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The Boys Club
June 14, 2009 10:50 PM   Subscribe

Pixar has released ten feature films thus far, and none of them have had a female main character. This has not gone unnoticed. In fact, it has been the subject of commentary for years. But when Linda Holmes at NPR weighs in on the subject (with thoughtful comments), some of the counter-blogs get downright nasty.
posted by hippybear (647 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Seriously? What are the chances? Was this just on digg or something?
posted by rkent at 10:52 PM on June 14, 2009


Jeez. More links in this one. Maybe they should be migrated down the art's post.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:53 PM on June 14, 2009


Yeah, damn. I spent 30 minutes digging up links and got scooped by a one-link post. I don't read digg, so I have no idea why this happened. :(
posted by hippybear at 10:54 PM on June 14, 2009


I'm a lazy slob :-)

Mods, please feel free to keep this one and remove my one.

(though, and this is possibly just a personal style thing, I wouldn't have gone with the "versus" style)
posted by Artw at 10:56 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


So do you guys owe each other a Coke or something now?
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:56 PM on June 14, 2009


I had the better title though. I spent fifteen minutes on that.
posted by Artw at 10:57 PM on June 14, 2009


Reposting from the other thread:

I agree. Pixar needs to make a movie in which the main character is female.

To their credit, the female character that have appeared in many of their films have been complex, independent characters whose personalities weren't primarily based in their gender, although a large part of their purpose in the film was defined by their relationships with the male characters, and that should also be addressed. But Elastigirl is as strong a female character as I have ever seen on film, and I sort of wish the movie had been about her. For about a third of Th Incredibles, it is, and I think that section of the film is superb.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:59 PM on June 14, 2009 [9 favorites]


Who cares about the characters, these are mega productions from major corporations which represent nothing else but the triumph of invested capital; this is the meaningful content of every film, whatever plot the production team may have selected.

Actually, Adorno would be even more upset if the other post stayed and this left, the domination of a mere four minutes of posting time over the accumulated labor of dignified research. That, yes that would represent the true triumph of invested capital. Also Jazz sucks or something, I'm not very good at this.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:00 PM on June 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


I only just found out that Violet was Sarah Vowell. That's pretty cool.
posted by Artw at 11:01 PM on June 14, 2009


ArtW: your post WAS first, and your title is better... I'm happy to migrate all this to your thread...
posted by hippybear at 11:02 PM on June 14, 2009


Keepin' this one. Thanks for being a sport, Artw.
posted by cortex at 11:02 PM on June 14, 2009


No.
posted by Artw at 11:02 PM on June 14, 2009


I wonder if they have a gender problem or a market problem.
posted by adipocere at 11:02 PM on June 14, 2009


Was just talking to someone yesterday about this exact thing. I hate to complain about Pixar, because the movies they make are phenomenal and groundbreaking, but it is really hard not to notice that their films are consistently male-centric. It is disappointing to identify most with the supporting characters, extras, or females that are dead before the opening credits roll.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:02 PM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


No.

(that was to hippybears request, which I note was cruelly denied by mods, as it should be.)
posted by Artw at 11:03 PM on June 14, 2009


Has there been any main character in a feature animation film that was black? The closest opportunity Disney ever had was perhaps The Lion King, where the main characters are animals.

There certainly haven't been any gay or lesbian main characters. That just wouldn't fly as family fare.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:04 PM on June 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


I so do not get artw's post's title.
posted by lumensimus at 11:04 PM on June 14, 2009


Elastagirl doesn't count?

(Besides which, the real star of "The Incredibles" was Edna Mode.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:04 PM on June 14, 2009 [10 favorites]


I am usually pretty sensitive to this sort of thing (don't get me started on Disney Princesses) and just realized I'd never noticed the lack of female main characters in Pixar movies--probably because the female characters they had were so awfully strong and likeable it didn't immediately occur to me.

It would be great to see a Pixar movie with a female lead, but commentators in one of the links make a good point: most of the Pixar staff are male, and they're writing what they know. It's probably not even occurring to them to make a female-lead movie. Not out of some subconscious gendered belief that women characters should only act as foils for the male character's problems (seriously, they have some of the best female characters in any films today), but just because they're dudes and so when they come up with ideas it's about dudes.
posted by schroedinger at 11:05 PM on June 14, 2009 [16 favorites]


Can't say I'm in disagreement with the idea of Pixar making a movie with a girl in the lead - which would hopefully go on to replace that wretched CGI Tinkerbell movie in my daughters heart but here's a question: Which of Pixars other movies would you prefer they hadn't made?
posted by Artw at 11:06 PM on June 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


Repost from the other thread

Word.

Pixar does female characters well: Dory and Peach in Finding Nemo, Jessie in Toy Story 2, the Parr women in The Incredibles, the ant royalty in A Bug's Life...they're all great. But none of them have their name above the title, and I can't help but believe that when Pixar makes that leap, they're going to do it in a way that doesn't automatically turn their movie into a girl's movie, because they are already so good at making movies that knock everyone out equally.

And it's my hope that when they do it, everyone doesn't make a big freaking deal out of how it's a Pixar film about A Girl, because that will just be beside the point.
posted by padraigin at 11:08 PM on June 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


I'm curious if anyone knows box office statistics of films with men as the main character versus women..but honestly I can't see a Pixar movie done amazingly, the way they normally them not making money.
posted by mattsweaters at 11:08 PM on June 14, 2009


I so do not get artw's post's title.

Princesses letter, Princess of Mars (rumoured Pixar project), Cars 2 (now being made) - PRINCESS OF CARS 2!!!!
posted by Artw at 11:08 PM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Which of Pixars other movies would you prefer they hadn't made?

Cars is probably their least creative work. Given ant colonies are lead by a queen, the okay A Bug's Life was a golden opportunity to have a female lead, without risking the wrath of the anti-PC police.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:10 PM on June 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


There certainly haven't been any gay or lesbian main characters. That just wouldn't fly as family fare.

They could adapt And Tango Makes Three...
posted by Artw at 11:11 PM on June 14, 2009


Which of Pixars other movies would you prefer they hadn't made?

Huh? First of all who's to say that the other movies couldn't be made? As someone mentioned above, the Incredible could have been more about Elastigirl and her dumb lug husband, rather then about Mr. Incredible and his nagging wife. Toy Story could have had a Barbe as the main character, Finding Nemo could have been about a mother looking for her son, etc.

Given this crazy interview with the director of Wall-E I'm not surprised.
posted by delmoi at 11:11 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


The comments section on the last link are amazing...granted, some of the comments are just downright awful, but many of the responses and rebuttals = awesome.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:12 PM on June 14, 2009


Cars is probably their least creative work.

Aaaaah! But Cars is the one that sells the toys. Has always sold the toys. Take Cars out and Disney would probably have put the thumbscrews on Pixar to just turn out Toy Story sequels earlier, and you don't get The Incredibles, Up or WALL*E.
posted by Artw at 11:13 PM on June 14, 2009


I am perplexed by Pixar's lack of female leads, now that I think about it. John Lasseter is one of the foremost proponents of Hayao Miyazaki films, many of which have non-princess-substantial female leads. I wonder how this hasn't translated to Pixar films very well.

I understand that the upcoming The Bear and the Bow features a female lead, but she's a princess (I'm hoping a princess more in the sense that Princess Mononoke is princess, and less like Ariel or Snow White).

Pixar has a way of surprising me with every film they make, so I'm hoping they'll pull through.

Did anybody notice the kid from Up was Asian - but Pixar has been silent about it? Did you notice that it features an elderly widower as its hero? Not the female lead some were looking for, but it's progress.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:15 PM on June 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


Well, you can't really argue that Pixar's movie's male-to-female-protagonist-ratio is skewed, that's obvious. One of those link theorizes that the reason most of those movies feature male protagonists is that the writers and directors are overwhelmingly male. I think that says more about the field of computer animation (or regular old animation) more than it says about Pixar.

I think the reason these bloggers are criticizing Pixar is because they feel there is a dearth of movies that appeal to young girls without resorting to the problematic princess formula (every disney princess movie ever). While this is true to a large degree, it seems myopic when there is also a dearth of movies that appeal to young boys without resorting to the problematic asskicking-dogooder formula (every superhero movie ever).

In the big view of things, I think Pixar does a pretty damn good job of appealing to both genders without pandering to either. Their movies tend to explore human-themes that apply to anyone, regardless of their gender: growing old without fulfilling one's dreams (Up), living in the face of isolation and unrequited love (Wall-E), being an outcast becuase of one's passion (Ratatouille).

While it would be nice for Pixar to mix it up a bit, there are worse offenders in the field of children's entertainment when it come to gender inequity.
posted by arcolz at 11:16 PM on June 14, 2009 [14 favorites]


What movies does Pixar have in the pipeline? I can find mention of Toy Story 3, Cars 2, Newt, The Bear and the Bow, and two live action movies, John Carter From Mars and 1906. I can't find a single site that lists all of these, surprisingly, so there might be more that have been announced but I haven't seen.

Of the above, only The Bear and the Bow appears to star a female.
posted by painquale at 11:16 PM on June 14, 2009


Finding Nemo could have been about a mother looking for her son

And it would have been a nice contrast to the classic "mom dies at the beginning of the movie" trope, which it chose to follow instead.

Of course, as a mom sensitive to the way these things are portrayed, I can't help but imagine the grief that would have arisen from a movie where Coral yelled at her fatherless son, causing him to rebel and get caught by a diver. BAD FISH MOTHER! You will be vilified by mommybloggers and right wing politicians!

Seriously, it would have taken a whole different weight for a lot of people with that seemingly small change in plot.
posted by padraigin at 11:17 PM on June 14, 2009 [15 favorites]


Aaaaah! But Cars is the one that sells the toys. Has always sold the toys. Take Cars out and Disney would probably have put the thumbscrews on Pixar to just turn out Toy Story sequels earlier, and you don't get The Incredibles, Up or WALL*E.

Good point. You drive a hard bargain, no pun intended. I'd probably scrap A Bug's Life.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:17 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


mattsweaters: Doing quick stuff with IMDB. Rapidly going from the IMDB top 50
2 have female leads, Aliens and Amelie.
posted by sien at 11:18 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


*male-to-female-protagonist-ratio isn't skewed

oi.
posted by arcolz at 11:19 PM on June 14, 2009


Did anybody notice the kid from Up was Asian - but Pixar has been silent about it? Did you notice that it features an elderly widower as its hero?

Yes, and yes. And neither of those facts prevented my blonde, blue-eyed six year old daughter from having her first truly emotional film experience. Empathy is pretty boundless, as I learned again as I held her while she sobbed during Up.

But I do feel that it would be nice for her to get a chance to sympathize with a true Pixar heroine, just the same.
posted by padraigin at 11:22 PM on June 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Huh? First of all who's to say that the other movies couldn't be made? As someone mentioned above, the Incredible could have been more about Elastigirl and her dumb lug husband, rather then about Mr. Incredible and his nagging wife.

Brad Bird gets the memo from above, demanding the change. Sulks. Hacks up movie to make change. Resulting Frankensteins monster is critical and commercial faliure. WALL*E is never made. Enviromental message fails to get across. World destroyed.

That's what you get for cheating
posted by Artw at 11:26 PM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Do you know why the Pixar movies are so consistently good? Because they don't care for this sort of shit.

Whoever thinks of complaining about this should STFU and, as punishment, be forced to watch all Disney Princess movies. Twice.

Also, did Spielberg ever cast a female lead? Oh wait, "The Color Purple". I rest my case.
posted by Skeptic at 11:27 PM on June 14, 2009 [19 favorites]


Whoever thinks of complaining about this should STFU and, as punishment, be forced to watch all Disney Princess movies. Twice.


I think a lot of the people complaining about this are doing so because they've watched all the Disney Princess movies way more than twice, dude.
posted by padraigin at 11:29 PM on June 14, 2009 [11 favorites]


Fairies count as princesses, right? the horror, the horror...
posted by Artw at 11:30 PM on June 14, 2009


Like jabberjaw said, if they want to learn how to make a movie about a girl that isn't a movie about being a girl, they just have to look at Miyazaki. His leads are girls when they don't have to be girls and they do heroic stuff like saving people and visiting strange worlds. Even his movies about guys often feature strong females (Fio from Porco Rosso kicks ass) and he even gives us female baddies for the girls to spar with. Thanks, Miyazaki, for giving us a group of knee-skinning girls to cheer on.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:31 PM on June 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


WALL*E is never made.

And this is... a bad thing?

(I do not get why people love that movie so much. Everything before EVE shows up is awesome, I'll agree, but it goes off the rails after that.)
posted by asterix at 11:31 PM on June 14, 2009 [8 favorites]


Also, did Spielberg ever cast a female lead? Oh wait, "The Color Purple". I rest my case.

I'm afraid you're going to have to spell this one out for me.
posted by asterix at 11:32 PM on June 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Am I the only person who is really, really bothered by the constant use of "gender" to refer to the sex of humans? I took Intro to Mandatory Wretched Pseudointellectual Therapeutic "Studies" so I know the idea behind it but that doesn't stop it from annoying my Latinist's sensibilities.
posted by Electrius at 11:32 PM on June 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


POSSIBLE UP SPOILER ALERT, although not much of a spoiler.

Okay, am I the only one who thought it was weird that the little boy in UP was upset that his dad wasn't going to be there to give him his badge... and that, as he stood on the stage all sad, his mom was just sitting blankly in the audience, not taking part in the ceremony? I mean, what, she's not good enough to stand on the stage and hand him his badge? Is the Wilderness stage like a Catholic altar, which no woman may sully with her presence? Because... I don't know... I thought that was weird. I get that they wanted to have the old guy come in there, but it seemed to imply that the mom was completely unimportant and clueless about what was important to her kid -- or, again, just not good enough to stand on a stage and hand him his badge.

Also, in RATATOUILLE, it did bother me that there was a potentially strong female character, but that after talking about how hard it was for her to try to make it in a man's world, and how she wants to be a leading chef, she winds up becoming no more than the love interest of the guy who's going to get to be the big success, and all her ambition seems to just vanish into the wind...because apparently being the girlfriend of the lead is better than having a career of your own. Or something. Anyway, it was not a positive message.

All that being said, I've loved a lot of Pixar movies, but yeah... does their first female lead REALLY have to be a princess??? Sigh.

Oh, and asterix, yeah. WALL-E. Whatever. The first part is brilliant, and then the part where it turns into a completely aimless other movie is... not.
posted by OolooKitty at 11:35 PM on June 14, 2009 [16 favorites]


Do you know why the Pixar movies are so consistently good? Because they don't care for this sort of shit.

Well, ignoring the STFU thing for a bit (which was a bit silly of you), I think you've pretty much got it there. Brad Bird kept The Incredibles alive as a projetc for years, across several companies, trying to get it made. It was an incredibly personal project for him, largely because he empathised with the Mr. Incredible character. Now, if hypothetical exec guy comes along ands says "actually we want this to be about Elastigirl, and can you make Mr. Incredible kind of a dumbass, you know, like the dad in every advertising family ever" what happens? You cut the soul out of the thing, kill it dead.

Which is to say, yeah, Disney/Pixar being overly concerned with some kind of quota would be a bad thing.
posted by Artw at 11:37 PM on June 14, 2009 [8 favorites]


Okay, am I the only one who thought it was weird that the little boy in UP was upset that his dad wasn't going to be there to give him his badge... and that, as he stood on the stage all sad, his mom was just sitting blankly in the audience, not taking part in the ceremony?

No, that struck me too. And your observation about RATATOUILLE is spot-on.
posted by asterix at 11:38 PM on June 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


Also The Color Purple is a rocking movie. I have to say that Oprah of all people was fucking awesome in it. Don't be dismissing The Color Purple.
posted by Artw at 11:38 PM on June 14, 2009 [13 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon has a point though, I'd be all for trashing A Bugs Life to make Girl X movie. That one just never really grabbed me.
posted by Artw at 11:44 PM on June 14, 2009


IMDB says that Brad Bird's next project is "1906", scheduled for three years from now. "A young man discovers a series of secrets and lies that left San Francisco highly vulnerable to the fires that engulfed it in the aftermath of the historical 1906 earthquake."

Though I wouldn't have phrased it quite the same way, I think I agree with Skeptic. Pixar is trying to make good movies, and they are making good movies. I don't think it matters whether they're satisfying quotas as long as the movies continue to be good.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:44 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


The problem is the Hollywood movie-making machine is not geared (literally!) towards making films with anything other than a white, male, straight lead. For example, I think Samuel Jackson said (about ten years ago) in an interview that at any one time there is one black male dramatic lead in Hollywood, and that he felt lucky that it was his turn. When was the last time there was ever a thoughtful role for a female character in Hollywood? Sigourney Weaver in Aliens doesn't count. The Hollywood system has a long way to go. It would be great, for example, if Asians actually showed up on the screen at all.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:44 PM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


What OolooKitty said about Rataouille. I lost all my sympathy for Linguini when it turned out that he really was just a charmed nebbish and the woman who deserved the success had to ride on his coattails. What did she see in him?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:44 PM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]



Sure, Pixar's box office hits seem to be mostly male leads.
Ghibli's box office hits seem to be mostly female leads.

Seems to me that if you make a fantastic movie, the gender does not matter?
posted by lundman at 11:44 PM on June 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


As I understand it, the Pixar princess in this movie is not the typical Disney story about a poor/beautiful girl who is rescued by handsome prince and given the life of luxury. Instead it's a girl who already has the life of a princess and says, "Fuck that princess shit; I'd like to be an archer."

So yeah, technically, there are princesses in both, but they're not necessarily equivalent. I trust Pixar to make a princess of the kick-ass variety rather than the typical Cinderella bullshit.
posted by stefanie at 11:54 PM on June 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


The thing is that a bunch of the Pixar stuff is about a male lead, and his younger/dumber male sidekick, and his older male mentor, and five goofy interesting male supporting characters, and one female character. It's not just that they are male leads, but that they live in a social world populated mostly by male characters.

(Of course, Pixar is great, and their female characters are often good and balanced and funny etc. But why not slot in female voices for some of the incidental characters? Or have a female villain? Or a female older mentor? etc You could slot these in with hardly any change in the dialogue. That's what gets me about this. We say "they're writing what they know, they're ll guys". But come on, they're writing about robots, intergalactic space ships, life as a fish, or a nightmare monster, etc FFS. They have imaginations. They can write female main characters.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:57 PM on June 14, 2009 [17 favorites]


Okay, am I the only one who thought it was weird that the little boy in UP was upset that his dad wasn't going to be there to give him his badge... and that, as he stood on the stage all sad, his mom was just sitting blankly in the audience, not taking part in the ceremony? I mean, what, she's not good enough to stand on the stage and hand him his badge?

