There’s a big trend right now for famously male characters to be recast with women. It’s fine, I get it, we want more female leads in dynamic stories, so this is an easy fix. But, to be honest, I’m bored of it.
I am a big believer in women’s rights and the importance of female representation. I also roll my eyes hard at the men losing their minds over male characters being replaced with women.
When MP Nick Fletcher made a speech that seemed to connect the casting of Jodie Whittaker as Doctor Who with the rise in male violence, I felt like my eyes would roll so hard they’d pop out like marbles. Men are in so many prominent roles in public life in sport, politics, and entertainment, that the idea women get pushed to the forefront in a couple of stories is enough to make men take up arms is laughable. Women haven’t spent generations stabbing one another because Doctor Who was previously a man.
If stepping aside so women can take the spotlight occasionally is such a punch in the balls, imagine what it’s like being a woman and everybody assuming you’d rather be the sidekick anyway.
However. When I saw the announcement that they’re remaking Zorro with a woman in the lead, I tweeted this:
We Deserve Original Stories
We deserve original stories, written for women, written by women. We don’t need to remove men from the spotlight to offer a crumb of space to their female counterparts. We need to accept that the spotlight can be broadened and women deserve just as much space in it as men do.
Women are not interchangeable with men. We’re our own people, just as worthy as representation, but different. Women are as broad and diverse as all people, but we are not just non-men. We’re women. And you don’t need to switch out male characters for female so we can be shown as smart and strong, and star in stories about adventure and danger. Women are smart and strong anyway.
The existing fan base for these characters might offer up a reason for the sex swap. You’re not trying to bring audiences to new characters they don’t care about, you’re offering someone they already know and love just in different packaging. It worked for James Bond, Batman, Superman etc over the generations. The audience comes for that character so it’s worth pumping money into them and recasting the actor each time.
But if we fell in love with those characters once, we can fall in love with new ones now. Women can pull in audiences. So we deserve original stories and original characters that let us do that. Wonder Woman, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Halliwell Sisters. These characters brought in large audiences in their own right. So let us do it again.
Sidelining Female Writers?
Maybe I’m biased, so if you think that, I understand. But most of these male characters being recast with women were written by men. Male characters, male writers, male stories. Just with a woman in the lead.
Is this an opportunity to sideline female writers creating original stories? As a female writer doing just that, I’d like to suggest the audience is there for women’s writing. And I’m not the only one. I am connected to so many incredible female writers creating interesting and dynamic women in stories so worthy of the screen. But if you can achieve your “strong, female lead” character without bothering with the strong, female voice behind her… is it really the representation we have been crying out for?
There’s No Story Limit
There’s no limit to the number of stories we can tell. We don’t need to cut men out to make space for women. There’s space for all the stories to be made and told. It feels lazy and tokenistic to think that just casting a woman in a man’s role is enough. It feels like we’re being patted on the head and offered a cookie to shut up. You don’t need real women’s stories, you just need a woman to say the same words a man said.
Leave the men where they are. Women enjoy stories about men just fine, we don’t need you to put a dress on the lead character for us to feel like we are welcomed in. And the same can be true in reverse. Just broaden the space. Make female lead stories too. Give us stories written for women. Give us stories written by women.
Embrace that true diversity and representation doesn’t come from doing a quick and easy sex swap on a character. True diversity and representation comes from valuing women’s stories and characters in and of their own right.