standard as expecting a “strong” female character that only kicks ass and takes names.

  • Katie Frederick

    I think the point was more that being an ass-kicker isn’t the /only/ way to be feminist, and that Hollywood hasn’t quite figured that out. (Though I’m still all for women who kick ass)

  • http://anna.balasi.com/ AnnaB

    It’s like we’re not even watching the same Whedon.

    Arguments about Portman’s phrasing notwithstanding, I agree that macho does not equal feminist, but we’re not arguing about Portman. Whedon’s women do not always kick butt, but they’re almost always strong, whether they stake vampires through the heart or fix engines. They’re not mostly effed-up emotionally, either. I can count those characters in my hand. They’re pretty much the exception. And anyway, that emotional effed-up-ness–not a terrible thing, either. Plenty women in the Whedon-verse have a pretty strong emotional base.

    No doubt, I’m a Whedon fan, but let’s be fair here. Whether or not you hated Firefly, he’s done pretty good, women character-wise.

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t equating being a badass who wins solely with machismo equally limiting? Cinematic portrayls of women as capable & successful heroines are the exception. I can think of much more examples where the women are only defined by romance or they’re victims. To say that those rarities are less valid because they fill niches typically filled by men sounds sexist to me. It seems like she could’ve made her point that women’s roles need to be more varried, emotionally nuanced, & generally better written without this dismissal.

  • Anonymous

    Yup. I don’t think she has to be right all the time in order for her points here to be extremely valid. She’s human. That means she’s capable (as we all are) of making mistakes. I don’t agree with Portman all the time. I do agree with her here.

  • Anonymous

    But I don’t think that’s what she’s saying. Obviously this is only a piece of a longer interview and we don’t know what was on the cutting room floor. But I think she’s responding more to the way we are teaching young girls about feminism—by often demonizing more feminine roles or human flaws. Bc as a culture we ::do:: often put women in a position where they need to act like men in order to be deemed powerful.

    And frankly, I think it’s limiting to even put “capable and successful” and “romance and victim” in a different sentence. The point is that women should be allowed to be capable, successful, romantic and, at times, victims. They should be able to be ALL those things just as we allow men to be.

  • Anonymous

    But I don’t think that’s what she’s saying. Obviously this is only a piece of a longer interview and we don’t know what was on the cutting room floor. But I think she’s responding more to the way we are teaching young girls about feminism—by often demonizing more feminine roles or human flaws. Bc as a culture we ::do:: often put women in a position where they need to act like men in order to be deemed powerful.

    And frankly, I think it’s limiting to even put “capable and successful” and “romance and victim” in a different sentence. The point is that women should be allowed to be capable, successful, romantic and, at times, victims. They should be able to be ALL those things just as we allow men to be.

  • Anonymous

    Exactly what I was saying about Wonder Woman!!!!!! Thank you Natalie Portman.

  • Anonymous

    Exactly what I was saying about Wonder Woman!!!!!! Thank you Natalie Portman.

  • Anonymous

    Wonder Woman is, to me, a larger confusion. The majority of film makers (and a large percentage of people at DC Comics) truly do not understand her mission which is why they continue to prove that they don’t know what to do with her. At all.
    Wonder Woman was created with a mission that even 70 years later…some people just don’t want to hear. Too many people want to make her overly violent and aggressive as if that’s the answer to making her powerful and equal to her male peers. They don’t understand she’s a warrior of love and peace and to indulge in the violence of man’s world would be below her.
    Romance is not in contrast with Wonder Woman but it should always be with a human male. (If it’s even with a man at all.) Her mission was to come to the world of man and to specfically show that it was ok for a woman to be physically stronger for once…that it was ok for the man to stand back. This is not to say that Steve Trevor is not her equal because he IS her equal as a soldier in his own right. But there was a message in play here that upsets gender roles that people are comfortable with. Wonder Woman wasn’t supposed to be going blow for blow with a man–she was supposed to be allowing men to feel comfortable standing back while she was the leader. There was a great message in the idea that a human male was totally comfortable with loving Diana knowing full well that her role was as superhero and his was in a different (but equal) capacity.
    Wonder Woman’s mission and message both in heroism, war tactics and appropriate ways to explore romance is completely and utterly misunderstood. She’s been sexualized, put in the male gaze and totally moved away from what she was meant to be. It’s a shame.

  • TKS

    I actually agree with your initial reaction on Mako. When I first saw the movie I really liked her. She was a fully developed character and I could tell that they put thought into her. But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that she never really made a decision in the movie that changed the course of events. I couldn’t really recognize Pacific Rim as a feminist story when the plot line wasn’t ever influenced by a woman. (A lot of the plot is about what two men want to do with her, but she doesn’t really participate in the discussion.)

  • Mariah Huehner

    Ok, no. Whedon’s “strong” female characters aren’t feminist or strong because they have physical strength (ex. Buffy, River, Zoe). They’re all nuanced, emotionally complex characters who have arcs and distinct personalities of their own. Sometimes they’re vulnerable, sometimes messed up, sometimes kick ass, sometimes evil, sometimes courageous, pig-headed, etc. but always complex and well written. It’s completely fine if you don’t like his work or characters, but he’s really not guilty of the problematic “strong” female character trope. The problem is that Hollywood looked at Buffy, Xena, Ripley, and Sarah Connor and completely missed what made them strong. Hint: it wasn’t their ability to hit things. And Black Widow is, likewise, not reliant on other characters for her progression as has more to offer than violence, which was pretty clear in Avengers.

    I’m all for criticism, and I don’t think Whedon is sacrosanct or never problematic. But credit where it’s due.

  • http://cainslatrani.blogspot.com/ Cain S. Latrani

    I really don’t get this. I mean, I GET it, but I’ll never understand why this isn’t something that writers don’t seem to understand, especially when it comes to film.

    Forgive me while I go a writer type rant…

    It’s part of a larger thing that annoys me, this need to turn every character into an archetype that fits a specific narrative role, especially in the action genre. The lead is an emotionless ass kicker who takes guff from none. The co-lead supports the lead in all ways and loves them without question. You guys are familiar with the rest, I’m sure. The sidekick, the comic relief, so forth, ad naseum.

    It’s so very dull and flat. There’s no life, no emotion, no heart to any of it, and gender or ethnicity doesn’t matter when tackling these archetypes. They are almost always the same. Little figurines that are moved about the map of the plot.

    It isn’t just film, but that’s the big commiter of the sin.

    Characters that are people, that display real emotion, that you can connect with, is all we should ever aspire to write or show. Gender isn’t the issue here. It’s the formulaic manner in which entertainment chunks things out. Hit the beats, check the boxes, dot the I, cross the T.

    Ah, I’m rambling, but this is one of my pet peeves, and a thing I truly despise. I’ll take a mediocre plot with brilliant characters over an epic plot with by the numbers characters any day. I’ve lost hope in ever seeing the two combined into something that would be truly beautiful.

    Before we can hope to see more well written women in film, we need to start having more well written characters in general.

  • Anonymous

    My problem with Lara Croft wasn’t that she cried, but the dissonance between the cut scenes and the game. In the cut scenes she was three dimensional character that was bothered by what happened. The actual gameplay was her mowing down hundreds of opponents in increasingly brutal ways.

    I really thought the story part of her was awesome.

  • Anonymous

    I’m happy to hear Portman talk about this because it’s a trend I’ve noticed among fandom. Like a woman character is only worth a damn if she can shoot a gun or swing a sword.

    Also can this trend of lady characters using “You fight like a girl!” or “You hit like a girl!” to show how cool and “not like the other girls” they are die?

  • Anonymous

    Most of Whedon’s men are effed up emotionally… Thats what Portman is saying, that Hollywood needs to treat female characters the same way that it treats male characters, allow them to be diverse and messed up and strong and weak and all over the place.
    Whedon’s work has problems sure, but regardless of whether you like it or not that is not one of them.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    Lagertha is my heart and soul. She’s a loving wife and caring mother who fights alongside her husband in battle and threatens to rip Athelstan’s lungs out if he lets her kids get hurt. She’s THE BEST.

