How is Feminism Impacting Theatre, Film and Television?

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Lewis Baird

In recent years it has been great to see women as a focus for some of the entertainment industry's leading projects. Especially with #MeToo and #TimesUp voicing what needs to be changed for women, helping build strength for actresses, writers, plus directors working in theatre, film, and television.

Recently, this has caused a shift, meaning more woman are leading feature films, theatre, television seasons, and not just actress wise, creatively women are in more demand, which is brilliant to see. However, some of the stories we are seeing emerge feel very forced and the characterization is not natural, as much as we want empowering woman characters, there are realist productions which are being ruined by their over the top portrayal of a strong woman. The question is, should feminism really be a massive showcase at this time or a natural, comfortable transition?

In recent years theatre has seen some brilliant female-led productions which show powerful women, in a subtle and believable way. The Savoy Theatre’s production of Gypsy starring Imelda Staunton was an incredible piece of musical theatre which showcases a strong woman trying to keep her family afloat and brilliant in-depth characterisation. Other productions such as Still Alice, Maxine Peake’s Hamlet, Wicked The Musical, Fat Friends The Musical, Calendar Girls and Legally Blonde The Musical, all feature strong, independent female characters. However, there are several productions coming out which seem to have forceful gender swaps just to follow a trend, especially if it's a Shakespeare production, for me, it's becoming a gimmick, which sometimes is cheap and unneeded. Or there are needless revivals just to employ female actresses, such as Hedda Gabler, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. As much as these plays could be revived for artistic reasons, it just seems that they are running for the sake of it and to showcase powerful females rather than these theatres creating new work.

In television within the UK, we have seen powerful female characters on our screens for years. Doctor Foster, Waterloo Road, Marcella, Happy Valley, and Broadchurch have all had powerful leads and have let the acting speak for its self rather than obvious writing to send a message. However, this year it seems more forced, Killing Eve even though an extraordinary drama, featuring some fantastic actresses, has the issue that it is clear that it has been written to showcase strong female characters. The issue is with the stylization of the production and the characters featured, there is a certain disconnection between the characters and the audience, as even though it tries to have realistic conditions with themes of comedy, the character reactions flaw this realism. The male characters featured are undeveloped and made to seem unimportant by the female characters featured. There should be a sense of equality rather than the imbalance featured. There are points where we see these characters have some minor depth, but it's not enough. As much as I admire Phoebe Waller-Bridge as an actress and writer, she needs to look into balancing the roles, as well as showing strong female characters.

The most current prime example of a female-led drama within the UK is the brand new series of Doctor Who featuring the first female Doctor, Jodie Whittaker. This huge change for the Sci-fi show goes completely unnoticed as Jodie Whittaker simply is the doctor, you don't question her gender at all, not like it should matter. There is a comfortable, subtle and natural transition which is not forced. It also has the balance of brilliantly written supporting characters, male and female. Chris Chibnall is brilliant at writing strong female characters, which is a huge difference compared to his predecessor.

Some of the films that have been/are going to be released with actresses, female writers, and directors coming into the spotlight are astonishing productions. For instance, I,Tonya, A Star is Born, Three Billboards in Ebbing Missouri, Captain Marvel, Mary Queen of Scots, The Post, Mary Poppins Returns and Lady Bird are all films which feature strong females playing characters which intertwine into the script perfectly. Meanwhile you have films such as Ghostbusters, Ocean’s Eight, Tomb Raider and Solo which have no purpose to be made, the first three are reboots, two of which (Ghostbusters and Ocean’s Eight) have females taking over the lead from men, both of these gender swapping reboots served no development of their franchise and the characters had no depth. Tomb Raider was just a needless franchise reboot, trying to once again make Lara Croft a female hero. However, all they achieved was one which is beige and boring. Not a good inspiration for empowering females. Meanwhile Solo is one of the Star Wars franchise’s (many) prequels, which tried to have a large female influence, however, fell flat when clashes of direction made all female characters shallow and uninteresting, almost generic. These three examples all have the same issue, they are simply forcing female representation to tick a box and do not write these characters in a creative aspect.

Females should and need to be represented in our entertainment mediums. But creative teams need to start having a purpose for what they are releasing, not just, reviving theatre/ rebooting franchises with no reason, or writing series which have great female leads, but underdeveloped supporting roles. This year has supplied some amazing new writing and re-envisioned productions which highlight empowering and inspirational women. I hope this continues. It's time to stop using boring, familiar formulas and start looking to the future. Women of 2018 deserve relevant and creative content.