We are drowning in statistics which indicate women are underrepresented in film and television, both in front of and behind the camera. There are various efforts to shine a light on the institutional sexism women face on a regular basis, be it the rather self-explanatory Shit People Say to Women Directors Tumblr or SomeLadyParts.com where actresses posts sexist-sounding casting calls (e.g., “An extremely hot, confident actress with C+ breasts who is willing to wear lingerie. You will be required to seduce me”). There is a problem, exactly how is a matter of much debate, but it definitely needs to be fixed.
But why, though? To play devil’s advocate for a moment, how much difference can it really make to have a female screenwriter instead of male, female director instead of male or two actresses with a sizable role in a movie instead of just one? How does letting a female voice into the creative process actually influence the movies and TV shows we might see?
The answer seems obvious – it will result in more well-rounded female characters and offer a unique perspective – but maybe we don’t do enough to point out the real world examples which confirm those assumptions.
With that in mind, look to the importance of Sarah Gertrude Shapiro’s feminist believes to the construction of UnReal or the way the female co-showrunners and vocal lead actress shaped many of the storylines of Agent Carter’s first season. And, finally getting to what I promised in the title of the article, look to Brie Larson’s experience on the set of the new indie movie Digging for Fire. According to Vulture, Larson changed the film’s story for the better by pointing out something the male director and lead actor hadn’t even considered.
In Fire, Jake Johnson’s character, Tim, finds a chicken bone and a gun in the yard of the place he’s house-sitting. However, his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) isn’t particularly interested and leaves him behind, taking their five-year-old son to see her parents. Tim has friends over that night, and unlike his wife they are intrigued by the details of the chicken bone and gun. So, a group digging expedition unfolds, somehow serving the film’s purpose as a metaphor for marriage. Vulture, take it away:
At first it’s just a goofy undertaking, but things get a little more scandalous when Tim’s friends bring over women. Brie Larson plays one of them, Max, who becomes intrigued and returns the next day.
Although the dialogue is all improvised, Johnson and director Joe Swanberg did write a brief outline of the story. In their initial version, Max is attracted to Tim, and they have a lot of will-they/won’t-they chemistry. But as Johnson told us at the Rooftop Films New York premiere of the movie, Larson shared a different idea about her character when she met with him and Swanberg — one that Johnson really appreciated.
“She’s like, ‘I would not be sexually attracted to a married man with a 5-year-old who’s digging in his backyard.’” Johnson admitted. “Joe and I thought that was so cool because our fantasy as two older dudes was like, Yeah, the young ladies love us.” Larson convinced them that her character wanted to come back and keep searching because she was interested in the adventure and mystery, too.
“My character, you know, doesn’t fully get it. But that was something she brought, which spun our second act in a whole new direction,” he told us. “‘Cause now it wasn’t the temptation of, Are they gonna be together? Is this young woman flirting with this old married man? Because she didn’t find that interesting.”
And that’s what can happen when more female voices are allowed into the creative process. They can call the guys on their sexist fantasies and steer a story in a more interesting direction. Granted, the low stakes scenario of an ultra-indie like Digging for Fire is going to theoretically be more amenable to such open dialogue and collaboration, and beyond that it’s a unique example where they didn’t even have a script but instead a loose outline for the actors to improv around. However, kudos to Larson for speaking up, and kudos to Johnson and Swanberg for listening.
Here’s the trailer:
Digging for Fire is playing in limited release right now and will soon be available on VOD.