But then the movie doesn't make a lick of sense. There's a parallelism between Carl's loss of Ellie and Russell's loss of his father, and their equal desires to prove themselves to the lost person in their life. And thus there's an emotional connection between the two. If his mom were handing out the badge and Carl wasn't, then you lose the emotional connection there -- Carl becomes nothing more than a bystander when he should be integral, and the final parallelism where Carl gives Russell SOMETHING I WILL NOT DISCLOSE AS IT IS A BIT OF A SPOILER looks tacked on and stupid. And honestly, if you put her on stage, Mom would look tacked on, too.
posted by dw at 11:58 PM on June 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


Do you know why the Pixar movies are so consistently good? Because they don't care for this sort of shit.

I toss a coin ten times, and it comes up heads every time. Why? "Because the coin doesn't care" is not an acceptable explanation.

Half of humans are women, but 0% of Pixar's heroes are. Obviously they do care about the sex of their main characters, although they may not be fully aware of how or why they care.
posted by stammer at 11:58 PM on June 14, 2009 [55 favorites]


And for the record: people who are paying attention to this ARE NOT ADVOCATING QUOTAS and ARE NOT ADVOCATING MAKING BAD MOVIES. Pixar is a company we like, whose movies we like, etc. They are smart and good enough to make good movies about female characters.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:01 AM on June 15, 2009 [17 favorites]


Everything before EVE shows up is awesome, I'll agree, but it goes off the rails after that.

*Foreign contaminent*

/starts scrubbing furiously
posted by DreamerFi at 12:02 AM on June 15, 2009 [50 favorites]


Inspiration is not a coin toss.
posted by Artw at 12:04 AM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Inspiration is not a coin toss.

I think stammer's point was that inspiration is not a fair coin toss.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:07 AM on June 15, 2009


dw: Of course, you're right about the necessity of Carl doing this, because of the parallel and the emotional drive of the plot. But it still bugged me that his mom was just sitting there waving. I would have rather had her not be there at all than to have her be there being completely useless and ineffective.
posted by OolooKitty at 12:08 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


or, stammer's point was that a tossed coin is not inspired.
posted by hippybear at 12:11 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Exactly. I love Pixar movies, which is why I'm *more* disappointed that they haven't had a decent female lead than when other kids' movies leave girls out of the picture. I don't expect anything but the same old "girls wear pink, boys wear anything, girls like to nurture, boys can do anything" attitude from the other animation houses. But I expect better from Pixar.

I'm convinced that given their successful track record at making endearing, adventurous characters I can identify with, they'd do a great job with a female lead.

I once had the opportunity to buttonhole a Pixar animator over drinks, and told him I'd love to see another Jessie, Elastigirl, Dory or Colette, only leading the show instead of providing backup to yet another boy.
posted by harriet vane at 12:13 AM on June 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


OK, that "exactly!" was for stammer
posted by harriet vane at 12:14 AM on June 15, 2009


Has there been any main character in a feature animation film that was black?

Disney's upcoming The Princess and the Frog.

Also, check out Michel Ocelot's Kirikou and the Sorceress and Kirikou and the Wild Beast (trailer).
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 12:15 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


20 years ago, Disney was getting a lot of grief for the princess movies, culminating with Little Mermaid, where you had a flat and completely helpless Ariel who had to be saved by the human man she was in love with. When would Disney finally come out with a strong female lead who didn't need saving.

Two years later, they released Beauty and the Beast. And finally, the criticism waned.

Brenda Chapman wrote the screenplay for Bear and the Bow. Her first writing credit? Beauty and the Beast. Also, she's the first woman to direct an animated feature (Prince of Egypt).

Somehow, I don't think the "princess" in Bear and the Bow is going to need rescuing by some square-jawed guy.
posted by dw at 12:22 AM on June 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


With films like these a lot of the decisions are based on calculated mass appeal, hence the similar plot structures etc.

Someone at the studio has probably discovered that while almost all girls will accept carefully-crafted male protagonists (largely due to having little choice and being brought up to tolerate this), many boys won't fully accept female protagonists, and so after crunching the numbers opting for a male lead is seen as the safer bet.

Pixar seems to push against some conventions in small ways in each of their films, but so far has played along with letting male characters dominate.
posted by malevolent at 12:24 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Has there been any main character in a feature animation film that was black?

Let's just say there wasn't.
posted by dw at 12:25 AM on June 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


I can't find the full story, but Wikipedia has a brief mention of how Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space, was inspired by Lt Uhura in Star Trek.

Fictional characters can broadens kids' minds - they see someone like them doing something cool, and assume that they can do it too. Why should little girls miss out, when they've got nothing but pretty princesses to look up to? Why should black kids miss out, when they've got nothing but sidekicks to look up to?
posted by harriet vane at 12:27 AM on June 15, 2009 [9 favorites]


Wait a minute... though WALL*E was ostensibly about a "male" robot lead character, ultimately his "female" counterpart does most of the saving, and the super-hero-ing. And, moreover, she's not blindly looking for love from a workaholic male. That's quite a bit of gender role reversal going on in that flick.

Does that not count?
posted by revmitcz at 12:31 AM on June 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


Why isn't the movie called EVE then?
posted by harriet vane at 12:33 AM on June 15, 2009 [10 favorites]


I can see why people want films which have the kind of female protagonists we're talking about here.

I can't really see why Pixar needs to be the one to make them. It's enough that they make good movies, even if they tend to gender monotonicity in their films. Let somebody else who doesn't tend that way and who's also skilled make this other movie Linda Holmes and others are talking about. Nobody's stopping this from happening and it'll be much more likely to turn out better than lobbying artists for a particular social goal.
posted by namespan at 12:39 AM on June 15, 2009


I understand the argument that Pixar is out to make good movies, regardless of quotas. I agree, and I commend them for it!

But, if anybody can make a great movie with a female lead, it's Pixar. They can take crap ideas and make them golden; they can take random characters and make them work.

WALL-E was made because some Pixar guys were sitting in a room saying "Hey, let's make a movie about a robot. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland. That ... uh ... falls in love." If they can make a great, compelling story about a Johnny 5 rip-off (tongue in cheek), they can make a great, compelling story about a female lead.

You can't tell me that Pixar is unable to make a movie about a fish-mom whose song gets scooped up; or a movie about a girl monster and a little boy; or a movie about a superhero mother. I understand that these aren't the movies that were conceived and made into things that we love; but you have to agree that if Pixar put its mind to it, these movies would have rocked.
posted by jabberjaw at 12:43 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


What people forget about Finding Nemo is that Amphiprion ocellaris & A. percula - the two species Nemo could be - are both protandrous hermaphrodites.

Ever notice that bit at the beginning when Nemo's mother is lost? Notice how Marlin is bigger than, or at least much the same size as, Coral?

Yup, that's right - Pixar have already snuck at least one "non-traditional family" into their films.
posted by Pinback at 12:55 AM on June 15, 2009 [36 favorites]


I can't really see why Pixar needs to be the one to make them.

I'd love it if all the animation houses made them. But I think it's easier to ask a group known for producing quality entertainment to stretch themselves to be a little more inclusive than it is to convince the groups who make lowest-common-denominator, shovel-more-merchandise, stereotyped filler to learn first how to write good plots, then good characters, then finally to be more inclusive.

Plus, if Pixar starts doing it, then it's another benchmark that other producers will have to live up to, and (in theory) should help diversity across the board.
posted by harriet vane at 12:56 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I dunno. I agree with the basic point here -- that Pixar needs more female leads -- but I don't think the problem belongs so much to Pixar as it does the industry as a whole. In an industry where maybe less than 10 percent of movies follow the Bechdel Rule, and where most of the leads are youngish white men, I feel a little weird getting up Pixar's ass. We're talking about a company that, as someone mentioned upthread, just made an adventure movie whose leads were an elderly widower and a fat Asian kid, and which fairly consistently makes movies with multidimensional, compelling female characters,* so getting on their case for hitting a triple instead of a home run feels a little icky to me. Sure, we should expect more from a company that we know can make quality films, but, y'know, let's have a little faith that they're not planning Tinkerbell's Purity Ball.


*Though Oolookitty's comment re: Ratatouille is definitely true.
posted by hifiparasol at 1:06 AM on June 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


Posts like this serve to remind me what an ephemeral distraction, at best, MeFi is. Thanks for keeping it amusingly unreal, hippybear!
posted by paulsc at 1:08 AM on June 15, 2009


Am I the only person who is really, really bothered by the constant use of "gender" to refer to the sex of humans? I took Intro to Mandatory Wretched Pseudointellectual Therapeutic "Studies" so I know the idea behind it but that doesn't stop it from annoying my Latinist's sensibilities.

I'm not offended by the idea that sex is something you perform rather than something you're born into. Had I studied Latin's deep and manly throb rather than the effete mincing ways of the French this may have turned out differently.

Also, more Edna Mode, please.
posted by Wolof at 1:13 AM on June 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


Each of Pixar's movies is a BIG, and very LONG process. They start with really good scripts, usually written by a man (probably strongly influenced by his own experiences) who also directs/produces/draws/etc. They just need more female writers/director/producers/artists... do they have any at the top level?
posted by chuckdarwin at 1:26 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Come to think of it, Eve is a main character. Wall-E would have been nothing as a story without her.
posted by chuckdarwin at 1:28 AM on June 15, 2009


OK, I first posted without reading the linked-to article, which is more thoughtful than I expected. Nevertheless, my main point stands: let Pixar be Pixar! As others have pointed out, if you really need feisty female leads, go see some Miyazaki.

Why haven't Pixar cast female leads yet? I consider there are two reasons:

a) In case you haven't noticed, Pixar makes surprisingly old-fashioned movies. Nostalgia is a recurrent theme in Pixar films, and there are continuous references to adventure films from the 30s to the 60s. Guess what? Those classic films didn't have a great many female leads. Inserting a female lead would almost certainly feel contrived. Instead, Pixar makes the next best thing, which is to introduce female characters who, are unfailingly more intelligent, stronger-willed and more articulate than the male leads. Which leads us to the second point:

b) Bird and Lasseter may be somewhat intimidated by women. Those are two HUGE nerds we are talking about, after all...

This said, I must also admit in "Ratatouille" I was also disappointed with Colette's sudden crush for Linguini. Come on, girl, you surely can do better than a dweeb who's outwitted and outcharmed by his pet rat!
posted by Skeptic at 1:32 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


revmitcz-
yeah. Everyone here (mostly) seems to agree that pixar's problem is not that they can't make compelling, complex, and strong female characters, because they can, and have done so to great effect in the past. The problem is specifically that these very good female characters have never been given first billing in the plot. A protagonist really is very different from a supporting role, even if they have near the same amount of screen time, and the support ends up actually saving the day; the primary difference being that their character is still necessarily defined by their relationship (even if heroic) to the protagonist. It's not a huge gap, yeah, but it's one pixar hasn't crossed yet.
This is not to say i'm totally sure they should, either. Or at least, I wish they would, but not at the expense of quality - if they do, I would want it to happen because a girl is the right protagonist for the story that they are trying to tell, not because they feel like they need to make a movie about a girl.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 1:47 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Am I the only person who disliked Ratatouille?
posted by chuckdarwin at 1:50 AM on June 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Didn't JK Rowling say somewhere that Harry Potter was a boy because girls would read a story about a boy whereas boys wouldn't read a story about a girl? I think that's a terrible attitude and I hope it's not the view they take at Pixar.
posted by Phanx at 1:54 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


A similar thing that annoys my friend to no end: practically every Pixar movie is a buddy comedy.

Also, Edna Mode was voiced by a man (who also happened to write and direct the movie).

I have trouble getting riled up by anything that Pixar does as their movies are good at worst. When they're good, they're absolutely fantastic. Much like studio Ghibli.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:01 AM on June 15, 2009


I feel a little weird getting up Pixar's ass.

The curse of high expectations. No-one expects Golan-Globus or Mel Gibson or whoever to be what you might call enlightened, but Pixar are percieved as clueful enough about all sorts of stuff that it's all the more dissapointing when they're bad about something you'd think it would be easier to be clueful about.

b) Bird and Lasseter may be somewhat intimidated by women. Those are two HUGE nerds we are talking about, after all...

Apart from being unfair stereotyping of male "nerds", even if it's true, so fucking what? I mean, I thought feminist thinking had effectively demolished the "Oh the boys can't cope with it so don't let the women near them" trope adequately that anyone with half a brain would understand it.
posted by rodgerd at 2:01 AM on June 15, 2009 [7 favorites]


Am I the only person who disliked Ratatouille?
posted by chuckdarwin at 1:50 AM on June 15 [+] [!]

Apparently not, judging by this thread. I'm completely fascinated by it myself, especially given it's troubled production (alluded to here). IIRC, the Pinkava version used Remy as a catalyst in a romance between Linguini and Collette, sort of like a little ratty (and bipedal, and clothed) Cupid. I would LOVE to see an original story reel or script, just for comparison's sake.
posted by maryh at 2:07 AM on June 15, 2009


You people and your gender stereotypes! You've all just assumed wall-e was male. It was actually the beautiful story of a pair of lesbian robots, it was incredibly progressive, pixar is way ahead of you.
posted by phyle at 2:12 AM on June 15, 2009 [25 favorites]


Okay, most Pixar leads are typical post-90s male leads -- they're slightly doltish. The main character is allowed to, and indeed ought to have, far more flaws. Frankly, the supporting females in Pixar films are too kick-ass to be leads. If you were to transplant them into the lead, it would be an awful awful story about this awesome kick-ass heroine who can do no wrong. So that's out. The other option is to introduce flaws. With males, the choices are pretty easy and well established. Female flaws? It's a really really tight line to walk. I don't think many people would have accepted WALL*E as a female lead -- silly infatuations and constantly being a damsel in distress probably would have been nixed early. I would love a film like that, but it definitely would have risked "Pixar's first movie with a female lead has her exemplify stereotypes!!" Miyazaki's Spirited Away I think was the one film mentioned that was able to have a full female lead, flaws and all.

I'm not sure this is the true reason. But I could totally understand if, instead of trying to carefully avoid landmines, instead of trying to delicately balance an interesting story with "acceptable" flaws, Pixar says screw it and just goes with their flawed and loveable male leads.
posted by FuManchu at 2:44 AM on June 15, 2009 [16 favorites]


rodgerd I consider myself a male nerd who's stereotypically intimidated by women. So, I was hardly unfair...
posted by Skeptic at 2:44 AM on June 15, 2009


getting on their case for hitting a triple instead of a home run feels a little icky to me.

Exactly. Except the thing is, from an entertainment quality standpoint, they are hitting home runs. It's only from the standpoint of a broad enough social agenda that you can put them down at "only a triple." Meanwhile, they're playing a game most everybody admires and likes to watch, but we're complaining about the gender composition of the team.

And maybe this is the basic problem I have with this: it should be perfectly acceptable for a studio to remain focused on some subset of the available range of protagonists and stories. It's a practical point of view, given that even if everybody in the world happened to agree on what constituted the set of worthwhile social outcomes that can be served by film, no one studio would be able to encompass them all. But it's also an issue of personal and artistic freedom. If for some reason it fits the constitution or preferences of people at Pixar to predominately feature leads of one gender, this should be OK, particularly if they do such a great job at it.

It's not that I don't think the social agenda here is worthwhile. There is a problem if there are industry-wide barriers that prevent good stories with female leads from being made, but I think investing in studios that are interested in doing that kind of work well is less compulsory and artistically problematic than buttonholing a particular studio with an issue they haven't found compelling enough to take up on their own.

If they can make a great, compelling story about a Johnny 5 rip-off (tongue in cheek), they can make a great, compelling story about a female lead.

This doesn't necessarily follow.

You can't tell me that Pixar is unable to make a movie... about a superhero mother.

They arguably made this movie, as Elastigirl was hardly a prop rather than a full-fledged protagonist, but Artw artfully covered one potential problematic outcome of a decision where she was the protagonist. The artist needs to find the story compelling first or there are inevitable problems.
posted by namespan at 2:57 AM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think it's unfair that all the Pixar films have been made with males who have flaws which cause them to get into trouble. The image that this puts out to the girls that are watching is that men are weak and prone to failure. Shame on Pixar for perpetuating this myth about men.
posted by wayofthedodo at 3:06 AM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


While I agree that the potential for walking a tight line is there with regards to flawed heroines, I don't agree that Pixar should shy away from it for that reason.

Women and girls are flawed as much as men and boys, and they too deserve to see true-to-life role models as well as "kick-ass heroines." If anything, it can only be more valuable for the female half of our cultures to have role models that aren't Barbies or other perfect physical specimens (for some values of perfect) nor yet super-heroines who successfully solve all the problems while remaining unfortunately aloof from society.

It's really not that hard to create a character with flaws that don't trip up the sexism meter (and here's where female writers and animators come in handy, as they'll tend to notice problems like that). See Miyazaki for some wonderful examples of compelling female leads.

Running late at crucial moments (a la Finding Nemo)? Normal, pretty non-gendered parental behavior, easily adaptable to a female lead. Aging former star turned judge and mayor (that is, the tolerably bad Cars)? Does not have to be a male lead, no matter what historical purists tell you. The tail (hah!) of a little rat that dreams big and tries to escape the limitations society has placed on them (Ratatouille, of course)? That's starting to sound tailor made for a female lead.

I know I can't be the only one that admires Pixar films immensely and enjoys the viewing experience a great deal...but would love to see a female lead for our sisters, daughters, and students to envision themselves as.
posted by librarylis at 3:27 AM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


There is a problem if there are industry-wide barriers that prevent good stories with female leads from being made, but I think investing in studios that are interested in doing that kind of work well is less compulsory and artistically problematic than buttonholing a particular studio with an issue they haven't found compelling enough to take up on their own.

If? There are plenty of barriers: there's all the barriers to women that exist in the film industry, plus all the barriers to women that exist in technology industries.

And waiting patiently for a male-dominated industry to just wake up one day and realise that sexism is a compelling issue seems unlikely to work, given how that tactic hasn't worked anywhere else ever.

