Wednesday, June 04, 2014

A Screenplay Thought Experiment

If you were going to write an explicitly feminist* movie, what would it look like? Especially in the immediate aftermath of the Isla Vista shootings, how could you present female experience in a visual form, one which might even show a strong woman in adverse circumstances responding in a manner that could be empowering?

You might decide to present gendered experiences broadly, using archetypes rather than specific, individuated characters, so you might decide to draw on fairy tales and myths. That way, you could concentrate on broad patterns rather than specific details.

You might start with adjoining territories to represent the different genders. Men would be represented by a kingdom, ruled by a warrior king in shining armor, surrounded by his generals and army--an image of privilege, hierarchy, and power, with the traditions of oath-taking and honor associated with it.  There would be a castle, there would be armaments, there would be the harnessing of resources to forge the weapons that support the power of the king: forges, smelting ovens, the sweaty and dirty work of provisioning the army.

In contrast, the female realm might be entirely the opposite--in order to highlight the different ways of being. So, lots of nature, beings living in nests in trees rather than stone castles, for example. There would be interactions with nature, maybe (to pursue the mythic themes) represented by magical creatures: water creatures, things that live in the air, sentient plants, things like that. Maybe even a land that had no fixed governmental system? Cooperative co-existence even.

Then you would have to bring the two into conflict, right? Because there is no story if there is no conflict, and "the battle of the sexes" is a handy metaphor.** So you might send the king and his army to conquer the adjoining kingdom, which has the advantage of being an exciting visual that will help get your movie green lit. It deepens the dichotomy--the men invade, the women defend.

[This part of the screenplay says "war, war, war; stabbity stab stab; fairies defend, king gets defeated and mortally wounded." Next scene, king's death bed.]

When women refuse, men escalate.  Although he is dying, the king passes the battle down to the next generation, offering his crown and his daughter to the man who kills the fairy who defeated him. But you don't want a repeat of this particular battle set-piece, plus, there are more strategies possible, so you make the next guy more subtle, yet creepier. So why not a roofie and a rape.

Well, not exactly "a roofie and a rape," because who's going to make that movie? Fortunately, fairy tales have a vocabulary, so you can make it a "magical potion" and "bringing back an identifiable body part." Then, when the fairy wakes up, she can get mad and avenge herself, setting up another battle set piece.

But, a single woman who complains of her treatment at the hands of a man isn't going to be supported. The  bros will close ranks and she's going to be told it was her fault. So she has to do something sneaky to get her revenge--and since she's a fairy she can use magic against him, or against someone close to him so he has to watch and suffer.

But it's going to turn out that this doesn't make the fairy feel better at all, as an time passes and her revenge grinds on, she has a change of heart, and finds her ability to forgive --for her own happiness. Because forgiving is something you do for yourself, not for the person you forgive. You do it because it's tiring to carry around all that anger and fury. Like the monk who carried a girl across a river: he set her down at the other side of the river, but you are still carrying her miles later. So, for the fairy's own peace of mind, she has to outgrow the need for revenge.

So let's write the scenes that show the fairy as she calms herself, and does indeed outgrow the need for revenge. [The first draft of this screenplay says "How does she do this? What does she do? Fill this part in later."] These are intercut with scenes of the kingdom falling into chaos in response. In the end, the women's mode of being--forgiveness, moving on. The family members used as weapons to get to the man--see them as people in their own right, not stop using them as if they are mere accessories to the man who raped you.

Of course, there will have to be a couple more fight sequences, this is a Hollywood screenplay after all, but then have the man cause his own destruction from his paranoid response, and let fairyland return to it's organic balance.

But who is going to want to see this movie? It needs a hook, right? So the screenwriter looks around for a property that already has cultural capital, has a built in audience, can be positioned as a sequel or a franchise.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Maleficent.

*For a given value of "feminist."

**And also, because you are angry perhaps. About what? Just pick one.

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