Screenwriting : Female voice versus a female protagonist? by Adam McCulloch

Adam McCulloch

Female voice versus a female protagonist?

Are Hunger Games, Salt, Frozen et. al actually written from a female perspective or are they a male world-view with female protagonist?

Kerry Douglas Dye

Can you define what you mean by "female perspective" and "male world-view"?

Andrew Man

For authors, if its written by a man, its a male world-view with a female protagonist, if written by a woman its from a female perspective? But for Screenwriting, what's a script written by a female, when it has been taken from a book written by a man? Complicated...

Adam McCulloch

The male gaze/worldview/perspective is simply how a heterosexual man sees the world. It's also seems to be the default setting for most screenplays regardless of the gender of the writers. Here's a comparison: Sex in The City was clearly created with a female worldview and also has a female protagonist but Tombraider (I would suggest) was still created with a male world view in spite of having a female protagonist. The inspiration for this post came from reading a Stage 32 logline which quite literally (and possibly unintentionally) described the madonna-whore complex in three acts. Keen to hear from any Stage 32 women on whether their worldview is being represented in film.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Hey Adam, there has been a lot of discussion about gender in our industry lately; gender biases, male dominated professions, possible discrimination, et cetera... With that said, I try to look at story telling from a human perspective. Male/female points of view counterbalance each other. In story telling this is invaluable. Elements that one may consider to be a feminine trait or a masculine trait, when combined we end up with fully developed, complex characters and meaningful stories. Plot and action mixed with character and mood makes for great entertainment, right? We need both points of view to survive the world; the same is true for film. Whether you are a male writer or a female writer you need to be able to tap into both perspectives to create an authentic story about the human experience -- something we all share.

Kerry Douglas Dye

I'm writing a script whose hero is a single mother trying to save her daughter, and I know -- to psychoanalyze myself -- that this story is a reflection of my parental anxiety as a relatively new father. Am I writing from a male or female perspective?

Beth Fox Heisinger

Hey Kerry, you are writing from the perspective of a parent. :)

Beth Fox Heisinger

Adam, you used "Sex and the City" as an example of female world-view... I believe that series was created by a man -- Darren Star. Of course they had a ton of female writers. The thing is, personally, I never thought of that show as a woman's point of view. More like an isolated viewpoint of a group of hyper-sexual, ridiculous people in New York City. It never resonated with me or most women that I know. I think I only watched for maybe 10 minutes... It was so arbitrary. Meh. I know I'll get in trouble for my opinion, but there it is. I thought the women on that show seemed to value themselves according to how men viewed them and defined them. Really didn't see that much of a world-view difference there despite the sexual bravado shown by the female characters.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Again, I think this discussion boils down to feminine and masculine traits. How we use/combine them as story tellers. General masculine traits such as: power; status; problem solving; aggression; sex drive; competitive nature. General feminine traits such as: intimacy; interpersonal relationships; feelings; empathy; and bonding. Mixing these traits together creates powerful stories. I'm not denying that there are distinct male and female perspectives, there are, of course. But, I think it's not quite that simple. There are far too many variables and subjective opinions to any one view. Too many complexities. I will say that those of us writers that can empathize better with the opposite sex tend to write more well-rounded and complex characters. Stories reach much farther with both sensibilities.

Adam McCulloch

Sex and the City was based on the writings of Candace Bushnell. Still, I think it's possible for both genders to write from both world views so the sex of the originator is not really relevant. As you so well articulated, our skill is to see both worldviews and imbue characters with the right combination to make out point. Kerry: I'm curious as to why you decided to make your character a single mother rather than single father?

Kerry Douglas Dye

Single fathers require a more complicated backstory to become a single father. A single mother needs to simply be impregnated and abandoned, which is the right story for this character.

Andrew Man

Male of course, I have to agree with Beth on this. I have six female protagonists in a series spread over thirty years, tackling most of the issues you mention. Some of the females have male traits such as aggression, sex drive and survival, its only when you write about their childen that the feminine traits show through. Recent research shows that the female may be more sexual and driven than a man (see 'What do Women Want' by Bergner) - he thinks it's the social conditioning that hides this reality?

