I recently began writing my first screenplay. My story, which centers on a male protagonist, is not only something I love to tell, but I’ve never had more fun writing anything in my life… that was, until I started developing the main female protagonist. I approached her first scene-stealing moment filled with excitement, but almost immediately hit a road block. I remember blushing at her first real quip, scrolling back to the top of the screenplay for edits, and then walking away when I got back to her scene. I couldn’t figure it out at first, as I’ve loved this character ever since I first came up with her. After going on a binge-watching spree of female-centered films and TV shows, however, I finally understood.
Despite my hard-standing feminism, my pride (merited or not) in my writing, and dedication to multiculturalism, I’ve realized I’m still filled with a sense of panic when it is time to express my femininity, either through myself or a character I’m creating. In a way, I created an impasse in my script by imbuing it too much in my reality; that is, in real life, I’m used to being shamed or censured for asserting myself as a woman, but I was struggling to write a character who refused to let that be a barrier in her life in the manner that it is indisputably in mine.
The solution for my script was simple: either make the woman more conforming to a male-dominated society, or for lack of better phrase, “go off script” and make her even stronger. I’m happy to say I went with the second option, though not without some insecurity. After all, I can’t shake the fact that for all my feminism, I still started my first story feeling more comfortable focusing the movie on a conflicted man rather than a strong woman.
This is one of the many ways that female filmmaking is hard. There are countless external barriers – misogyny, sexist agendas, endless waves of sexual harassment, constricted social norms, double standards, and that gosh darn glass ceiling. There are also financial barriers, like the wage gap or myth that women can’t sell a movie. But before you even face those, you have to make women exist in cinema in the first place—you have to create women worth watching.
Every character is born on a blank page coming from the worldview of the person writing on it, and likely every woman’s worldview is impacted in some way by the aforementioned barriers. This creates internal barriers, like internalized sexism, fear of violating gender norms, and conflicting feelings on stale-yet-comfortable female archetypes.
So, when a great film involving fabulous femmes comes together, whether it is written by, directed by, or starring a woman in a leading role, it isn’t just an accomplishment of overcoming the external barriers, but of pushing through the internal ones – AKA all the wrong lessons gendered social norming pushes on women from the moment they embody their selected gender identity. My newfound experience in screenwriting thus far has shown me exactly how deep down those internal barriers can be.
This is what makes the Femme Filmmakers Festival that much more special – it celebrates exceptional film made by women, but it is also a celebration of female tenacity, bravery, and confidence. In a current Hollywood climate characterized by a shifting landscape of feminism in film, it is exciting to see what this festival will look like in the upcoming years. For now, I think everyone can say with confidence that Hollywood may be a “Man’s World,” but the females in it are both fiercer and fabulous.