  • TKS

    I think the point of the quote is that characters don’t have to be ass kicking Mary Sues in order to be considered “feminist”. They can be thoroughly developed characters. They can reflect real people. And, honestly, lots of people are “edged up emotionally.” That doesn’t mean they’re not strong.

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    Press X to stop Laura from crying minigames would suck.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    Too often I see, in response to a weak female character that all the women turn into complete badasses – it’s using a different stereotype, or an “anti-stereotype” to fix a standard stereotype. This is tantamount to saying “White people are often racist towards minorities, therefore I shall be racist against whites!” It’s still wrong – the reversal of a bad practice is still a bad practice.

    What should be shown is that people (no matter gender) should have an array of various emotions, strengths and weaknesses. Women should never be made into total helpless damsels, helped by strong, competent men. Damselling shouldn’t be slapped on men to create an anti-stereotype (yeah, I know it’s an imprecise term, but work with me here :)) Characters should have their moments where they are competent and when they are utterly screwed. While some of this is the deconstruction of the Mary Sue, or the Marty Stu, it does also have a gender component – why does a woman have to adopt an almost male persona (at least as Hollywood would tell us, as well as other media) to be accepted as strong? Why should she lose what she feels are her feminine attributes to be the winner? This is far too often present in the real world where women have to ape men in business to get anywhere, pretty much “You don’t have to have a penis to succeed but you have to act like you do!”

  • http://cainslatrani.blogspot.com/ Cain S. Latrani

    “What should be shown is that people (no matter gender) should have an array of various emotions, strengths and weaknesses.”

    Yeah. This. Thank you.

  • Joanna

    I agree there was some ludo-narrative dissonance. It should have taken (another) leaf out of Uncharted’s book in that while Drake was in combat he muttered things under his breath, panicked when there was a grenade etc. Lara needed to be a little more real during gameplay and not just a chess piece.

  • http://cainslatrani.blogspot.com/ Cain S. Latrani

    Well, of late, we’ve been moving away from the emotional side of male leads, focusing instead on getting back to the hard as iron, tough as nails, mow down legions of people without batting an eye type of guys. I think that’s every bit as bad, though, as the woman existing solely to be a love interest, though.

    For example, Bruce Willis in the original Die Hard, vs Bruce Willis in the last two Die Hards. Totally different dude. The first was emotional and had weakness. The recent version is… a wall that shoots people, I guess.

    The old stereotypes are rearing their heads again, on all fronts, is the thing.

    Which is really the whole problem. It’s hard to have diversity in an emotional sense when all the screenwriters and studios are committed to the formulas and check boxes they think work. Even worse when those movies make lots of money.

  • http://andrewbudadams.blogspot.com/ A B Adams

    I agree with this definition of “strong female character” but it also raises questions about so-called “weak” female characters and whether they deserve that label. If “strong” is essentially the same as “interesting” (maybe it’s not), then it’s all a matter of interpretation, right? I’d love to hear some examples of “weak female characters” — and to see whether there’s some sort of consensus here.

  • Dayle L. Fraschilla

    In addition to his physically strong female characters being well-rounded and strong in other ways, he has also created many strong female characters who don’t have the physical strength – Tara, Fred, Kaylee, and Inara, just to name a few :)

  • Anonymous

    I hadn’t thought of that, you are absolutely right. I think that would have lessened the dissonance.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    I think also those who discount a female character being a wife and mother don’t really know what sort of hard work being either or both roles actually entails. Maybe it’s another level of non-understanding by male screenwriters to show that men who “bring home the bacon” are more worthy of praise than a woman who spends an even longer day keeping a household running.

    I remember when a friend of mine had her parents breaking up and her mother was wanting an even settlement in the divorce. My friend was like “But my dad paid for the house, he worked for it, all my mother did was stay at home and look after it and the kids.” I replied “So, your dad did all his own cooking, cleaning, laundry and the like?” “No.” “So, your mother actually enabled your father to work for a living?” “I guess so, yeah.” It may not be glamourous, compared to being an international man of mystery, but I don’t think anyone can argue that the role of mother or wife is not needed in our society. Just a role that is often unsung.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    I’m with you there. River is such a damn Mary Sue that when focus slid from the rest of the cast to solely rest on her, I started to dislike the series intensely. The other female characters were pretty awesome because they were more human and less “I am manufactured badass to be all apparently feminist” – Whedon is prone to this – I don’t think he’s a bad guy for trying to empower women, but I think he goes about it the wrong way. There still is hope, I suppose. But the Mary Sue is the flaw of the noob writer – it is a phase that all writers go through at some stage, but you have to GET OVER IT and progress as an artist.

  • Anonymous

    I really think there needs to be a new term to describe interesting & well written characters aside from “strong.” Whenever I hear “strong female characters” I immediately think of physically strong women, especially when that strength is visibly evident & a key facet to their stories like Sarah Connor, Brienne of Tarth, Mother Russia, & Maggie “Mo chuisle” Fitzgerald. ( I do the same for “strong male characters” too, just with different examples.)

  • Anonymous

    Totally agree – I don’t see how having emotional problems (Buffy in Season 6) makes the character anti-feminist.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure labeling River from Firefly a Mary Sue is at all correct. Yes, she can kick ass and at times is very intuitive. But she is socially challenged, psychologically unstable, and has suffered a lifetime worth of torture/programming. Not sure there are many women out there who would fantasize about assuming those qualities. Not every female character who can kick ass physically is a Mary Sue.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    Just my experience with Firefly, those flaws she had didn’t really seem to hold her back. They almost seemed to be tacked on. Perhaps that’s just the result of Summer Glau’s terrible acting in Firefly. Maybe another actor could have brought these flaws more to fore.

    I found Kaylee’s flaws more believeable and generally made her a more understandable and sympathetic character, for example.

  • Anonymous

    I think River’s flaws had a huge impact on her. The crew of Firefly was hesitant to accept her (in part because of the danger of harboring a fugitive and in part because of her unpredictable nature), became even more hesitant when she started flipping out on people (particularly Jayne), kicked her and her brother off the ship for a while, and even though they eventually took her and Simon back they were never comfortable with what she was and what she could do. River’s relationships were stunted by her instability and she certainly wasn’t leading the life she would have liked to live. She was in the process of being forcibly turned into a weapon by an authoritarian regime.

    While I loved Kaylee, her flaws were minor compared to River. Inability to flirt effectively (even though when we first see her she’s getting it on with the original hired engineer)? Occasional lack of self-confidence, though she always seemed to prevail in the end. There wasn’t much holding her back as a character compared to the psychological mess that was River Tam.

  • Anonymous

    But I don’t think being an emotionally repressed ass kicker is an inherently male trait. It seems like anyone who’s put in the same predicaments as the typical action star would become desensitized as coping mechanism for survival & success. (Not that typical action movie heroes couldn’t use more shading.) So someone like Selene being cavallierly violent makes sense if she’s a vampire assassin. Of course it can also go the other way with a heroine becoming a PTSD-wracked basket case like Katniss.
    Being a badass isn’t a poor depiction for heroines because it’s a masculine trait. It’s one of many vaiable portrayls because it’s a human trait.

  • Eisen

    If I talk about a good written female character, I say exactly that. Or I say “fleshed out” character or “well developed” character. I think it’s kinda strange to dictate people which phrases to use, especially if they are not plausible to people that are not familiar with all this character/gender issues.

    I think ‘strong’ as a codeword for ‘well developed’ in this case could be misleading to “outsiders”.

  • Anonymous

    Whenever I think of Strong Female Characters I think of Kate Beaton…

    http://harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=311

  • Anonymous

    LOL.

  • Anonymous

    You go, Natalie!