Cherie Grant

Most Hollywood films represent the male world view no matter the gender of the protagonist. unless a male respects and understands feminism then I doubt he can represent a female world view.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Hey CJ! While I do agree with you because there are far too many complexities to consider to make any sharp male/female assumptions, I do also feel there are gender perspectives that affect story telling. For example, if you and I each individually wrote a story about the same subject matter we would have distinct viewpoints from our own life experiences, which, of course, would include our different viewpoints as a man and as a woman. Our different genders would play some part, a complex and complicated part, but a part nonetheless. :) Best to you!

Boomer Murrhee

I have noticed my voice and my POV has changed through the years as I matured and mellowed. My perspective is based on my life experience. The longer I live, the more I experience. That's my story and I'm sticking with it. :-) This is an interesting thread.

Laurie Ashbourne

The Hunger Games property was written by a female, Frozen was written and co-directed by a female, Salt was intended to be a male protagonist and was written as such, by a male. Does the gender of the writer make a difference in regards to your question? Some will rightfully argue that it shouldn't and I agree that we as writers should be able to write for any gender but at some level our own tendencies have to seep into the material. From writers who haven't completely matured to see both sides of the gender coin we get stereotypical, bechdel failing, hormonal and testosterone laden crap. Scripts cross my desk everyday that are gender boring, where the writer is portraying stereotypical roles from their perspective. It shouldn't be that way -- and those scripts don't get very far. I think Salt is a great example of a strong role period. It was intended for a male but a female stepped in a proved it didn't have to be. The world of Hunger Games is male-driven which serves to propel the female hero. The world of Frozen is female driven.

Adam McCulloch

I think we tend to look at the gender of the originator or protagonist as proof of the world view but maybe it's not necessarily true. Salt, to me seems like a male world-view in spite of having a female protagonist and I'd suggest that most female protagonist films tend to take this approach. I wonder which films have a male protagonist but a female gaze? Maybe something by Jane Campion?

Laurie Ashbourne

Adam, lets see what fifty shades turns out to be.

Laurie Ashbourne

Alle, I hear what you are stating -- but really a blanket statement like that is an unjust exaggeration and would then make it fair to say that a female can't write a male. It's simply not true. Does it require that level of maturity and experience I mentioned? Absolutely, and that's where the good material shines. Besides, not EVERY moment of a female's life is driven by hormones.

Andrew Man

Laurie, Alle, wow you are both starting to write the next book for me! I wish it was so simple, but from my research people mistakenly believe that masculine energies relate to male features and feminine energy relates to female features, but this may not be so? None of us have pure masculine or all feminine energy, we are all a mixture of both, some of us have more of one than the other etc, etc. I think people try and find balance in their lives, so that a very masculine person , (man or a woman) will seek relationships with mostly femine energy and vica versa, so that a balance is achieved in their life. This may be why some women can write excellent historical stories with male antagonists and others like me spend their time with five female protagonists in my books? In which case, maybe we write what we are?

Laurie Ashbourne

I agree, Andrew!

Wallace Brown

I tend not to see a film/TV drama as told from a female (or male) POV. Hmm.

Mary Laurissas Stoner

This is a very complicated discussion. The main character of the story has a point of view based on their character traits, their gender, thier backstory, and their thinking style. "her" is a movie written and directed by a man with a main character, Theodore, who is male yet who has a typically female, holistic, non-linear thinking style and view of the world. if you are familiar with Dramatica theory or Jim Hull's Narrative First articles, this will sound familiar. Here's one such article, dissecting the movie "Brave." http://www.narrativefirst.com/articles/female-main-characters-who-think-...

Adam McCulloch

Thanks for the link,, Mary. Fascinating topic, yes?

Beth Fox Heisinger

Great article Mary. Thank you for sharing it!

Trey Wickwire

I think the article posted by Mary explains the issue extremely well. My issue is how does a male writer who thinks linearly write a holistic character. It's one thing to understand the concept of a holistic thinker as a main character but its something else entirely to capture them faithfully.

Mary Laurissas Stoner

Trey, to capture your character faithfully, you have to have them take truthful actions. Females tend to try to hold it all together. Males tend to try to pull it all together. Females try to improve a situation with leverage whereas males determine the steps that will lead to a desired outcome. When it comes to relationships, males typically notice something is different and then work to figure out what’s changed emotionally. That's using logic and figuring out the emotions afterwards. Females usually becomes aware of the emotions first then try to figure out what is causing this reaction in their partner. Watch "When Harry Met Sally" and you'll notice how these thinking styles play out in all of their dialogue and in every action they take.

