Baby Driver, black female superhero, director, Edgar Wright, Fereshteh Ahmadi, Hollywood, homophobia, Iranian women writers, Jaydi Funk, media studies, Patty Jenkins, sexism, Steven Funk, stories, storytelling, symbolic annihilation, The Guardian, transgender, transophobia, Transparent, Wonder Woman, writing
Lately I have been thinking a lot about storytelling. Not just about what stories we tell, but how they’re told and to whom we’re telling it. You see, for my thesis, I’m going to study the new portrayal of male superheroes, and I would also like to do some audience research. After all, media has a great influence on people. What we see on the screen, on billboards, magazine covers and so forth, it tells us of the standards and traits that are considered valuable to society and what we “should” avoid.
I’ll give you an example: A teenage boy sees a bunch of muscular hunks on men’s magazines, men that look so differently than him and that seem to be loved and admired by everyone. These magazines talk about cars, sports and gadgets, which he may or may not be particularly interested in, but he’s shown in various ways that “a real man” should like these things. Furthermore he sees that same hunk in movies and advertisements. He sees athletes being praised more than studious people like him. When he can’t find it within himself to behave like “a real man,” he starts to wonder if there’s something wrong with him. In media studies, we call that shit “symbolic annihilation.”
I’m not saying that media controls us. The people in our lives have a greater impact on us than the media; our parents, role models, teachers, classmates, co-workers, et cetera. However, culture is something that feeds off people, media and the contagious relationship between people and media. The reason why Wonder Woman is such a big hoot isn’t just because the protagonist is a woman: It was directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins, director of Monster, 2003, and Five, 2011). In case you didn’t know, there aren’t that many women directors in Hollywood. Some of you guys might be sick of hearing that Hollywood is sexist, but it remains a fact. This movie, though, brings something new and fresh to the industry, like these things: The gaze never treats Diana as a sexual object, she’s portrayed as a person. Jenkins shows a very human yet powerful superhero who brushes off the sexism she meets in the man’s world with such class. I really love that the movie has Chris Pine serving as a side-kick character too.
I care about this stuff because I’m a writer as well as a scholar. I write mostly historical fiction and fantasy, a mix of them sometimes (which is super fun!), plus some poetry whenever inspiration strikes. I love to experiment with different writing styles and storytelling elements because that’s one thing I look for when I dive into a book, a TV show or movie: Innovation. For instance, the other day I found out that the writer and director of Baby Driver Edgar Wright wrote the script according to the music. Everything happening in the movie directly connects with the songs that Baby is listening to. Now that’s either going to be really effing cheesy… or really awesome!
I’m writing this particular entry on storytelling today, because I just finished reading a scholarly article on the Amazon television show Transparent by Steven Funk and Jaydi Funk (“Transgender Dispossession in Transparent: Coming Out as an Euphemism for Honesty,” 2016). The show is about a divorced transgender woman who struggles with coming out to her family. It’s supposed to be good for the transgender community and an exploration of homophobia (also known as heterosexism). But since it’s aimed at a straight audience, it doesn’t fulfill this goal. The authors stated that Transparent “underscores the need for a critical reconsideration of media (mis)representation of trans individuals” (p. 188).
Here is part of my response paper to the reading:
‘Transparent isn’t unlike the movie Boys Don’t Cry in the sense that the protagonist is forced to announce their “real” gender and to conform to a gender script. When they disrupt the cultural norms, they are ostracized and punished for their actions (or inactions). Funk and Funk (2016) are right that the show brings up the need for a critical reconsideration of media (mis)representations of trans individuals. In fact, almost every “gay anthem” TV show or movie that I see in the mainstream media has one or two main plots: It’s either about coming out of the closet or it’s a movement against the system. I personally feel like there are more stories to be told about the gay community. Why can’t we just have TV shows and movies where the protagonist is part of the LGBTQIA community, but their sexuality isn’t the plot? Like I’ve said in class, in progressive countries like Sweden, there is no need to come out; people just live their lives because it’s not considered a big deal. You love who you love.
Reading this article reminded me of a Guardian piece I read right before, titled “I want to stroll Tehran’s streets at night, like men can: writer Fereshteh Ahmadi”. It talks about how the change in the Iranian regime has created more freedoms for women, specifically for writers. There’s still room for improvements, but for now, women writers can actually get their stories and books published. The major point I drew from that article is that Iran isn’t filled with terrorists, dictators and warlords—but those are the stories we’re getting in the Western world.
Ahmadi said, “When we want to know deeply about other people, we go and read their stories, watch their cinema but all these years, there has only been a focus on bold issues in Iran. That’s why people, their identity, their connections and their private lives that have similarities to lives in other parts of the world [are] forgotten in the middle of this.” Similarly all the stories we’re getting from the gay/trans community is about the closet and the movement. Instead of trying to appease homophobes and/or straight people, it would be better to tell stories about people who aren’t hetero-normal without solely focusing on their sexuality and gender identity. Those factors definitely influence their lives when they live in a patriarchal society, but it isn’t all about that jazz. They have dreams and aspirations like everyone else and different stories to tell. The insistence of telling certain kinds of “gay tales” emphasizes the fact the authors make, the fact that everyone is dispossessed of the right to create an authentic sense of selfhood. A gay character isn’t allowed to be more than their sexuality on screen.’
What I’m trying to say is that we have more than one story to tell and there are many that have been unheard so far.
As if I’m not busy enough, I began dabbling with a new project… A few days after Wonder Woman came out in theaters, a friend of mine said on Facebook, “Can I get a movie about a black FEMALE superhero please k thanks!?”
My immediate response to that was:
On it. *puts on sunglasses and types furiously at laptop*
Two weeks later, the character came to me like a vision. I won’t tell you anything about her yet, because I’m still putting the story outline together. For now, I want you to know her name: Shine.
UPDATE on 7/6/17: Results are in… Baby Driver is really awesome!