Shannon Plumb has shot over 200 short films, which have been exhibited in museums, galleries, and on international screens. She started by shooting herself as various characters, acting out three-minute situations using humor and silence as her vehicles for storytelling. In 2013, her first feature film, Towheads, premiered at MoMA as part of New Directors / New Films. You can see her short films at shannonplumb.com and Towheads is available on Netflix and iTunes. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, director Derek Cianfrance, and their two sons.
As a little girl staring up at the screen, I was starstruck. As a woman watching you, I have been let down. I curse at you in the dark.
I understand we have to wait a while before women make as many movies as men have made. So, as men wake themselves before sunrise to direct yet another film, and as screenwriters position their fingers over the alphabet on their keyboards, I thought I could tell you what women are sick of seeing in the movies. Then, possibly, a new day can begin.
I was inspired to write this article by an audition request that recently came my way. Existing in my little bubble of NPR news and Brooklyn life, I believed that the #MeToo movement was radically changing Hollywood; that men today must be rethinking what they write and how they direct in response to the women’s movement. But when I read the part I would audition for, I realized men are still, in June of 2018, writing these archaic roles for women. The female character I was asked to play gets a couple of lines with her clothes on, and then she’s naked in bed, doing it hard and fast with the male lead, who is the writer/comedian of the show. She, funny enough, has to “convince” him to do it again the next morning. The scene ends with her on top of him, like a naked cowgirl gripping her bucking horse. For an instant, I tried to picture myself in the nude on top of this equine comedian/writer dude. It made me furious. After 20 years writing from my own, female perspective, and performing characters from that perspective, I could absolutely not bow down to this role. I couldn’t see myself portraying a character that, like countless others, had no integrity and was written by a man.
Women have been, and still are, unsatisfied with female characters depicted on screen. Let’s face it. Society mirrors the movies. It happens. Men look at leading men. Women look at sappy supporting characters. We’ve always been supporting you, Hollywood, whether on screen or buying tickets. But we’ve yet to see enough reflections that fit our own images.
When I was growing up, girls had to either identify with the male characters on the screen like Rocky, Rambo, Rodney Dangerfield, or Scarface, or try to identify with a very young woman in skimpy lingerie who had one line – “Look at my cleavage.” When I asked my friend Molly what she’s sick of seeing in Hollywood films, she said women with “shallow humor and perky breasts.”
Women have been watching men’s movies since we were flat-chested and pigtailed. My generation grew up on nothing but men’s movies. As women, we’ve been over saturated by their inner worlds. We’ve witnessed their pain, endurance, and growth. We’ve applauded their knockdowns and been saddened by their defeats. We’ve watched them kill the “bad guys” over and over and over again. We’ve seen what they think women are and we’ve seen what they think women should be. We’ve sat through their fantasies and seen how many women they pine for. We’ve seen them group girls together as if they were fruit on a tree. They pluck the freshest, discard the bruised, let the fallen rot on the ground. We’ve seen that they expect a naked lady to be waiting, for a man, in some scene somewhere, among silk sheets and satin pillows. She has nothing to do with the film. She might as well be a lamp in the room. Except she’s not the one being turned on.
My friend Skei told me what she’s sick of seeing in men’s movies. “I feel that women are only good for two roles: the vixen and the village idiot. Take a look around, think of all the badass women in your own life; women are far, far away from being the village idiot.”
Hollywood, you’ve made so many movies by men. Going to the movies has been like taking a rocket to the planet Man. Hollywood, you’ve dictated what has worth to society through men’s eyes. Society buys tickets to watch what men think is worth watching. What is valuable? Younger women are more valuable than older women. The right sized breasts are valuable. A young girl gagged and hogtied is more valuable than a woman with a voice and a monologue.
How many rape scenes need to be written? How many strip joints need to be visited? Women haven’t been represented the way they should be. We’ve been looking for someone to identify with on screen our whole life; the whole of our mother’s life; our grandmas’ too. We don’t know the blonde bimbo or the whimpering woman. We don’t know how to do a lap dance.
I asked my friend Alyson what she’s sick of seeing in male-made movies. “Teen girls kissing.”
We don’t want to participate in male perversion anymore. We don’t want Shirley Temples on screen. We don’t want to raise girls who believe men have to save them. We don’t know these feminine creatures that appear on screen; they’re hollow and collapse in on themselves like cheap chocolate Easter bunnies. If men don’t care enough, or are incapable of writing strong, realistic female characters, give more money to women filmmakers so we can get a new perspective up on the screen. We’re getting bored with the male perspective. Our stories have value too. We haven’t launched a rocket to planet Woman yet.
Hollywood, you’ve always been a glittery man cave. At first, you hung a sign for women that said, “Do Not Enter.” Then you let them enter but you hung a new sign that says, “Do Not Touch.” Women can direct and write movies as long as they are doing it the way men have done it. Hollywood, you’ve always been so afraid to take risks. Are you scared the ladies might rearrange the cave? You might be uncomfortable for a while. They might dust off a shelf for their own trophies. We’re allowed in the cave, but we have to act like the men and follow the men’s rules. Most ticket sales are to young men aged 18 to 30. Maybe that’s because of “you know who” making all the movies. The man cave needs a renovation.
Hollywood, don’t be afraid. There are a lot of us women who want to buy tickets. But we want to see women we can relate to. We don’t want to see women who behave like men. We want to see women who have style, strength, and, yes, grace. I know that a younger generation of women might relate to conversations on screen about touching assholes. They might appreciate women shitting in sinks. But there are quite a few generations of women wishing for the classy, intelligent, sexy woman to do her thing. The Lady truly exists in society. And she hasn’t had her chance to really shine.
Let’s untie women and stop raping them. We don’t want to see women as victims anymore. My friend Amelie says of French films: “I am bothered by a deep, toxic, inherent hidden psychological power over the depiction of women, keeping them in a very manipulative way down on the ground. Films where you don’t need to be undressed to feel disrespected.” Nudity is beautiful. But do we need that thong in our face when it has nothing to say? How will women portray the naked female body? How will women reveal two women in love? I want to see.
We want to witness women as survivors and warriors and mothers and peacekeepers. Women have stories that men could never tell. When I ask my friend Lilia to say what she is sick of seeing in Hollywood movies, she responds, “The institution of Hollywood filmmaking is so isolated from the broader perspective, so sanitized, that it’s become a narcissistic, didactic art form that is cyclical and relevant only within its own chamber.”
Hollywood, are you listening? We need a woman with a monologue. A woman who has more to say than “…save me and I’m yours.”
I’m not asking men to write for women. We will do that ourselves. I’m just asking that from here on in, Hollywood and men in the cave please think about your female characters. Think about your sisters, your mothers, your grandmothers, your daughters. These are people with stories to tell. They are not just lips, breasts and hips that want to go shopping, not just landscapes with streams of tears, they are not your French kissing dolls. They are characters who deserve as much respect as your cowboys, and your mob bosses, your bravehearts and lawyers, your frat guys and your thieves. Female characters make difficult decisions as well. They make invaluable mistakes. They go on heroic quests. Women are fascinating characters too.
Hollywood, I’m not saying stop men from making films, I’m not saying take away the history of film that men have written. Those movies are a part of all of us. That history is rich in story, and picture, and art and evolution. Sure, it has repressed some of us, but it has awakened others and inspired a movement to change the future.
Two heists are happening in the movies this year. The films have all-female casts but are directed by men. I always loved seeing a bank get robbed. And I’ve watched it done as many times as you made it happen, Hollywood. I’m just saying, there’s a million ways to rob a bank. Maybe the ladies will show you a new way to put the money in the bag.