  • http://www.facebook.com/nuuni.nuunani Nuuni Nuunani

    THANK YOU!
    This is an issue I see alot of writers of either gender pull with a frustrating frequency. Its not even a gender matter alone. Someone gets it into their heads that a specific group does not get enough attention and respect and they become so taken by the idea of creating the perfect character that they without realizing it set themselves into a miresome tripfall that paints your character as a one dimensional symbol that does not work as intended.

    Writers need to think character first and what they want to prove as a third or fourth.

  • http://whiterosebrian.tumblr.com/ White Rose Brian

    Very good point. I’m a writer as well as artist in training. Though I am currently focusing on training my drawing skills, I have read up on how to write fiction well. I still often watch and read reviews to help train my senses. I even post up capsule reviews as I learn to do criticism myself. Anyway, wish me well.

  • Charlie

    That’s always been my point when I talk about women in video games. We are always a male ideal, whether pretty damsel or sexy seductress and not represented as real people with thoughts, feelings and common sense. While I think this is excusable in games like Mario, and thankyou Nintendo for letting me play as Peach!, it’s not in games based on any level of realism.

  • Anonymous

    ” I couldn’t really recognize Pacific Rim as a feminist story when the plot line wasn’t ever influenced by a woman. ”

    I can see that, though I will add that I loved seeing Mako NOT fall in love with the main character. As in, it was way more ambiguous, and there were hints that they enjoyed each other’s company as individuals, rather then falling in love due to the usual masculine/feminine stereotypes. (I’m mostly remembering the end, where they were hugging each other).

  • TKS

    I can see that too. I guess most things aren’t all good or all bad, and that’s alright.

    Thank you!

  • Saraquill

    So much this. I want to glue it onto the people who think that the only proper female character is one that has no weakness, and that all others must be erased.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nuuni.nuunani Nuuni Nuunani

    Well thats the problem in a nutshell. Everyone is so set on the idea of segregating these roles and they go ‘strong X character’ this and ‘strong X character’ that and act as if the characters ONLY strength is that they are X and that if they were Y or Z then they would not be interesting or that it would no longer be the same person. Even though real people are more like an entire alphabet.

    Im reminded of a loony tunes short from back in the day where the artist was trolling daffy duck, changing his voice, appearance and everything to screw around with Daffy and no matter how Daffy changed or was altered, he was still plainly and obviously the same character.

    When you can look at a character and simply say they are a strong character instead of a strong character for your narrow pigeon hole, then you have something.

  • Ashe

    Great points you made here.

    So much of this could be avoided if writers didn’t constantly delegate marginalized peoples into tokens, holding the entire weight of representation on their shoulders unfairly and unrealistically.

    Characters stop being written and it then becomes a check-list of old stereotypes being dashed away for new stereotypes in the name of progress.

  • Ashe

    I think most Hollywood screenwriters get it: they just don’t care.

  • Ashe

    Man, I feel like all the steps toward progress when it comes to female characters are hasty cliffnotes used to absolve all the men at the top from doing any actual work.

    “I don’t want to seem sexist! How about…SHE DON’T NEED NO MAN. She hates men and emasculates them at every point and turn! Good, eh?”

    “I want good PR! How about…SHE KICKS ASS. Like, physically kicks and punches everything in sight. All right, now for the all-male cast…”

    “I am the best male ally! How about…SHE SHOWS NO EMOTION WHATSOEVER. Because the alternative is being a weepy damsel-in-distress and I totally won’t succumb to that conservatism! …Do I get a gold star?”

    These are all brought up to eventually spread the concept that women are human. Not to give you narrative shortcuts for easy feminist points. You rock, Natalie Portman. You summed it up, right there, with words that normally make people cringe and shy away.

  • Anonymous

    How about Weena the Eloi? I’m prejudiced against Eloi.

  • Anonymous

    Very very true! That’s why I like to watch films like “The silence of the lambs”, “The Others”, “True Grit”, “Winter’s bone” or “Black Swan”. Unfortunately, in the moment there doesn’t seem to be many around at the moment.

    Last DVD I watched: “Stoker” (Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman).

  • http://anna.balasi.com/ AnnaB

    This is an interesting conversation about River’s flaws vs. Kaylee’s flaws. I think River’s flaws were vast. She was dangerous to have around and even if she can kick ass like nobody’s business, you NEVER know when you can depend on her. There was hardly anything Mary Sue about River. She was a perfect fighting machine because she was engineered that way, but Simon could hardly communicate with her, let alone other people.

    Kaylee has itty-bitty flaws compared to River, but the fact is, Kaylee, aside from her gift of engines, is just a regular person. She doesn’t need to be terribly flawed, because she’s awfully ordinary. She’s cute, she’s cheerful, she can’t fire a weapon, she likes sex, she has terrible taste in gowns, she can’t fight to save her life, she can’t fight to save someone else’s life, she couldn’t withstand threats, let alone torture. She’s regular. There are people like her who actually exist.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    I work in mental health. From what I was told of what she had suffered, she should not have been in any way functional to the level that she was. Even people who have suffered less are less functional. So that’s what I mean about the Mary Sue factor. By rights, she should be catatonic, unmoving, absolutely unspeaking and probably not trying to feed herself or even move herself from her own filth.

    She has this backstory of all this horrible wounding, but she’s not showing it. Maybe to people who don’t see suffering every day. Seriously, she’s like having a lark by comparison. She is actually far more sociable, coherent and capable than she has any right to be. But of course, that doesn’t make for a good story (being a complete wreck).

    Kaylee works, because while she has relatively minor flaws, (as much as you’d expect from most characters) it matches what she’s meant to be. While River should not be able to do *anything* at all. She should be entirely broken and she’s not. So that’s why I call her a Mary Sue. It has nothing really to do with her being a badass per se, it’s because she is a badass and she has absolutely no right to be as such, all things considered. If the torment would have been dialed back, it would have been more believeable. So yeah, for me, the flaws don’t impact as they should, making her a Mary Sue.

  • http://cainslatrani.blogspot.com/ Cain S. Latrani

    That Daffy Duck example is genius. I’d forgotten all about that. It sums it all up perfectly.

  • http://cainslatrani.blogspot.com/ Cain S. Latrani

    I wish you all the luck in the world. Just remember, always stay true to the vision you have. It’s easy to lose it.

  • Mariah Huehner

    Definitely. His work runs the gamut on “strength”. Frankly, a character like Buffy isn’t strong because she can kill vamps. She’s strong because of her compassion, humanity, and sense of justice. Her loyalty, her ability to love and sacrifice. That’s actual strength. And like you said, you’ll find that nuance in other characters who aren’t physically strong, too.

  • Anonymous

    Is that the working definition of a “Mary Sue” these days? “Fictional”? “Less than 100% realistic”?

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    There are a host of different definitions but mostly they resolve to “unbelievable character”. Why is River so much better off by comparison to everyone else? If it was a level playfield, Kaylee, without such horrors should be amazingly awesome. Mal should be pretty much a god. Why is the apparently flawed one the most powerful? She’s the prima donna of the show and Whedon’s special snowflake.

    Of course, my comments here are going to be hated by Whedonites, who would rather not hear anything negative about his work. I’ll remark when he does good work, but I’m also going to pick him up when he fumbles the ball. The man is not a god and should not be worshipped as such. He can make mistakes and I feel like he has made one. I am not a fanboy of *anything* and I like to assess things objectively without bias either for or against who may have created it.

    River Tam’s coming to the fore made me almost stop watching Firefly altogether (I decided to ride it out to give it a full run and do it justice) and it made me think far less of Summer Glau as an actor as a result. I was sad when Firefly was ruined for me by one single character.

  • Anonymous

    If you mean “unbelievable character”, then just say “unbelievable character.”

    The term “Mary Sue” has so many different meanings at this point — and (not to make any accusations here) most often means “character I don’t like, but I want to make it sound like I’m expressing an objective critical point instead of a matter of personal taste” — that it’s been rendered pretty much useless.

