33 Experts and Me Share Notable Female Characters

Bo from Lost Girl and the words 33 experts and me

I read a wonderful article called 33 Experts Share Their Notable Female Characters Of Recent Years at Bang2Write.

Bang2Write asked screenwriters, directors, literary agents and other industry pros to talk about the female characters they thought were most important in recent years.

The names they mentioned were absolute favorites of mine: Carrie from Homeland, Kalinda from The Good Wife, Lizbeth from the Millennium Trilogy, Catherine from Happy Valley, Stella from The Fall, the women from Scott & Bailey and Last Tango in Halifax, Hushpuppy from Beasts of the Southern Wild, Michonne and Carol from The Walking Dead, various clones from Orphan Black, practically everyone from Orange is the New Black.

There were many more names mentioned by these experts. I loved reading their reasons and explanations for why they picked certain characters. I loved the females they named.

As I read each of the picks by the 33 experts I was surprised that no one mentioned Bo from Lost Girl. There are some awesome female characters on Lost Girl. Particularly Bo, who is strong and growing increasingly more powerful. She wears her power with grace and uses it with heart. She’s unaligned with either side in her world. She’s protective of those she loves. She makes mistakes – huge ones. She’s less than perfect, but she’s searching, yearning to improve.

Bo’s bisexual. As far as I know the only other female bi characters on television are Callie on Grey’s Anatomy and Kalinda on The Good Wife. Bisexual women are misunderstood and mistreated by the culture at large and even by the LGBT community. Since I’m a believer that #RepresentationMatters, I think having a bi character portrayed in a positive light is a powerful thing.

So while I agree with every single female named by the experts, I want to mention Bo as one they forgot. I’m not an expert. I’m merely a consumer of movies and television with notable female characters – I look for them every day. I seldom watch anything that does not have notable female characters. I support notable female characters with enthusiasm.

But don’t forget Bo on Lost Girl.

In the Good News Department: UPDATED with Less Good News

There are some good things happening on our TV sets. I want to point out a few of them I’ve seen talked about in the past week. One is coming up tonight, the others are still in development and require a wait.

UPDATED: See the new information added to the Fresh Off the Boat section below.

Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay Team Up Again

David Oyelowo, Ava Duvernay & Oprah Winfrey on the set of "Selma"
David Oyelowo, Ava Duvernay & Oprah Winfrey on the set of “Selma”

Oprah Winfrey and Ana DuVernay will work together again to create a new series. Winfrey will co-create and co-star in the new series Queen Sugar, which will air on OWN. The drama is based on the book by Natalie Baszile and is set on a sugarcane farm in Louisiana.

DuVernay made the announcement on Twitter.

Jill Soloway and Feminist Comedy

Image via Deadline
Jill Soloway

Ana DuVernay cited Jill Soloway in her tweet. Soloway will create a half-hour feminist comedy for MTV. As yet untitled, the series will be about two young girls who meet at summer camp and bond over their passion for second-wave feminism. Both girls are struck by lightning and their friendship, power and destiny is sealed. Now, 10 years later, they are bent on saving all of womankind.

Another Awesome Woman for A.K.A. Jessica Jones

image via movie pilot
Carrie Anne Moss

I keep seeing announcements for new cast members for A.K.A. Jessica Jones The latest is that Carrie Anne Moss has joined the cast of Marvel’s A.K.A. Jessica Jones. That makes 3 very badass females so far.

Fresh off the Boat

Fresh Off the Boat. Image: ABC
Fresh Off the Boat. Image: ABC

In I’ve Waited 20 Years to Watch Fresh Off the Boat, BlogHer writer Grace Hwang Lynch said,

I’ve waited 20 years to see a show that even vaguely resembles my own [family] on the screen. And now, the sitcom based on celebrity chef and TV personality Eddie Huang’s memoir Fresh Off the Boat features a Taiwanese immigrant family… named the Huangs … in prime time.

Fresh Off the Boat premiers tonight on ABC.

The next step is to take, not an immigrant story, but a story about Americans of Asian origin who have been Americans for generations.