But there's a variety of ways to get more stories with female leads, without issuing quotas or just plonking supporting character traits onto your lead characters (remember that no-one here is asking Pixar to lessen the quality of their movies). What about checking that you're not mommy-tracking your female staff while promoting the guys? Or having the existing producers and directors and writers talk to their wives, mothers and daughters about what stories they loved when they were kids?

Andrew Stanton wrote Finding Nemo about how he felt when his son was born, wanting to protect him against the whole world. I'm fairly certain that someone in their leadership group there must have had a daughter too...
posted by harriet vane at 3:35 AM on June 15, 2009 [14 favorites]


am I the only one who thought it was weird that the little boy in UP was upset that his dad wasn't going to be there to give him his badge... and that, as he stood on the stage all sad, his mom was just sitting blankly in the audience, not taking part in the ceremony?

No, Russell was clearly looking for a father figure and it was obvious who it was going to be. It would have been nice if Mom was more than just sitting in the audience, yeah, but come on, you knew exactly who was going to be on that stage with him.

That said, I never really noticed the Pixar gender gap because their stories are so damn good and they don't have weak female characters. But yeah, female leads would be nice.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:42 AM on June 15, 2009


Are parents so stupid as to believe that the gender of a character should make a difference in the way that their child views that character? Instead of taking the easy way out and waiting for Pixar to create a film with a female lead, what's wrong with encouraging girls to be look up to Mr. Incredible or Nemo? Because they're male? (Conversely, what's wrong with having boys look up to the Little Mermaid or Snow White?) Then perhaps its not Pixar or the movie industry enforcing their gender stereotypes upon your children, but you.
posted by wayofthedodo at 3:54 AM on June 15, 2009


I have totally bald friend. Back in the 90s I had some computer-graphics colleagues who referred to him as "render-ready". There were a number of years in Pixar's history (up to about the time of Toy Story 2) when the prospect of a full movie featuring a character with flowing locks of hair would have made it a production no-go.
posted by rongorongo at 3:58 AM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


"There certainly haven't been any gay or lesbian main characters. That just wouldn't fly as family fare.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:04 AM on June 15"


I wanted to post something in that general direction. Not just no gay characters in animation, but there are usually rarely characters who aren't expilictly hetero-sexualised wit some sort of love interest. That's why I liked Ratatouille where Remy the rat had his passion, but at least no rat-girlfriend who he had to win over whith his cooking.

But where I think OolooKitty made a valid point about the female cooks vanishing ambition, but
"Come on, girl, you surely can do better than a dweeb who's outwitted and outcharmed by his pet rat!
posted by Skeptic"

is completely besides the point.
posted by kolophon at 4:10 AM on June 15, 2009


I don't generally go for Pixar's whole Ayn Rand fetish, but here I think the obvious response for any true Pixar fans is: if you want a well-written film with a female lead, why don't you write it yourself? Why do you expect Pixar to write it for you?

Clearly, you have some very definite ideas about how to construct an adequate female lead: she should be strong and not a princess. So write the story yourself.

Of course, you'll have to write a character with foibles and flaws, because perfect strong women don't generally have the kinds of pratfalls and adventures that interest an audience. She'll have to fit enough conventions that the audience will instantly recognize and sympathize with her. She'll probably need a love interest just like the male characters, but here again you must avoid having her swoon too hard and be weakened by her attraction for this love interest, whether it be male or female, mineral or vegetable.

(Actually, come to think of it: perhaps you should do a cartoon about Ayn Rand. She's perfect: strong enough, flawed enough, recognizably unconventional enough, and not too swoony. Also, she's dead, so you can also make a powerful statement about zombie rights in this live-ist world.)

I absolutely agree that our media lacks proper attention for female stories and leads. But I think complaining about it is exactly the wrong way to get what you want. Sorry for the cliché, but if you don't like the way the world looks, change it! Pixar did: why can't you? You are the plucky heroine you've been waiting for.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:16 AM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


(Conversely, what's wrong with having boys look up to the Little Mermaid or Snow White?)

The same thing that's wrong with having a girl look up to them-- they're passive observers of their own stories- in Snow White's case, practically a prop. Have you seen Snow White? You must be aware that she's one of the most acted-upon, cloying characters in all of animation.
posted by maryh at 4:26 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


*Foreign contaminant*

/starts scrubbing furiously


Not to derail, but that little robot had one of my favorite moments in the whole movie--the one where he's diligently scrubbing along his little designated lit path and then encounters dirt that deviates from it.

You can almost see his thought process:

"Dirt! But...but...I'd have to leave the path. But it's dirt! Uh...I...argh! Okay, here goes. Ohgodohgodohgodsteppingoffthepathohgodohgod....huh? I'm okay? I'm okay! BACK TO WORK! *scrubscrubscrub*"
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:35 AM on June 15, 2009 [14 favorites]


what's wrong with encouraging girls to be look up to Mr. Incredible or Nemo? Because they're male? (Conversely, what's wrong with having boys look up to the Little Mermaid or Snow White?) Then perhaps its not Pixar or the movie industry enforcing their gender stereotypes upon your children, but you.

While I might agree to a degree with your larger point, those are most assuredly not the best examples to use here. Come to think of it, Mulan's the only real animate female lead I've every (as a male) found to be particularly compelling.

Doing female leads is far more difficult, I'd say, than doing male leads precisely because of the fact that there is a wide variation in what people define as a "good" female character. "Kick-ass heroine" is itself a stereotype and I've even heard people claim that it's a negative stereotype because it suggests that giving a woman "male" characteristics (aggressiveness, combat prowess) is what makes her man's equal. Tomboyishness seems to be seen the same way in some circles. You can't just have a female lead defined by her emotional or social relationships to males (wife, mother, girlfriend, etc). We don't have a large supply of cultural stock characters outside of those two options, however.
Women in cinema are just inherently a more hotly debated issue than men are. I sometimes think that it's pretty much guaranteed that you're going to piss someone off with your portrayal. I don't think that would stop Pixar from trying a female lead, precisely because they don't seem to care all that much about anything beyond creating good cinema, but I fully expect their first female-led film to touch off angry denunciations here and elsewhere. And not because of any "PC police" action, but because we're still trying to figure out, as a society, what ideals properly are on offer for women beyond "appendage of men" or "trying to be male".
Monsters vs. Aliens did a fair job of characterizing their female lead, but did so with a mix of setting her off against her asshole fiancee and making her badass/male. Mulan I've already mentioned, in which the main character actually spends most of the film pretending to be male. Miyazaki does an amazing job of it - but only with very young girls (I haven't seen all of his work, though), thus avoiding the problem of sexuality and society...all right, time to stop.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:39 AM on June 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


When I saw the title, "Dear Pixar, From All The Girls With Band-Aids On Their Knees", well, as this is a family-friendly Pixar discussion, let me just say that the images that title evoked in my mind were not exactly family-friendly. *snicker*
posted by jamstigator at 4:48 AM on June 15, 2009


Another movie with a strong and fun female lead was (the original) Pippi Longstocking. Even with the 1970's production flaws, the stilted translation, and the questionable dubbing, my kid LOVES this film. WAY better than Disney Princesses. I was always brought up on a steady diet of strong female leads, but they were all in books. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Secret Garden, Julie of the Wolves, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Dragonsinger books by Anne McCaffrey. (Why couldn't the kid in Up have been an Asian GIRL?)

For young girls, I think seeing strong and flawed female leads is critical. I was a tomboy booknerd growing up in exurbia. I wasn't a cheerleader or a prom court contender. It was bad enough that I was trapped between the Disney Princesses and the airhead female characters or traditional role girls in TV shows. If I hadn't had those strong female book characters, I would have thought that something was seriously wrong with me.
posted by jeanmari at 4:51 AM on June 15, 2009 [7 favorites]


'm fairly certain that someone in their leadership group there must have had a daughter too...

So, say Pixar made a movie about a female fish that needs saving. Do you think that's would have made you feel better about things? Or would it have hit your outrage button harder than "Tinkerbell's Purity Ball?"
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:55 AM on June 15, 2009


This is why the world sucks more and more. This to me is P.C. run amok.
posted by autodidact at 4:57 AM on June 15, 2009


^ "This" being people's need to tell Pixar how to make their movies, which is just a small example of people's need to ruin everything in order to make a world where "everybody gets equal treatment."

It just makes me hate people. Vote me off this fucking planet.
posted by autodidact at 4:59 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Of course it's better than Disney Princesses!
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:01 AM on June 15, 2009


Wait a minute... though WALL*E was ostensibly about a "male" robot lead character, ultimately his "female" counterpart does most of the saving, and the super-hero-ing. And, moreover, she's not blindly looking for love from a workaholic male. That's quite a bit of gender role reversal going on in that flick.

Does that not count?
posted by revmitcz at 12:31 AM on June 15 [+] [!]


Why isn't the movie called EVE then?
posted by harriet vane at 12:33 AM on June 15 [+] [!]



Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rapunzel, etc. were all rescued, too. The stories aren't called "Prince Charming".

Just synthesizing some things upthread: we (big we, society, don't flip out please) are more forgiving of flaws in men. Just think of what would be made of Paula Bart, Mall Cop. For first, who'd play the anorexic-looking petite male love interest?
posted by lysdexic at 5:02 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is the heart of it:

The thing is that a bunch of the Pixar stuff is about a male lead, and his younger/dumber male sidekick, and his older male mentor, and five goofy interesting male supporting characters, and one female character. It's not just that they are male leads, but that they live in a social world populated mostly by male characters.

And this is dead on in response to the ridiculous "they don't care for this sort of shit" claim:

Half of humans are women, but 0% of Pixar's heroes are. Obviously they do care about the sex of their main characters, although they may not be fully aware of how or why they care.

It never fails to surprise me that some folks not only don't notice the casual, consistent sexism in the way Pixar handles gender in its characters but also then go on to get all righteously angry and "BUT WHAT MOVIE WOULD YOU LIKE THEM NOT TO HAVE DONE?? HUH??" when someone points out the obvious. You're left wondering where the fury comes from, especially since every critique of Pixar on this I've seen has been done gently and thoughtfully.

some of the counter-blogs get downright nasty.

Ugh. Those aren't "counter-blogs," those are comments at the CartoonBrew site. I like CartoonBrew, but the fact that its audience includes juvenile idiot sexists shouldn't be a surprise, and isn't really a fair way to frame that link.

posted by mediareport at 5:09 AM on June 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


This to me is P.C. run amok.

I love this reaction. To some, even pointing out blindingly obvious oddities in a thoughtful way is "P.C. run amok." What absurd bullshit.
posted by mediareport at 5:10 AM on June 15, 2009 [35 favorites]


Does no one ever think about the other rats in Ratatouille? Do you think they wanted to grow up to be waiters in Remy's restaurant?
posted by graventy at 5:14 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Incredibles was an ensemble piece. The viewer spends plenty of time with multiple characters' points of view, so I don't think the idea of a single main character really applies.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:20 AM on June 15, 2009 [7 favorites]


You're left wondering where the fury comes from, especially since every critique of Pixar on this I've seen has been done gently and thoughtfully.

I'm guessing part of it is that sexism has been painted as OMG BAD trait, so to call someone or something they love sexist is to call them bad. More nuance probably needs to be added to the term so that it's understood that it's possible to be sexist without being a wifebeating orge.

As to The Bear and The Bow, which will be Pixar's first female lead film, the premise (SPOILERS) sounds extremely interesting and hints at dealing with emotionally heavier themes. I was stunned with the way Pixar dealt with certain scenes of death at the beginning of UP, it was pretty moving.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:24 AM on June 15, 2009


Cars is my favorite Pixar film, because my son is passionate about it and we spend hours together playing with the toys (usually making up our own storylines and games). My daughter is into princesses and fairies (which doesn't bother me, btw), and we play with those as well, but she's not into it like he's into Cars. Something tells me if Pixar knocked one out of the park with a girl-focused movie, she's get to have the same experience as he has, and I'd like to share that with her.
posted by brandman at 5:26 AM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


In Up, are we sure that the woman at the ceremony is Russell's mother? Could be Phyllis, who he mentioned earlier in the film...
posted by vaghjar at 5:34 AM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't like to make movies political, especially kids' movies, if I can help it.

I guess the girl can't help it.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:35 AM on June 15, 2009


I don't generally go for Pixar's whole Ayn Rand fetish,

Huh? Ayn Rand fetish? The main theme that comes out of all Pixar movies for me is "you can't do it all by yourself".

I agree this whole idea does feel a bit "PC" for me, although it would be great if Pixar did make some inroads in producing decent female leads. The whole thing is just a reflection of wider problems in film reflecting reality. I'm not saying proportions of characters in films should perfectly fix the proportions of sexes/races/religions/shoe sizes in society as a whole...but what percentage of the American population, for example, is overweight? When was the last time you saw an overweight character (young, female ones in particular) in a film portrayed as anything but a comical touch or a sad subject of derision? This isn't about some "fat acceptance" thing - "Bob" knows well how Metafilter deals with that issue - it's just more about the fact that the people see in films are so, so, so far removed from the people they see in their everyday lives, but no-one seems to ever notice.
posted by Jimbob at 5:35 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Disney films with strong females and/or leads I loved growing up:

Candleshoe

Bedknobs and Broomsticks
posted by lysdexic at 5:38 AM on June 15, 2009


I really don't see why people are complaining. Honestly who really cares. If you want a story with a strong female leading character read a book. Not only to girls get the role model they want but they become smarter due to reading in the first place. Just like if I want a story with a strong male lead, I'll read a book. Books are greater than movies.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 5:41 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the idea that boys will not read books that feature female leads is utterly disproved by Ramona Quimby. And I can't be alone in having been a little boy who read the Madeline books.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:42 AM on June 15, 2009 [7 favorites]


Am I the only who was pissed that when Violet learns self confidence, she just ends up being just as passive as before, only now she demonstrates what a girl is supposed to be, upbeat and pretty and receptive to the male advances that being upbeat and pretty now provokes? Yeah, fuck you, Sarah Vowell, you bastion of anti-feminism.

Anyways, I will respect the whining of women about men not making movies about women that aren't princesses when women stop making movies like Sex and the City successful, when they stop rejecting feminism, or stop redefining feminism to include every avenue of power that derives from granting or withholding sexual favors to men.

And I will be accused of painting women with the same brush, just as Pixar writers and directors are being accused of having some agenda, whether consciously or unconsciously realized, of keeping women protagonists out of the limelight.

First of all, realize that it doesn't fucking matter if the protagonist is a princess. The most powerful women in all of history save the last hundred years were once princesses, were only princesses. I want to see a fairy tail movie that portrays the destruction of a monarchy, but I'm not going to whine about the antidemocratic agenda of Pixar waiting for that to happen.

Second of all, start writing your own damn movies if what these sexists pigs are writing isn't to your liking. Oh, wait, someone did. And it's about a princess. Who doesn't want to be, who wants to be an archer, and who not only doesn't need a man to save her, doesn't have one save her anyway. But she's a princess! Oh, god, just shut up.

What more do you fucking want? We've internalized the male as buffoon who needs a woman to save him from himself (The Incredibles, Wall-E, hell, every one of them features a female sidekick who is wiser than the protagonist), so now you want the female to take the lead. Ok, are you going whine when the male sidekick now has the wisdom that leads her to resolve her internal conflict? Are you going to whine that the presumably male writer or director doesn't portray a realistic female anthropomorphic animal, robot, or toy?

If you want to stop seeing princesses, stop acting like them. Stop complaing about others not changing the world for you.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 5:47 AM on June 15, 2009 [13 favorites]


Books are greater than movies.

Agreed, but reading books and watching movies are not mutually exclusive entertainment options. The point being made here is that it would be great to have strong female leading characters in multiple mediums.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:48 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was going to quote a bunch of comments here and then reply to them, but after about three I became so enraged that I had to stop and walk away. I'll just say that most of the comments on this thread reinforce the title of the post.

And go ahead and mock me for suggesting, once again, that anyone who doesn't see the problem *is part of the problem*, and you should seriously consider taking a women's studies class. The last time I suggested this, the response was HURF DURF WOMEN'S STUDIES, and a nastily phrased question as to why I didn't just comment with an explanation, if it was so important to me, instead of suggesting a class.

If the problem could be explained in a comment on a blog, there wouldn't be CLASSES IN THE SUBJECT. Jesus fucking Christ.
posted by tzikeh at 5:48 AM on June 15, 2009 [10 favorites]


"97Are parents so stupid as to believe that the gender of a character should make a difference in the way that their child views that character?"

It's less about how the child views that character and more about how children develop and view themselves. When you're young and starting to become aware of your own reality and the world around you, you are consciously and unconsciously absorbing all of societies expectations and rules about behavior. You are becoming socialized, and that involves some very clear distinctions about gender roles and identity. You learn about what options boys have and what options girls have. Acting a particular way gets you praise or punishment. The cultural norms are reinforced by the movies, music, parents, teachers, peers, neighbors...just about everything in a child's range of perception.

Just thinking back to my own childhood, my favorite leads were always boys/men. Bastian, Westley, Michael Knight, the Monkees, Peter, Ray, Egon, Tuck Pendleton...even Johnny 5 and E.T. were obviously no princesses. So the problem was this...I was wearing my stupid dresses I hated, told not to get dirty, reminded to sit up straight, be dainty, all amounting to what it means to BE A LADY. Emulating my role models was not going to get me anywhere. I could look up to them, but I was not to be them. I was to be among them, dainty, polite, and princessy. Or a brainless bit part, if I so chose.

I turned out just fine, but I think that's partly because I figured out real early that something was severely imbalanced and limiting. I didn't have all the answers, but I figured I'd play along with the rules (it got me praise and advantage) until I'd have it all figured out.

Today things are much better for both boys and girls. But honestly, they're not that much different. The elephant is in the room, and we acknowledge that its pink. It'd be awesome if an industry leader like Pixar just took that and ran with it. They have the power, talent, and resources to really move things forward in a meaningful way. They're not obligated to do so of course, but it would be pretty damn cool if they did.

I don't know, I kind of also imagine this whole Pixar thing as if we were at a party and a really great impressionist/impersonator showed up. They could mime swimming thru water, talk your game, personify "you", whatever. So everybody's clammoring up to the guy going "Pick me!" "Do me next!" And he's just going through them all, everybody laughing. Except he's kind of just pandering to the women, or doing just enough to appease them so that he can focus on his preferred audience. At first its ok, but after a while its kind of like, ok, what is the friggin' deal with this guy?
posted by iamkimiam at 5:48 AM on June 15, 2009 [16 favorites]


lysdexic: Bedknobs and Broomsticks

One does not simply walk into murder, she wrote. One rides a bed.
posted by kid ichorous at 5:49 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is this really dead on?