  • AshVeridian

    I dunno. When you’re hip deep in uzi-toting baddies who have kidnapped your best friend, killed your father figure, and have been otherwise responsible for the deaths and suffering of your closest compatriots, battle rage is understandable. Sometimes its that rage that lets you slip away enough to do the killing that you need to do to survive and you can react after the fact.

  • AshVeridian

    FYI, using the term “Mary Sue” as a derogatory term on a site named…The Mary Sue isnt in the best taste. Its also a good way to get your critique dismissed pretty fast. The term itself is loaded to the teeth with a lot of sexism and hypercritical tearing apart of female characters for having a lot of the same flaws/set ups as male characters that get a pass on them.

    Now if you wanna talk about how almost all of Whedon’s SFCs ultimately have their power under the control or observation of patriarchal men (Buffy and Giles/Watchers, River and Simon, Echo and the Dollhouse) or having their power rest upon their sexuality or sex appeal (Inara, Echo again, Black Widow), then you’ve got a legit criticism that can be analyzed. Boiling all the nuance of gender and characterization into one pejorative and going no further isn’t going to get you a lot of agreement.

  • Kit Whelan

    Totally agree. When they DIDN’T make out at the end of the movie, I almost stood up and cheered. Like “Yay! A woman can be a part of a kick-ass team and not automatically be relegated to someone’s love interest!”

  • Anonymous

    Even if I gave into the idea of a “battle rage” it wouldn’t stop during the cut scenes and then restart the second a bad guy comes in. Thats where the dissonance for me.

    I think Joanna has it right, if they had even just added a bit of voice acting/comments by Lara during the actual gameplay indicating that she was freaking out would have done a lot to break that dissonance.

    Now, none of this would matter, except the excuse for her being whimpering in the cut scenes is to evoke “realism”. If you are going to give her “battle rage” just have it go all the way through and then have her suffer after its over. I could have gone for that as well.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    “therefore I shall be racist against whites!”"

    Doesn’t happen. Racism is a system, can’t be used against those dominant in that system.

    Now yes, some minorities, in response their own oppression, express bitterness and anger at the system that privileges white people over people of color.

    But that’s not racism, that’s being human, and a perfectly reasonable reaction to injustice.

  • Alyson L

    Actually, there are other female characters in the movie. She is the only main pilot character. There is another female driver – the female russian – who contrasts with Mako very well. She shows nothing, doesn’t seem to feel anything but it is Mako (which BTW you have to love the fact that she shares her name with one of the scarier sharks in the ocean – hello!) but I loved Mako’s character from the beginning.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    No, anyone of any race can be a BIGOT. And nasty thoughts about the dominant culture, and those who participate in it(this is one of those, if the shoe don’t fit don’t wear it things*) are not bigotry, they are, again, a response to racism, but they are not racist.

    And in re to social justice discussions, it’s considered bad form to use dictionary definitions(dictionaries that are written and approved by those who have a vested interest in enforcing the status quo) as the be all and end all of definitions. This is how we go circles in ignorant “reverse racism” arguments. Official definitions are flawed, because they tend to ignore the real lived experiences of people, in favor of inoffensive bland explanations that won’t hurt anyone in the dominant culture’s feelings.

    So trying to cite the dictionary definition of racism as a rebuttal is problematic.

    *This is one of those instances I see happen all time in racism discussions amongst POCs, is that white people must always have their feelings catered to. If you see a bunch of POCs complain about “white people” and they are describing acts that you don’t do, that means they aren’t talking about you, and you don’t need to interrupt to get an ally cookie. This is why trying to make actual real world oppression of POCs to equivalent to justified minority anger at the unearned privilege of white people, as the OP did above, is problematic. That is not the reversal of a bad practice, is the literal act of challenging that bad practice. But we as white people can’t tolerate that, because it doesn’t center our feelings.

  • Ashe

    “It’s still wrong – the reversal of a bad practice is still a bad practice.”

    That’s actually tantamount to saying that if you were assaulted by a stranger on the street, you would be in the wrong by punching them back. That’s a bad fundamentalist ideology that creates a false equivalence.

    Nothing exists in a void, free of context. That is, of course, if you want to pretend everyone is equal in our society.

    Rest of your comment is good, though. I hate ‘punky tomboy masculinity’ used as women empowerment. Nothing more than a self-serving shortcut.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure I can agree with this reading. What was being done to River was psychological reprogramming. This is actually something that’s done in real life for benign (overcoming a fear, quitting an addiction, managing anxiety/depression) and not-so-benign reasons (brainwashing, abuse, training of child soldiers/insurgents). While there were definite physiological aspects to her torture, it seemed primarily psychological and intended as a way to control her – “turn her on” when need be and send her after a specific target – which means they would want to minimize damage to her functionality lest she lose all value to them. The damage done to her was less physical (if at all physical really) and more psychological.

    I don’t believe that she would necessarily be incapacitated to the point that she was a vegetable. I think the depiction of her as emotionally unstable, anxious, occasionally clear-minded, and overly sensitive is consistent with what was being done to her and the psychological damage it would cause.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    Well, I was actually comparing River to someone I worked with who had been “re-educated” by the Viet Cong.

    She had been tortured with electrical shocks so she was conditioned to say the right answers. She was shocked if she took too much time to answer. She was sometimes shocked just to get her used to being shocked for little reason (like, they asked her alternative questions where both alternatives were wrong, so she had no chance of getting them right.)

    She was tortured far less than River Tam. Even after that relatively short period of time, she was unable to hold a conversation. Her brain would skip like a broken record and “reset” while she was talking. So she would often repeat questions just after she asked them and forgot what you said. Her memory was fragmented and disjointed and she had no insight about why people would get frustrated with her.

    The worst person affected by her state was probably her husband, who remembered her as a sweet, intelligent woman who was loving and a delight to be around. When she could focus on things for more than a few moments, her thoughts naturally went back to her torture.

    Her crime? She was a schoolteacher.

    Now, what I’m proposing, is that the psychological effects (since this lady didn’t actually have any physical damage) for River Tam, even receiving a dose like this poor lady would have profound effects. She had a ton MORE. There have been other expressions of individuals who have been shaped for military purposes done realistically and they’re almost animalistic, only driven by specific stimuli. They can’t hold a conversation. Basically, you can’t have it both ways. This is why I can only consider that River Tam was “excused” with flaws she doesn’t actually have as a result of her power – but the equation is still unequal.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    There is a reaction against an unfair system and that’s well and good. However, you can take it to the next step and definitely be racist towards a majority and I also didn’t indicate the racism was towards a majority. Not everywhere are whites a majority.

    But bitterness against the system is not racism. You don’t have to tar everyone with the same brush because you’re in an unfair system. You can definitely despise the system and despise those who seek to push it on you. I am all for that. That, in my opinion, is not at all racist. You are not blaming a race for your issues (even if that race is predominantly responsible for those issues.) If you’re going to be prejudiced and decide that “everyone of X race is a horrible person” that’s when you wander into racism. But of course, being wary that someone of that race is going to oppress you is just being prudent.

    While I can understand why someone in a minority could become racist, I wish it wouldn’t happen. I’m of a minority myself (albeit not a racial one) and while it would be easy for me to hate the majority and treat them as all the same, I try not to, even though I am often shown how unfair things are against my minority. I remind myself that not everyone is like that. Some days are harder than others.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    Not so much fundamentalist but just Christian. I have never really seen a Christian Fundamentalist actually employ such tactics, however. I just don’t like when people “sink to the same level.”

    Of course, you present your arguments with politeness and respect, and for that, I salute you! /salute.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    As you say, the point is balance. Kaylee is less powerful, therefore less flawed. That’s fair enough. I guess my problem is that River Tam’s flaws don’t hold her back enough as they probably should. She is out of balance. She supposedly has these horrible experiences but while she has some awkwardness and such, it’s just not equal or realistic in my mind. The shame is that most of the other characters are designed realistically and are low key as well – but that’s why we like them.