I talked about how representation matters so much to people here and here and here and many other places on this blog. Seeing this story on TV is a step in the right direction. #RepresentationMatters

UPDATE: Some Less than Good News

On February 7, Grace Hwang Lynch posted something about the PR for Fresh Off the Boat on her own blog Hapa Mama: Fresh Off The Boat? How About a Seat on the Bus? She describes the PR outreach to bloggers by ABC. There were no bloggers of Asian descent included in the outreach. Go read the entire article by Grace, but I just want to add my objections to the way ABC is promoting and doing PR for their new comedy series. If #RepresentationMatters, it matters in the way you conduct PR as well as in the way you show people behaving on TV.

Brain Dump: State of Affairs, Ghostbusters, After the Wedding, Five Days

It’s a brain dump day. Random stuff falls from my head in bits and pieces.

State of Affairs

Courtney B. Vance and Alfre Woodard in State of Affairs
Courtney B. Vance and Alfre Woodard in State of Affairs

Why do men married to powerful women always get portrayed in the media as whiney, needy irritations? A powerful man probably didn’t get where he is without a good spouse behind him. Why should a powerful woman get where she is without a good spouse behind her? Enough with this whiney-husband-of-a-woman-in-power trope. Come on State of Affairs, you can do better.

Ghostbusters

Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy
Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy

All female Ghostbusters. Yes! To the men who had the nerve to say that this ruins Ghostbusters for them, I say, “Sod off, you dozy pillocks!” Oops, I’ve been watching too many British dramas.

After the Wedding

Sidse Babett Knudsen and Mads Mikkelsen in After the Wedding
Sidse Babett Knudsen and Mads Mikkelsen in After the Wedding

I watched After the Wedding on Netflix. The original title is Efter brylluppet. I enjoyed it very much. It’s an interesting plot and well acted. The film is in a mix of Danish, Swedish, Hindi and English. Part of it takes place in India, part in Denmark. The main character is played by Mads Mikkelsen, but I decided to watch it because of the wonderful Sidse Babett Knudsen. If you enjoy foreign films, you may like this one. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year in 2007.

Five Days

Posters for 2 seasons of Five Days

Thanks to A Celtic-Dragon’s Blog for turning me on to Five Days. This British mystery series, written by Gwyneth Hughes, had a season in 2007 and another in 2010. Each series is 5 separate days from a police case. There are wonderful actors: Penelope Wilton, David Oyelowo, Janet McTeer, Hugh Bonneville, Suranne Jones, Anne Reid, Nina Sosanya and many others. I didn’t find anywhere that you can stream it, but Five Days, series 1 is available from Amazon on DVD.

Another Dead Lesbian and the Question of Representation

Warning: Last Tango in Halifax spoilers.

My mission on this blog is to mention, support, and promote things I like. I usually don’t mention things I don’t like. Today is an exception. I want to talk about something I don’t like: the kill-the-lesbian trope.

This subject is fresh on my mind because Kate McKenzie was killed off on Last Tango in Halifax in episode 4 of season 3, but I could have written about the topic once a month since the birth of the blog and still have plenty of subject matter.

When I recapped the episode in which Kate died, I did it as a straight report on the story as writer Sally Wainwright wrote it. It’s her story, her creation. She can write it as she wants. (I took to heart a tweet from Shonda Rhimes about fans who think they can tell her how to write her stories.)

I don’t want to tell Sally Wainwright how to write a good story. She knows. She’s written wonderful female characters in Scott & Bailey, in Happy Valley, and in Last Tango in Halifax. I thank her for all of them.

I think this character is part of a larger discussion about media in general and LBGT / woman of color representation in particular.What I do want to explore are the implications of picking this particular character, Kate McKenzie – played by Nina Sosanya – to die. I think this character is part of a larger discussion about media in general and LBGT / woman of color representation in particular.

Kate’s death means that a story about this lesbian couple – one of them a woman of color – is over. There will be no married life struggles, no child raising drama, no representation of two brilliant successful lesbians living a normal life in modern day Britain.

Kate’s death means that a woman of color in a leading role as a lesbian is gone. Her presence in this story, not just as a lesbian but as a woman of color, was significant to many people and to society as a whole. The number 1 search term that brings people to this blog is “Nina Sosanya.” The number 1 post on this blog week after week is about Nina Sosanya. This says to me that she represents something to a majority of people interested in Last Tango.

