I’ve been so excited to see the new Star Wars film. Even though nowadays I’m not that keen on films in general because they’re so long and I have trouble remembering who all the characters are, I really wanted to see Rogue One and I’d heard such good things about it. Oli and I finally got to go and see it this weekend and seriously you guys, it was so so good. It was funny and there were sassy droids (always in my heart, C3PO), Darth Vader force choked someone (love when he does that), there was a space battle, some serious ‘Mission without Permission’ antics inside an enemy base and even some fresh bits of Jedi history. The main character, Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones), was well played and well developed, and there were lots of fun new extras, like new non-human species, droids, and creatures that we haven’t seen in Star Wars movies in the past.
I really enjoyed watching the film and will watch it again probably several times as soon as I can get my hands on it, but… (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?) there was one little thing which I found a tad weird about the whole film. There were barely any female characters. Now I don’t mean that I did a head count and I’m massively offended because only 45% of the characters are female. I mean that in the whole film, with a cast of literally thousands of soldiers and rebels and passers by and background characters, I only saw eight women throughout the entire movie. Four of those were on screen for less than a few seconds, two had speaking roles but were very minor (less than a minute or two of screen time), one was a properly established speaking role (but she was weirdly wearing a white robe while her male colleagues were dressed in uniforms appropriate to their jobs), and the last was Jyn herself, who, as I’ve said, I thought was really fantastic.
It’s not that I’m really upset or even annoyed by this, and it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of what was (in my opinion) a genuinely good movie, but I did find myself getting a bit distracted wondering where all the women were, and thinking about how bizarre it was to have so many crowded scenes completely dominated by male characters. Even the droids (which are surely gender-less?) and non-human species which had no recognisable gender-defining characteristics, had names and voices which were clearly male. Honestly, because we expect to see a pretty even mix of men and women (as we do in our everyday lives), scenes which are so male-dominated just seemed really unnatural.
It almost felt (and I’m sorry if this is just me being a little jaded and overly cynical) that the profusion of male characters was designed to compensate for the fact that the main character was female. (Although, men wouldn’t feel emasculated by strong females if their manhood was rooted in something other than oppressing women…just saying)
I’m not going to make a huge deal out of this, or read too much into it (when would I ever do a thing like that?), but I do think it’s worth mentioning.
Firstly, because this is a phenomenon which extends to other films, novels, tv shows and even kids books. In fact, more and more people are noticing that male characters seem to dominate children’s literature, and a recent study found that ‘No more than 33 percent of children’s books in any given year featured an adult woman or female animal, but adult men and male animals appeared in 100 percent of the books’ (more info here and here). This makes it hard for young children to find positive female role models, and it also teaches young kids that being male is somehow the ‘expected’ or ‘default’ state, while to be a woman is somehow unnatural, and to be a strong or self possessed little girl (or a strong, self possessed little dog or little pigeon who happens to be female), is deeply unusual.
Of course, the main character in this film is female, and she is strong and cool and independent, but that doesn’t mean anything if women have been written out of the rest of the script. It makes it seem like being a strong woman is so unusual that in a Galaxy of thousands (or more likely, billions) of people, there are only one or two women who are worthy of real screen time, and their strength and bravery not only makes them highly unusual, it also isolates them from other women. Films that are cast in this way seem to suggest that strong women cannot also exist within supportive female communities. It is a misconception which crops up in the many, many films which fail to pass the ‘Bechdel test’ (I talk about this here), and is mirrored in offices and workplaces where women report being treated badly by their female colleagues, as successful women too often see other women as a threat – perhaps because even in films where there are successful female characters, there is often only one.* When I see this cropping up in movies meant for adults (or all-age movies, like Star Wars), it really jars with me because I don’t see the women on screen as an accurate reflection of women in my real life.
Secondly, I actually think it would make for better, more realistic films if the gender balance was more, well, realistic. The ratio of men to women in the part of the galaxy we currently inhabit is about 1:1, so why not assume that that’s pretty much the same galaxy wide? In scenes where you need a huge crowd of onlookers, or a rag tag bunch of rebels, or a bunch of kids running away from stormtroopers, why not make the gender balance realistic? When it comes to the more principal characters, a balance of genders would bring so much more depth and interest to the scenes, and it really wouldn’t be hard to do. In the same way that Jyn could just as easily have been a male character, any number of the ‘crew’ she ends up with (no spoilers so I’m not saying anything else), could have been women. It’s so easy to do, and – I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face – it would make these films better, more accessible, more interesting, more realistic, and I could finally stop blogging about them and start enjoying them without wondering if there was some kind of terrible incident which very precisely annihilated the entire female population of the galaxy.
SORT IT OUT GUYS.
Anyway, the funniest thing about all this has to be the Rogue One poster. Have you seen this thing?
Here’s how I imagine the conversation went between whoever designed this and whoever signed off on it:
Designer: Um, boss, we seem to have a problem with the poster
D: Well, we don’t seem to have cast any women so we’ve got six men and a male droid and only one female character
D: Well, don’t you think it will look odd? Also aren’t droids genderless? What’s with that?
B: Oh, right. Well what do you think we should do about it? And no actually K2SO is obviously a man you can tell from his shiny metal skin and little light bulb eyes.
D: Well, maybe we should cast more women?
B: No, don’t be absurd. I tell you what, make the woman’s face really big.
B: Yes, make it really big. Make her as big as all seven men. That’ll do it.
So what do you think? Have you noticed this in any other books or movies? Did you notice it in Rogue One? Or am I just being over dramatic? I’d love to know! Either way, I can’t recommend the film enough, definitely get out and see it if you can!
More updates on Veganuary soon but, spoiler alert, I’m feeling reallllly excited about it.
May the force be with you,
EDIT: After writing, scheduling and publishing this post I decided to google ‘women rogue one’, just to see if anyone else had noticed, and immediately found these two great articles which are making the same point! Definitely worth a read (and they confirm my eight-woman head count too). Read them here and here.
ANOTHER EDIT: while I’m editing things and giving you things to read, this is a really simple and interesting piece about gender representation in Hollywood more generally.
Images: Pulled from the internet. I actually tried to find images that weren’t all of men, just to test my own theory, but, well you can see how that turned out…
Note: Actually, just to further test this theory, I watched the Rogue One trailer on Youtube (here) and, not including Storm Troopers or background characters where you can’t tell the gender (even though having seen the movie I’m preeety sure they’re men), I still counted 38 male characters and only 3 female (and that’s only if the blurred figure sitting in the back at 0:54 is female, which I’m not entirely sure of.)
* A fairly good and recent article on this, here. Ignore the awful stock imagery of ‘woman pulling her hair out’ Lolz.