    I wonder if I would have liked Firefly if River Tam wasn’t a character but just a plot device, like if she was a robot or a dog or some sort of alien life form. I guess also my problem with River Tam is that if you remove the crazy and you remove the superpowers … there’s not a lot left of her afterwards. To me, she’s an empty character. For me, she doesn’t have enough depth – those two things almost define her, and this is where she wanders closer to being a Mary Sue – since Mary Sues tend to be a sum of their powers without having depth behind them.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    Well, “The Mary Sue”‘s title to me is satire – we’re poking fun at the concept of Mary Sues. No real woman wants to be a Mary Sue. Mary Sue is *not* a compliment. It basically leaves you as a shallow character that everyone likes because … they’re meant to like you, without earning it.

    “The Mary Sue” has depth and earns its keep. Hence the joke. I’m surprised more people aren’t aware of the concept that this site runs on. My girlfriend originally didn’t want to read any articles on this site because of the name – I had to tell her that it was anything but laden with Mary Sues.

    Also, I use the term “Mary Sue” because it was originally applied to women, but the counterpart term sometimes used for male characters is “Marty Stu” (it’s horrible sounding, but I didn’t invent it :) )

    What’s particularly sexist with the whole Mary Sue concept is that it kinda showed up real women by making unrealistic, “perfect” women who could do everything and have no flaws and normal women had to compare themselves to this! It just led to women being under-appreciated and lacking self esteem – and women have enough things in the media making them feel bad or ugly or fat or what have you they don’t need any more, thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Exactly what do you propose we do about this? Writers are only going where market forces take them. If they aren’t catering to those who want to see the conventional stereotypes, they’re catering to those who want to see the alternative stereotypes. How exactly do you prove to these writers that there’s a market for non-cliched media when people keep buying the cliched stuff?

  • Anonymous

    Exactly what do you propose we do about this? Writers are only going where market forces take them. If they aren’t catering to those who want to see the conventional stereotypes, they’re catering to those who want to see the alternative stereotypes. How exactly do you prove to these writers that there’s a market for non-cliched media when people keep buying the cliched stuff?

  • AshVeridian

    “Earning”. Ahh, yes, the expectation that female characters must earn every scrap they get, be it the affection and love of reader AND male character, be it power and agency (often after surmounting the hurdle of sexism), be it even the right to be a central protagonist in a non-romantic narrative. And to do so, they must be flawless. But their flawlessness then condemns them to the dreaded ranks of Mary Suedom. Their Suedom makes them unworthy of their unearned affection and power. And on and on.

    What is sexist about Mary Sueism is often its bandied about to any or all female characters for any reason: too strong enough, too powerful enough, too loved, too flawed, not flawed enough, not powerful enough, too emotional, not emotional enough. Too aggressive, not assertive enough. Mary Suedom is sexist because it sets any female character against the impossible to meet expectations that women are forced to contend with in every day life. Mary Suedom is real life sexism in microcosm.

    And you know what? If there’s a real Mary Sue: too good and wonderful and perfect and awesome? THANK GOD. Nobody gets froth-mouthed over ‘Gary Stus’ like Batman or Superman because they’re not there to be ‘realistic’ and ‘flawed’. They’re archetypes, power fantasies for men. And you know what? Its nice to have power fantasies aimed at women who are powerful just to be powerful, good just to be good, awesome just to be awesome. So give me my Xenas and Sailor Moons who save the world and the galaxy cause I damn well want a power fantasy of my own.

  • Anonymous

    I think your description of the schoolteacher’s condition sounds quite similar to the River Tam that we saw on Firefly. Fragile mental state, difficulty with social situations, but not physically incapacitated to the point where she couldn’t carry out a day to day existence; and like River, in need of a guardian to monitor her psychological state. And like many people who have suffered psychological trauma, they often have moments of extreme clarity and/or serenity (no pun intended) that can dissipate almost instantly.

    Now, I’ll try to be brief because I’m in danger of derailing this comment thread (if I’m not already guilty of that), but I think River’s torturers relied far less on physical trauma – the extent being the brain surgery that seemed to cause some disruption to her brain function – than psychological trauma. It seems appropriate to me that it affected her personality more so than her physical functions. So considering the limited physical trauma she suffered and the fact that she was classified a (possible) child prodigy, I don’t find it strange that she retained a great deal of intellectual and physical ability and had moments of mental clarity – after all, these are traits that the Alliance wanted to exploit, not destroy.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    You’re really trying to miss the point. I would have slammed River Tam’s character if it was a he. I care not for gender. No character should be a lame, shallow, “I can do everything” often author surrogate. And everyone should “earn” the respect of the reader and not have it handed to them.

    I agree that Batman and especially Superman are terrible. Superman is a walking Marty/Gary Stu and it diminishes him as a real character. I will agree that with males, it’s not a standard to measure real men with but more of an aspiration, where with women it is such a standard (that cannot be lived up to by real women). Which does reveal a horrible thing still existing in our society, that men are empowered by society and women are generally disempowered by society. I work, when possible, trying to equalize this by empowering women as I can and attempting to rein in the excesses men propagate.

    I’m not objecting to strong, powerful women (my girlfriend is one, for example – and I love her for it). But make them a *character* rather than a walking plot device, bunch of stats, flimsy pretext or shallow joke. If anything, portraying a woman as shallow or fake or entitled is not doing women a service. You can have a strong character that isn’t a Mary Sue/Marty Stu. So, I object to the “fantasy” rather than the “power”

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    If she was the same level as this lady, it would be rather light still. I can understand that such a thing would be “shaped” but River Tam is kinda still a “special snowflake” to survive it. The lady’s torturers weren’t doing it for fun, they were trying to make her a good citizen of her community. And there wasn’t any real physiological problems – it was purely psychological. The psyche is amazingly fragile – we take our sanity for granted.

    Perhaps I’m annoyed moreso that Whedon either didn’t do his homework or that he’s glossed over it and waved it away to such a degree. It’s also possible that I am particularly severe on this because of my work – kinda like how actual cops may not be able to watch a cop show. I am not a Whedonite and while River Tam will irk me forever, perhaps his later characters will improve/have improved. Mary Sues are very common noob mistakes for writers – I will admit my earlier writing has a ton of them. It’s natural (and they’re often some level of author surrogate! Not in this case I daresay). But at some point you need to put them aside and add more depth.

  • Anonymous

    I wanted to return to your point about Kaylee because I think it perfectly addresses the point of the article. Kaylee is a great example of a strong(ly written) female character whose strength doesn’t lie in her physical abilities. If someone were to ask you to describe Kaylee you could rattle off a ton of characteristics like the ones you listed above, and that’s a sign of a character with depth. And her character always acted consistently within those attributes given to her.

  • Anonymous

    But the point was that she was supposed to survive it. The Alliance wasn’t trying to destroy River, they were trying to (re)shape her into a weapon that they could control. They trained her to be an assassin (by giving her those hand to hand and weapons skills). The final product was supposed to be deadly both physically and psychologically – a weapon that could think AND act (a “smart bomb” in a way). The physical capabilities that made you wary were intentionally given to her – not something she already possessed – but the process made those capabilities very much dangerous to all those around her. She is a character who has had all control over her life taken from her: held hostage, experimented on, and ultimately, having had control of her greatest asset (her mind) taken from her. In fact, this is a theme that you can see in much of Whedon’s work – Dollhouse being the most explicit example.

    I think your definition of Mary Sue is a little off. I understand it to mean a character, male or female, who either intentionally or unintentionally serves as an idealized projection of the author (and often, the reader) by way of being unrealistically adept at all things. River has her physical and mental gifts, but she also has her physical and mental flaws. She’s not a perfect character; I know I certainly wouldn’t want to be her – and not just because I wouldn’t know what to do with boobs. Contrast River to, say, James Bond. What exactly are his flaws? What makes him undesirable? Pretty much nothing. He’s got irresistible sex appeal, a keen intellect, exceptional physical abilities, cool gadgets, a license to kill (all-encompassing authority), charisma, a devil-may-care attitude towards his enemies and his superiors both, and the ability to prevail in the most dire of situations. River is far from that, and far from a Mary Sue.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    Slight confusion over terms – what you’re thinking about is an author surrogate. An author surrogate is often a Mary Sue – a Mary Sue can often be an author surrogate. I’ll admit that River Tam is *not* Whedon’s author surrogate.