Kate’s death means that Celia – played by Anne Reid – doesn’t have to grapple with her homophobia, her racism. Kate is gone and with her an important and much needed character arc for Celia.

Kate’s death means that Caroline – played by Sarah Lancashire – will live without love from now on, will grieve for what she’s lost from now on.

Interviews, Quotes, and Comments

Sally Wainwright

Sally Wainwright’s first interview after the episode was with Diva Magazine. When asked why she killed off Kate she said,

It was a really massive decision. And it just felt it wasn’t as… [long pause]. It didn’t give the series as much emotional impact as we normally like to give the audience. I suppose that’s why we made that decision. But I am sad, and I’m really aware that I’ve upset a lot of people.

Later, she was asked why Kate and not John (played by Tony Gardner)? Her answer,

The narrative was that Caroline and Celia had fallen out so badly with Celia not going to the wedding. They weren’t going to speak to each other ever again. Narratively, nothing can ever bring this mother and daughter back together again. And then of course when there’s this huge, massive catastrophe in the family, people do rally round. People do get back together. So it was a narrative decision. It was more about the relationship between Celia and Caroline, and what that gave us.

Celia and Caroline fight regularly and viciously. And make up. That’s been part of their narrative all along. I find it hard to believe that someone had to die for them to make up.

When asked if Caroline would meet another woman, Sally Wainwright answered,

No. And she’s not going to meet another man either.

Nina Sosanya

Nina Sosanya’s first interview after Kate’s death was with Cultbox. When asked for her reaction when she heard about Kate’s death she said,

I was warned before I read the script – which was kind of them – and my honest initial reaction was ‘oh that’s a good idea!’, because the drama is great, but then slowly it dawned on me that I wouldn’t be in it anymore! So that was a bit of a slow burn, but it was off for me because from an outside opinion I could completely see why that’s a great story turn.

But it was quite devastating to have to say goodbye to that relationship, particularly with Sarah, because you build up a working relationship that’s quite unique. It was really sad.

Nina didn’t know at the start of series 3 that she was going to be off the show is how I read that. Assuming she really is off the show. In episode 4 – the funeral episode – she was there as she appeared in Caroline’s grieving visualizations. She may be around for a while in Caroline’s imagination.

When asked about playing Kate as a ghost she said,

Yes, that’s quite an interesting thing to play, because you’re not really playing the character anymore, you playing it as imagined by someone else. So that was a challenge, it was quite good really.

 And would she work with Sally Wainwright again? Yes, definitely!

Lady Parts

A powerful post on Lady Parts deserves a reading. It’s titled Lesbian Lives Matter. Read the entire post, please. Here’s a bit of particular interest.

There is great division in the lesbian fan community right now. Some people are very angry from years of disappointments and have banned the show, much like they did with “The L Word,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Chicago Fire” and countless other shows that let us down. Some do not want to bite the hand that feeds us and are worried that the show might be canceled and Caroline might never get another chance at happiness.

Well, I don’t want the show canceled, but I do want this to be a teaching moment, for Wainwright and everyone who follows her. I want us to scream loud enough, I want them to hear, and I want to finally earn their respect. Lesbian lives matter. Queer lives matter. Stories on television matter. They give voice to those who are struggling to be heard, and they give a face and a familiarity to the Other.

I Want to Have Them Here

A Tumblr blog called “I Want to Have Them Here” posted an piece called In Memory of Kate McKenzie.  They suggest an action that would be an example of what Lady Parts called a teaching moment.

. . . it wouldn’t be right to let this wonderful couple and all that they represent, simply fade away without their significance being recognised therefore we are proposing a highly visible demonstration of our gratitude for the gift that is Kate & Caroline and our appreciation of the two sublime actresses who portrayed them so skilfully and honestly.

We are co-opting the phenomenon of Lovers’ Locks, a symbol of everlasting love. It says a lot about how we would have preferred the script to have gone as well as a warm embodiment of our feelings for the characters and their relationship as lesbians.

The suggestion is to put lover’s locks in a fence near the Red Production offices at in Salford in England. (The address is in the article.) I think this is a quiet, gentle act that could build into news that many writers and producers would notice and think about.

