Monday, June 29, 2009

An Open Letter To Pixar

by Sara

[Just for point of reference, Sara had this problem TWO Pixar movies ago, and they did not change since then. Here is what she had to say about UP]

Last night I saw Pixar's latest: "Up." As per usual it was not only beautifully crafted - making use of the 3D technology subtely with just a few moments that pop instead of over doing it - had a fully realized universe, with a rich and quirky character designs and colors that sang. Also, as per usual, the story was wonderfully made: heart-breaking, funny, bittersweet. They are getting better and better with crafting a story for children that does not pander, that is adult, but handled so that even the smallest viewers can follow. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Pixar, and I could go on and on about how well-done UP was, all the new elements they used without being flashy (male senior citzens as both the hero AND the villian? an overweight asian little boy whose weight and race are neither the subjects of jokes nor bludgeoning "messages," excellent both) and how I sobbed through many parts as my heartstrings were gently tugged. But I will stop here, everyone has either already seen and experienced these for themselves, or has read the many many reviews.

What I need to do now is plead. Please, Mr. Lasseter, please please please. At this point you and your company have made 10 films now some better than others, but all strikingly creative in their own way. and every last one of them focuses on a male protagonist, in some cases there are more than one protagonist, both male (Monster's Inc.). In the numerous worlds you've created and explored for us with along with your fellow men -- Brad Bird, Peter Docter, Andrew Stanton -- you've taken us from an anthill to a racetrack, from the toybox to a world populated by fantastic monsters and off into outer-space. Each time you give us something rich and wonderful but why can you do all that but not ever give us a female lead? it is not that females are lacking in Pixar's creations - there's jesse from Toy Story, mother and daughter in The Incredibles, and countless other girlfriends, wives, love interests. But they are given NOTHING to do. Even EVE, my favorite of all the Pixar characters, is just another 2-D rendering of a female: after strong introduction she spends the remainder of the movie running after and helping our male lead. (also, it is a bit shameful that in her introduction she is something at first to be feared and then to be conquered. not the most progressive view of womanhood...) Mr. Lasster you know your audiences are little boys AND LITTLE GIRLS. men AND WOMEN. We are here too. Just as we can identify with a Woody or a Carl, my husband would have no problems identifying with a story centered around Jesse (and not in the - oh look who needs rescuing type of way, either) and so would my brother, my father, my grandfather and my little nephew. As for Up: Ellie was a strong, brave little girl who grows up to get killed off in usual Disney format - kill the woman or make her disappear. Why couldn't Russell be an asian american LITTLE GIRL? not only would it mirror little ellie, and give her a future: in her generation little girls didn't often get the chance to be anything other than housewives, but in the 21st century there are many places and clubs for a funny tom boy to belong to, and a little female would have been a much sweeter character to form a bond with Carl, aching for his lost little ellie, and a much better foil. So why the hell doesn't she exist? It saddens and hurts me, that I company of talented artists and story tellers that I love as much as Pixar prevents me from loving them whole-heartedly. I am more than just a partner to my own creative quirky male spouse. I have adventures, thoughts, experiences of my own. As the other billion females on this planet. Please, give us something to do. Please tell our story too. I know I'll be written off as just another feminist woman having problems where there aren't any, except there are. Mr. Docter, your own little girl provided the voice of ellie. I'm sure you love her, I'm sure you find her to be fascinating, hilarious, curious and that you love her with all your heart. Don't you want her to go to your movies and find herself up there on screen as the main character? By that I mean, a female lead that gets the whole story arch and isn't reduced to either a photo on the wall or the support system for yet another boy? Unless your highest hopes for her are that she finds a nice boy to marry, which I highly doubt, why aren't you giving her that when you can? These things DO matter, and will to her as much as they do to me. I know this company was created by and is largely run by men, but that is not an excuse. If Miyazaki can make heartbreakingly beautiful stories centered around strong little girls and young adult women - movies that my male friends love just as much as I do - why can't you? For a better written, sweeter take on this please see Peter Sagal's letter after viewing "Horton Hears a Who."

11 comments:

Jason said...

