Recently Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 director James Gunn has dropped notes on Facebook regarding the Spider-Man: Homecoming casting controversy and to give updates on the status of Groot in the Guardians sequel. This week he wrote on his Facebook page once again with a Guardians-themed post that actually said a lot more.
Women all over the world have been pushed to the sidelines in the interests of men, and their personhood is often forgotten or delegitimized. This is true in the realms of politics and education and religion. But it is also true in the realm of STORIES. That is my personal area of expertise, and that is where I believe women – and girls – deserve the fullness of character that men have often received (I almost said “always received” but then remembered much character writing sucks, regardless of sex).
“Now I know, in these weird times, just for writing this, I will be accused of being an SJW or 'having an agenda,'” he wrote. And when someone did inevitably call him out for social justice warrior “identity politics crap,” he said, “All I talked about was making all of my characters, regardless of gender, fully realized characters. That may be your idea of identity politics. To me, that IS how I make a fun movie.”
I'm happy to see Gunn bring up such a topic with his fans. I make it a point to talk about diversity and representation on screen as often as I can and am often hit with pushback from some who feel “forcing” that kind of progress is wrong. They can't comprehend that some creators are doing it because they really want to. Gunn is proving that here.
In truth I DO have an agenda, and that is telling FULL and TRUTHFUL stories, where ALL the characters are deeply realized. As a person I am a man; as a writer, I need to be everyone. Only in this way will our art and our entertainment adequately express life and inspire all of us. I am sick of stories where there are a bunch of fully realized male characters and one female character, whose primary characteristic is simply being “the girl” or the personality-less object of some man”s affections. I”m not sick of this because I”m politically correct – those of you who know me know I am far from that – but because it”s boring, and it”s b.s. Likewise, I don”t think only making female characters “strong” is a fix either – you see her all the time these days, the perfect female warrior, who is a reaction to the stories of the past, but who is equally as boring and one-dimensional.
Guardians star Karen Gillan appeared to be that “token” woman when the Jumanji sequel casting was announced and while we're waiting to see how that actually plays out, it's exactly the kind of thing that happens over and over in stories. And Gunn is right, sometimes the “strong female character” is only that, when really what we want to see is the fully realized, complex female character.
“Great male characters, from Michael Corleone to Marty McFly to Han Solo to the Joker, are never perfect and never one-dimensional,” he went on to write. “They are sometimes heroic and sometimes villainous and often deeply flawed. But they always reflect the fullness of the world around us. I do not think that is true of the majority of female characters in films.
The director also got on the topic of the Bechdel–Wallace test, something that's not a test of quality for any given piece of work but rather a simple indicator on what kind of presence women actually have. For a film to have at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man seems like an incredibly low bar but in truth it's not met as often as you'd think.
I have done my best, as a male writer, with varying degrees of success, to bring female characters and female stories to the forefront. Whether they're protagonists like Ana in Dawn of the Dead or Starla in Slither, comedy relief like Deadly Girl, Nightbird, and Power Chick in The Specials, or the insane, scene-stealing roles usually reserved for men, like Libby in SUPER. And I can”t wait for you all to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, with Gamora, Nebula, and Mantis in action, where we not only pass the Bechdel test, but run over it and back up over it again and again in an eighteen-wheeler truck, and where their stories and the men”s stories don”t come at the expense of each other, but are interwoven in a way to strengthen and optimize all of them.
This is great to hear. It's sometimes difficult to juggle a large ensemble but Gamora and Nebula's relationship was something I wished we'd had more of in the first film.
Film and TV criticism actually has a few more “tests” these days because while the Bechdel–Wallace test is a good thing to strive to pass, we still want more for our female characters. Hence the Mako Mori Test, the Furiosa Test, and…the Sexy Lamp Test.
The Facebook post, which was spurred by International Day of the Girl, ended with Gunn writing: I am raising a virtual glass to young girls' future freedom and their equal opportunities for education and personal and career fulfillment – AND that they will have access to stories that they can relate to, can be moved by, and that will reflect their struggles, as girls, as women, and, especially, as human beings.”