Half of humans are women, but 0% of Pixar's heroes are.

I mean take the case of WALL-E. As has been pointed out above, EVE does all the heroing. Oh, but EVE doesn't get the title role so ergo it's a boy film. WTF!?!? If Pixar did WALL-E as a blatant "I Love Lucy" rip-off where WALL-E was an semi-competent female robot named BET-E who was in need of rescue about every five minutes it would put checks in all the boxes where they don't have checks now. And they'd deserve a good beating in terms of gender role portrayal.

This is the problem with the framing of this discussion. It's like most corporate goals documents. There are a bunch of clear objectives, but do those particular objectives actually mean anything when all is said and done.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:50 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was going to respond to the guy who said it's absurd to call this P.C. run amok, but instead I'll just point to what 0xdeadc0de said.

There are plenty of smart, strong, role-model-worthy female characters in Pixar movies already. If you can't see that, or think that there is some wrongness to the current "oddity" of the situation, and especially if you think Pixar must deliberately plan a movie around the concept of female empowerment in order to level some imaginary playing field in your mind, well then you are a victim of P.C. thinking run amok.
posted by autodidact at 5:53 AM on June 15, 2009


so ergo it's a boy film.

No. It's a film with a male lead.
posted by mediareport at 5:53 AM on June 15, 2009


As an aside before I begin, "P.C." is shorthand for "Political Correctness", which was an academic fad on some college campuses in the late '80s, early '90s. It went out of style with purple blazers, pleated dockers and the B-52's. Using it in any other fashion is indicative of someone demanding a free pass for their prejudices. Sorry, no free passes here.

Also, it is absolutely inexcusable that all of Pixar's leads have been identifiably white-male, even the robot, bug and car ones. Which movie would I give up to change this? The Incredibles.

As good as the Incredibles turned out, the concept, the idea itself, was hackneyed and done to death in comics, and Byrd pretty much ripped off the Fantastic 4 "super family" theme, only without the personality defects and feet of clay Stan Lee brought to the Super Hero Team. To be honest, the concept was terrible. The execution was sheer brilliance, the relentless focus on character development completely overshadowed the derivative and cliched plot and unimaginative hero concepts.

But this could have been another, better movie: one from Elastiwoman's perspective - a home-maker contending with her husband's mid-life crisis, who finds she has to leave her role of "Mom" and take up her professional life again to protect and re-connect with her family.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:55 AM on June 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


Anyone who flips out about this gentle and thoughtful request clearly hasn't read the NPR piece. Please go and do so before penning strident art-defense anti-PC rants.

Here's a sample of comments from that last link, try not be that guy mmkay?


Everybody has an agenda. I’m sorry if this delightful movie didn’t service yours.

Perhaps we should petition President Obama to oversee the animation industry, and appoint a Gender Equity Czar to implement “representational justice” on the silver screen. I nominate Barney Frank for the position.

...

Let them make the movies they want.

For crying out loud, its not good enough that they create incredible films with amazing stories and perfectly crafted characters of both genders…
We need a sanitized balance of the lead characters.

When that is done, these clueless people will find something else to cry about.

......
As is said above, you can’t pay most men and boys to go to movie about a girl. While I respect the drive for equality and am willing to stand up and be counted when it comes to supporters of both equal opportunity and equal wages, I am among those who could not be payed to go see a movie about a female unless it had an incredibly compelling story and was superbly done.


....
“A girl and the things that happen to her”

The lady in front of her in line got the pair of shoes SHE wanted at Payless.
The girl in the cubicle next to hers keeps laughing on the phone all day and getting on her nerves.
She starves herself all weekend and yet gains 2 pounds !

All exciting and true topics to be sure (courtesy of my wife) but I can’t say as I’d like to see them animated with 3-D characters.

....


I think most of you are missing the point of the Pixar/Disney movies anyway. They’re aimed at children, not you adults who need a politically correct world to live in. Little girls, for the most part it would seem, have princess-related desires. My niece is 5 right now and she goes gaga over everything princessy. She wants that kind of thing and Pixar and Disney know that, which is why the female lead usually ends up being a princess. As for boys who want to be everything under the sun at the same time (ask any boy and he’ll give you a range of firefighter to astronaut to race car driver), well, it would seem easier to cater to them since those are more adventurous (and consequently roomier for creative direction) tales to tell. Whereas the princess motif is, well, overdone and who knows where else we can take it. Sure, The Bear and The Bow sounds nice, but it’s not exactly something we haven’t seen before. The girl who rebels from society’s expectations to find the strength to defend herself rather than wait for a boy to save her. Been done, but I’m sure they’ll be able to squeeze some novelty out of it like they always do. Stories about boys are just easier to tell. That said, I do agree that there should be more female protagonists in Pixar-related movies.

...
I’m no feminazi, but I do admit it would be nice to see a girl as a main character. Just to spice things up...In my own personal opinion, I’d hate to see Pixar do a chick flick. But I wouldn’t mind seeing a female lead once in awhile. Who says all chick flicks have girls as main characters and all “boy flicks” have boys as main characters?
...
The don’t make movies about native americans or whales or handicapped people either.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:00 AM on June 15, 2009


As an aside before I begin, "P.C." is shorthand for "Political Correctness", which was an academic fad on some college campuses in the late '80s, early '90s. It went out of style with purple blazers, pleated dockers and the B-52's. Using it in any other fashion is indicative of someone demanding a free pass for their prejudices. Sorry, no free passes here.

Are you saying that after the early 90's, there was some magical reversal where people stopped being overly politically correct? Sorry but that is complete bullshit. Do you actually talk to people in the reasl world? Been on a college campus lately? The term still applies to many peoples' world view, and the use of the term is not just a shield for one's prejudices.
posted by autodidact at 6:06 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


And Miyazaki doesn't have enough male main characters.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:07 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


People seem to think that demanding things of the artists that we love is somehow cheating. But art doesn't get created in a vacuum, even Emily Dickinson was trying to please someone. When your fans talk, you listen. Certainly you don't have to respond or change if it's a stupid idea, but particularly when it's not a complaint at all (REPEAT THIS ARTICLE WAS NOT A COMPLAINT AT ALL READING COMPREHENSION FTW) but a detailed and plausible request based on your strengths--you (as a individual and Pixar as a company) would do well to consider giving it a shot.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:10 AM on June 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Boys are fancy on the outside
Girls are fancy on the inside.

-- Mr. Rogers

While the great sweatered one was talking about anatomy at the time, it's also a bang-up metaphor for what expect from the gender difference - men wear their thoughts and aspirations on their sleeves, women are much deeper and subtle. While Pixar does subtle very well, there's still only so much you can expect from character development that needs to appeal to the broad age, emotional, and intellectual range that Pixar consistently succeeds with.

You want strong female leads in entertainment, you need to change what the audience thinks of these roles already and how to interpret their motives in a purely visual medium.
posted by davelog at 6:13 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


This argument reminds me of one I've seen come up now and again with authors and their fans (most recently addressed here by Neil Gaiman).

His opinion on authors and entitlement issues of fans is the same as mine when it comes to Pixar's choice of stories, protagonists, and antagonists:

For me, I would rather read a good book, from a contented author. I don't really care what it takes to produce that.

[...]

You don't choose what will work. You simply do the best you can each time. And you try to do what you can to increase the likelihood that good art will be created.


While here Neil is addressing the idea of authors working on other projects whilst leaving a waiting series unfinished, I've seen similar comments from other writers when confronted by fans insisting that since they (the fans) love the writer's work and buy it faithfully, the author is then somehow required to write only what the fan(s) want them to write. Nonsense.

Arguing that Pixar should make films about girls simply because fans of their films want films about girls strikes me the same way. I want Pixar to make good films. If they only want to make films with male protagonists--if what it takes for them to make good films is to make films with male protagonists--so be it. There are other filmmakers that make animated movies with good female protagonists. Watch those.

If at some point Pixar does make a film with a female protagonist, I expect it to be fantastic. I will invariably love it, and will take my daughter to it a million times. But I'd rather have 10 fantastic male-lead Pixar films than 1 mediocre female-lead Pixar film made only to fulfill some imaginary (and pointless) protagonist gender equality requirement.

On preview: to address PA's comment--if an artist or studio or author isn't creating the art you want, tell them you want it. But be aware, they are not required do it. You are free to watch other movies, read other books, watch other TV shows, look at other art. Frankly, in my experience, it is the studios, publishing houses, artists that attempt to cater to the market and the public that produce the most banal, mediocre crap. It's the artists (of all stripes) that do what they do best, despite the fact that it may not be everything to everyone, that create the most amazing and wonderful things.
posted by elfgirl at 6:16 AM on June 15, 2009 [15 favorites]


I'm not sure how much credit I give to boys on this. I remember that there were some 'girls' shows that I watched as a kid a little like gem and the holograms and I probably liked the little mermaid just fine though I don't remember it. But mostly I think that boys might actually have an antipathy either through nature or nurture to female centric stories. Tomboy is not a positive but it doesn't have the same rancor as sissy. Now I am not assuming that this is the natural order of the universe and is right, but it might be the way people are. Girls might actually be better at empathizing with a character not of their gender. You know how in commercials for boardgames they always show a boy winning (unless it's a dreamphone game). Maybe the people making the ads do this for a reason like an actual reason other them being idiot puppets of the patriarchy. Or maybe not, I don't know, but things might be the way that they are because of how people are.
posted by I Foody at 6:18 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Huh? Ayn Rand fetish? The main theme that comes out of all Pixar movies for me is "you can't do it all by yourself".

That's funny. The main theme in all the Pixar movies I've ever seen has been: don't let the petty little people and their petty little jealousies (of your talent, ambition, or adventures) keep you down. They're about how the lazy majority oppress the hardworking minority. It's a thread running through The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and in a different and exciting way, Up.

I thought Up was wonderfully different and exciting precisely because, for the first time, they made a more complicated movie, about how we get in our own way, where the enemies are time and mortality: they internalized the whole ubermench/herd dynamic so that it's all playing out in Ellie's, and Carl's, and Russell's psyches, all of whom are holding themselves back. But did you notice the jab at "lawsuit culture" in the beginning, when Carl's self-defense gets him taken away and his home foreclosed to pay the damages? There's some clear analogies to the distaste for the bureaucratization of life you see in Mr. Incredible's job at the insurance company or the prejudices of the health inspector in Ratatouille.

Pixar really already addressed these concerns in Rataouille. To them, all this criticism is just the chattering of Anton Ego:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talents, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new; an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking, is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto, "Anyone can cook". But I realize - only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau's, who is, in this critic's opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau's soon, hungry for more.

There's no doubt that Pixar were writing their own reviews. It's probably the only one they'll ever take seriously. I don't entirely endorse the view espoused there about the relationship between criticism and creation, but I think it's absurd to expect anything other than this attitude from the crew to whom Holmes supplicates. Cook or get out of the kitchen. Take what's offered or make your own.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:21 AM on June 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


Isn't the woman at the end of Up *not* the kid's mother? In the middle of the movie:

"You call your mother by her first name?"
"X isn't my mother!" (I forget what he called her.)

It was still a weird moment when they cut to her briefly at the end. And Ratatouille didn't really do it for me. And I never saw Cars.

I love the Incredibles! I can't wait for The Bear and the Bow! I love Pixar! Wooooooooo!!!
posted by zeek321 at 6:26 AM on June 15, 2009


And for the record: people who are paying attention to this ARE NOT ADVOCATING QUOTAS and ARE NOT ADVOCATING MAKING BAD MOVIES. Pixar is a company we like, whose movies we like, etc. They are smart and good enough to make good movies about female characters.

Sure, but so what. Why should they just because they can? They have no responsibility and no obligation to do so.
posted by juiceCake at 6:36 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


zeek321, the X was Gloria, and I assumed she was Absent Dad's girlfriend.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:44 AM on June 15, 2009


If you don't teach your daughter that Hollywood movies are unrealistic fantasies chiefly designed to make them buy things, Pixar's lack of female characters are going to be the least of their problems.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:46 AM on June 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


The don’t make movies about native americans or whales or handicapped people either.

Heh, not only is that blog commenter's argument beside the point, it's demonstrably false, as well. Pocahontas and Up take care of the first and last, and Fantasia 2000 even had a piece about a pod of whales.
posted by jedicus at 6:49 AM on June 15, 2009


If you don't teach your sons that Hollywood movies are unrealistic fantasies chiefly designed to make them buy things, Pixar's overabundance of male characters are going to be the least of their problems.
posted by Sailormom at 6:50 AM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


To play devil's advocate, I think Pixar is just giving their core audience what it wants. Pixar acquired its fan base with Toy Story, a movie that is obviously geared toward adolescent boys with characters like a cowBOY and a spaceMAN. Following that hit, they continued to make movies with characters congruous to boys' interests: cars, bugs, monsters, super heroes, robots, flying. Of course, these movies are enjoyed by adults, too, but that's a factor of good writing, not demographic targeting. I don't think Pixar is guilty of sexism, I just think they've amassed this large, dedicated, profitable target demographic of adolescent boys, and they continue to produce for that base. The female characters in their movies do tend to me strong, dynamic characters, however, so I'm not buying to sexism bend. I think Pixar is just financially motivated instead of socially. I guess the fact that their movies continue to be so lucrative is more of an indictment of the consumers.
posted by aftermarketradio at 6:55 AM on June 15, 2009


If the apoplectic rage expressed by the loony-bin-fringe right over WALL*E is any indication, I heartily look forward to watching clips of batshit-insanity from "Fox and Friends" when Pixar releases a film with a strong female lead in the title role.

The young version of Carl's wife Ellie in "Up" is one of the best female characters I've seen in a long while - they could make an entire film based upon her backyard adventures. You can totally see why Carl loved her and was so broken by his loss. Clearly they have the capability to write a good female lead.

Stop complaing about others not changing the world for you.

Yes. Let me just step over here into my multi-million dollar animation studio, rendering farm, and production facility and get to work. Steve Jobs on the phone? Sorry. I have to take this.

The NPR piece is a good example of a person trying to change the world using the means they have at their disposal - publishing a piece which creates buzz which creates market demand which may lead to a good flick and setting a new standard.
posted by device55 at 6:55 AM on June 15, 2009 [11 favorites]


Are parents so stupid as to believe that the gender of a character should make a difference in the way that their child views that character?

There's a fair amount of research that indicates that gender in this sort of situation really does affect a child's [or adult's] ability to identify with the character. It's sort of a big deal.

While on the one hand, I think thanking my lucky stars for the rat not having to be beholden to a rat girlfriend in Ratatouille is sort of daming with very faint parise, I'm going to have to toss my lot in with Joe Beese here, in a mixed way

If you don't teach your daughter that Hollywood movies are unrealistic fantasies chiefly designed to make them buy things, Pixar's lack of female characters are going to be the least of their problems.

It's really awkward because on the one hand, getting more women in movies generally is something I'd like just because, you know, there are more women in the world and it would be nice to see them in all other aspects of my life too. On the other other hand, you wind up with what we saw a lot after the GLBT protests around advertisers and this sort of thing where now gay people (well esp around Pride time, like lately) can be pandered to by corporate brands the same way straight people always have been. It's a victory, certainly, but definitely a weird one.
posted by jessamyn at 7:00 AM on June 15, 2009


Am I the only who was pissed that when Violet learns self confidence, she just ends up being just as passive as before, only now she demonstrates what a girl is supposed to be, upbeat and pretty and receptive to the male advances that being upbeat and pretty now provokes?

I don't see this. Sure, she uses her new self-confidence for romantic purposes, but she's the one who makes the move, sets the date, and walks away, leaving the boy standing there looking confused yet happy. Definitely not "as passive as before."
posted by not that girl at 7:10 AM on June 15, 2009 [9 favorites]


I've avoided Pixar, but if they have a Rand fetish, it would be no surprise that they lacked central female characters.

And, while we're busy hating on Pixar, is it possible that they've done some market research and found that alternative ideas won't fly? Remember, Pixar does not make artistic expressions or social statements. They make movies as an investment. If you want people who make movies because they want to express themselves, the Lars von Trier post is a few doors down.

At this point, most Hollywood films are calculated to an inch. It's all about what stars will bring in box office and how well it "tests." And you'd better believe it's all measured in megabucks.
posted by adipocere at 7:10 AM on June 15, 2009


Just thinking out loud...it suddenly seems funny to me, that in these sorts of conversations, people (like myself) use the term "strong female lead".

I assume that in this case "strong" means "strongly written and developed" and not physically, psychologically, and emotionally strong - but maybe not.

This phrase now seems to imply tom-boy characters who aren't afraid of bugs and wear blue jeans - and I don't know if that is any sort of improvement.
posted by device55 at 7:11 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


And go ahead and mock me for suggesting, once again, that anyone who doesn't see the problem *is part of the problem*, and you should seriously consider taking a women's studies class.

At the risk of sounding a bit hurf durf, as you put it, some of us having encountered women's studies have come away distinctly unimpressed. Not mocking. Just saying.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:16 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I agree. Pixar needs to make a movie in which the main character is female.

I disagree. Disney exists to make money for its shareholders, it does not exist to engage in social experiments.

The entire premise of this thread and the linked articles is flawed. It seems to be: Pixar makes great movies. I want a great movie with a female lead. Therefore, Pixar should make a great movie with a female lead.

That's nice to wish for. I still wish George Lucas could make a Star Wars movie as good as Empire Strikes Back.

In fact, Pixar's existence was to push the boundaries of film-making, not the boundaries of storytelling. remember that when it started, Pixar's costs for making a film were considerably higher than Disney's for conventional animation. Pixar was undertaking a massive risk to demonstrate that computer animated films could capture a huge audience. Given this risk, they are going to minimize risk everywhere else. The evidence for this is that most of Pixar's early films are simple re-hashes of well-worn Hollywood action movie plotlines.

That said, Walt Disney Movie Studios makes a lot of films with female leads. Pixar doesn't, because Pixar, like Walt Disney Animation before it, served a very specific purpose in the company - to underwrite and make up for all the art-house, R-rated, and Oscar caliber films that the studio releases but which would otherwise bankrupt the studio.

Secondly, the movie business is global. The themes, tropes, or conceits in a film have to be recognizable to almost every culture in the world, because that is the target market.

