Not Everyone Screws it Up

Recently, there’s been stuff said about the treatment of women in DC comics. Stuff that seems to have some real truth behind it, and for that reason is quite depressing.

For example, female characters whose creators call them “liberated” but who are shown acting – and perhaps more obviously, posing – in ways that seem much more about the straight male readers’ gaze than about what the character would want, as if they were porn stars rather than superheroines. (I suppose gay and bi women could be gazing this gaze, too, but I’d hope that most of them would feel more dismay at the women of superherodom being turned into pretty props. But then, I’d kind of hope everyone would feel more dismay about that.) Female characters who used to have substance being “rebooted” into sexy scenery. Superheroines whose roles in the new comics can be described in words like these, from a seven-year-old girl who was a fan of this character in a previous series and is now seeing the reboot:“Well she is on the beach in her bikini. But . . . she’s not relaxing or swimming. She’s just posing a lot. . . . she’s not fighting anyone. And not talking to anyone really. She’s just almost naked and posing.” And so on.

But! I am here today to talk about Darcy Lewis.

This is not because we apparently share a surname. (I didn’t realize this until I went on IMDB. It’s cool, though, isn’t it?)

Darcy Lewis is a supporting character in the recent Thor movie. A minor character, really. But she’s funny, and she’s a woman of action – hard to argue otherwise about the person who tases the god of thunder. And, importantly, she’s a female character whose role in the story is not defined by her gender. She’s not female because our heteronormative culture dictates that she has to be, as with Thor’s love interest, or because she physically has to be, as with Thor’s mom (although read some Nordic myths, and you’ll see some really interesting parentage going on). Nor is her sex, her sexuality, or her sexiness an Issue. Don’t get me wrong, Sif’s cool, but she kind of screams “token girl” – an impression reinforced by her back-and-forth with Thor to the effect that she had to prove that “a maid” could be as good a warrior as the others in Asgard.

Darcy, though, is not someone’s romantic interest, someone’s mom, or the leather-clad Team Chick who’s Just as Bad as the Boys. She’s not even blatant eye candy – she’s cute, but not flashy or fanservicey. Darcy is female because sometimes people are female. About half the population, in fact.

If this seems like a lot of picky stuff to apply to female characters, think about how many of the male characters in the movie meet these criteria – basically, the criteria that they could have been either sex without it making a real difference. True, Thor is limited by the fact that it’s working with characters from existing canon – canons, actually, as there’s the comic canon and the original mythology. Still, most of the male characters are just people, while most of the female characters fall into roles that must be female, such as “mother” and “the one girl warrior” – as if the only reason you would make a character female is that you have to. Darcy’s “cool character who happens to be female” status is so unusual that it actually stood out enough for me to write this whole blog post, for crying out loud.

Naturally, there’s room in movies for characters who are basically someone’s mom (though it’s a little sad to compare the movie’s portrayal of Odin, with his lines, action, and importance, to that of Thor’s Mom, She Who Doesn’t Get a Name in the Movie). But there’s only room for those characters when there are also strong female characters – and I think Jane’s actually a pretty good one in Thor, though it’s hard to argue she’s not basically a romantic interest when you look at whose name is in the title – and female characters, like Darcy, whose femaleness is not the point, as I would venture to say is the case for most actual women.

I have no intention of knocking Thor. I love Thor. I’ve seen it three times and I own the DVD. But, no lie, part of the reason I love it is because of Darcy. I know Thor is Marvel, and I’ve always been a DC loyalist – indoctrination by my dad plus a very early crush on Batman. (Oh come on, like you didn’t have one.) But maybe this is a movie the DC peeps should take a good hard look at next time they’re creating – or rebooting – female superheroes.

Writing about Reading about Writing

Post title is more than usually symmetrical on a word level. Nice.

I’m currently enjoying Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction. Might actually do some of the writing exercises in it, as they seem fun.

Interestingly, most are actually editing exercises, e.g. “Choose a section of your manuscript in which two characters are conversing for roughly a page and rewrite it so that one character’s responses are entirely nonverbal. Now rewrite it as a shouting match. Now rewrite it with no dialogue tags or actions interspersed. Now rewrite it so that one character is in love with the other, who doesn’t reciprocate. Now rewrite it with one character drunk and the other one trying to get to sleep.” Etc. (Do not interpret the quotation marks there to mean that I’m actually quoting the book.) (Also, if anyone has a scene in which all of these actually apply, I’d love to read it.)

It strikes me that I have read a lot of books on writing. A lot. Plus many issues of Writer’s Digest. Many of my lessons in writing have come, of course, from actual books (and movies, and TV Tropes – note how I’m not linking to it and stealing your whole evening! You’re welcome). Still, I do love some books about writing. After a certain point, a lot of their advice gets repetitive. Sometimes, though, you run across a shiny new take on writing advice, and that’s always fun. So here are my favorites on the subject:

  • The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy: Volume One by Tom Dullemond and Darin Park
  • The Fantasy Writer’s Companion by Tee Morris and Valerie Griswold-Ford
  • How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them: A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman

This selection may or may not be slightly skewed toward my area of writing interest. But hey, having a narrower approach can make a book’s tips stand out in a sea of, “Instead of telling, try showing!” and, “Practice moderation in adverbs.”

Anyone got any to recommend? And, unrelatedly, anyone else really enjoy Thor? Good times.

Slightly Off-Topic

This isn’t super-new, but I’m still mulling over this article on the casting call for The Hunger Games movie. The article’s focus is a little scattered, but I do think it makes some good points.

From her physical description – dark hair, olive skin, gray eyes – I’d assumed that Katniss was of an ethnic type that doesn’t exactly match any of the ones currently existing, but I’d pictured her as looking vaguely Latina. After reading the article and thinking about it, though, I could also picture her as a brunette white girl, as she seems to appear in the promotional materials for the novel. Peeta is obviously white – with blond hair and blue eyes and sans albinism, there aren’t really other options. Rue and Thresh are, I think, the only characters whose descriptions make it very clear that they’re people of color (“dark brown skin and eyes”).

I’m anxious about the casting of this movie. Well, I’m anxious about the movie, period, though in an excited, hopeful way. (I am curious, too, about whether the violence will translate well to the screen without being overly horrifying. I mean, there’s disturbing stuff in the books, but nothing so bad that I couldn’t keep reading. Not sure how well I’d react to actually seeing the same scenes.)

But I am going to be MAD if they cast white actors to play Rue and/or Thresh, and I’m also going to be very ticked if Katniss is blonde.

I don’t mean to seem like I’m looking for reasons to be upset. I very much want this movie to be awesome. I will be going to it as soon as it comes out, probably in some sort of costume. (My “Cinna told me to wear this shirt” shirt is a bit worse for the wear, literally, at this point.) So I am . . . cautiously optimistic. Come on, Lionsgate peeps. Do the right thing.