I genuinely used to play at ‘Wonder Woman’ when I was a kid. Weird? Well it felt weird in the 70’s believe me, but still, I thought she was really cool.
Jamie Sommers’ Bionic Woman made me want to be a teacher. I had the privilege of telling Lindsay Wagner that a few years back, she was thrilled.
As an adult, I have had a slightly obsessive relationship with the films ‘Educating Rita’ and particularly ‘Shirley Valentine’.
I have smarted at, and argued with many men who have said they can’t watch ‘Kill Bill’ because they can’t take a woman seriously as a hero.
In my classroom, I have two posters to put high achieving kid’s names on to.
‘INDIANA JONES OF THE WEEK’
‘LARA CROFT OF THE WEEK’
Most boys want to be Lara Croft!
I have for decades loved and admired female heroes. And I have held them close to my heart. The notion of the female hero is not a new one. Yes the ‘hero/super-hero’ is absolutely male dominated, but then so is business and politics. Why aren’t we all focussing a bit more on that? But no, let’s all get in a bluster and rage about the casting of a woman in a TV show.
I’m not even close to being upset or appalled by Jodie Whittaker’s casting. She’s a fine actress, I really connected with her character in ‘Broadchurch’, I genuinely cared and felt for her plight. I’m sure the show will be strong, entertaining and she will put in solid performances as long as she is – unlike her predecessor – supported by strong scripts.
But there is a trend that we should be mindful of and it is one that the creative world should be discussing carefully. Quite apart from the debate about whether the Doctor should be a woman or not, there is the real honest-to-god sexism, misogyny, bigotry, homophobia that still goes on in workplaces and communities everywhere, this casting seems to have stirred up quite a cauldron of opinion.
But there is an interesting point to be made when one really considers where this response has come from. It is a discussion that should be had away from politically correct tantrums and narrow-minded bigotry. Both sides are equally capable of mindless, sickening and irresponsible reactions. And neither should be entertained in a dignified debate.
First, there absolutely should be a drive to give girls, LGBT, black boys (and black girls) more positive role models. The current Hollywood model is still predominantly catering for white, heterosexual male heroes. And that’s an issue. The new ‘Wonder Woman’ reboot goes a long way to mending the gender issue but there are still glaring gaps for more black heroes and absolutely more LGBT ones. The latter, I fear, is a long way off.
But the argument is this. Is it helpful to think that the problem can be solved by simply slotting the above categories into pre-existing hero franchises? A woman as ‘Doctor Who’ has been touted for years, mischievously slipped in to Tom Baker’s leaving announcement in 1980. And there has been much debate over the casting of a black actor as James Bond.
These are admirable moves, and the Doctor Who one is pretty bold. But is it, in fact, more damaging to these groups than good?
It’s a very big if, but what if it fails? Failure to establish a woman in the role would pretty much halt any chance of it happening again in the future. Establishing a new female hero carries less risk. But requires more in terms of establishing itself.
Men and women are different. Black people and white people are different. These differences are almost always highlighted in a negative manner. But actually the differences are wonderful. Women are wonderful. Black culture is wonderful with a rich and powerful history. LGBT culture is the same, although bizarrely has had moments when it’s been pretty well represented when you consider early radio shows like ‘Round the Horne’, if indeed very much under the radar.
I recently showed someone a script I’d written for some feedback. I had identified one of the characters as a black woman. I received a comment back saying, ‘I’m not sure you can say that anymore’. Really? As a writer we have to just write humans as templates with no discernible ethnic, gender or personality traits, for fear of looking, well I’m not sure how it’s perceived to look, elitist? I really don’t know.
This may come as a shock to ‘Guardian readers of Islington’ and the like, but it really is ok to say:
This character is black.
This character is a woman.
This person is white.
This character is a gay, black, disabled Jew who is addicted to Ben & Jerry’s for goodness sake.
As long as one avoids cliché and any negativity is addressed as part of the story (eg 12 Years A Slave for example, where the racism is inherent to the plot), it’s quite alright to say these things.
If a black actor were to be cast as James Bond, it would only be respectful to write that character AS a black man. Does that then mean he would be James Bond anymore? Because failing to do so would be asking a black man to just play a white man and get on with it, we’re only casting you because we feel we should. And that would be insulting, if not downright racist.
We ALL need to do more. We have had a black President, we are onto our second female Prime Minister. And now we have a woman ‘manning’ the TARDIS.
But Hollywood still loves it’s white heterosexual male stars doesn’t it? So audiences need to demand a greater range of casting and writing. Otherwise all you will get is a dropbox mentality to casting.
‘Oh my god we’ve hardly any women/ black men/gays in this movie! Ah screw it, just make him/ her/ him-her a woman/ black/ gay. (delete as applicable)
Something like ‘Doctor Who’ can get away with it as the character is an alien species, but when we start saying that this amazing variety of flavours of human being can be randomly interchangeable, is there the danger that we run the risk of overt homogenisation? Monoculture? There’s a line from a Roddy Frame song called ‘Good Morning Britain’,
‘Don’t be too black, don’t be too gay, just be a little duller’.
I’m sure the world of acting would be a lot duller without Jodie Whittaker in it. But let’s be mindful of what it is that keeps we humans interesting, it’s actually the reason The Doctor keeps coming back to visit us! Let’s keep celebrating that and at the same time demand more.