Let's pretend it's 2000. Are you going to argue that Disney animated films never had female leads? That's absurd. They had female leads more than they had male leads:

In worldwide total gross:

f - Little Mermaid (1989) - $211 million
f - Beauty and the Beast (1991) - $337 million
m - Aladdin (1992) -$504 million
m - Lion King (1994) - $783 million
f - Pocahontas (1995) - $346 million
f - Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) - $325 million
m - Hercules (1997) - $252 million
f - Mulan (1998) - $304 million
m - Tarzan (1999) - $448 million
f - Lilo and Stitch (2002) - $273 million


It's obvious that having a male lead does not guarantee success over $350 million. A lousy story is a lousy story (See Hercules). But even with a good story, films with female leads rarely broke $300 million, and never over $350 million. Here's is the chart for Pixar's films, which we have all concluded have a male character in the lead role.

Now, even $200 million is a lot of money, but consider that in this same period (the 1990's) Disney's Miramax was producing or distributing extremely risky, edgy, or controversial films like Kids, Pulp Fiction, Clerks, The Piano, The English Patient, Trainspotting, and many more. Some had female leads. Most of Miramax's films were barely a blip on box office radar. For example, Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown starring Judi Dench was considered a great success. It grossed $9 million.

What we have is an industry with a history of trying to make films for general audiences, and children in particular with female leads, and having those films not achieve the success of similar films with male leads. If you are going to spend a given amount of money to make a movie, you must spend it where you have the greatest likelihood of success.

None of this is to say that a CG or animated film can't have a female lead and be as successful as the most successful animated film with a male lead. It simply means that no one has figured out how to do it yet, and any attempt to try to make one is going to be a gamble on top of the already massive gamble that movie-making is generally. Moms took their daughters to see Lion King and Toy Story. Did Moms take their sons to see the Little Mermaid or Lilo and Stitch? You can be frustrated and angry with the market, but your blame should fall on the audience, because they generated the numbers in the chart you see above. Don't blame Disney or Pixar, whose only goal is to make those numbers as large as possible.

Pixar should do what it exists to do, which is to make movies for little kids that generate obscene amounts of money which go to produce and distribute interesting films for adults.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:16 AM on June 15, 2009 [14 favorites]


Should have preiviewed: And go ahead and mock me for suggesting, once again, that anyone who doesn't see the problem *is part of the problem*, and you should seriously consider taking a women's studies class.

What is the problem, that Pixar is not making films with female leads? That isn't the problem. The real problem is why don't movies with female leads make as much money? The answer is simple. Because mothers in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, South America, and the United States, are unanimous in their purchasing decisions not to have their sons watch cartoons with female leads.

In other words, why do mothers believe it is okay for daughters to watch, and potentially imitate female and male lead characters, but do not think it is okay for their sons to imitate female lead characters?
posted by Pastabagel at 7:23 AM on June 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


A lot of these comments presuppose that Pixar's movies are art made by artists—which they totally are, don't get me wrong—and that art-made-by-artists is for some reason exempt from social responsibility. E.g.; "Why should they just because they can? They have no responsibility and no obligation to do so." Or Neil Gaiman's quoted sentiment, "For me, I would rather read a good book, from a contented author. I don't really care what it takes to produce that." Or, like Pastabagel's post, which takes an opposing premise, that because they are a beholden to stockholders this somehow absolves them of social responsibility, and reaches the same conclusion. Why are either of these things true? I think neither being an auteur nor being a corporation absolves social responsibility. Why should it? We all live here together.

That said, Pixar's movies are already chock-full of social commentary, and often take an explicit advisory position (like re: talent and family The Incredibles or art and criticism in Ratatouille or taking responsibility for the consequences of ones actions in Cars). There are explicit social agendas in all of these. It's clear that they have other goals besides self-expression or maximizing profit.

They make movies for children and they're aware that kids often use movies (especially depictions of interpersonal relationships in movies) as models of how the world does or ought to work. Why shouldn't they extend their sense of responsibility just a little bit in this direction? I can't see how it would necessarily compromise their vision or whatever, which doesn't seem to be explicitly about gender, by being a little more equitable. And if they take a hit in the market, chances are it will be temporary. Somebody needs to break the status quo first, or somebody needs to figure out how to do it profitably, and what better time try than when you're incredibly popular, rich and at the top of your game?
posted by avianism at 7:27 AM on June 15, 2009 [7 favorites]


Disclosure: I work for Disney and I am a man. I am speaking for myself and not my company.

You've stumbled onto our secret plans to prevent girls from having good role models! Egads, what will we do? I'll put together a checklist of what *must* be in the next Pixar movie and get it to Emeryville ASAP.

Let's see:

Lead character a female - supporting or title characters not enough, must be dominant protagonist
Non-royal - female cannot be a Princess or royalty of any sort
No rescues - female cannot be rescued by a male
No toy tie-ins - cannot be seen as a vehicle to sell toys to children

OK, simple then... Just create a new and inventive story that appeals to children and adults, with multiple storylines of varied complexity within those simple guidelines without making the creative team feel that they are working within a formula. Our creatives just love the suits telling them what to do, it always ends up with good stuff.

Seriously though. I understand the concern over female protagonists. Believe it or not, things like this are discussed internally. On the television side, I think we have made great strides in programming for children in general and girls in particular. Like it or not, High School Musical, is all about traditional role reversal.

I have two tween daughters and I have the same concerns about role models and what they see in media today. But to pick one of the creative groups that is doing a great job portraying women rather than a perfect job, while ignoring the tons of anti-woman stuff out there, is mind-boggling.

[rant]
I do take offense to suggestion that because Disney folks are 'nerds', they don't can't understand or write about women and girls. What an effing sexist statement! Disney is focused on providing quality entertainment to children and their families, sticking to 'safe' topics and situations to provide a haven of G-rated programming in an R-rated system. Disney Channel is a lone hold out as a channel for children that does not air commercials.
[/rant]

I will now suit up in my Nomex outfit.
posted by Argyle at 7:31 AM on June 15, 2009 [15 favorites]


I'll say only that I think it's a very, very good thing that this conversation has been taken up so vocally. I do hope Hollywood will take notice.

Also, the development of movies is a creative activity, but a fundamentally different one from writing a book or making a record. It's a corporately funded creative activity, designed to maximize profit, and it's a creative activity subject to demands from marketing, audience research, and the input of hundreds of professionals - not writers alone, but executives as well. In such a scenario I do think the creative process is different - we aren't necessarily witnessing the pure artistic vision of an individual creator as much as we're seeing a corporate product shaped by market forces. It's reasonable for fans of a product to give corporations feedback about what sort of product they'd like.

The problem of representation is huge for women across media, and I'm surprised that there's so much shock and outrage at the suggestion that the audience would find it desirable for the representation of female characters to be as frequent, unremarkable, prominent, and varied as the representation of male characters is. It's quite easy to say "STFU" when you've spent your life witnessing your own gender performing time after time as the most interesting actor in every drama. The question for me isn't about Pixar specifically - movies and media for children in general are extremely gendered in a gross way, and it's true that the rest of the world's diverse reality is rarely reflected in our idealized and narrowly envisioned movie characters - but because Pixar seems to be able to reject many other of the traditional children's-movie tropes, and wins praise from those who see themselves as hip because of that unconventionality, the gender imbalance in the stories they tell is more screamingly obvious - they've rejected many standard rules of the animated genre, but kept the central element required of storytelling in a patriarchal system front and center: men are the heroes. The resistance among some here to the very idea that female leads would be a great development for many reasons seems to suggest some resentment at letting girls into the clubhouse.
posted by Miko at 7:36 AM on June 15, 2009 [26 favorites]


"No More Princesses." That's a great story idea... what happens next?

we're still trying to figure out, as a society, what ideals properly are on offer for women beyond "appendage of men" or "trying to be male".

Repeated for emphasis. Cartoons traffic in caricatures of stereotypes. Until we figure out what stereotypes we actually want to advance, it will be difficult to draw cartoons of women that don't perpetuate misogyny.

A few suggestions: young girls who engage in athletics are more likely to do well in school and less likely to be pressured into adolescent sex, so let's have fewer Hermiones and more Jessminders. Also, women who pursue professions dissociated from 'caregiving' tend to have higher lifetime incomes and to put off childbirth longer, so let's have fewer Meredith Greys and more Ellen Parsons. Finally, women in single-sex educational contexts are more likely to excel in math and science, so let's have fewer comedic gender integration movies and more films that emphasize the value of lifelong same-sex friendships and downplay intrasex competition for mates or jobs.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:38 AM on June 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Because mothers in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, South America, and the United States, are unanimous in their purchasing decisions not to have their sons watch cartoons with female leads.

Why is the assumption that mothers are making these decisions? Where are the fathers? Are they adamantly in there insisting on varied representation, only to be overridden by the mother, whose gendered agenda is presumably so much more rigid?

Or is the entire family/pee/media interaction dynamic, perhaps, a bit more complicated?
posted by Miko at 7:39 AM on June 15, 2009


Ahem. That "pee?" Make that "peer."
posted by Miko at 7:40 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


World's Largest Media Congolmerate Reinforces Societal Biases. Film at 11.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:40 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


The NPR piece is a good example of a person trying to change the world using the means they have at their disposal - publishing a piece which creates buzz which creates market demand which may lead to a good flick and setting a new standard.

I realized that, and if Linda Holmes ever reads this, I apologize. I'm angry at the people who have recontextualized it from "princesses are poor role models" to "Pixar is biased against women".

I once believed that Steve sold Pixar's soul to Disney, but it is almost subversive how they co-opted the Disney formula in The Bear and the Bow. I have high hopes that it will slyly change what people expect from heroines in animation. Merida being a princess is only sugar for the medicine.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 7:42 AM on June 15, 2009


Dear Miyazaki-san: I loved Kiki's Delivery Service and Spirited Away, but why are the boys in them in only supporting roles? Prince Mononoke would have been a much funner movie.

Dear Joss Whedon: I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but why couldn't it have been more about Giles, the heroic paternal librarian? Giles the Watcher would have been a more mature, nuanced television programme.

Dear DreamWorks: You know how Pixar's Monsters, Inc. had only a little girl in it? I bet if you made a movie about monsters with a grownup lady as the heroine, people would finally stop saying you keep ripping them off. Throw in some aliens, and I bet you some critics won't be able to resist overhyping it.


On a less sarcastic note, the only Pixar’s movie I passed on was Cars, which, coincidentally, had some of their weakest female roles in an uncharacteristically perfunctory plot. It was also their most "boyzone" movie.
posted by Doktor Zed at 7:43 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Didn't JK Rowling say somewhere that Harry Potter was a boy because girls would read a story about a boy whereas boys wouldn't read a story about a girl? I think that's a terrible attitude and I hope it's not the view they take at Pixar.

And I think the His Dark Materials books (which were enjoyed my several male adults of my acquaintance) were proof that Rowling was really, really off about this. Pullman--a man! gasp!--created a really strong, relatable, flawed, interesting, great female protagonist. In fact, the second book, focusing on a bland-but-nice-enough boy failed entirely to catch Mr. WanKenobi's interest; he gave up about halfway through.

I know it's not Pixar, but did anyone see Monsters vs. Aliens? I was surprised by the feminist themes there--Susan initially thinks that due to her unusual size, she's a monster. But she eventually comes to see this difference as a strength--enough of a strength that, when her douche of an ex tells her that they can't get back together because she could eclipse his career, she's able to see that she needs to ditch him completely. Of course, she's ditching him in favor of an all-male group of friends (couldn't there have been two female monsters?) so it doesn't pass the Bechdel test or anything, but it felt like a step in the right direction. Sure, Susan struggles with her strength and size, which she initially perceives as contrary to her femininity, but eventually resolves it in a way that celebrates it, rather than diminishes it (like Violet in The Incredibles). I think that this struggle was actually pretty important, because I know few strong, feminist women who haven't at one time or another struggled with that--I think it's a good thing for girls to see that, though they might someday wonder about how they fit within society's definition of femaleness, they can actually choose to be strong, ass-kicking, single (!), even non-conformist in a physical sense, and that this is a victory, something to be celebrated.

So, though I never thought I'd say this, I do think it' time that Pixar takes a cue from Dreamworks. Hopefully The Bear and the Bow will be a step in the right direction
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:44 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Throw in some aliens, and I bet you some critics won't be able to resist overhyping it.

Ha! Should have previews. :)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:45 AM on June 15, 2009


For all the "what does it matter if there's no female leads/not princesses" crowd, I can only say, Harriet the Spy and The Blue Sword, two books with female leads, changed my life as a kid. I reread them both so much I almost still have them memorized.

Because I was hungry for someone who was like me and was the hero. Why is this so hard to understand? I could not identify in the same way with a boy hero, as much as I might like him, because I could never think of myself as being him in a daydream or when I grew up.

Little girls dream, too, you know. They want to be strong and powerful and heroic every bit as much as little boys do. It's not about being perfect, either. Just about being told that you matter.

And Pixar is a good studio, but this:

most of the Pixar staff are male, and they're writing what they know.

is just dumb. They could hire anyone they liked, including female writers. If they can stretch their minds into being fish or robots, being a girl should not be beyond possibility.
posted by emjaybee at 7:47 AM on June 15, 2009 [26 favorites]


Hate to break it to you all but Pixar has released ten feature films ... and none of them have had a human lead character.

All apologies if some other deep wit has already dropped this Maserati. I just woke up. And furthermore, I don't like Pixar. The only Pixar film I've ever seen in its entirety was that short with the table lamp ... way back when. It creeped me out. For some people, it's clowns. For me, it's digital technology pretending it can emulate human reality and emotions.

It can't.
posted by philip-random at 7:50 AM on June 15, 2009


the only Pixar’s movie I passed on was Cars, which, coincidentally, had some of their weakest female roles

I hope by "passed on" you mean "didn't actually watch" because the female Porsche Carrera was the best character in the film, and had a major part in getting the main character to come to his senses about how to relate to other, er, people.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:52 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


For all the "what does it matter if there's no female leads/not princesses" crowd, I can only say, Harriet the Spy and The Blue Sword, two books with female leads, changed my life as a kid. I reread them both so much I almost still have them memorized.

Oh god, I loved Harriet the Spy. And Ramona. Girls who seemed like me (not super girly girls, but not boys or even marked tomboys either--just real girls), but had great adventures. I would love, love, love to see more girls like them in books, movies, tv, whatever.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:52 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nobody is demanding that Pixar do anything. But what we are asking is, if Pixar is creating brilliant movies about the human condition, why aren't any of the movies about human women? They're not bad people because they're buying into the neutral = male default; we'd simply like people who can imagine a rat as a chef, and a robot as romantic to try imagining a girl as a hero.
posted by headspace at 7:54 AM on June 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


Hate to break it to you all but Pixar has released ten feature films ... and none of them have had a human lead character.

Uh . . . The Incredibles?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:54 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


At the risk of sounding a bit hurf durf, as you put it, some of us having encountered women's studies have come away distinctly unimpressed. Not mocking. Just saying.

This comment only makes sense to me if all women's studies classes share the same curriculum everywhere they are taught, which has not been my experience. I'm not sure that dismissiveness made by being marginally ignorant is superior to dismissiveness made by being completely ignorant.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:56 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hate to break it to you all but Pixar has released ten feature films ... and none of them have had a human lead character.

Safe to assume you haven't seen The Incredibles or Up, then?
posted by shiu mai baby at 8:00 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Somehow, I don't think the "princess" in Bear and the Bow is going to need rescuing by some square-jawed guy.

I noticed Brenda Chapman's work in Beauty and the Beast, too, mainly because of the layers of irony in Gaston, because the character was pretty much a parody of the Disney paragon. And the song lays it on pretty thick.

(As you see, he's got biceps to spare.)
posted by rokusan at 8:01 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Do people still say "feminazi"? Seriously?

Jeez.
posted by grubi at 8:01 AM on June 15, 2009


Disney Channel is a lone hold out as a channel for children that does not air commercials.

Except for, y'know, every minute of everything they ever air. The whole damn point of Disney films and TV shows is to be able to sell merchandise. This is not to say that they're evil, just... capitalist. Somehow, along the line, somebody has to get paid for having written, directed, drawn, and voiced the show. Sometimes that money comes from ticket sales (Up), sometimes it comes from advertising (most TV), sometimes it comes from toy sales (Disney channel stuff.) But for the love of Mr. Rogers, let's not pretend the Disney Channel is some kind of principled stalwart.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:02 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Rokusan, don't forget that he's especially good at expectorating.

Seriously, that song is fifteen kinds of awesome for how it skewers the traditional brawny hero archetype.
posted by shiu mai baby at 8:03 AM on June 15, 2009


Harriet the Spy was a defining book for the boy I was as well. [Which isn't to say that girls don't need female heroes. Only that gender differences need not be a dealbreaker in all cases.]

The movie - which you couldn't have paid me to defile my memories with - apparently sucked.

So, careful what you wish for and all that.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:06 AM on June 15, 2009


Pixar movies are cartoons made for children. Everyone, please grow up and stop trying to relive your childhood by obsessing about them.
posted by gagglezoomer at 8:07 AM on June 15, 2009


Or, like Pastabagel's post, which takes an opposing premise, that because they are a beholden to stockholders this somehow absolves them of social responsibility, and reaches the same conclusion.

The social responsibility extends to Disney as a whole, not to Pixar, which is a division. Disney isn't absolved of any social responsibility, nor do they think they are. Why do you think Disney greenlighted all those Miramax art films?

And I think the His Dark Materials books (which were enjoyed my several male adults of my acquaintance) were proof that Rowling was really, really off about this.

While His Dark Materials was a great series, and much more socially important than Harry Potter, Rowling was absolutely correct that boys by and large won't read a fantasy or adventure series with a female lead. The sales figures bear that out.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:07 AM on June 15, 2009



Safe to assume you haven't seen The Incredibles or Up, then?


I think (and correct me if I'm wrong) the point phillip-random is trying to make is that they're cartoons drawn on a computer, not human actors. I'll leave it up to yinz to discuss this point, because I won't bother.
posted by inigo2 at 8:08 AM on June 15, 2009


I thought Wall-E was a girl.
posted by birdwatcher at 8:08 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pixar movies are cartoons made for children. Everyone, please grow up and stop trying to relive your childhood by obsessing about them.

*throws cartoon pie at gagglezoomer*
posted by device55 at 8:10 AM on June 15, 2009


I hope by "passed on" you mean "didn't actually watch" because the female Porsche Carrera was the best character in the film, and had a major part in getting the main character to come to his senses about how to relate to other, er, people.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:52 AM on June 15


Which is precisely the role of moral compass criticized as being stereotypically female in one of the linked articles .
posted by Pastabagel at 8:10 AM on June 15, 2009


Safe to assume you haven't seen The Incredibles or Up, then?

