This post does not match previous posts; I was considering writing it and finding some more appropriate place to publish it. Upon further thought I realised that this was the perfect place for it, because it is a call to be better and to do better by the future women of this world. A call to reroot the future by changing the present.
I am blessed at the moment to have my sister and her two young ones (boy 10 and girl 8.5) around for the summer. Being a moderately alright aunt, I figured that we should avail of the cheap Tuesday cinema screenings in our local cinema. The choice of kid’s films showing today was: Captain Underpants, a tale of two mischievous boys who turn their grumpy teacher in to a superhero of sorts; another iteration of Spiderman; Cars 3 and Despicable Me 3. I was immediately struck by with the realisation that there was something wrong with this list? Every one of these films is lead by a male lead or two. There are no female leads here at all! No representation of girls or women as main characters. Despicable Me comes the closest in the female representation stakes, as the main character now has a wife and the three orphan girls, but it is still his story and his character development that we see portrayed.
This got me thinking, when was the last time I watched a children’s film that was about a normal girl becoming extraordinary through sheer hard work and perseverance alone. Zootropolis (Zootopia) is the only one recently that I can think of. Had the makers of Big Hero 6 the guts to have the main lead as a little girl who was interested in robotics, it too would have failed to made it on to that list, because the protagonist is an orphan and the media seems to be in love with representing orphans. Wonder Woman does not qualify; she is the daughter of a queen and a deity and thus comes from privilege, Moana, Brave and Mulan fail to qualify because they too come from privilege (fathers are chiefs or something) and therefore it is expected that they will succeed. Beauty and the Beast fails because Belle is beautiful and beautiful on the inside too (gag), and for that reason she is held up as an example of the best of womanhood and so she becomes a princess or something. It appears as though film is telling our future women that in order to get on in the world or make a difference to the world they have to be beautiful or they have to come from an influential family. Our girls are learning from the way their gender is represented in film that they cannot succeed or be the protagonist in their own lives if they are ordinary looking and/or are from an ordinary family (whatever that is) where boys are shown that they can be protagonists and succeed if they are ordinary and from ordinary families.
I am not saying that the film industry should stop making films that have make leads, but that they should start asking themselves if the gender of the character matters to the story. If not, should they maybe think about making that character a female character or an other character? I want to see a kid’s film about two normal mischievous girls who turn their grumpy teacher into Mrs. Captain Overcoat or something like that. More representation for regular girls, less pushing the idea that beauty or privilege are needed in order to make a story about girls work. Down with princesses, up with ordinary girls getting bitten by radioactive spiders and becoming Spiderwomen! Seriously, let us stop failing to provide strong, ordinary girl representation in an age where media has become so important and influential.
If you can think of films (kid’s films in particular) that qualify to be on this list, please share your thoughts in the comments section. To qualify: Female or other (but being other is not important to the story) protagonist/ lead from a kind of ordinary (not orphan or privileged) background, who is either ordinary (whatever that is, we are all beautiful) or not using her pretty or femininity to get ahead. Tall ask, I know, but there has to be more than just Zootropolis out there. Don’t even get me started on talking about better representation for mixed race, Asian and dark kids. Films with such representation would score highly on this list. (I watched Big Hero 6 with my niece and nephew, they are half Nigerian and half European hybrid like myself. Due to the larger number of male characters in that film, my nephew was able to identify with the black teen, but there was no one in that (or any other kid’s film that I am aware of) for my niece to properly identify with, I think she chose the blonde one because her mom is blonde, but I could see that she was irked by it. Unfortunately representation matters, us telling a kid they are awesome and capable is not enough any more, kids seem to need that recognition that people like them are story worthy too)