    The definition of a Mary Sue is rather murky in places, but most of it I think can be summed up that character suffers (and especially depth) because of the sum of things, lacking in flaws. She/He could be liked or even feared by everyone for various reasons (I think that you could have an intimidating version as well as a likeable one, but that’s a bit of a subversion.)

    Also, you’re definitely right saying that James Bond is in the same category. He does not have adequate flaws. Neither does Superman, and heck, most people in “superhero” roles. Some superheroes are actually more deep than “biff, bang, pow” and what upsets me in Firefly is you have all these great, real characters with depth and then you have the shallow (by comparison, let’s say) superhero that is River Tam. It turns a potentially mature space opera into a superhero franchise. Maybe it wouldn’t be so annoying if *everyone* was of a similar ultimate power level (immense power, some flaws or moderate power, no flaws) but she sticks out like a sore thumb!

    I think in his other series, for example with Buffy, there are a fair few characters who are similarly ramped up so it’s not as noticeable. For some reason, Buffy does not strike me as a particularly bad expression of a Mary Sue (I think the term would be stretched using it on her a touch) – I just didn’t get into the show for other reasons.

    Mary Sues are decidedly common and I’m against all of them. I want real characters with depth that we can relate to. I would like that in the fantasy I read, the movies I watch and the TV shows I enjoy. If anything, I like to stick to this idea. “Super people doing super things, that’s boring. Ordinary people doing super things, that’s interesting.” (although it can be interesting to see super people doing ordinary things sometimes too!)

    Good sir, I do not think we will ever agree on this issue. However, you have comported yourself with respect and maturity, and I salute you for that – let us respectfully agree to disagree!

  • Anonymous

    This was a great conversation, and while I still disagree with your definition of Mary Sue (I think the author/reader surrogate component is a central aspect to the idea of a Mary Sue: the first line of the Mary Sue wiki sums it up thusly…In fan fiction, a Mary Sue is an idealized character representing the author.), I agree with your desire to see them done away with.

    For example, though he wasn’t popular among many, I enjoyed the new Superman in Man of Steel. I enjoyed that Goyer and Snyder wanted to explore a character with depth and flaws – someone who had many things to learn and a desire to learn them. It bothered me to see so many people basically cry out for a Mary Sue/Marty Stu that could never fail, could never falter. Superman can be a character through which we explore what it is to be human, done so through the perspective of someone who (physically) is decidedly not but (emotionally) yearns to be. What does it say about us that we want so badly for him to not become what he himself desperately wants – even if what he wants is to be like us?

    No, don’t answer that, this thread couldn’t handle another massive derailing. I’ve got to stop this. It’s one of my flaws, and proof that I, sir, am certainly not a Marty Stu. :)

  • Ashe

    The dictionary is meant to give you a simple definition on the meaning of a word. It’s not meant to be a stand-in on sociological patterns, disparities and inequities documented over the decades.

    Not to mention dictionaries are constantly being revised, anyway. A dictionary from thirty years ago looks much different than the dictionary of last year. And the dictionary of last year is still being edited for the next. So, yes, that means that even dictionaries can be inaccurate/obsolete.

    I would never use the dictionary as a point in a debate on *any* topic.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    As tempting as it would be to explore your Superman ideas (which I actually wholly agree with) and your understanding of the superhero that just desperately wishes to become normal, let’s just leave it lie with “yes!”

  • Gorhob Perkins

    It’s hilarious to me that you’re looking to pacific rim for a feminist story.

  • http://cainslatrani.blogspot.com/ Cain S. Latrani

    Granted, it isn’t all movies. Some still manage to avoid the stereotypes. Sadly, those don’t often end up with the big returns, because they don’t get the big investment.

    It’s a catch 22, really. Big payroll to basic approach equals big returns, creating an assumption that’s what people want, when instead, it’s just all they can get.

    Well, it isn’t, but you know how most people are about the bandwagon. :p

  • TKS

    In an ideal world I could look to every film for a feminist story.

  • Gorhob Perkins

    No, you couldn’t. Films aren’t long enough to be everything to everyone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nuuni.nuunani Nuuni Nuunani

    It is an example that I feel if more writers followed, would result in some spectacular story telling. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duck_Amuck I would even go so far as to declare it the greatest thing Loony Tunes has ever produced.

    To take a moment in retrospect on the subject matter though, it occurs to me that film differs from other forms of entertainment in that it is not only the writer responsible for the character. The actor also plays a very large role in breathing life and making them animated, to the point that if the actor is poor, then no matter how good the script is, it will sink. Likewise, even the best actor can only do so much with a shoddy script.

    So for film at least, it is not something so simple as writing a strong character, it also needs a strong storyteller in the form of the actor.

  • Miss Cephalopod

    I never got all the Shinji hate. He’s a mentally unstable kid and then goes through an entire series of being emotionally rejected by people and traumatized by the incredible violence he’s forced to participate in. When people say that he should “just get his shit together” after all this, I feel so much rage. That’s not how it works!

  • Caitlyn

    A fair point, I didn’t have much time when I replied earlier and chose to use the dictionary definition as a jumping off point rather than take the time to verbalize my own summary of what is, as you noted, an infinitely more complex subject than such limited definitions allow.

    Right about now I would usually give that summary and try to clarify what I meant, but I think Stewart Zoot Wymer did a pretty good job of that in his response to the same comment.

  • http://anna.balasi.com/ AnnaB

    And I love her for it.

  • http://anna.balasi.com/ AnnaB

    I can understand what you mean. To be perfectly honest, I always thought River as more of a device than a character. She was never of much interest to me in fanfiction, but that’s a personal opinion, as I’ve found that many people consider her fascinating and complex. However, to me, she was Simon’s story, and then she became the crew’s story. I thought as a plot device, she was pretty clever: she moved things along, complicated situations, drover other character to reveal their true selves… she was a catalyst. Didn’t really care much for her as a character, but that said, except for “Objects in Space”, the entire arc is very seldom told from her point of view, which sort of makes the Mary Sue bit, if ever, a lot less bothersome to me. In a way, “Objects in Space” did reflect River’s character. When she took over the persona of Serenity, that was symbolic to me. She was an element, not a person. Even if you and I see her as less of a character, she was pretty essential to the tale. There could not have been an arc without her.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    What’s the societal effect of it though? What social power does a minority having an actual bigotry against the dominant race have?

    There is none, which is why trying to draw equivalences between the two is A) harmful and B) DERAILING AS HELL. It has no bearing on the discussion, it’s just all about trying to center white people’s feelings in the discussion, and attempts to minimize the real and actual detrimental effects of racism on minorities by equating it to hurt feelings.

    Which is why, that while the point you are trying to make is good, the analogy you are making fails.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    I concur with your reasoning – perhaps if I stop thinking of her as a character it would make things different for me. I guess I also react badly when a female character is demoted to “plot device” – as are princesses in some fantasy stories – while River Tam isn’t a damsel per se, it has elements of that.

    I probably didn’t give “Objects in Space” a proper judgement – at that point I was just wanting the series to be over, already. Maybe I should watch it again, just by itself and see these elements.

    Thank you, AnnaB, for your ability to come halfway with me and talk through things in a civilized fashion! We all have our viewpoints but they need not be set in stone and it’s good not to be certain and inflexible – there is always more to know and your comments have got me thinking. Bravo! *salutes*

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    So, you pick out a very minor point of my post, argue how wrong it is, and I’m derailing? You keep up bringing nigh irrelevant points that have no real connection to the original post. Or you seem to really *want* to find something inflammatory in everything I say. If the latter is true, I cannot help you – I’m not trying to antagonize you but if you wish to get angry with my statements, I can’t stop you. I’m going to stop quibbling over semantics because I daresay this level of hair-splitting will continue until the heat-death of the universe. Good day.