Watched half of the Incredibles, I've seen the Up trailers. Those aren't humans. They're cartoons.
posted by philip-random at 8:10 AM on June 15, 2009


Ahem. That "pee?" Make that "peer."

Too late.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:12 AM on June 15, 2009


Watched half of the Incredibles, I've seen the Up trailers. Those aren't humans. They're cartoons.

Ok, so we've established that you are indeed Master of the Obvious. Why the need to point this out in an otherwise fascinating thread about the dearth of admirable female leads in children's films, a large number of which are (brace yourself) animated?
posted by shiu mai baby at 8:16 AM on June 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


Watched half of the Incredibles, I've seen the Up trailers. Those aren't humans. They're cartoons.

Touche. Although Ed Asner, who voiced the main character in Up, reportedly still has part of a human liver and one of his actual fingers attached to his cyborg frame.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:17 AM on June 15, 2009


I think that argument smells a little like the ridiculous anti-animation bias that seems to permeate "serious" film buffs. Hence Wall-E somehow not being nominated for Best Picture last year WHEN CLEARLY IT WAS.
posted by grubi at 8:17 AM on June 15, 2009


Artw: Which is to say, yeah, Disney/Pixar being overly concerned with some kind of quota would be a bad thing.

Well, I don't know who is looking for quotas. But there certainly is a strong argument to be made that films that treat half of the population as secondary are not as great as they pretend to be.

Artw: Inspiration is not a coin toss.

Which is pretty much just repeating something that's little more than self-aggrandizing bullshit. Inspiration is pretty much less than 5% of what goes into a final creative product. And the fact that inspiration is often, extremely, badly, and horribly wrong in ugly ways is the reason why most artists spend a lot of time planing and ripping through multiple drafts before showing anything to anybody.

juiceCake: Sure, but so what. Why should they just because they can? They have no responsibility and no obligation to do so.

Sure, Pixar and Disney can make the movies they want to sell, (personally, I have no illusions regarding their artistic integrity,) and viewers can point out the multiple flaws in the movies they sell. The mandate that I turn off my brain at the movie theater only applies when I'm at the concession counter.

adipocere: And, while we're busy hating on Pixar, is it possible that they've done some market research and found that alternative ideas won't fly? Remember, Pixar does not make artistic expressions or social statements. They make movies as an investment. If you want people who make movies because they want to express themselves, the Lars von Trier post is a few doors down.

Sure. However, Pixar doesn't deserve a cookie, or a free pass from criticism because they choose to do so. But perhaps most importantly, Pixar's problem reflects a problem in the industry in general. In spite of the fact that women as producers, writers and directors have a fairly strong track-record of making surprisingly profitable films on considerably less budget than male counterparts, those projects face an uphill struggle to make it into production.

Pastabagel: That's nice to wish for. I still wish George Lucas could make a Star Wars movie as good as Empire Strikes Back.

It's also significant that Empire was the only one of the six he didn't write or act as lead director on.

But, I find the making of Star Wars to be really interesting. Throughout the making of Star Wars there were crisis where people started asking, "Who is this Lucas guy, and why are we letting him continue to work on a film that's both over-budget and over-schedule?" The making of Star Wars is a case example of the Hollywood good ol' boy network at work. Lucas was able to complete Star Wars largely because he was chummy with people who were willing to vouch for him, in spite of an incomprehensible vision and disastrous early edits.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:17 AM on June 15, 2009


Katha Pollitt wrote an essay called the Smurfette Principle in 1991, which criticized Sesame Street for lacking female muppets. Since then, Sesame Street has added several female muppets, including Zoe and Rosita, who are some of their more popular new characters. Yet as far as I can remember, the new female muppets were added without controversy. I certainly don't remember any fanboys shouting "Feminazi!" when they added Zoe to Sesame Street. If anything, people were grateful to have a counterbalance to all-Elmo-all-the-time. Why does it have to be so hard for Pixar to make some female lead characters when Sesame Street didn't seem to have much trouble with it?
posted by jonp72 at 8:18 AM on June 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


While His Dark Materials was a great series, and much more socially important than Harry Potter, Rowling was absolutely correct that boys by and large won't read a fantasy or adventure series with a female lead. The sales figures bear that out.

Do we know that the sales were really skewed towards girls for The Golden Compass? There are several factors--the fact that it's a more challenging book on a prose level than the first Harry Potter novel, for example--that could contribute to it not having the incredibly stellar and highly unusual sales figures of the HP series. By all measures, though, the HDM (book) series was financially successful--it made all the best sellers lists, for example.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:19 AM on June 15, 2009


Safe to assume you haven't seen The Incredibles or Up, then?

On review, oops. inigo2 just said it better ... my deeper point being that I would question the humanity of Pixar (and digital animation in general) before I'd question its sexual politics. I realize this is a contentious point with some. But I stand by it. I've truly never made it through an entire digitally animated feature film. They just don't engage me. I'd say, I guess I'm just old except I really liked THE IRON GIANT. Unfortunately, it died a death at the box office and now Brad Bird seems forever in Pixar land.

Humanity's loss.
posted by philip-random at 8:20 AM on June 15, 2009


I think some of you aren't giving Cars a fair shake. It's not only a tribute to the classic American love affair with the automobile/Route 66, but also a story about the value of friends and realizing what's important, which was John Lasseter's impetus for writing the story.

Cars is also loaded with automobile references of all kinds, which was a lot of fun for me, being a "car guy".

Yes, as a Disney vehicle, it's got loads of marketable cars to make toys out of, but it still has the Pixar soul.
posted by Fleebnork at 8:21 AM on June 15, 2009


Metafilter: what I said about “Malcolm X”.
posted by ericbop at 8:22 AM on June 15, 2009


Also: While we're on the subject of sexism, labeling Cars as a "boyzone" movie implies that women can't be interested in cars.

That's not an implication that comes from Pixar or the movie.
posted by Fleebnork at 8:25 AM on June 15, 2009


Watched half of the Incredibles, I've seen the Up trailers. Those aren't humans. They're cartoons.

Watched half of The Godfather. I've seen the Gran Turino trailers. Those aren't humans. They're shapes on 35mm film.

Read half of The Amazing Aventures of Kavalier and Clay. Read the back of Lolita. Those aren't humans. They're a bunch of words imperfectly describing fictions.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:27 AM on June 15, 2009 [20 favorites]


I'd love to see a kids movie in which the male lead isn't either a) obsessed with winning the heart of a beautiful girl, or; b) a complete dolt.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:32 AM on June 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Why does it have to be so hard for Pixar to make some female lead characters when Sesame Street didn't seem to have much trouble with it?

One major distinction between the two is that Sesame Street is a non-profit public television show dedicated to being a source of education first and entertainment second. Well, okay, that's more than one distinction, but you get the point. Sesame Street isn't driven by profit motive, Pixar is. What's sauce for the goose isn't necessarily sauce for the beefalo, or at least that's likely the way Pixar views it.

Sesame Street has made tons of choices for its show that no Hollywood studio ever would. Like, for instance, extremely restricting the use of some very popular characters (e.g., Oscar the Grouch) and even directly violating one of the core identifying characteristics of another (i.e., Cookie Monster singing "Cookies Are a Sometimes Food"). Those choices are horrible ones from a storytelling perspective, and totally indefensible from a profit perspective, but when education is your first priority and you realize that your characters are modeling behavior for children (childhood obesity is becoming an epidemic in the US, and one of our most beloved characters is a glutton), you've pretty much got an ethical gun to your head there. Sesame Street has also in some countries created HIV-infected Muppets. Guess how long it'll be before Pixar tackles HIV/AIDS.

That gun's easier to disarm when you're concerned about making 300 mil. It's also easier to shamelessly market your products to children the way that Disney does when you're worrying about the bottom line.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:32 AM on June 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


It's interesting to me that saying "gee, as a girl, I'd love to see a great Pixar movie that has a girl as the lead", is the same to some people as saying "I HATE PIXAR AND I HOPE THEY DIE." And yes, Miyazaki's movies mostly have female leads. Do they have the pop culture impact on our society that Pixar films do? Frankly, no.

BTW, in response to some confusion, the woman at the ceremony was his mom; Phyllis is the kid's stepmom, who is discouraging the father from having a relationship with his kid. No reason Phyllis would be there, but his single mom did show up. And let me clarify I'm not saying that it would have made sense story-wise for the mom to give the badge; it wouldn't. But her passivity and cluelessness, again, were just oddly off-putting.
posted by OolooKitty at 8:34 AM on June 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Why do you think Disney greenlighted all those Miramax art films?

Good point. I think I misread you as defending some kind of corporate profit-maximizing motive as sensible, and I see you're not and I'm sorry I read you wrong.

The idea that Pixar just exists to fund these adult products seems misplaced though. I get the impression they don't think of themselves like that. And even if they did just exist to make money to fund other work, why not inject some social responsibility there, too? Why not try to push the envelope on this gender stuff? Why not try to find a way to make a profitable kids movie with a female lead?

It's not just a brute fact of the market that boys don't like watching movies with female leads. It's part of a big feedback loop. I'm sure, for example, that one of the reasons boys don't like watching movies with female leads is because there aren't many that have seemed good to them; e.g. The Little Mermaid is boring and possibly even icky, in large part because of its reliance on these hackneyed, cheesy, lame gender roles. Maybe breaking away from stereotyping will increase the cross-gender appeal of these movies. Nobody's really trying this seriously (although The Incredibles seems like a step in the right direction, and a successful one) that I know of, probably because they think it's just a brute fact of the market that it won't work.

But the market isn't just a thing. It changes as people put different stuff into it. Pixar's in a position to try to make this kind of change. They should step up.
posted by avianism at 8:34 AM on June 15, 2009 [7 favorites]


Wow another story that promotes the idea that social and cultural imperialism is perfectly acceptable as long as its privileged, white, American women.
posted by Redgrendel2001 at 8:35 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Remember, Pixar does not make artistic expressions or social statements. They make movies as an investment. If you want people who make movies because they want to express themselves, the Lars von Trier post is a few doors down.

What an incredibly arrogant and boneheaded thing to write. Just because their movies aren't aimed at you, or don't interest you, and make a lot of money doesn't mean that the people involved in creating them aren't making art.
posted by papercake at 8:37 AM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Pastabagel: While His Dark Materials was a great series, and much more socially important than Harry Potter, Rowling was absolutely correct that boys by and large won't read a fantasy or adventure series with a female lead. The sales figures bear that out.

Well, by and large, Potter is an extreme outlier as a publishing franchise. I will argue that in regards to gender, Potter is more progressive than many Pixar feature films.

phillip-random: I think any concerns that animation could represent human drama was pretty firmly put to rest in the Chuck Jones era. Now whether Pixar successfully does it is another question.

Does anyone else cringe whenever Ratzenberger mugs for the microphone? At least one if the things I did like about UP! was that Asner's performance never let Asner come to the foreground.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:40 AM on June 15, 2009


A: Perhaps your daughters (and sons, while we're at it) should watch fewer movies? My daughter enjoys playing astronaut and Megashark Vs. Giant Octopus, and doesn't seem to get why her friends want to play Princesses all the time. And coincidentally, she doesn't watch a lot of Disney movies. Or a lot of movies in general. Hmm.

B: WALL*E was AW*FUL. Stopped watching around halfway through because I didn't care what happened to the robots, and it didn't seem likely that humanity was going to be destroyed in the end, and that was clearly what needed to happen to make the movie even almost worth having suffered through. Also, yes, Disney, please lecture me about the evils of waste and brainless consumerism, you hypocritical fucks. Hey, why not have a blurb on the side of the WALL*E Happy Meal box about it?
posted by rusty at 8:42 AM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


OolooKitty: "It's interesting to me that saying "gee, as a girl, I'd love to see a great Pixar movie that has a girl as the lead", is the same to some people as saying "I HATE PIXAR AND I HOPE THEY DIE.""

A misreading, to be sure. One I suspect is fueled by the fear, reasonable or not, that if Pixar starts second guessing what they've been doing - which, for the sake of argument, let's define as "make terrific animated films about male characters" - in response to even a legitimate feminist grievance, they will in fact die.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:43 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


J. K. Rowling never said she had a male protagonist so the books would appeal to boys. She has said she used J. K. Rowling as her pen name instead of Joanne Rowling because her publisher suggested that boys won't read books written by a woman. I think she's expressed regret for this and by the third or fourth book she was famous enough that nearly all her readers knew she's a woman, anyway.
posted by zixyer at 8:44 AM on June 15, 2009


rusty,

Your points are valid, except that it should be noted that Pixar (and Disney) made the deliberate choice not to have Wall-E related happy meal toys. They recognized the levels of hypocrisy this would have achieved, and avoided that particular controversy.
posted by nushustu at 8:49 AM on June 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


> I'd love to see a kids movie in which the male lead isn't either a) obsessed with winning the heart of a beautiful girl, or; b) a complete dolt.

How about Up? Roger Ebert rightly pointed out in his review that this was a children's film where the child refreshingly didn't know more than the adult, a male lead whose flaws are very much human and sad and transgresses (b).

As for (a)—tangentially—, I'd like to know how many children asked their parents about what happened with Carl and Ellie in that beginning sequence and why everybody in the theater was trying so hard not to cry ten minutes into the film. Lots of the same fun, awkward conversation taking place across the country.

But maybe you were talking about a young male leads, so sorry if that's the case. I just liked Ebert's one-off digression. And Up. I like Up a lot.
posted by shadytrees at 8:50 AM on June 15, 2009


Why is the assumption that mothers are making these decisions? Where are the fathers? Are they adamantly in there insisting on varied representation, only to be overridden by the mother, whose gendered agenda is presumably so much more rigid?

At the risk of sounding like an ass, Miko, you don't have a kid. If you did, you'd know that kids make up their own minds about what they want, and the best parents can do is try to steer them.

My daughter hates clothes with flowers, has no dolls (only stuffed animals), and for the most part avoids dresses. She's made those decisions on her own. I've offered dolls and princess outfits, but she refuses them. She's made her choice, and I'm fine with it because it's her choice. Oh, and she's 5.

I don't think it really matters what the mother or the father thinks. If they're forcing a gendered agenda on their children, they're bad parents, of course, but in the end the kids will figure it out on their own when they hit rebellion stage.
posted by dw at 8:52 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]



The idea that Pixar just exists to fund these adult products seems misplaced though. I get the impression they don't think of themselves like that. And even if they did just exist to make money to fund other work, why not inject some social responsibility there, too? Why not try to push the envelope on this gender stuff? Why not try to find a way to make a profitable kids movie with a female lead?


I think you're right that they don't think of themselves like that. They clearly do try to inject some social or moral message into their films, but the messages are always so broadly applicable that they are inherently gender neutral.

But think how difficult it is to find a mainstream live-action film with a female lead that doesn't involve a wedding or a job promotion. The story archetype you are describing is exceedingly rare. The funny/weird thing is that the genre with the longest track record of strong, heroic female leads is horror.

Look, Wall-E's budget was $180 million. Are they really going to try to push the envelop on "gender stuff" with $180 million of someone else's money, when films with a budget a tenth of that don't even try it?
posted by Pastabagel at 8:54 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Rowling was absolutely correct that boys by and large won't read a fantasy or adventure series with a female lead. The sales figures bear that out.

Cite, please. Plus, folks above are claiming Rowling said nothing of the sort, so if someone could provide a cite for that it'd be great, too.
posted by mediareport at 8:55 AM on June 15, 2009


WALL*E was AW*FUL

I can only assume this is like that cilantro thing.
posted by device55 at 8:56 AM on June 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


ne I suspect is fueled by the fear, reasonable or not, that if Pixar starts second guessing what they've been doing - which, for the sake of argument, let's define as "make terrific animated films about male characters" - in response to even a legitimate feminist grievance, they will in fact die.

I think that people who have such creative talent and spot-on instincts for popular entertainment could certainly find a smart way to bring in the talent and ideas into the development pool for these films. If they sloughed off some half-thought-out movie that they weren't truly excited about simply in order to appease critics clamoring for female leads, that would indeed be a shame. But why would we assume they'd do that? Why would anyone want them to drop their standards? if they assembled a creative team that met all their usual standards for unconventionality, humor, surprise, universality, and so on, there's no reason to think they couldn't do it well. They know a lot about making great movies. To say they couldn't make a great movie about a female lead when, in fact, they have all the abilities necessary to do so sort of proves the argument that it's not just an accident, but some prejudice, whether unintentional and unthinking or not, going on with their inability to present a female lead. Either they can make great movies with female leads, so eventually they will, or something about the idea of a female lead is convincing them (and some here) that a movie with a female lead can simply not be great - and in that mindset lies the problem.
posted by Miko at 8:57 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


nushustu: it should be noted that Pixar (and Disney) made the deliberate choice not to have Wall-E related happy meal toys.

Oh yeah, well that excuses the foregoing 80+ years of it. :-)
posted by rusty at 8:58 AM on June 15, 2009


Rowling was absolutely correct that boys by and large won't read a fantasy or adventure series with a female lead.

Really?
posted by Miko at 8:59 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Does anyone else cringe whenever Ratzenberger mugs for the microphone?

If it weren't for Ratzenberger, the Disney-Pixar merger would never have happened. Disney wanted to go ahead with Toy Story 3 when it looked like they were about to lose Pixar, but Ratzenberger, considered the "good luck charm" by the Pixar folks, refused to cross over to do the Disney version. That doomed Toy Story 3 and eventually led Disney to make the deal with Pixar in 2006.

As part of the deal, Toy Story 3 was put next in line for Pixar after the movie they'd just started working on -- Up.
posted by dw at 8:59 AM on June 15, 2009


/slight derail, Yes I knew the Harriet the Spy movie would suck when they cast a cute blonde girly girl as the lead instead of someone who basically looked like Velma*--which is how the book described her. She hated bathing, for crying out loud.

*just like me at that age!

And also slight derail, the pushy and bookish Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast is a direct ripoff of the pushy and bookish Beauty in Robin McKinley's Beauty. McKinley also wrote the book I already mentioned, The Blue Sword, which would make an utterly awesome film and if Pixar picked it up I would die from hyperventilating joy.

