Last week we lost both Dennis Hopper and Gary Coleman two icons of cinema and television. There’s been plenty said and I don’t have anything to add really. The news about their deaths reminded me of a few other celebrity deaths recently and I remembered a post I’d read on Feministing early last week. The post was about Dorothy Kamenshek, a women’s baseball player of the 1940s, who was the basis for Geena Davis’ character Dotti Hinson in Penny Marshall’s 1993 film A League of Their Own. Kamenshek also died this May at the age of 84. The post got me thinking about the film, a personal favorite, and about women in sports and in filmmaking.
The Feministing post about Kamenshek discusses her history in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) and briefly mentions the film inspired by the league before talking about women’s sports. Unfortunately, as pointed out on Feministing, the status of women in sports isn’t much better than it was back in the 1940s and 50s. The WNBA doesn’t get much respect and stunts to attract more fans like those featured in A League of Their Own are still common. It’s unfortunate not just that we insist on sex-segregated sports associations and leagues, but that the excuses about women’s physical abilities that are used to perpetuate that segregation are further used to dismiss their athletic associations.
I’m not a big sports fan. There are a few sports I like to watch on occasion. One of them is baseball. I like the sport and the aesthetic of the sport. I was very into it when I was a kid, but that faded for awhile. When I moved from Alaska to New York I decided that, since I finally had a home team to root for, I would try to follow the sport again. I’m now passively following The Mets’ current season. My love of baseball has mostly been focused on baseball films for the last decade or so. That includes A League of Their Own.
A League of Their Own was one of those movies in the 90s that, like Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption, showed up again and again on the basic cable channels we had. If you had cable and were bored, you could almost always catch A League of Their Own or The Shawshank Redemption. So, I’ve seen the movie many many times. My wife is often subjected to me randomly saying “There’s no crying in baseball.” This statement is usually not related to anything. It’s just a scene that I’ve always enjoyed and it pops into my head every now and again. We re-watched the movie recently and I enjoyed it just as much as I had all those times on basic cable.
Just as the movie has some unfortunate parallels to modern women’s sports, there is something to consider about women in filmmaking here, as well. Even though there are, and have been, women executives in television and film, and even with this year’s Academy Award for Directing going to Kathryn Bigelow, the status of women in filmmaking isn’t much better than the status of the women’s baseball players in A League of Their Own. Characters and the women who play them are subject to dismissiveness and harassment similar to the treatment of the players in the film.
Women and Hollywood recently covered Megan Fox’s departure from the second Transformers sequel (Fox says she quit and Bay claims he chose not to pick up her contract). The analysis of the situation is interesting. A lot of others have approached the story by saying “good riddance” and have taken shots at Fox. For the last year there have been reports about Fox claiming that Bay was abusive, and reports of those who have supported Bay and accused Fox of being inappropriate and, I believe, “spoiled.” The comments on the Women and Hollywood post cover more about general sexism and harassment of women, particularly young women, in the film industry. It got me thinking about the need to be aware of the situation and to make an effort to change it by being better.
As a screenwriter, how can I affect this? What can I do in my role to try and be better than the attitudes that permeate the industry? I think it comes down to being a better writer. By that I mean being aware of how I write women characters and making sure to make them whole people who exist outside of the desires or goals of men. I don’t think I’ve been successful enough at this in my writing so far. I think this is something I need to work on as a writer. It’s not explicitly about being a feminist or trying to depict women positively, it’s about making myself a better writer.
I think A League of Their Own offers a good example of how to create a woman-centric movie that doesn’t just perpetuate the same ideas of womanhood. The film isn’t really about AAGPBL; it’s not about women being able to do the same things as men; it’s not about sexism, or romance, or any of those things. It touches on all those things, but it’s not explicitly about those things. The film is about two sisters. It’s about the older sister, Dottie, letting go and letting her younger sister, Kit, be her own woman. It’s about Kit growing up enough to earn Dottie’s respect. Men figure in, but they are all supporting characters, and while some of them have transformative arcs, they aren’t central to the plot. The story is about these two sisters and their relationship.
As a screenwriter, those are the sort of women characters that I need to write more of. They are the sort of women characters we all need to write more of. If we write more characters that aren’t there for the sake of men, perhaps we can help, in a small way, counteract the directors, producers, executives, and others throughout the industry who mistreat the hardworking women of the industry.
What other strong female characters can we use as an example to inspire us in our writing?