  • Rebecca Pahle

    All feminism means is gender equality, though. So I for one WOULD hope that every film would be feminist.

  • Gorhob Perkins

    Okay, you’ve got me there, that’s totally fair enough.

    As long as we’re not saying stories should be changed to appeal to all demographics at all times. The little things people are complaining about in regards to Pacific Rim seem petty to me, a strong female character played a large role in the story and is one of the most memorable characters.

    I don’t like the idea of people having to check boxes while telling stories.

  • TKS

    I think there is a difference between “appealing to all demographics” and “treating all peoples with respect.”

    Also, my point was that, while present a lot, I didn’t think Mako played a large role in the story. Decisions were made for her by the men who were arguing about her. My point was that I can’t call a principle (principal?) character “strongly written” if they don’t impact the narrative.

  • http://cainslatrani.blogspot.com/ Cain S. Latrani

    That is certainly true, and I’d add, the director makes a difference as well.

    Of course, we all know what happens when studio executives start pitching ideas, as well.

  • Gorhob Perkins

    Mako was treated with respect though…

    She respected her sensei and wouldn’t argue with him, he is overprotective because she’s like his daughter so he doesn’t want her to fight.

    Mako is heroic the entire time, I don’t understand why one decision being out of her hands reduces that for you. People don’t get to make every decision that impacts their lives, or plots of movies.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    Yes, because the lived experiences of people of color are not there for you to appropriate and make bad analogies unchallenged.

    That’s not being angry, that’s being compassionate and empathetic.

  • kkjjxl

    women are half of the population, not some obscure niche group.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    You’re also assuming a great deal – you’re assuming I’ve never received discrimination racially. You’re also assuming that I’ve not received abuse, oppression and assault for my race.

    You seem to have a crusade but I don’t know exactly who it’s against. You seem to want to think that I am a specific type of person that you think is worthy of attack – you make blanket, one-sided statements to push your own agenda and point of view and ignore others. You are definitive and inflexible. You are really not doing your cause any good. Of course, your cause seems to be a mystery, as it wanders all over the place attacking random things? You are unclear.

    I will continue to defend the rights of all and seek equality for all, no matter ethnicity, creed, sexuality, gender, philosophical standing, age or disability. I will not discriminate for or against a majority or minority but choose to see people as just that, people. I will delight in the cases where humans can come together and look beyond differences and share love as a united people. That is my goal. What is yours? Yours seems to be attempting to antagonize people over trivialities. If you wish to pick my words apart and find offense with them, enjoy doing that. I will continue with constructive work.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    I assume nothing. I am responding to an actual thing you did. You took the lived experience of people of color, extrapolated their feelings to fit the point you wanted to make. POC do not exist so you can use their lives to score rhetorical points.

    That’s wrong. If you want to analogize, use your own lived experiences, not those of other people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nuuni.nuunani Nuuni Nuunani

    Due to the various elements in play, I think a good film deserves some credit for being able to pull things together with that kind of challenge.

  • http://cainslatrani.blogspot.com/ Cain S. Latrani

    Absolutely. It’s rare, but when it happens, damn is it a thing of beauty.

    As a big anime lover, I usually get to hold that up as an example of how it often gets the mix right, but then I remember High School of the Dead and facepalm.

  • TKS

    Not “one decision,” every decision. She didn’t make any decision within the story that changed the course of events. (Yeah, she wanted to pilot a jaeger, but a) she did not come to this within the story and b) it is set up that this is not her decision to make, it is Stacker’s.) She is capable, but she doesn’t have agency.

    I get the ideas that “she is being respectful” and “it’s a military story and people in the military don’t disrespect orders.” Though, it is curious that most of the advancements in the plot, most of the things that happen that help the heroes win, comes from people blowing off their superiors and doing what they want. Being insubordinate is coded as a ‘good’ thing.

  • http://jbsargent.wordpress.com/ TWOxACROSS

    Very well said.

  • http://jbsargent.wordpress.com/ TWOxACROSS

    I’ve been slightly struggling with something similar, writing a fantasy novel following a female mercenary’s exploits during a generation-spanning war. I didn’t want her to be the tough-as-nails, macho chick, because I wanted her to have emotions, and it would have been so weird to make her just this wounded little girl underneath it all. Instead of being a coin I could flip, I wanted her to have many subtle sides and angles, like a d20 (modifiers notwithstanding). I want her to be tough because she wants to be tough, not because she’s using it to hide some vulnerability.

    I’m constantly worried that I’m doing the character justice when I focus on making her a great character who is also female, instead of a female who is a good character.

    Natalie Portman here helps put a few of the things I worried over into perspective, thanks for sharing this n.n

  • http://www.facebook.com/nuuni.nuunani Nuuni Nuunani

    Oh~ on the subject of good anime, it is kinda difficult to watch due to subtitles but I heartily recommend ‘Tatami Galaxy’ as an example of such a beauty.

  • http://jbsargent.wordpress.com/ TWOxACROSS

    It’s really sad how judgmental people end up being saying stuff like that! It’s like “Really man? You go through all that and see how you hold up!”

  • http://cainslatrani.blogspot.com/ Cain S. Latrani

    Making a note of that. I’ve not seen it. I’m very good at subtitles, though. Thank you.

    Not sure if you’ve seen it, but for me, El Cazador de la Brujah was just awesome as an example.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nuuni.nuunani Nuuni Nuunani

    Oh~ thank you very much~ I will be sure to check it out. ^^

  • Anonymous

    It was an interesting choice to badly re-phrase what Portman said in a lecturey-way.

  • Anonymous

    Bah, he is multilingual and university educated, no excuses for him! (Still love him, though.)

  • Anonymous

    It’s oversimplification and overuse of “proven” tropes brought on by cowardice, and cowardice brought on by the fact that film studios are hemorrhaging money at this point, and said financial distress brought on by how people are now getting quality entertainment on quality home systems. Hence why so much innovation is taking place on television (even though TV is far from perfect) — there is more ability to absorb financial failure, plus more time/episodes/etc to discern failure and thus more room to take risks.

  • Anonymous

    It’s also a question of relative perception. Mako Mori appears “too emotionally vulnerable” because the male characters are not presented with the same emotional weakness. Even when they are vulnerable, they “toughen it up” and give each other manly shoulder punches or something. She appears weak by comparison.

    In most movies, I’d settle for human characters both male and female, but instead we get clichés. Weak-willed females and tough guys. Swapping genders in some movies doesn’t make it better.

  • Anonymous

    I agree, it’s pretty sad that we live in a society where that’s seen as something positive.

  • http://andrewbudadams.blogspot.com/ A B Adams

    I wish it was this easy to prompt a thoughtful analysis from my college students.

  • Anonymous

    I honestly don’t remember that scene, though it sounds familiar…I’ll have to watch it again.

  • Chie Reya

    I couldn’t agree more with Natalie Portman.
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  • Rian Penn

    I agree with Natalie Portman. The female characters in Hollywood films are depicted as physically strong and always win in the end of the story, which is very unreal.
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  • Eddy Fettig

    “Screw writing “strong” women. Write
    interesting women. Write well-rounded women. Write complicated women.
    Write a woman who kicks ass, write a woman who cowers in a corner. Write
    a woman who’s desperate for a husband. Write a woman who doesn’t
    need a man. Write women who cry, women who rant, women who are shy,
    women who don’t take no shit, women who need validation and women who
    don’t care what anybody thinks. THEY ARE ALL OKAY, and all those things
    could exist in THE SAME WOMAN. Women shouldn’t be valued because we are
    strong, or kick-ass, but because we are people. So don’t focus on
    writing characters who are strong. Write characters who are people.

    [...]

    A strong female character is one who is defined by her own
    characteristics, history and personality, and not solely by the actions
    or needs of other characters. She is a person in the story, not a prop.
    That is the best definition I can come up with. Note that my definition
    did not involve martial arts.”

