Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Strong Female Characters

I attended the “Hit and Misses: Women Working in Film” talk on Saturday Oct. 16, 2010. The panel consisted of a moderator; Lisanne Skylar - an award winner for a short documentary, Oldtimers, also known for No Loans Today, Dreamland and Getting to Know You, and four speakers: Mindy Affrime, known for Tell Me a Riddle, Female Perversions, and Golf in the Kingdom : Cristina Colissimo, One Lucky Elephant, The Accidental Environmentalist, Modern English : Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Miss Representation : Stefanie Sycholt, Malunde, and Themba - A Boy Called Hope, which received the Cinema for Peace Honorary Award 2010.

I assumed the entire audience would consist of women, but to my happy surprise a few men did attend. The talk started off as any other, an introduction to each speaker and the moderator. The women ranged from mid-thirties to mid- fifties and their history in the business was impressive, even though they haven’t quite broken into the money making part of the business.

You might think this panel would start off by man-bashing, but encouragingly they did not. They do not blame men for the lack of women represented as directors, producers and writers. They did agree that it is harder for a woman to break into the upper ring, and that the boy’s club still does rein. But there are men willing to give a woman a chance, if her work shows talent.

Some women in the audience felt the need to oblige us with a tale or two of their past working with rude, prejudice men. We all have our sad stories, and I can give you just as many women vs. women as I can recite men vs. women. That’s not the point. The point is women need to get their stories out there. We need to be represented, not only on the page, and in front of the camera, but behind the scenes as well.

The panel did bring up an unequal issue though, children. One of the women quoted a statistic “40% of people entering college to become directors are women, but only 3% of directors today are women.” What happened to the other 37%? In most cases bearing babies delays women’s dreams. How many stay-at-home-dads do you know? I know one and he’s pretty kick-ass cool, but that’s one. His wife gets to continue on her career choice and I applaud this.

My husband is also an outstanding man, willing to push me toward my goals, but our kids are mainly my responsibility (until I make more $ and he swears he’ll stay home). But in between getting my MFA and writing, I had two boys. I love them, but the guilt I have when I am writing vs. playing with them is enormous.  I write when they are at school, but when one of them gets sick, my writing is put on hold. In most cases, I am the one taking them to the dentist, doctors, play-dates, etc... And I enjoy every bit of my time with them, but it takes time away from my writing, from my goals and my individual dreams for myself.

The panel discussed finding a “tribe” and surrounding yourself with strong people on your side. I am in the process of doing this. I am a member of SCBWI, and I intend on joining SF Women in Film to find more support. I believe the panel is right on in this point. Strong, supportive, willing to babysit for you people will help you attain your goals.

My favorite quote of the panel came from Mindy Affrime, “Put your blinders on and go!” She was talking about your goals. Pinpoint them, and don’t let anything stop you. You may get slowed by your day job, relationships, marriage, children, dogs, etc... but don’t give up. Get your story out there!

But what is your story? How do you want to be portrayed? What if a writer was writing a movie about you? Sadly women generally are shown to be sexy sidekicks in films, where the strong, hero is a man. The panel brought this point to my attention and I never really looked at the reality of this portrayal. So I searched the internet for strong, female characters in a movie, where the woman was not considered a sex symbol. Very hard to come by. A few of them listed above achieved this, but many of them showed the strong female at least once naked, or in her undies or wearing a push-up bra.

Erin Brokovich is a strong female, but Hollywood chose a beautiful actress and showed off her legs and breasts in the film. Even Ripley, from Alien is shown in panties during her trip into space. Think about the movies you’ve seen in which the main character is a woman. Is she a true representative of women you know? How was she portrayed in the film? Do you think a woman wrote the part or a man? Where are the female heroes?

My goal is to write strong female characters, ones in which my sons can look up to. And to teach my sons that women are strong humans and have helped changed the world. Looking at my writing thus far in my career, I noticed that many of my characters are male. I am a strong female, and due to this I was dubbed a tom-boy. Is that fair? Why is being strong at a young age compared to being a boy? I wonder, why have I chosen to hide my female strong side behind male characters? Could it be I was taught that women stay home, make babies and take care of the household? Absolutely! In fact my father told me that he would not pay for college because I was “just going to get married and have kids.”

Well I might have gotten married Dad, and had kids too, but I am an equal part of the human race. And I have a lot to share and strong female characters to write. So what do you think about that? Ha!

I truly enjoyed this panel of “going for their goals” women. They inspired me and I hope you as well. And remember to surround yourself with strong people, men and women alike, who will help you attain your goals.

Write~On, Angie Azur