Opinion: What Counts as representation?

Alexandra Lisa | Staff Writer

I’m not angry. I’m not disappointed. I’m just extremely, unbelievably confused.

Almost as soon as October started, I began a ritual which I’m sure many others across the nation share: checking off my list of Halloween movies to watch. Monster Squad, Lost Boys, Nightmare Before Christmas, It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, it’s a long list, and longer still every year as I get more recommendations. This year, someone suggested a movie called XX. The more I looked into it, the more promising it seemed. It was actually a collection of four short films, each one directed by a different female director. They claim it was made to help give women a jumpstart in the directing world, as there’s a lot of male dominance in that area, and all that jazz we’ve all heard about time and again. Okay. Equality. Horror movies. Great.

No. Not great. They used plots directly out of other movies, put in creepy music when nothing was happening, and ultimately failed in scaring me in the slightest. They were awful films, absolutely terrible in every definition of the word. And when looking back at the extra feature/behind the scenes/interviews that they took part in, it’s not hard to tell why. All they talked about was the fact that they were women, and that there weren’t a lot of female directors in the horror industry, and they wanted more gender equality from the directing standpoint and by the way did they mention yet that they’re female?

Don’t get me wrong, the world of cinematography is severely lacking in its supply of  woman directors. If you google “good directors,” the list of suggested searches has 33 men listed before the first woman, and out of 52 names listed in all, the list contains a whopping 2 total females. Beyond sad.

But I hardly think correct representation is going to come from making a movie for the pure reason that you want to feed a political agenda. Because then we get garbage like XX. Which does the exact opposite of what the desired outcome was supposed to do.

This is actually a frequent problem. When female representation is in short supply, justice-seeking members of society rush to fix it, but their impatience ends up creating something without real value or worth. Quantity is pursued with total disregard towards quality. The Bechdel Test, which has gained popularity in the past year or two, helps to drive this point home.

The Bechdel Test judges a movie based on whether there are two named female characters who, at some point, have a single conversation on any subject other than men. It’s surprising how many movies don’t pass this test. Star Wars, Avengers, Terminator, Predator, Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean, the list of movies that fail is long and shocking. However, the argument can’t be made that, for example, the Star Wars franchise doesn’t portray a cast of strong-willed and powerful female characters. Princess Leia, Padme, Rey, even Captain Phasma are all great examples of original, interesting, independant characters throughout the series. And when comparing any Star Wars movie with, say, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, which does pass the test, the former proves several times as equal as the latter in terms of female representation. The core of what’s progressive doesn’t lie in the number of meaningless examples we put out into the world, what counts is how well done the examples are. Fine. Good.

Here’s my question: why do we have to choose? Why can’t we regularly get a movie with more than one good, solid female character at a time? Why can’t we have more than two notable female directors in the entirety of cinematography history? It baffles me that this seems to be so hard to do. I’m actually not angry, at all. I know I’ve already said that, but I want to emphasize the fact that this is not a rant about how unfair the world of Hollywood is for women, how much we’ve been oppressed, because that is not the point I want to get across. I am simply, purely, genuinely dumbfounded.

I mean, where is the logic? Take a movie like Avengers, Age of Ultron. It had Agent Hill, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and Doctor Cho as its identifiable, incredible female characters. Is it really, really that hard to give them one conversation together? There was not one. Not a single one. Imagine trying to describe the flip side of that. Imagine if you suggested that they make an Avenger’s movie, but Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Doctor Banner, and Hawkeye didn’t speak a word to each other. People would tell you you’re insane, because that doesn’t make any sense. It sounds idiotic.