    From this blog post:
    http://madlori.tumblr.com/post/51723411550/rebloggable-by-request-well-first-of-all

    Basically, in agreement with what the article suggests — characters of all genders can be “strong” characters if they are written well, it shouldn’t just be based on stereotypical macho imagery. That can certainly be part of it for any gender but there are so many other traits and qualities that can and should be expressed through our stories in ways that are “strong” in that they resonate with us as human beings.

  • Gary Keyes

    Preach, Natalie.

  • KaiChen

    You are so wrong on so many levels. If someone kills, demans, offends, beats up, verbally abuse, fires someone because their are white, it’s racism plain and simple, becuase they are making it about race, judging the person solely by the skin of their color and harming them because of that.

    I hate when minorities think because the have suiffered prejudice, they get a free pass. They don’t. And I say that as a gay man.

  • KaiChen

    The aptly named episode Power conpletely subverts your theory about Buffy, though.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    No that is BIGOTRY. RACISM is a system. Please get some education on this.

  • KaiChen

    I’m sorry, you need some Education. Racism is prejudice based on race. Simple as that.

    You are just someone trying to use Racism for your own benefit, trying to get away with hating and intolerance.

    It does nothing for race relations and it only furthers the divide.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    No, racism is not simple. It’s a complex system constructed to give white passing people privileges over people of color, enforced at every turn, through media representation and teaching people that dictionary is the final “definer” of other people’s lived experiences. It’s about systemic oppressions. It’s about the fact that white women, while hurt by the wag gap, still outearn men of color. It’s about being stopped while driving while black. It’d about identical resumes being received by an employer, but the “ethnic” sounding name being ignored. It’s about the fact that white people commit more crimes, but more people of color are in jail.

    Go read bell hooks, or Trudy at Gradient Lair. The dictionary is NOT an education. But that’s what you are trying to do, refer back to the dictionary definition, as if dictionaries aren’t exclusive, and don’t define away oppressions all the time.

  • KaiChen

    Treating hate on white people for their color as less than Racism is singling out a race and trying to rationalize and justify hateful behavior and violence. No one “has it coming” because they’re white, as much as no one has it coming because their black or any other color.

    What if an Asian commits a hate crime against a black? Would that not be Racism because Asians are not the dominant ethnicity? Or if a Native American beats to death a black person for being black? Would that not Racism because they are even more of a persecuted minority? Or it only racism when Black people are affected, so they are free to hate on other people of other colors and spew out people are uneducated if they call out the Racism practiced?

    Not to mention you are equaling the world to North America. White is not the dominant ethnicity everywhere. A Chinese father may very well forbid his daughter of dating a white man and people have been killed in Middle Eastern countries for being white (as well as for being a variety of other races). Under your own theory that is Racism.

    If educating myself means becoming entitled, furthering segregation and treating others suffering as less because of the color of their skin, I have no interest in that kind of indoctrination. I’m not white myself and I do not live in a rich white nation. We have been exploited in the past too and still I will not become what I despise. Reverse racism is not the answer. Or I could take it that you, for living in a nation that is rich for stealing other nations riches, is part of that system of oppression yourself and all your opportunities were also unfair and you shouldn’t be able to talk about racism and discrimination given how much what you have was stolen from us. But that would be as absurd as what you are proposing and both would be wrong.

    PS: Actually, more black people commit crimes. Especially black on black, sadly. And the view that we people of color are suffering martyrs and the law is unfair is part of the problem why that happens, unfortunately.

    I know people like you do not ever change their mind, but I had to reply so at least any one reading this discussion can see not everyone agrees with your vitriol.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    Of course the STRUCTURES and SYSTEMS are different in other countries, and of course my answer was US centric, because those are the dynamics I’m informed about.

    Yes, your suggestions of racially motivated violence would qualify as hate crimes, but not because of RACISM but because of BIGOTRY.

    Individual instances of violence against white people, however horrific, DO NOT HAVE THE POWER TO OPPRESS WHITE PEOPLE. They don’t keep me from getting a job. They don’t make me more likely to have an unpleasant experience with armed government officials. However, governmental policies and widespread stereotypes do have the power to oppress MANY, which is why those are of higher concern. I’m not EXCUSING violence motivated by bigotry anywhere it occurs, but I WILL NOT attempt to claim that localized violence done against those who have oppressed, committed by those who have known NOTHING BUT violence from their oppressors, should be a higher priority.

    The problem of retaliatory racialized violence is not to focus on the plight of white people, but to stop oppressing minorities in the first place.

    And no, black people do not commit more crimes, get an education. I bet you believe the “Knockout Game” is a thing too?

  • KaiChen

    By your own logic, because you are privileged enough for being born in the USA, who exploited so many other countries, you are not really allowed to complain or feel victimized by racism when rich nations like yours did so much worse. And how convinient being in the US you choose to ignore the plights of the less fortunate… You yourself did nothing, but your nation did, so that’s bad luck. Basically, I’m doing just the same you are doing by blaming all the evils on the world and the system because you are white. So, having your nation exploited mine, please, speak no further and feel guilt, shame, and staring paying back.

    I’m starting to love your wicked (lack of) logic, Mr. Apologist.

    Racism is when you stop seeing people and star seeing only color. Which is what you are doing. If a white person right now in hunger and poverty is suddenly oppressing you by just being white, you are quite the racist, sir.

    And, by the way. if you have to scream (capitalize) to get your message across, it’s not a strong enough message to start with.

  • KaiChen

    By your own logic, because you are privileged enough for being born in the USA, who exploited so many other countries, you are not really allowed to complain or feel victimized by racism when rich nations like yours did so much worse. And how convinient being in the US you choose to ignore the plights of the less fortunate… You yourself did nothing, but your nation did, so that’s bad luck. Basically, I’m doing just the same you are doing by blaming all the evils on the world and the system because you are white. So, having your nation exploited mine, please, speak no further and feel guilt, shame, and staring paying back.

    I’m starting to love your wicked (lack of) logic, Mr. Apologist.

    Racism is when you stop seeing people and star seeing only color. Which is what you are doing. If a white person right now in hunger and poverty is suddenly oppressing you by just being white, you are quite the racist, sir.

    And, by the way. if you have to scream (capitalize) to get your message across, it’s not a strong enough message to start with.

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    “By your own logic, because you are privileged enough for being born in
    the USA, who exploited so many other countries, you are not really
    allowed to complain or feel victimized by racism when rich nations like
    yours did so much worse.”

    Correct, what is your point? I have no right to complain as if a person MORE oppressed than me is oppressing me.

    I can complain that a capitalist system is screwing over everybody, while still acknowledging that it hurts minorities and people of exploited nations MORE.

    (and the capitalization is for emphasis, not volume)

    I, unlike you, am capable of carrying two separate thoughts in my head. One, that I’m being screwed over by various systems and Two, that I’m privileged by various systems.

    I do not “see only color” but I refuse to pretend that it’s not there.

    I AM A WHITE PERSON IN POVERTY, I know exactly how privileged I am not to be a black person in poverty, or a person in poverty in an exploited nation, because I am not a moron.

    I also know I’ve never been arrested, despite having being caught red handed in violation of various laws no less than ten times. I talked my way out of a bench warrant, when the sheriff was on my front porch. Because I’m white.

    So no, while I am not actively oppressing anyone, I am benefiting from that oppression. I watch my employer weed out names from a stack of resumes because they sound too black, and know I got hired, because I’m white.

    Why you think I’m not supposed to acknowledge these things is beyond me.

  • KaiChen

    Thank you for validating all my points and displaying you made no sense at all in the first place.

    You are just looking for excuses and looking out for yourself.

    Racism is whenever one is discriminated because of their race, whatever that is. That’s why it’s Race – Ism.

    Because all that talk about systems, you are just part of those most priviledged of all and should just zip it, if your silly theory held any ground.

    PS: You still capitalize to make points your stupid misguided ideas just can’t convey on their own.