Michael Eddy

This is a bit of a loaded question and opens up a big can of worms - especially after just reading a campaign statement from a woman running fo the WGA BoD and quoting stats about how bad the marketplace still is for female writers and directors. That being said - it begs the question about whether only men can write male characters or women female characters - and I personally do not believe that to be the case. A writer writes - regardless of gender - and must be able to speak in either voice. Novelists can be of either gender and their work is replete with members of both sexes and all ages and nationalities and personalities. A necessity in the job description of: writer. It should be no different with a screenwriter. There are those who specialize in drama who can't write comedy and vice versa - but when you talk about having a particular "perspective" and making it gender based - if you're going to write - you better be able to cover the gamut and do it well. And as for your original 3 titles used in the original query - Hunger Games was a series of novels written by a woman with a female protagonist - and then adapted as screenplays by a man. Frozen is basd on a fairy tale. And SALT - written by a man - was originally cast as Tom Cruise - who dropped out - and with only minor rewriting - was recast as a woman played (quite well) by Angelina Jolie,.

Trey Wickwire

I understand that Mary, the challenge is to make it sound natural instead of a male trying to write like a female thinks. The mechanics can be achieved far easier than the feel can.

Laurie Ashbourne

There are 3, closely intertwined, BUT DIFFERENT, conversations going on here and in the article that Mary shared: 1) Can one gender effectively write characters of the opposite gender? 2) The imbalance that is rampant in our films for authentic female voices on screen and behind the scenes. 3) The question posed in the original post asking if some of the more ‘popular’ female roles were just females being forced into a male perspective of their story world. I think we’ve established that the answer to #1 is yes, but it does take a certain skill set, as was also spelled out in the article. #2 is much trickier and has been on everyone’s minds a lot. Just look at a recent blog post here on Stage 32 for a small sampling. https://www.stage32.com/blog/Gender-Inequality-in-the-Industry-Part-I As for how this relates to the article, I wish the writer had been able to reach out Brenda. I’m sure part of her leaving BRAVE came with an agreement that she not discuss the ‘differences of opinion’ that had her replaced with a male director. Given the chance she would be happy to participate in a healthy debate over this topic. She has long been a voice of females in the business and creating strong role models for females in general. I first met Brenda when she was a story artist on THE LION KING, I was holding down a few different roles on the film and she mentioned to a mutual friend that she admired me. Which really took me by surprise because everyone admired Brenda. When we met, she explained that from where she stood she saw me as female not afraid to go against men because I had taken on way more than my share of roles on two different coasts with little regard as to what anyone thought of me. I didn’t want to deny her the compliment, but I tried to explain that I didn’t approach anything from a male or female perspective – I just did what was necessary. As for BRAVE that was Brenda’s film and it was taken from her because she stood up for certain story components that didn’t satisfy the brain trust in time for a release. But as pointed out in the article, Merida’s thinking isn’t that of a princess’s. The bigger issue here is that you can’t explain that to audiences. Boys did not want to see BRAVE regardless of linear or holistic thinking of the main character, so despite Brenda’s best efforts, BRAVE fed the princess machine. This comes down to the long-standing horrific marketing efforts and the stupid hoops the Disney machine jumps through to try and appeal to boys (think naming Rapunzel, Tangled). But that is yet another thread, off of this one. As for #3, well, BRAVE certainly highlights what happens when you cram a female into a male role, but so does SALT. The difference, SALT was a bad ass Jolie so males didn’t need much marketing. BRAVE was a Disney princess, so it fell into the girl trap – just what Brenda didn’t want it to do. Both did well at the box office, but for sure, Jolie does much more for the big issue of #2 than Disney will ever have the balls to do. I love the term in the article, Mental Sex (minds out of gutter now), and I think along with theme, genre and tone, an experienced writer and director will add this to the palette of a thought provoking film.

Mary Laurissas Stoner

Fascinating note on Brave. Reminiscent of Taymor replaced as director on Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark. One final note on #1, as to how to write characters. regardless of gender, I think it takes research, observation, listening, empathy, and practice, lots of practice. Much like acting, you do the work to put yourself in the mindset of the character and you draw from your own experience.

