A few days ago, I listed some dramatic TV shows and films, and asked why the leads were all male, even in the cases where there were strong female secondary leads. Today I’m going to talk about some answers I’ve heard.
Industry people and professors always told me: demographics show that audiences want white men in the lead. You can have strong women or non-white men as main characters, but the lead needs to be a white, straight man, because that’s what the audience wants. This makes me wonder just how random their polling sample is, because I don’t remember anyone making a big deal about Ripley in Aliens, or Agent Starling in Silence of the Lambs.
Another answer which I find more interesting came from a story told by George Lucas about the draft he wrote of Star Wars in which Luke Skywalker was female. He discarded the draft, stating he wasn’t sure he understood women well enough to write them, and didn’t want to offend women with a bad characterization. I have no idea if Lucas is alone on this, but I can say I worry about writing men believably when I write them. If this is any factor at all – and I’m not sure it is – then more female writers might be the solution. Or you can do what Ridley Scott did with Ripley: change all the pronouns in the script from “he” and “him” to “she” and “her”. Unless your story is actually about being male or female, it really doesn’t make any difference.