This article began as a quick note on something we discussed about Robin Hood a while ago, but turned into an in-depth explanation for why the Mo Movie Measure test is so rarely passed by TV and film. It contains Robin Hood spoilers through S2’s “Get Carter.”
Dominic Minghella said it again. Oy.
In an “extra” during the commercial break for last week’s (US) episode of Robin Hood on BBCA, he said “Of course Marian is stirred by Guy; who wouldn’t be?” Followed by a giggle.
In the article linked, I discussed how he said this in a Series 1 DVD commentary (during the scene that starts about one minute into this clip) and got shot down in no uncertain terms by some of the actors, in particular Gordon Kennedy. I later discovered that Richard Armitage has publicly stated his own take on his scenes with Marian (“I’m really hoping that when people sit and watch this, that, you know, when Gisborne is trying to woo Marian, they absolutely squirm in their seats and their skin is crawling. That was my main aim with this character, was to make people absolutely despise him.”), which makes it hard to imagine Minghella thinks they’ve clearly put across that, deep down, even a sensible smart girl like Marian just really wants a good-looking psycho to bend her over the table. And if that’s what he meant to put across, why didn’t he make sure the actors were on the same page?
Why try to convince us now, after the fact? I think I know the answer.
It’s the “Who wouldn’t be?” (stirred by Gisborne) part of his statement – and the giggle – that clued me in. It reminded me of a DVD extra on House in which the creator mentions several times in front of the whole cast, awkwardly, with giggles, how “gorgeous” Hugh Laurie is. Are we to think the creator of House really sits around lusting after his star, or is it more likely Fox advised him it would be smart to remind the audience what a super-sexy stud muffin their lead actor is?
By “audience” I don’t mean those women and men who are attracted to men and can tell for themselves whether Laurie’s their cup of tea. I mean, of course, the target audience of white, straight, insecure boys. No one wants us women watching, and if they ever get around to noticing that men who like men are watching, I’m sure they won’t want them either. It’s white straight boys who must be convinced the male lead is a babe magnet.
This is an old rule I learned in screenwriting around the time I was taught your lead character must be a white, straight man (like the target audience): if you have a woman right there in front of your leading man and she’s not stirred by him, the insecure young men film and TV target will wonder what’s “wrong” with him. Is he gay? Is she? The real reason, I was informed, to put women in a script was to reveal things about the men. Any other purpose I assigned to the women was secondary at best, but I could do what I wanted there as long as the women’s purposes never threatened to distract the audience from the purposes of the men. Once I realized that merely passing the Mo Movie Measure test was enough to “distract” the audience from the men, I quit screenwriting and have never regretted it.
The reasons for this are supposedly purely economic, but they’re also sexist. See, the studios and networks have tied their profits to their male stars. They say this is because the audience pays more to see men in lead roles, but of course they do: the industry has set women up to fail by giving them mostly crap shows and films to lead on those rare occasions they get lead roles, and then rationalizing successful examples of women leads into failures of epic proportions (and let’s not forget how the Golden Age of Hollywood demonstrated how profitable “leading ladies” could be). To continue with the Robin Hood example, what’s important here is not the message being sent, nor the integrity of the show, nor the integrity of Marian (yes, I did just say I don’t think the intent here is to send a bad message about women – I actually think it’s much worse than that).
What’s important here – if my theory is right – is to show insecure young white straight boys that the character played by the actor (who’s just been given the lead role on Spooks, putting future Robin Hood seasons on hold for at least a year) is a babe-magnet. Toward this end, it would not do to have a heterosexual female around him who’s not, at least on some level, wildly attracted to him, and so we need scenes like this one and, for good measure, a producer willing to blither on about “who wouldn’t be” stirred by this character.
I could be mistaken in this case. It could just be that Minghella is sexist, and passionate about it. But studios and networks have set up a system based exclusively on promoting male leads (again, supposedly for profit even though Business Week and the Wall Street Journal have reported consistently for a decade that women are a far more profitable audience) and one of the main reasons why 99% of female characters – and female actresses – are sacrificed is to prop up the men.