Michael Eddy

Mary - not sure you can draw a parallel between Brave and Taymor on Spiderman. Taymor directed/conceived a smash hit (still running) with Lion King - but had the movie and its music to run with. the template was there and already wildly successful. With Spiderman - the music was original - not particularly good - and she tried to put her imprint on the whole thing - wild costunes and staging - as she had done with the former. It didn't work. Aside form almost getting cast members killed in the performance - and stalling the "official" opening to forestall critics from having a whack at it - (they're prohibited from publishing their reviews until the show has left "previews" and opened - even though ticket prices for previews are the same as post Opening Night - and ridiculously expensive) - the producers finally decided to replace her and try to retool. I doubt very much it had anything to do with her being a woman - just that the show wasn't working. I know people who saw it both before and after the "fix" - and it never worked. And closed losing a lot of moent for its investors. I don't think Taymor was held to a higher standard than a male director on this - she was held to the standard of the bar she had set so high on The Lion King - and failed to come anywhere close to duplicating that success.

Stuart Land

World view is really cultural view more than it is gender view. I didn't see Frozen, but the other two for me, contained neutral characters who could easily be replaced by the other gender. Maybe the books were different. There was nothing about either main character that defined them as either male or female, other than they were played by women. They, to me, during the course of the main story, had no connection to the culture in which they were born. Salt's backstory was definitely male driven, as she was trained by man to be one particular thing. That she left her programming had more to do with suppressed love than anything male or female. It's been a long time since I saw Hunger Games, but I can't remember any point where katness's role demanded that she be female. Except the obvious, and (again to me) extremely incongruous leap of her character going from repressed village loner to wildly sexy, media-savvy, clever, balls-out heroine in the on-stag interviews scenes. The "holistic view" article was intriguing, and I will need to revisit it before commenting because I haven't seen those films in a long time. His argument seems valid, but I couldn't help but think that (at least in how he explained it) holistic problem solving was still linear with cause and effect in the sense that first one does this to achieve that. As for Brave, I agree 100%, and I disliked the story, but the visuals and animation were stupendous. Oddly, I think most everyone is correct on this thread. Alle, sorry darling, but I can't support your view on this one. Whenever people make definitive statements about non-infinitive subjects, there is always going to be a problem. Outside of DNA, everyone is a product of their environment, which includes their culture, upbringing, gender, experience, etc. A (good) writer, as pointed out above, rises above all that and allows him or herself to become the characters they're writing about. Although, not inherently simple, it's as simple as that. To be any other way is dishonest. Though I've never taken a pole or done research, I'd venture to say most writers can't do that, and that's one of the reason most writing is not so good. A writer doesn't need to be a murderer to write a realistic and authentic killer. Neither does a woman need to be a man to write a convincing and authentic male character. And vice versa. A writer's main tool is observation, their main resource, empathy.

Valerie Hill

Hello Alle, This is slightly different to what you are writing about but would like any advice you can offer as far as researching? I am writing a script which is a love story between two women one openly gay and the other straight an abused wife who is married with an adult son and daughter. Lots of conflicting religious, social and moral issues. I am still researching the reaction of the Lesbian woman to having an affair with a straight person as some wouldn't go there but as we know you can't choose who we love.

Bee Devereux

Are you serious Alle? Married women hitting on their kids' female PE coaches is a trend? Sure it may have happened but it's hardly a daily occurrence and it's certainly not a trend! What a ridiculous statement. Your view of lesbians is very generalised, not to mention stereotypical and offensive. If I'd read this crap anywhere else I'd have assumed a chauvinist straight man had written it. There are countless lesbian women who fall between your categories of Lipstick/Femme, and 'Butch dyke'. To say that butches are likely to have a typical male lifestyle of revolving door partners is frankly untrue. Yes some do, mostly on the 'scene', but a butch woman is no more likely to be promiscuous than anyone else, be they straight, gay, male or female. Nor is a femme any more likely to be faithful and home-loving. These attitudes are totally outdated. They are your own (rather dubious) personal views which demonstrate only your own prejudices. I can't believe that as a lesbian woman yourself you are promoting such nonsense and passing it off as serious research.

Annette Stewart-Colon

In my opinion, a male.

Valerie Hill

Thanks all of you for your very instructive input, I will now carry with my script using your views and my feelings for this character.

Gordon Olivea

The femininity of Katniss is stronger in the book than in the movie. I have a female antagonist but it is definitely from a male perspective. No problem with that. What does the female character want? It depends on her background, situation, that is, everything that a male character has to go through. If my male bias comes through then that is not a bad thing. It is my perspective, my take on the world.

Other topics in Screenwriting:

register for stage 32 Register / Log In