Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What Joss Whedon's Sudden Absence Means for "Wonder Woman" and other related musings

Is it such a wonder that a brilliant writer/director like Joss Whedon, instead of directing Harry Potter movies and garnering a success ten times that of Christopher Nolan, Peter Jackson, and Sam Raimi put together, is producing a forty-five minute musical called "Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog" and releasing it for around $5 on iTunes? Or that, five years after Buffy, six years after "Firefly," a brilliant director like Joss Whedon sees little more success than a Nebula for his "Serenity" screenplay and a Buffy comic book entitled "Season 8?" Am I surprised that "Firefly" was cancelled? Or that "Dollhouse" will probably meet a similar fate? And, last but not least, am I surprised that Joss has abandoned the future Warner Bros. project "Wonder Woman," a picture Whedon pioneered several years ago, due to creative differences

One word: No.

None of this surprises me. Joss Whedon is a feminist. You can read his incredibly moving comments about Dua Khalil's horrific death last April here, and you can watch how these comments evolve into a poignant questioning of our world, our world's treatment of women, how that treatment leaks into the guts of every facet of society: movies, everything included. 

I think that most people who are even mildly familiar with Joss's work have some sort of understanding that, yes, he's a feminist. He writes strong female characters, but not just strong, commanding female characters that, in addition to conquering whatever world it is they live in, also must deal with the mundane details of everyday life, sexism included. Certainly, Buffy Summers' first purpose as a human being is to slay vampires, kill demons, and save the world. But can we forget about the time when her mother dies? How she puts the pieces together all by herself, gets a job, and works relentlessly to support her sister and her loyal friends? And "Firefly," a show in which prostitution is no longer a game of suffering and humiliation: but a government appointed LOB called 'companionship,' and companions like Inara hold as much power and authority as the most highly ranked government officials. Also, there's River, a fugitive escapee from some government testing agency, who seems a little touched, in the world of a child, but really, she can kill you with her brain.

And it is not only the women that Joss imprints upon, but the men as well. Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) of Serenity will not stand for the inferior treatment of women, an opposing pillar to the more primitive thinking (and surely representative) of cinder block head crew member Jayne. Similarly, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" has Xander, the only member of the Scoobies without a significant power, who is bumbling and human and falls in love with a vengeance demon. His best friends are Buffy, the Slayer, and Willow, a powerful witch by Season 6, who often go to extreme lengths just to rescue him from his own mistakes. You see, with Buffy, Joss has turned an entire master narrative of 'damsel in distress gets rescued by Prince Charming' upside down. It is often the men who need saving in "Buffy," as well as in "Firefly." 

Anyway, these are all just accounts, and I could go on forever giving them to you. In fact, I had to stop myself there before I got into the whole "Buffy was raised by a single mother" thing or "the mechanic on Serenity is a cute little girl" thing or the "Riley in Buffy Season 4 whores himself out to vampires just to appeal more to Buffy" thing...before I got carried away. What I really want to get at is the master narrative (white male alpha) and how it is affecting film today. In my previous article about the HP6 delay, I mentioned recent comments made by Warner Bros. production president Jeff Robinov, who said that WB would no longer distribute movies with women in the starring role. Of course, this is not entirely true. They will distribute these movies, and this is just something that several producers overheard the d-bag saying over caviar one day, yada-yada. But, is it entirely false? 

Why is Joss Whedon held to the background? What is keeping him from the forefront? Could it be his widely-manifested feminist views, and how often (and strikingly) he brings them into his work? Think about it. I'm going to make a short diversion here. VERY short. Abortion, birth control, Planned Parenthood. All issues of 'hot' political agenda, bipartisan issues that have Fox News in an uproar, and why? They are not issues of government. They are medical issues. They are issues between a woman and her doctor, and these issues are protected by a number of confidentiality laws, each one of them unconstitutional if broken (though that word doesn't mean much anymore). It is entirely acceptable for a human being to oppose an abortion, based on religious doctrine or personal preference or whatever. I never argue that. I am pro-choice, and that means I'm pro your choice NOT to have an abortion for whatever reasons (personal, unbiased as they are) you provide (or don't provide). It is, however, unacceptable for politicians (most of them men) to act as conductors of an issue like abortion, or an issue like birth control or affordable women's health care, simply to control the political climate around them. This is a power play: as long as women's issues remain issues of government, hotly debated, in the limelight for people to vote for or against, women are kept at bay. As long as white-haired men (or black-haired, red-haired, or sexist women, whoever they are) continue to manipulate these issues, using them to control their voters, to rope them in or cast them aside, the message is sent that: the decision between a woman and her doctor is not good enough--it must, in some way, be controlled by a man. 

Okay, that wasn't as short as I'd hoped. But what I'm saying is: Do you think it's possible that WB and all of their underhanded glory will stain "Wonder Woman" with a covertly sexist agenda? That the reason Joss was forced to leave, these 'creative differences,' come from his seemingly unpopular writings of women? Would he leave if it were anything less? It is obvious that he will not make do. In the article linked above, Joss writes that he has "snapped," and that he'll no longer stand for the anti-woman doctrine of society. Is his lack of success in the face of men like Christopher Nolan and Sam Raimi, men who write and direct epics about the plight of not women, but men and their charming women counterparts, perhaps a product of the industry's (and society's) inherent distrust in women? Robinov was right in just one respect: movies about women don't sell like movies about men. But isn't this just a symptom? Of, perhaps, the fact that movies about men get multi-million dollar viral marketing campaigns ("The Dark Knight") while movies about women get zilch ("The Brave One," "The Invasion," "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2," even "Sex and the City" which succeeded purely based on its prior acclaim)? Or that, perhaps, too many people are used to a world in which a woman cannot be the hero? That the idea might even frighten them?

I imagine that "Wonder Woman," which was originally to star Morena Baccarin (Inara in the "Firefly"-verse) as Diana Prince, will not do well. I imagine they'll cast some toothy, leggy, busty white woman to play the titular role, even though "Wonder Woman" is somewhat of an Amazon Princess, and they'll do what was done to Elektra, which is to ruin it. Maybe not. I'm  just thinking to the extreme, as I often do, and it would be so wonderful if I'm proven wrong. But one thing is for sure: If Joss left, it was for a reason. Can we trust that reason? I can't. Why? There are only so many things I can list for you here. Otherwise, I could probably go on forever.

1 comment:

the Boy in the Window said...

Nice job. Part of being a successful political force is infiltrating every aspect of the media. There are examples of this in Real life (China censors, music, movies, print, tv, Internet content) and in fiction (V for Vendetta, 1984, et all). The trick is to deny you are doing it and make is seem like the normal direction society is taking. Look at black actors who are still tokened into films except for "white approved" actors like Will Smith and Cuba Gooding Jr. The politics plays into the cultural perceptions generated by the film and then the two reinforce each other. One has the power to stop the other, as we saw with strong female characters in the 1990's at the height of the Women's rights movement. With the onslaught of "women as a consumable" characters in the American Pie, series or the set back of women in the new "Super-sweet-hills-laguna Beach-Bridezilla-America's-next-top-handbag-contest-Show-the-Movie" craze we are experiencing.

Joss is one of a kind and I hope he doesn't lose hope in the fight to keep art off of the social justice decline we have seen in the last ten years.