After Ellen

The final quote comes from a piece on After Ellen by Elaine Atwell. Elaine is mad as hell and doesn’t want to take it any more, as are many fans who are fatigued by the kill-the-lesbian trope. Here’s a quote:

. . . writers, producers, and showrunners have no qualms at all about taking our faith and our love and our loyalty and shoving it right back in our faces. Sure, they love us when we offer nothing but praise. They collect the GLAAD awards like Greek gods courting temple sacrifices. They eagerly repeat the stories of how their characters gave real life people the courage to come out. They pat themselves on the back so hard and so often it’s a wonder they’re not all in a constant state of cramp. But when we dare to object, when we express fatigue or frustration with being force-fed the same tired cliches again and again, then the same queer women who formed a vital part of their fan base become a nuisance. When we complain, they call us shrill. And when we try to sneak the characters under our T-shirts and spirit them away to the worlds of Tumblr or fan fiction, places we know we can at least keep them safe, they call us crazy.

Shows with lesbian characters should all be bowing before “After Ellen” and thanking them for all the support, the articles, the recaps, the free publicity, the interviews. When “After Ellen” gets mad, much of the lesbian population gets mad with them. A teachable moment.

What is the kill-the-lesbian Trope?

There’s a wiki called TV Tropes. It has a page called Bury Your Gays. This page, with it’s links to other similar pages, is an education in the frequency with which the trope is used to kill off gay characters. Read and get educated. A quote (emphasis mine):

Please note that sometimes gay characters die in fiction because in fiction sometimes people die (this is particularly true of soldiers at war, where Sitch Sexuality and Anyone Can Die are both common tropes); this isn’t an if-then correlation, and it’s not always meant to “teach us something” or indicative of some prejudice on the part of the creator – particularly if it was written after 1960. The problem isn’t when gay characters are killed off: the problem is when gay characters are killed off far more often than straight characters, or when they’re killed off because they are gay.

Under that are examples from anime, comic books, fan works, film, literature, TV, music, theater, video games, web comics, web original, and western animation. Open and look at all of them. If you’ve heard of this trope before but never really seen it documented, open and look at all the examples. An educational moment.

In the TV section alone, examples come from Chicago Fire, True Blood, Will and Grace, Ally McBeal, The Andromeda Strain, Battlestar Gallactica, Bramwell, Cold Case, Damages, Dark Angel, Dirty Sexy Money, Foyle’s War, Hex, Hollyoaks, Emmerdale, House, Lost, The Sopranos, Supernatural, Veronica Mars, Warehouse 13, Boardwalk Empire, The Tudors, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hemlock Grove, The Killing, American Horror Story and more and more. Now Last Tango in Halifax can be added to the ever growing list.

The Issue of Representation

Pop culture and representations of society and its multitude of individuals in our media matter. LBGT representation, women’s representation, men’s representation, the representation of the handicapped, the disabled, the old, the representation of people of color, the representation of races, religions, belief systems: it all matters.

Television, film, YouTube, advertising, media of any kind teaches us who we are. Teaches us what our culture believes we are. Teaches us what we can and cannot be.

Taking the route of killing off yet another gay character teaches us that gay people are expendable and not worth keeping around. It’s a plot device that needs to be examined by every creative person who writes for TV, film or any other medium. It matters how LGBT characters are handled in the media. Representation matters.

Why Are We So Attached to Kate?

Update: 8/20/2015: Why do we mourn so angrily when our favorite characters are killed off? Here’s a fascinating article at The Mary Sue called The Psychology of Fandom: Why We Get Attached to Fictional Characters that explains what’s happening in our brains and thoughts when a favorite character departs suddenly.

[Note: This post was syndicated on BlogHer.com in a slightly different version: Another Dead Lesbian TV Character and the Question of Representation.]

Join the Demand for Better Media

You can join this movement and take the pledge here. I did. It’s easy.

There is so much good information on The Representation Project website. I hope you’ll take a look around.

After I signed the pledge, I received an email listing ways individuals can take action to change the media representation of men and women. One of them was to use your consumer power to support good media. I’ve been doing that for a long time.

Since I started this blog about 18 months ago, I’ve used words to support better media. My approach is to mention good things, bring attention to movies and TV that do represent women in non-stereotypical ways. One thing I have not done yet is to add the #mediawelike hashtag to a Pinterest board. I occasionally use the negative approach on Twitter with the #notbuyingit hashtag to mention media I don’t like.