/end derail
posted by emjaybee at 9:00 AM on June 15, 2009


dw, I think Miko was responding to Pastabagel's comment here, wherein PB placed the onus of educating children about the weird pervasive gender stereotypes squarely on mom's shoulders. I think we could all agree that, to the degree that parents can influence their kids' tastes and cultural perceptions, that should be something that (ideally) would be taken on by both the mom and the dad.
posted by shiu mai baby at 9:01 AM on June 15, 2009


Either they can make great movies with female leads, so eventually they will, or something about the idea of a female lead is convincing them (and some here) that a movie with a female lead can simply not be great - and in that mindset lies the problem.

Again, Bear and the Bow. Brenda Chapman. Christmas 2011.

Can we all just calm down and wait through the Toy Story onslaught over the next year? It sounds like Pixar decided that it's time for a woman-centered role, and they handed it to the one person they think can do it right.
posted by dw at 9:05 AM on June 15, 2009


Triplets of Belleville. Strong female lead. Great female secondary characters. All the males, pretty much, are deeplky flawed in one way or another.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:05 AM on June 15, 2009


Rowling was absolutely correct that boys by and large won't read a fantasy or adventure series with a female lead.

In addition to Miko's "Really?", I'm assuming that a large majority of Honor Harrington readers are boys.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:06 AM on June 15, 2009


Isn't this just a marketing problem? The male leads must be testing better with the focus groups.
posted by tehloki at 9:10 AM on June 15, 2009


device55: I can only assume this is like that cilantro thing.

Not really -- I could write a fairly long critical (in the sense of "interpretive" rather than "negative," although in this case it would mostly be negative as well) essay about why WALL*E was bad, starting at the level of characterization (one-word summary: childish), running through plot and story (one word summary: thin), and then looking at thematic elements and the context within which the film is embedded that severely undercuts and problematizes those very themes (one word summary: [unprintable]). Others would surely disagree, but it would be expected that they could support their disagreement by drawing examples from the film, from other works, and/or from the larger body of critical and film theory. It would be a process of building intelligent discourse around an artistic work.

Liking cilantro, on the other hand, appears to have more to do with genetic taste receptors, and noting to do with interpretation or criticism.

I guess my key point is that I'm not saying "I didn't like it," but that "It is bad."

(I didn't like it, of course, but that doesn't really matter to anyone, nor would I expect it to.)
posted by rusty at 9:10 AM on June 15, 2009


I think the idea that boys will not read books that feature female leads is utterly disproved by Ramona Quimby. And I can't be alone in having been a little boy who read the Madeline books.
posted by Astro Zombie


Not to mention Alice in Wonderland.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:12 AM on June 15, 2009


Triplets of Belleville. Strong female lead. Great female secondary characters. All the males, pretty much, are deeplky flawed in one way or another.


Not Pixar, or mainstream. And also, in my opinion, intensely annoying. By the end I hated all the characters equally, regardless of gender. Except maybe the dog.
posted by emjaybee at 9:14 AM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


"No More Princess" pitch.

SETTING: A magical forest which exists somewhere in Central Europe for the purposes of design, art influence, and novel exotica.

The Kingdom of Presteria is ruled by seven sisters. Known as The Princesses, they exert ruthless control over the kingdom and populace, being seen as arrogant, vain, dictatorial, and spoiled. They all believe they are the absolute best in something, Music, Art, Law, Swordsmanship, etc, and because of that, only they may participate in them,.

The only non-royal any of them know is Elizabeta, a carpenter's daughter who is friends with Princess Erika. Or rather, they used to be friends and allowed to play another as children, but that Erika is old enough to rule, she must be distanced from her former friend and treat her as other commoner. A populist revolt is forming over the excess of power held by the Princesses, a revolt that Elizabeth reluctantly agrees with, but still fears for her old friend. Through some subterfuge, Princess Erika is kidnapped to be held for ransom. The other Princesses, not wanting to look weak, kidnap Elizabeta and dress her up as Erika. Both girls experience the other's world, Erika seeing the poor state of the "real world" and that she's not the best at everything and Elizabeta witnesses first hand the extreme rigidity and absurdity of Princess life. They both resolve to fix the problems and yadda yadda work this out later, maybe an outside threat like an invading army of magical beings. It ends with the Monarchy being dissolved, the Arts and Sciences opened up for everyone (cause maybe everyone is needed to fight, not just the royals), the idea that everyone needs to band together and share their skills and a newer, more democratic Presteria emerges.

I'm thinking Art-Nouveu/Secessionist inspired design, myself.
posted by The Whelk at 9:16 AM on June 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Pixar's been a bit of a boy's club from the start, cf. Knick Knack.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:17 AM on June 15, 2009


I just watched Persepolis on Friday night.
posted by autodidact at 9:18 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think we could all agree that, to the degree that parents can influence their kids' tastes and cultural perceptions, that should be something that (ideally) would be taken on by both the mom and the dad.

Not only ideally - it already is. If males in the family are signing off on decisions about what media the kids take in, or are brought into the home, or celebrated, or which franchises the toys in the house are purchased from, that absence of interest and decision making is every bit as loud a gender cue to the children as is any female family member's choices. Blaming the choices on mothers alone neglects the messages sent by any lack of interest, discussion, critique, authorization, or collaboration on the part of a father. It's nuts to say that fathers, when they're present, or other male relatives have no impact on the gender education of children. Even by signalling their own non-interest in princess films, or by indulging in a daughter's interest in those films without discussion, or by separating the experiences of film by gender, or by simply leaving all such choices to the mother or female relatives, males are demonstrating what kids will see as appropriate gender activity. There's no way to place blame for gender stereotyping on a single member of the family, when establishing and reinforcing gender norms is actually a collaborative project of all family members, peers, school, and society at large. To undermine the norms one must engage them directly.
posted by Miko at 9:19 AM on June 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


Disney is focused on providing quality entertainment to children and their families, sticking to 'safe' topics and situations to provide a haven of G-rated programming in an R-rated system. Disney Channel is a lone hold out as a channel for children that does not air commercials.

Hey, I really enjoy Disney's programming, especially the live-action shows that my older "pre-tween" daughter is getting into. We watch them together. I'm generally Disney friendly, princess-fairy industrial complex, stupid Purity Ring teenagers, and all.

However, your assertion that Disney Channel is the only network that does not air commercials is false. They limit commercials during the early-morning preschool programming, but after about 10 AM anything goes. This is also Nickelodeon's modus operandi. Nick's Noggin channel, on the other hand, is almost completely commercial-free 24 hours a day (though not advertising-free anymore, as short ad bumpers have been appearing amidst the interstitial programming for some time). If Disney has a channel that compares to Noggin in this way, it is not amongst the dozen or so children's programming channels available with my Direct TV package.

Not that this is really an important point to make or relevant to the discussion, but since you brought it up, it seemed worth mentioning.
posted by padraigin at 9:21 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or as an example where Pixar's bias just doesn't make sense, in Up! a large pack of domesticated dogs is voiced by three men, somewhat in contrary to what we know of the ways in which dog packs are socially organized around breeding pairs. Of course the whole thing about talking dogs is based on an invention as plot device, and one could explain it away as Muntz gendered all his devices as masculine. But then, we loose the idea that those voices are expressive of individual personality. It's one of those little details that don't quite add up.

Joe Beese: A misreading, to be sure. One I suspect is fueled by the fear, reasonable or not, that if Pixar starts second guessing what they've been doing - which, for the sake of argument, let's define as "make terrific animated films about male characters" - in response to even a legitimate feminist grievance, they will in fact die.

Oh please, Pixar didn't get to where it is without second guessing what it does in relationship to the market. And at least one of the points being made is that while Pixar generally is a step above the rather dismal state of animation in the United States, it's products are unworthy of the excessive praise heaped upon them.

Pastabagel: Look, Wall-E's budget was $180 million. Are they really going to try to push the envelop on "gender stuff" with $180 million of someone else's money, when films with a budget a tenth of that don't even try it?

Of course, some people argue that they did by gendering EVE as feminine. Furthermore, prior success with Incredibles, a film with female co-leads, should leave little doubt that the inclusion of female characters isn't the box office kiss of death.

dw: If it weren't for Ratzenberger, the Disney-Pixar merger would never have happened.

Sure, but his short performance in Up! still sucked. Or rather, to my ears it was inappropriate for the tone of the movie.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:22 AM on June 15, 2009


fwiw, Miko, I included the ideally parenthetical in my last comment only to acknowledge in passing that not every family with children has a typical male-dad + female-mom parenting structure. Addressing societal expectations of gender roles in fiction is a thousand times more complicated in a non-stereotypical family, but I figured that was a kettle of fish I didn't want to crack open here.
posted by shiu mai baby at 9:28 AM on June 15, 2009


Or to put it another way, it may have been a good idea to treat Pixar as a sacred cow 10 years ago, when it was a newcomer to the blockbuster movie stage bringing new talent and storytelling to a stagnant animation industry. But now that they are the establishment just as much as the Disney princess franchise, it's time to blow the dust off the DVDs and engage in some critical reassessment.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:31 AM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


fwiw, Miko, I included the ideally parenthetical in my last comment

Sorry, I thought the "ideally" referred to the idea that in a two-parent home, ideally, both parents would be involved. So I was trying to show that sending gender messages wasn't a matter of choosing to be ideal, it happens as default. Sorry I read the comment wrong - but it led me to a point I wanted to make anyhow!
posted by Miko at 9:35 AM on June 15, 2009


Not Pixar, or mainstream. And also, in my opinion, intensely annoying. By the end I hated all the characters equally, regardless of gender. Except maybe the dog.


Mainstream enough to be nominated for two Academy Awards -- Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. It lost the Beat Feature award to Finding Nemo.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:35 AM on June 15, 2009


Best Feature, dammit. Not Beat.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:39 AM on June 15, 2009


Personally, I don't consider the Academy Awards to be a good barometer of quality. The Best Animated Feature in particular is rigged in a way that Pixar and Disney blockbusters have a significant edge over foreign films that get buried in the arthouse circuit. Persepolis for example received rave critical reviews but was dribbled out to theaters by Sony. So when you get to something that's basically a popularity contest, of course academy members are going to vote for something they might have actually seen over something that they likely only saw in the form of a DVD mailing.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:44 AM on June 15, 2009


Wouldn't be complete without:

The difference between Pixar and Dreamworks.

posted by lazaruslong at 9:47 AM on June 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


Pixar is now at the point where it can release a film with a female lead that can succeed (as bean-counters measure these things) despite some of the misgivings mentionned in this thread. This is because Pixar is now a Name and draw in and of itself--people go to see a movie because it has "Pixar" on the poster, just like people buy paperbacks because "KING" takes up 2/3rds of the cover. Any parent gender biases ("Oh, my son won't like this because it's about a girl") are over-ridden by Pixar's track record of doing cool, excellent, entertaining stuff.
posted by Decimask at 9:52 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I know it's not Pixar, but did anyone see Monsters vs. Aliens?
Like most of DreamWorks movies, Monsters vs. Aliens is more of a Netflix choice than something to see in theaters for me. Slate's review of it - which was less a critique of the movie itself than the complaint about Pixar going on here - was among the most positive notices it received. Others called it "a gag-delivery system wrapped in special effects" (AV Club), "about things, not characters" (Washington Post), and "something that's just rolled off a conveyor belt, made according to an exacting but dull set of specifications" (Salon). It did boffo BO, of course, and I bet its "message" tested well with preview audiences. I expect it will entertain me without moving me in the slightest.

While we're on the subject of sexism, labeling Cars as a "boyzone" movie implies that women can't be interested in cars.
Cars seems to be the one Pixar movie where they might be vulnerable to this kind of criticism. They were able to cast Mario Andretti and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for voice cameos but couldn't get Danica Patrick? And having a down-to-earth female character, Sally Carrera, driven (so to speak) to persuade the swell-headed male lead to relate to other people is a cliche that ought to be beneath them.

And, while we're busy hating on Pixar, is it possible that they've done some market research and found that alternative ideas won't fly?
Up to this point, Pixar hasn't really cared about market research when coming up with their stories. "We make these films for ourselves. We're kind of selfish that way," Up's director has explained. They seem more in touch with the spirit of that old bastard Walt, who once said "We don't make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies." At any rate, I'd rather see an uncategorizable, idiosyncratic Pixar movie than a conventional DreamWorks or Disney one that rated positively with focus groups.

Let me just step over here into my multi-million dollar animation studio, rendering farm, and production facility and get to work.
Or you can make your own award-winning feature animated film with Flash entirely by yourself. (previously)
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:54 AM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


> What I was trying to do with that cilantro comment was to point out how (anecdotally) every single negative response to WALL*E seems to include some statement to the effect of "I don't need to be beaten over the head with an environmental message" - I find this to be strange and knee-jerkish.

I suspect that those people who have that strong reaction against a perceived environmental message - their reaction is so strong it prevents them from enjoying a fun story about a robot falling in love and humans regaining their humanity.

Clearly I dropped the boat on that metaphor.

While there are definitely environmental themes in WALL*E - I think there's more to it than that. The concept of humanity expanding and progressing so far as to overwhelm the earth's resources is a common theme in science fiction - shows up in the credits to Firefly, 2001, Contact, etc.

Also at the end of WALL*E it's heavily implied that humans basically terraform the earth(!) to make it suitable for human life, creating an idealized fishing village - that to me seems quite un-environmentalist.
posted by device55 at 9:54 AM on June 15, 2009


How are folks deciding that The Incredibles not have a female lead? Elastigirl is right there with Mr. Incredible, and Violet is clearly a bigger character than than Dash (in an ensemble piece.) And as mentioned, Edna is the strongest character in the film.
posted by msalt at 9:59 AM on June 15, 2009


I like the moving pictures.
posted by mazola at 9:59 AM on June 15, 2009


lazaruslong: "Wouldn't be complete without:

The difference between Pixar and Dreamworks.
"

Sure, Dreamworks animation is generally lesser babka. But I preferred Antz to A Bug's Life. And there was nothing wrong with Kung Fu Panda or the first Shrek.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:01 AM on June 15, 2009


^ "This" being people's need to tell Pixar how to make their movies, which is just a small example of people's need to ruin everything in order to make a world where "everybody gets equal treatment."

It just makes me hate people. Vote me off this fucking planet.


This is absurd. You are frothing at the mouth, and over what? The article was not a plea to pass a law requiring Pixar to make more movies with female protagonists. It was just an open letter noting the gender discrepancy in Pixar protagonists. Look, it's not the case that Pixar is making high art that bows only to the demands of the form. They're making children's movies that get shaped by focus groups and market demands, although the movies are well-crafted and charming to a number of demographics. Basically all that is being suggested is that they broaden their marketing focus to, you know, the other half of the population. If you want to suggest that they already have, read iamkimaim's comment, which shows how girls are socialized to see men as the agents for action in society. While you're doing that, keep in mind that these are children's movies; they're not for you, they're for kids, and so they have as a company a certain responsibility to make sure that issues like these are handled well.

Beyond that, your melodramatic martyrdom is ridiculous. Is throwing a tantrum your usual response to things you disagree with?
posted by invitapriore at 10:05 AM on June 15, 2009 [11 favorites]


The article was not a plea to pass a law requiring Pixar to make more movies with female protagonists.

No, the article is pretty reasonable.

The OMG SEXISM stuff calling Pixar a bunch of evil sexists and calling for quotas and stuff is all in the comments here. I consider it less reasonable.

Some of the responses to that are unreasonable as well.

And now we have a loop.
posted by Artw at 10:24 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think I posted that before fully waking up as Metafilter as I went for the hyperbole without really thinking through the impression it would give off. To boil it down as simply as I can, however you want to frame this as a feminist issue, or the totally benign floating of a suggestion, what it represents to me at the core is the subversion of creativity to political or marketing ends. From what I can see Pixar is clearly driven by marketing concerns, but I'm okay with that so long as they keep making pretty cool 3D movies every now and then. If they add another category of agenda to the yoke on the creatives, it will only hurt the end result.
posted by autodidact at 10:25 AM on June 15, 2009


...or the first Shrek.

Ah, the Shrek Trilogy, originality and quality-wise the Matrix Trilogy of animation.
posted by Artw at 10:26 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


From what I can see Pixar is clearly driven by marketing concerns

Hmm. No. That's what makes Pixar special.

...and if you deny Pixar being special that then why do we care what they make, as opposed to Dreamworks or any other generic move maker?
posted by Artw at 10:28 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


This sentiment may already have been expressed in the above slog, but...

I suspect that Pixar is worried that, the first time they make an animated film with a strong female lead who's a regular person, it will be perceived as such a big leap that it will have to be perfect. Every single second of time that character is on-screen will be picked apart by people with one axe to grind or another.

It's quite a dilemma. But they've had plenty of time by now -- just take the plunge, already.

Then do it again, and make the second film completely different and piss off a different set of people.

And then it's mainstream.
posted by gurple at 10:30 AM on June 15, 2009


Pixar can make the movies they want to make.

Lars von Tier can make the movies he wants to make.

J. J. Abrams can make the movies he wants to make.

Uwe Boll can make the movies he wants to make.

Michael Bay can make the movies he wants to make.

And as the audience, we can engage in critical discussion of those movies.

And personally, I find it exactly ass-backwards that we tolerate criticism works by directors we respect the least, and not of directors and studios we respect the most.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:31 AM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


And personally, I find it exactly ass-backwards that we tolerate criticism works by directors we respect the least, and not of directors and studios we respect the most.

Dividing the world into "sexist" and "non-sexist" and assigning works into those buckets via quotas and counts is not criticism I respect.
posted by Artw at 10:37 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


250 comments and not a single mention of Coraline, an American-made animated feature with a strong female lead and a surpringly strong showing at the box office (76m domestic / just passed 100m worldwide)?

I expect to see more than a few Coralines on Halloween this year.
posted by dersins at 10:38 AM on June 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


Wait a minute... though WALL*E was ostensibly about a "male" robot lead character, ultimately his "female" counterpart does most of the saving, and the super-hero-ing. And, moreover, she's not blindly looking for love from a workaholic male. That's quite a bit of gender role reversal going on in that flick.

Does that not count?
posted by revmitcz at 12:31 AM on June 15 [4 favorites +] [!]



Why isn't the movie called EVE then?
posted by harriet vane at 12:33 AM on June 15 [3 favorites +] [!]


It was named after the WALL-E character because the movie was trying to instill in viewers a sense of reverie and nostalgia for the current times as they could look in the future if we don't start recycling and planting trees for Gaia Earth (or whatever). Robot WALL-E has to deal with the garbage wasteland we left behind so we sympathize with him and want to go clean the highway to make his future brighrter while we still can. The title WALL-E reminds us of this.

