When I was in my early twenties, I told a young white guy how sick I got of all (non chick-flick) movies being mostly populated by white men, with other types of people only showing up as sidekicks, romantic interests or acknowledgments of how gosh-darn difficult it was not to be a white man. His initial response was,”Oh, god, why does everything have to be politically correct?”
At the time, I was naive. I didn’t realize how prevalent bigotry still was throughout the world. So I said, “because homogeneity is so damn boring” and gave several examples of how interesting women can be. He agreed, but countered: “What do you care? If you know women are more interesting than that, what do you care how some movie makes them out?”
Yes, why didn’t I take comfort in my secret truth? Because it shouldn’t be a secret that “person” does not begin and end with Mr. Hetero Honky, IV.
But I told him this, and now I’m posting it for all to see, in case anyone who stumbles on this site cannot understand why anyone would be bothered by the fact that film screenwriters I talk to are still being told, “But why does your lead have to be black/a woman/etc.? What if we could get Brad Pitt for this role?”
Imagine you’re a child. You’re at a the movies, watching a blockbuster. It’s a sci-fi story about these white women who have all served times for crimes they didn’t commit, and they decide to go after the woman who framed them. They hire a space pirate to fly them to somewhere, and she ends up joining them. They go to the officials on this planet for help – who are all white women – but one of them turns them in. They get chased by white women soldiers working for these officials and end up on a freighter. At this point, one of them has a dream about this man – he’s gorgeous, and he fawns all over her and they’re talking about getting married. Then she goes out to get cigarettes, and some white woman breaks in and brutally rapes and murders him, so now we feel bad for that main character. And then they land at this spaceport and go to a bar, and you know it’s a really weird bar because the bartender is a man! Only it makes sense after all, because he’s got a tiny little scar on his face, so who the hell would marry him? They find out from the bar’s owner – a white woman, of course – that the government – entirely stocked with white women, we know, even though they never show up on screen – is in cahoots with this crime cabal – again, presumably entirely stocked with white women…
I could go on, but do you see what I’m doing? This is pretty much the exact opposite of how I saw gender portrayed when I was a kid. George Lucas made three culturally and industrially cataclysmic movies with one woman (I’m not counting the five minutes’ screen time for Aunt Beru or Mon Mothma). And because she was important and got listened to, at least until Han broke through her hormone blockage and she got a proper dose of estrogen and calmed down like a nice girl, we thought she was a really feminist breakthrough at the time. Despite the sex slave thing. How sad is that?
What I learned from all this, as a child, was that men were the hostile gatekeepers of my fortunes. No matter how hard I worked or how well I performed, actually getting whatever I’d earned would still require the approval of a man. And it seemed men didn’t like yielding anything to women, since we mainly only appeared in Important Mainstream Movies to be screwed, raped, killed or impregnated with the Chosen One. I saw blockbuster movies as men’s fantasies, and in men’s fantasies, I didn’t count unless I was beautiful, and then I only counted if I was up for getting screwed, raped, killed or impregnated.
It set me up to believe the white male power structure was, I dunno, hostile to me. I must be some crazy man-hater, huh? I would guess that men of color, disabled people, gay people, and all other marginalized groups got similar messages about their “Don’t call us, we’ll call you – Sincerely, Mr. Honky” place in society.
And it’s not like reality was wildly different from Star Wars. There were precious few women in politics or making movies or rock music. I’ve heard there is one movie in the history of the universe scored by a woman, but I don’t know what one it is. Women lawyers, doctors and cops seemed like a myth. I didn’t see them around town. I didn’t see them on TV. I got the message.
This young man who didn’t see why things like this matter answered, “I just wouldn’t go see movies, then.” But I don’t think he was grasping that when he encountered that raging sexism in other fields – like work – opting out wouldn’t necessarily be an option.
I think the term “politically correct” has lost all meaning. But if you wonder why we need diversity in entertainment, it’s because entertainment is one way we teach certain children early: you don’t count. It’s also the way we reinforce the feelings of those few white men who really are hostile to sharing the pie with everyone who has earned a slice.