Wisdom Sharing: A Week with the Goddess Spirit

I spent last week at a conference in Ghost Ranch, NM. The conference, called Wisdom Sharing, featured Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem and Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung. The marvelous moderator, shown on the left above, was Dr. Melanie Harris.

The location is stunning in its beauty and spirit. The women who were the star attractions were brilliant – powerful speakers, activists for women’s rights, funny, and centered in a forceful but calm wisdom. It was one of the best weeks of my life. My photos are on Flickr.

The speakers were so inspiring and wise and brilliant

In addition to the many talks, wisdom circles, and other activities, we watched 3 documentary films. (Trailers for the 3 films are below.)

The first evening was the film Jesus and Buddha which features Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung who is a lay theologian of the Presbyterian Church of Korea, and is also an Associate Professor of Ecumenical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in the U.S. Plus, she’s a Buddhist. Or as she put it, it was both predestination and karma that brought her to Ghost Ranch and her friendship with the other extraordinary speakers.

The film for the next evening was Beauty in Truth, a documentary about the life of Alice Walker. The film was written and directed by Pratibha Parmar, who was also present at the conference. That’s her below, listening to one of the speakers. (I reviewed Beauty in Truth earlier this year.) Parmar worked with Alice Walker on the book Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women and the ensuing 1993 film Warrior Marks.

Pratibha Parmar

The last film we watched was Miss Representation. This film was partly supported by The Women’s Media Center and featured Gloria Steinem. It is about how women and girls are portrayed in the media. The Miss Representation website has many resources and ideas if you are interested in learning more or taking action.

Beauty in Truth and Miss Representation are both available from various streaming sources and are available for screenings in schools or gatherings. PBS broadcast Beauty in Truth and keeps it available. You can get DVD’s of Jesus and Buddha from Old Dog Documentaries.

Jesus and Buddha

Beauty in Truth

Miss Representation

Anita Sarkeesian Speaks at the XOXO Festival

Anita Sarkeesian from Feminist Frequency spoke at the XOXO Festival recently. This is her entire speech. It’s a bit over 15 minutes long, but worth listening to until the end for the simple conclusion that could change the culture very quickly.

International Study on Gender Images in Global Films

In a press release on September 22, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, UN Women and The Rockefeller Foundation presented an international study on gender images in global films. There was a press conference to share the information from the study.

UN Women Releases Global Study on Women Characters in Film with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and The Rockefeller Foundation

Geena Davis spoke at the press conference. She said,

The fact is – women are seriously under-represented across nearly all sectors of society around the globe, not just on-screen, but for the most part we’re simply not aware of the extent. And media images exert a powerful influence in creating and perpetuating our unconscious biases.

Here are some of the key findings. The information is also available in an Infographic, which I put in a separate post because it’s large.

  • less than one third of all speaking characters in film are female.
  • less than a quarter of the fictional on-screen workforce is comprised of women
  • female characters are largely absent from powerful positions
  • women characters represent less than 15 per cent of business executives, political figures, or science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) employees
  • male characters outnumber female characters as attorneys and judges (13 to 1), professors (16 to 1), and doctors (5 to 1)
  • girls and women were over twice as likely as boys and men to be shown in sexualized attire or with some nudity
  • females are missing in action films, being only 23 per cent of speaking characters in this genre
  • films with a female director or female writer had more girls and women on-screen than did those without a female director or writer

If She Can See It, She Can Be It

Speaking at the press conference, Geena Davis said,

. . . media images can also have a very positive impact on our perceptions. In the time it takes to make a movie, we can change what the future looks like. There are woefully few women CEOs in the world, but there can be lots of them in films. How do we encourage a lot more girls to pursue science, technology and engineering careers? By casting droves of women in STEM, politics, law and other professions today in movies.

I’ve been harping on this same theme for quite some time.

The press release event was chronicled on Storify.  It includes lots of photos and tweets describing much more of what happened at the event.

The study was conducted by Stacy L. Smith (PhD), Marc Choueiti, & Katherine Pieper (PhD) at the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California. You can download the full report.

Images from UN Women on Flickr