There were stories a few months ago that director Quentin Tarantino was going to make his next movie about Charles Manson. That still might happen.
“Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men,” often held up as premiere examples of the Peak TV era, are about awful male characters who act in selfish, hurtful and sometimes criminal ways to achieve ends that aren’t even that noble.
Even 2015’s Steve Jobs presented the otherwise inspirational tech leader as a borderline repulsive personality that alienated many of the people in his personal and professional lives.
In the few weeks remaining in 2017 there are plenty of movies telling stories of awful men coming out. Father Figures seems to be premised on two large adult sons slut-shaming their mother when she reveals she doesn’t know who their actual father was. All The Money In The World is about a billionaire who won’t lift a finger to help his family. The Greatest Showman is the latest “eccentric creative who disrupts his whole family but whose wife still supports him” story. Phantom Thread, for all its artistic pedigree, seems to be about an emotionally abusive fashion designer.
There are brighter spots, of course. Female characters are taking charge of their own destiny in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The Barden Bellas of Pitch Perfect 3 may be struggling but they still are paving their own way. And Molly’s Game will tell the true story of someone vilified at least in part because she was a successful woman.
You’d think that after the success, both critical and financial, of 2016’s Hidden Figures that we would have heard of more projects showing us the the real life stories of inspirational women. There’s an Ada Lovelace project that was announced late last year but doesn’t seem to have moved forward since. In the last couple weeks everyone has been celebrating Hedy Lamarr, known not just for her sultry on-screen presence but her role in developing the concepts that now lie behind wireless communications, but her story has yet to make it the big screen.
“Supergirl” has been a hit on the small screen and Wonder Woman was the most Tweeted film of 2017, not to mention the film that helped push Warner Bros. over $5 billion in box-office revenue. So where’s my Jean Grey standalone film? Why is a Batgirl feature so far in the future while Aquaman of Thrones is imminent? How about Power Girl, a character who’s not only a superhero but also a genius inventor and business owner?
Why, at a time in society where Harvey Weinstein and others have fallen from power because of their history of sexual assault and where we’re finally realizing people like Bryan Singer only continue to have careers because of white male privilege, are we not hearing about seismic shifts in entertainment to put more women first, both in front of and behind the camera?
I’ve spent over 40 years watching movies and TV shows about “quirky” male characters, both real and fictitious, who are actually terrible. Sometimes those stories seek to explain away their actions or behaviors, justifying the crime spree or the extreme anti-social behavior on display. We’re asked to admire the woman who stands by him through all the troubles or the one he finds who understands him in a way the wife/girlfriend in the first reel never did and feel good that hey, he finally found love.
Right now I want more Wonder Woman. I want more stories of the women who changed the damn world on their own while they were under-appreciated by the men who never gave them a chance in the traditional structures of power, the ones that stood strong no matter how many times the world told them to sit down. I want stories of women of color who have done all that and more.
I’ll admit my own role in furthering the very trends and stereotypes I’m now railing against. I’ve held up movies about outlaws and sociopaths as being “important” and sometimes they are. It’s hard to argue that The Godfather isn’t one of the finest films ever made, but you can also be aware that a movie about a woman who took control of the family business by killing rivals, ordering a hit on her own sibling and shutting out her spouse and children would be accompanied by plenty of gender-based derogatory epithets.
Likewise, I’m not perfect in my attention of monetary support of stories by non-white male filmmakers of non-white male subjects. I haven’t seen Hidden Figures or Mudbound yet. But I need to and want to.
I hope Hollywood very soon begins looking sideways at that script sitting on the desk about the man that did a mildly-interesting thing while cheating on his wife and abandoning his kids to pursue his dream. We’ve seen it. It’s not that interesting anymore. And it’s certainly not where we are culturally right now. There are better, more original stories to tell that don’t come with the squishy ethics and morals. Most involve women. Let’s see them.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.