“Arrival” — First Contact with White Male America

ArrivalI just finished watching the movie “Arrival” which I really enjoyed. This didn’t really surprise me as the protagonist is a strong woman who is also a Linguist and it was a Science Fiction story about first contact. Now I admit, I made the obligatory “E.T.” and “Close Encounters” jokes during the film, but in general, the movie was engaging and interesting. I enjoyed the twist (spoiler: there’s a twist…) and was fooled along with most everyone.

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Where are the Strong Women?

Nora Ephron didn’t direct Science Fiction movies. But her death is a loss to all of us, and especially women. She made movies that women like, movies for and about strong, caring women.

Science Fiction movies, on the other hand, tend to be for, by, and about men. Even when women are in them, they are either glorified sex objects or men with breasts. Part of the reason Sigoourney Weaver was so funny in Galaxy Quest was because she was playing the only role women have had in most Science Fiction movies — the phone operator. It was especially ironic to cast her in that role when she’s best known as Ripley in the Alien movies.

But Hollywood seems to forget women all the time. When the Avengers came out, 40% of the opening day tickets were bought by women, and yet the only strong female character was reduced to acting as a dogs-body and gopher for all of the other “real” super heroes. Why is this and why do women tolerate it?

Yes, Ripley is a powerful female character, but even though I can name dozens of strong female protagonists in SciFi books, I can’t name even ten strong female characters in movies. Here’s what my husband and I came up with. We were able to come up with 9 when we included TV as well.

It’s just sad to me how difficult it was for both of us to find examples of strong, powerful women in Science Fiction movies and TV. I’d love to hear from you if you can think of others. Please share in the comments.

I would love to see a movie made of some of the strong female characters that abound in Science Fiction. It’s not that they aren’t there, it’s just that Hollywood doesn’t want to make movies about them. I’d love to see Friday on the big screen, or Petra Arkanian (Ender’s Game) or Cordelia Naismith (Barrayar – Vorkosigan Saga).

This article was written in response to: Memo to Hollywood: Women Go to the Movies Too

Brave

“Brave” (2012)
Starring Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson
Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell (Buy soundtrack)

Brave is going to have a special place in my heart because it’s the first feature film my son watched all the way through in the theater. (I don’t count Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull because he was only a few months old at the time, and slept through the whole movie.) He and his father went to see Cars 2 last summer, but only made it through about 30 minutes before they had to leave. So, in order to be sure that we got to see the whole movie, we resorted to bribery (if he sat through the whole movie he got to go to Barnes and Noble afterwards) and chocolate raisins. And that worked. I’m not sure how much he really got out of the movie, but he did sit and watch the whole thing, only asking interminably if it was over yet during the credits. And I think he even liked it.

Brave is a fairy tale, but not an insipid or sexist one. It is the story of a young girl trying to find her place in the world, which was not the same place her mother wanted her to enter. This is a common theme for both girls and boys — their choices might not be the same as their parents’ and they have to figure out a way to reconcile it.

I particularly liked that this was a story about a girl. Pixar has been fairly boy-focused up until now, and I admit I wasn’t confident that they would be able to pull off a female main character, without going the Disney route of “reading” to prove she’s smart (Beauty and the Beast), annoyingly jealous and bitchy to prove she’s tough (Tinkerbell), or dependent on a big strong man (Snow White, Cinderella, Jasmine, etc.). So I went in expecting a standard girl-wants-to-be-boy type plot.

But I was pleasantly surprised.

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Children of Men

“Children of Men” (2006)
Starring: Julianne Moore, Clive Owen and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón

This movie came out a while ago, but I was lucky enough to see it in the theatre, even though my local theatres don’t usually play art films or nearly any film that isn’t first run. I don’t like to have to drive to Seattle just to see a film, so it’s nice when the local theatres get something new.

I learned of “Children of Men” from a friend who isn’t a fan of Science Fiction. She had seen it and told me I had to see it, no matter what. And she was right. As I said to her “this is why I read and watch Science Fiction.”

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Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Last night I had the opportunity to see a pre-screening of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie). This was a fun, over-the-top fantasy set in the 30s, the golden era of Science Fiction. Giant robots attack New York City, and rayguns that shoot concentric circles set the stage for a journey back to the Science Fiction of Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

If you’ve been reading SciFi for a long time, you will probably love this movie. It has a lot of charm and the style is very reminiscent of old-style Science Fiction. I love the ray gun. How can you not love a movie that has a ray gun?

Movie fans who loved Superman will see a lot of similarities in style to this film. There are also references to the War of the Worlds and King Kong.

If you are a fan of CGI work, this is also another good reason to go see this film. In the commentary by the director after the film, he said that every scene was composited with CGI. Items that the actors touched (like the ray gun) were real, but anything they just looked at or stood near was most likely CGI. This kept the price down, but it also meant that the actors had to do a lot of imagination just to get through their scenes. The principles worked together on set (Jolie was filmed over only 3 days), but any extras were filmed alone in front of blue screens and then composited into the shots. Sir Lawrence Olivier is even in the movie!

Go see this movie! It is fun and great scifi and you’ll love it.