I am morally obligated to point out at this juncture that you know who has always been really great about giving people female leads? Chris Claremont.

ba said...

I'll comment on this after I see the movie.

hcduvall said...

Can you imagine my shock when I realized Russell was a little Asian-American boy? Never see that.

I think Pixar are--beyond their skill and craft--creative in an intensely individual visions. So when Lasseter and Brad Bird and crew make their beautiful family movies, they make them from personal spaces first and so tend to focus on male characters. If they're conscious of it (and some of them probably are) it looks like they might be uncomfortable about getting it wrong.

For better or worse, it's an industry thing, or at least an auteur thing. It's a matter of expecting the best work when you let people see out their vision (and maybe while hoping diversity happens naturally). And in reality most singular tales, even at their best, mean gaps happen, like say Bird's problematic notions about talent.

The trouble is the only folks who sit their with responsibility on their mind like that--both for honest wanting to be inclusive reasons and pure commercial ones--and with the resources to make it, is Disney. And event hey usually end up with dead moms.

Or maybe everybody does just like leaving it to Miyazaki. New one this year!

Streebo said...

Although this has nothing to do with Pixar's Up - this is in direct response to Sara's complaint. I never try to give the female characters in my stories something to do unless it is in direct service to the plot. That said - my plots are usually based around the lead male character.

Simply put - I am a male - writing for other males and I understand how guys think and feel. I keep my stories focused on the men and leave the women in the sidelines. I don't know how to write women. I don't know how to write for women. I don't even try. I leave the writing of women to industrious female writers. If I tried to force a greater role on the females in my work - it would come off as contrived or pandering.

Again this doesn't have anything to do with Up - but in the off chance that Brad Bird (or the writer of Up) is anything like me and finds himself utterly incapable of writing for women - then I don't blame him for not trying.

Stefan Delatovic said...

I love this post, and could not agree with it any more if I tried.

Pixar is a particularly upsetting case, because everything else is so good. It reminds me of The Wire, which is the BEST at EVERYTHING until you examine the female characters. Embarrassingly, as a dude with dude parts, I did not notice this until it was pointed out to me by my ladyperson.

Dross is dross, and is dismissed as such. We often give it a pass because we expect little else. Action movie 'splodeythons do not feature strong female characters - or strong transforming robot characters for that matter - but we make little fuss, because what did we expect?

Has one of the Pixar people been a chubby asian boy? Whether they have or not, it's an excellent thing to see on screen. Why can the process that created this not be replicated? If this 'men cannot write for women' thing is factual, then just hire a woman.

Kyle said...

There are actually more than three and a half billion women on Earth (I'm quibbling to help your point). I used to think I couldn't write a female lead character, and then a thought about how interesting it would be if Mar-Vell and Rick Jones fell in love has caused me to start writing a lesbian romance. We'll see how it turns out.

Jason said...

The author/artist of "The Maxx," Sam Kieth, has stated -- if I recall correctly -- that when he writes male/female relationships based on his own experience, he reverses the genders. So the character playing Sam Kieth is, typically, a female. I always thought that was pretty cool.

sara d. reiss said...

I had this whole long response written out about Men writing for Women (and for that, any artist writing characters outside their own specific gender/race) and the accountability the company Pixar and the artist's house within -- and indeed all artists -- should have,
but it was all too much. Thanks guys, for participating in this discussion, and responding to what I wrote. I appreciate it

Streebo said...

I just wanted to point out that I agree with Sara to the extent that Pixar claims to create family entertainment so they are duty bound to find meaningful character arcs for their female characters.

My comments were more of an excuse for my immature "no girls allowed" attitude of writing adolescent wish fulfillment fantasy stories for guys. I think it's important to know one's strengths as an artist and play to them.

Jason's mentions Sam Keith's methods for writing female characters based on his relationships and I have used that technique to a certain extent in the past. Unfortunately my relationships have all been rather rocky over the past few years due to my commitments to my production company. I suppose this all leads to a conversation I need to have with a therapist - but I digress.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Sara.

Marc D. said...

Oh God, here comes the identity politics.

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