The Blog

Are Women Accurately Portrayed In Film?

This Saturday (23rd of November) I will be talking at the Underwire Festival, on a panel called 'Is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Dead?'.

This Saturday (23rd of November) I will be talking at the Underwire Festival, on a panel called 'Is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Dead?'.

We owe Nathan Rabin for the term 'Manic Pixie Dream Girl' which describes the two-dimensional female characters in films who are used to teach the brooding male protagonist how to embrace life and live for the moment.

After recent films have been saturated with girls like Summer from '500 Days of Summer' and Clementine from 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind', the stereotype is now being heralded as meaningless and dead. With a move towards actors writing their own parts, tired of the options available to them, the 'Is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Dead? panel asks if the days of the manic pixie dream girl are really behind us. When I wrote a recent article about actors who make their own work I noticed that most of the new triple threats are female. It can't be ignored that the reason why is that so many of us are unhappy with the roles we are offered and the scripts we read. Of the most 100 most successful films at the box office last year in 2012, just 28% of the speaking characters were female.

This type of stereotype is why I started a film company called Foreshore Films and made a feature film called Prose & Cons. I was becoming more established as an actress but was constantly disillusioned by the roles I was offered and the castings I read. Even today women are mostly put into the following categories: girlfriend (always hot and between 18-30), stripper (who usually has a heart of gold), older women who is always perceived as past it and never with a storyline of their own, and the nagging wife. This information is from the castings I am sent, castings my friends complain about and scripts I read.

Above photo: Checking the sound on Prose & Cons which I co-wrote/directed/produced and starred in.

This post is not a feminist rant. Nor is it going to be negative but because actually we have never had it so good. Even as I type that I know some people will wonder what the hell I am talking about, but if you look at television shows like Top of The Lake, The Killing, Fallen, The Bridge, Fringe, The Good Wife and films like Bridesmaids, The Hunger Games, Salt and The Help means we are making headway, but that things are just not good enough yet, which is why we must push through even harder, and when a say 'we' I mean men and women. Both sexes should work towards equality as both will reap the benefits. Interesting, while I was writing those examples the television shows came easy, but the movies were hard. Maybe a sign that television is leading where movies should go?

Outside influences affect our lives, even when we grow up. If women do not see themselves as anything except the hot girlfriend, the stripper, the nagging wife or a bitter old women, even the strongest of us will end up affected. This year I injured my back and took a break from acting to heal properly. I even stopped applying for castings and reading scripts. Something I had not done since I was 16. After a week I felt positive, happy. I kept wondering why I was so happy and bouncy despite the unfortunate circumstances and then it hit me: I was no longer subjected everyday to the casual sexism of casting calls and scripts that look like they have been written by a horny teenager. No one was asking me to make sure I looked good naked before applying. Most female roles require nudity unfortunately. I never even consider these. I got offered some amazing roles I had to turn down but I was also offered a number of roles where I would have had to be on set on my underwear all day, pretty much the only role of the 'character'.

Away from this the difference in me was staggering. I actually though of quitting acting for my mental health but then I had a moment of clarity: I was just now, after a 10-year-plus career getting the auditions I had worked so hard for. There was no way I was going to quit; I would make a difference instead. That is still holding firm. I will be writing more script, making more films and getting those auditions for roles where women have their own narrative and are not just there to be objectified by men, or the filmmaker (who sometimes, to be fair, is actually female).

In the future I hope more films pass the Bechdel Test, which means that it has to feature at least two named female characters who have a conversation with each other that doesn't focus on men.

The panel will be chaired by Simran Hans and the other speakers are Kaite Walsh (The Guardian, The F Word, The Independent) and Sara Pascoe (Comedian, Sara Pascoe vs The Truth)

These will be held at the 71A Gallery on Leonard Street in East London from 12noon-17:00 on 23 November. Tickets are £7 per session or £20 for an all day pass.

I hope to see you there and if not, that you will join me by making movies with strong female characters or voting with your wallet to see these movies.