True, EVE saves the day in WALL-E, but what if the genders of WALL-E and EVE were reversed? Would this just be another boy rescues girl story? Maybe Pixar consciously avoided that angle by having gendering the leading robots the way they did.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:41 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pixar is driven by marketing concerns, to a degree. To say they're not is naive. Everyone loves Toy Story but I'll bet there's some other movie outside of Toy Story 3 that would be made next if they were to poll their writers and animators on their preference for material. I could be making false assumptions, but I certainly didn't mean to say that they're purely driven by marketing concers, as Dreamworks appears to be. Dreamworks appears to fashion every frame with marketability and exploitation in mind. It has ruined every DW movie so far outside of Kung-Fu-Panda.
posted by autodidact at 10:41 AM on June 15, 2009


I would have never thought it would be so controversial for someone to say "Pixar, I love what you do. You're the absolute best. I just have one request: After ten movies in a row with male leads, do you think you could do something with a female protagonist? It would sure mean a lot to our daughters."

You guys seriously want to go ballistic over that? And you think that the letter writer has control issues?

There's more projection happening in this thread than in all the theaters showing Up today.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:42 AM on June 15, 2009 [26 favorites]


*having gendered
posted by WeekendJen at 10:42 AM on June 15, 2009


250 comments and not a single mention of Coraline

Hey, good point. I'd forgotten Coraline. Her character was weakened substantially for the movie, vs. the book ("Wybie"? What the hell?), but you're right, they pretty much did it.
posted by gurple at 10:46 AM on June 15, 2009


The world is not deivided into sexist and not sexist. It is sexist.

The question then becomes: Do artists we respect support or reject that inherent system of sexism. If they support it, are they doing it knowingly? If they are doing it knowingly, do we continue to support them? If they are doing it unknowingly, can raising the issue influence them to address it.

Pixar is complicated, because it both supports and rejects sexism. It rejects sexism by insisting that its female character be complex, complete characters, and not be primarily identified by their gender. It supports it by making the lead characters of all of its films male, and therefore having the female's role by supportive, generally functioning to encourage the development and character arc of the male lead.

It is to the company's credit that it is so complex. It means they have undoubtedly made active decisions regarding the representation of its female characters, and actively decided to show them in surprising and non-cliched ways. I fully believe the the company, made aware that it is also (probably accidentally) supporting sexism by creating a world in which women are never the principal players in a story, they are capable of addressing that. They have handled the issue of showing non-white characters in their movies with great care and subtlety, and I have no doubt they are capable of doing the same with female characters.

And, as much as I liked Up, the best animated film I saw this year was Coraline, which featured a female lead and and African-American secondary character. It's made $75 million so far, which may not be a blockbuster, but if it didn't do gangbuster business, it's arguably because it was as dark and as squirrely a film as anything Henry Selnick has done, and not because little boys don't want to see movies starring little girls.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:48 AM on June 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


Wow. On lack of preview: There you go.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:49 AM on June 15, 2009


Up to this point, Pixar hasn't really cared about market research when coming up with their stories. "We make these films for ourselves. We're kind of selfish that way," Up's director has explained. They seem more in touch with the spirit of that old bastard Walt, who once said "We don't make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies."

And you bought that bull? Suspension of disbelief is only supposed to last for the duration of the movie.
posted by rocket88 at 10:49 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think, at some point, the whole "a film with a female protagonist won't be successful" thing sort of comes down to, well, marketing. So many have accused GM of countermarketing the EV-1 and have wondered how it could be different. Ditto, in the opposite way, the entire Hummer / SUV market, which was clearly a consumer demand created by advertising for the benefit of car companies who like the lower CAFE standards and such.

I think it also has to do with how our mass media experiences help mold our culture, not always vice-versa. If the powers that be at Pixar were to decide it was important to make a film with a female protagonist, I have no doubt they would find it an uphill battle, but if it were successful, it could be the first pebble of the landslide that opens the pass to a more realistic portrayal of gender roles in children's movies.

Seriously, the ONLY thing I like about the new Battlestar Galactica is the creation of Starbuck. She kicks ass in so many ways, and yet never descends into parody or genderfuck. If we could have the Pixar female lead equivalent of HER in a film, I think everyone would be pleased. Men included.
posted by hippybear at 10:49 AM on June 15, 2009


Artw: The OMG SEXISM stuff calling Pixar a bunch of evil sexists and calling for quotas and stuff is all in the comments here.

Really? Because I've read every single comment in this thread, and I've not seen any of it beyond some preciously constructed, well, let's call them misunderstandings by you and autodidact.

autodidact: I think I posted that before fully waking up as Metafilter as I went for the hyperbole without really thinking through the impression it would give off. To boil it down as simply as I can, however you want to frame this as a feminist issue, or the totally benign floating of a suggestion, what it represents to me at the core is the subversion of creativity to political or marketing ends. From what I can see Pixar is clearly driven by marketing concerns, but I'm okay with that so long as they keep making pretty cool 3D movies every now and then. If they add another category of agenda to the yoke on the creatives, it will only hurt the end result.

On the contrary, I'll argue that films are generally better when they reflect the social realities of the characters that inhabit them, and the social realities of the audience that also lives in those settings. Up!, I argue is a stronger movie because it included ethnic minorities and strong character writing for Ellie, even if she was only tacitly present for most of the film. Invisibles didn't suffer at all from having two female co-leads.

Artw: Dividing the world into "sexist" and "non-sexist" and assigning works into those buckets via quotas and counts is not criticism I respect.

Certainly, it's not criticism I respect either. But I've not seen a lick of evidence that anyone is actually advocating that. Because quotas and counts really don't fix the problem that people are trying to address.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:50 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think there's a fine distinction between being driven purely by marketing concerns, which I don't think Pixar is, and acknowledging the marketing forces that drive success in a movie, which I think every movie studio pretty much has to, Pixar included. The thing about Pixar is that they manage to produce films that don't feel like an excuse for an action figure, at least not to me. There's an integrity and an unwavering commitment to telling a really, really good story with relatable, multidimensional characters that you just don't see in most other animated films. Hell, they have scores of live-action films beat on that count, if you want to get right down to it.

And as for the snarking about Toy Story 3: sure, there will be the requisite tie-ins and another round of posable Woody and Buzz figures, but there's no denying that movie franchise in particular touches something in a lot of people that goes way beyond plastic figurines and happy meals. When we saw the TS 3 trailer before Up, there was a palpable sense of sheer delight from the audience. I'm serious. There were people in the audience who clearly hadn't heard the news about the sequel who actually gasped with joy when they saw Woody up on screen. There aren't many films that can inspire that reaction in a jaded movie-going audience.
posted by shiu mai baby at 10:51 AM on June 15, 2009


And not many franchises whose 3rd film is very likely to be at least as good as the first, if not better.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 10:56 AM on June 15, 2009


I thought Ratatouille looked beautiful, but otherwise thought it was so-so for some of the same reasons others have mentioned, and it paled in comparison to Flushed Away.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:59 AM on June 15, 2009


Great Moments In Disney Marketing Research #413: V.I.N.CENT from The Black Hole
posted by Joe Beese at 10:59 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just watched Persepolis on Friday night.

Great film, but that's based on an autobiographical graphic novel, which goes back to the notion of people writing what they know.

I was hoping that, on review of all major titles, there would be a better show of some female characters. This is not the case:

Toy Story (1995) - Woody and Buzz, etc (male)

A Bug's Life (1998) - Flik, Francis, Heimlich, Slim, Manny, Dim, Tuck and Roll (male); Princess Atta, Dot, The Queen, Gypsy, Rosie (female)

Toy Story 2 (1999) - Woody, Buzz, Mr. Potato Head, Rex, Slinky Dog and Hamm ... (male); Jessie (female)

Monsters, Inc (2001) - Sulley, Mike Wazowski, Randall ... (male); Boo, Roz, Celia Mae (female)

Finding Nemo (2003) - Marlin, Nemo, .... (male); Dory, ... (female)

The Incredibles (2004) - Mr. Incredible, Dash, Jack-Jack, Frozone, Syndrome (male); Elastigirl, Violet, Edna Mode, Mirage (female)

Cars (2006) - Lightning McQueen, Chick Hicks, Strip Weathers, Mater, Doc, Ramone, Luigi ... (male); Sally carrera, Flo, Lizzie (female)

Ratatouille (2007) - Remy, Linguini, Skinner, Ego, Django, Emile (male); Tatou (female)

WALL•E (2008) - WALL•E, M-O, Capt. B. McCrea, Shelby Forthright, John (male); EVE, Axiom's computer (voice), Mary (female)

Up (2009) - Carl, Russell, Dug, Alpha, Kevin Charls F. Muntz (male); Young Ellie (female)
posted by filthy light thief at 11:00 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Astro Zombie: The world is not deivided into sexist and not sexist. It is sexist.

Yes. Because you know what? Even if Pixar gave us a Starbuck or Coraline, feminists would still engage in critical analysis of it. Because that's what feminist literary criticism is about, not quotas and counts but about interrogating works to examine what they about us as human beings in a culture. Because being a passive sponge for media is generally considered to be a bad thing.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:04 AM on June 15, 2009 [7 favorites]


Kevin in Up is female. Pretty ass-kicking, too.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:04 AM on June 15, 2009


With that, I'd be interested to see a comparison of other animated features, or even features by genre. In my mental tally, it seems there are generally more male actors with significant/memorable roles, but that could be a hasty and flawed assessment.

As for great female leads, I rather like Mary Poppins. Sure, she's a nanny, but she's "mysterious, vain and acerbic," according to Wikipedia. Perhaps the Disney portrayal sweetened her up a bit, but I found her off-beat and charming, in a forceful sort of way.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:06 AM on June 15, 2009


Matilda is another great children's film that features a female lead.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:07 AM on June 15, 2009


Kevin in Up is female. Pretty ass-kicking, too.

Sorry, that was a hastily made list. I haven't seen the movie yet, so I was trying to avoid the spoilers while skimming the list of characters (note to self: use IMDB instead of Wikipedia next time).
posted by filthy light thief at 11:07 AM on June 15, 2009


I just tweeted DisneyPixar to ask them to please make a film out of The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Good, strong female lead, with foibles, and the theme is the rejection of Puritanical hatred for tolerance, which feels timely.
posted by misha at 11:07 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


So Pixar's next movie should be female-centric above all else? They've made wonderful films, all successful, so now Pixar must better represent all genders equally?

I dunno, I think this sort of "outrage" is, well, outrageous. I go to movies to forget about the economy and the environment and so forth, and if I wanted to get upset about a movie, I'd watch something with Dane Cook.
posted by newfers at 11:24 AM on June 15, 2009


newfers, I think you might've been reading the wrong thread. I don't see anything even close to the "outrage" you're calling out here -- definitely not outrage by Metafilter standards, anyway.

Again, why is it such a travesty to ask Pixar to create a character that little girls can relate to?
posted by shiu mai baby at 11:26 AM on June 15, 2009


So Pixar's next movie should be female-centric above all else?

I missed the person in this thread who said this. Could you link to the quote?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:26 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


device55: I see what you were getting at. I don't object to the environmental message itself -- my objection is to the lame and sort of un-overlookably self-excusing way it's made. Basically, to the extent that I agree with Wall-E's critique of waste and consumerism, that critique was already made in a much sharper and more conscious way by Idiocracy. And that's not to say that Idiocracy is a terrific movie -- just that it contains precisely Wall-E's message, but done a lot better. I also would argue that it's not actually an environmental message as such, but one much more about critical engagement with the social world (or a striking lack thereof), social class, and the logical endpoint of endemic anti-intellectualism. A critique which Idiocracy explicitly recognizes that its making (it's right there in the title!) and which Wall-E doesn't seem to.

So the environmental / social message in Wall-E galls me not because it's there but because it's so muddled and half-assed. It's possible to see that confusion as simply storytelling incompetence, but I find it very hard to ascribe to incompetence what winds up being an awfully convenient muddling of what would, if done thoughtfully, be a message that would have to have good old Uncle Walt dead in its crosshairs as a canonical purveyor of the kind of blank-eyed unquestioning media-acceptance that is exactly the message's target. (I apologize to anyone who felt compelled to parse that last sentence fully. I can't seem to say this in anything like the smooth flowing way I'd like to.)

The overall point being, I guess, that if Pixar wanted to make a movie about the terible results of humanity giving up its hard-won intelligence in favor of cheap convenience, they should have had the sack to do it better than Idiocracy already did. If they wanted to make a love story, they should have tried to do it at something above a third-grade level (Interpolated anticipated critique: "It's for kids!" Nonsense. Plenty of kids movies have love stories worlds more nuanced than this. The Brothers Grimm alone could be mined for subtle grownup love stories cast for children until the end of time.) In the end, the movie they made does both things very badly and nothing well.
posted by rusty at 11:35 AM on June 15, 2009


Rusty, I get what you're saying there, and I can see where you're coming from, but the stuff you're pointing to as evidence is still completely subjective. In other words, when you said this:

I guess my key point is that I'm not saying "I didn't like it," but that "It is bad."

... you still haven't definitively proven that WALL*E is a "bad" film. You've definitely nailed why you didn't like it, though.

You're citing Idiocracy as having a keener message? Really?
posted by shiu mai baby at 11:45 AM on June 15, 2009


shiu mai baby: "why is it such a travesty to ask Pixar to create a character that little girls can relate to?"

Because that's not the way art is supposed to work. [Yes, Pixar is a commercial enterprise - as has been extensively discussed here already. But they are also producing art. And it is that part of it that bears on the question you asked.]

As a Jew, I imagine if one of Shakespeare's contemporaries, after being dismayed by the portrayal of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, asked him to write a nice Jewish character next time to balance it out.

1. Shakespeare knows better than that guy whether a character should be Jewish or not.

2. To whatever extent Shakespeare's imagination does not naturally encompass sympathetic Jewish characters, I don't want him forcing him it to please anyone. Shakespeare's plays, antisemitism and all, are more important that that guy's pleasure - or even social equality for my people. [Which isn't coming about as a result of anything Shakespeare does or doesn't write anyway.]
posted by Joe Beese at 11:51 AM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


If anybody is questioning what fuels Pixar's choice in storytelling, please watch The Pixar Story. I caught it on Netflix when it was a watch-it-now, but it might be available online elsewhere, and is available on DVD.

There are so many things that are more important to the films that Pixar has made so far than gender-assignment. I think the current conversation is great, and necessary, as I believe that the issue of having female leads is only recently ripe for Pixar's consideration (if they haven't already discussed it).
posted by jabberjaw at 11:52 AM on June 15, 2009


Peter Aletheias: I would have never thought it would be so controversial for someone to say "Pixar, I love what you do. You're the absolute best. I just have one request: After ten movies in a row with male leads, do you think you could do something with a female protagonist? It would sure mean a lot to our daughters."

It happens all the time here and IRL, people reacting violently to the idea that the status quo could be improved, interpreting such suggestions and criticisms as authoritarian demands like "Quotas are imperative!" in the face of explicit pre-emptive declarations to the contrary.

Inertia's the strongest force in the universe, after all. More so, when combined with the fact that many people perceive the status quo as validating-for-everybody (white males have been considered "universal" heroes until very recently, but some people who grew up with it don't notice this until somebody points it out and explains why it's suboptimal, and even after that it takes practice to keep that kind of awareness self-starting). Even more so, when the status quo has genuinely admirable and inspiring features that have deservedly earned people's emotional investment.

The Pixar team earned respect because they don't rest on their laurels. Now that this issue has been getting more airtime, and given their track record of striving for the best, the logical next step would be for them to take these kinds of critiques into consideration and use them to keep making their products better and better.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:55 AM on June 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


Because that's not the way art is supposed to work.

I'm a playwright, and a frequently produced one. I can tell you from experience: Art works just fine that way. Artists repond quite frequenly and well to suggestions about what they might do differently or better. And I'm not sure Shylock, one of the classic antisemitic characters of theater, is an example of a playwright knowing better than anybody else whether a character should be Jewish or not.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:58 AM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think the reaction to this call for female leads in future Pixar films has a lot to do with the hundreds of bad films and shows Hollywoood has made with the best intentions, from afterschool specials to very special episodes to self-congratulatory do-goodism like "Victor Victoria".

No one objects to these goals, but any time you start a script with social justice rather than entertainment as your pole star, you risk joining that legion. For the same reason, Seinfeld succeeded with the directive "no hugs, no lessons".
posted by msalt at 11:58 AM on June 15, 2009


The OMG SEXISM stuff calling Pixar a bunch of evil sexists and calling for quotas and stuff is all in the comments here. I consider it less reasonable.

Who is calling for quotas? To me, it seems someone brought up the quota strawman and everyone who is making the more-female-leads-please argument spoke out against it. I've just read this whole thread and I can't see anyone calling for quotas or calling Pixar "evil sexists." In fact, I just searched for "sexist":

The first use is by mediareport, not about Pixar but about some of the people in the "get downright nasty" link. The second is by Brandon Blatcher, pointing out specifically that doing something sexist DOES NOT make one evil. The third by ocdeadc0de, making the same claim you just did ("stop calling pixar evil sexists!") The fourth is by argyle, taking offense to the idea that nerdy males are afraid of women. And the last is by you, just above.

So please cite where you see people in this thread calling Pixar a bunch of evil sexists. Or saying OMG Sexism. Or for calling for quotas. Because otherwise I can't see this as anything but you being disingenuous and mischaracterizing other peoples' arguments.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:00 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I disagree.
posted by philip-random at 12:00 PM on June 15, 2009


No one objects to these goals, but any time you start a script with social justice rather than entertainment as your pole star, you risk joining that legion.

You also risk being Tony Kushner. Hacks will always fuck things up. That doesn't mean the goal itself is worthless.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:00 PM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yes, but... I don't think anyone is arguing for Pixar to make a script starting with social justice. It's just appearing, after all this time, as though the men who make these films aren't thinking beyond their own body parts when it comes to characters a lot of the time. In this supposedly enlightened 21st Century, some are suggesting that perhaps they should.
posted by hippybear at 12:01 PM on June 15, 2009


shiu mai baby: Perhaps. On the other hand, I'm writing a Metafilter comment, not a New Yorker article here. But yes, it's all thesis and no textual evidence, because the thesis is the fun part and ain't no one paying me for this. :-)

I hope I've suggested the direction of my thoughts, at least, and possibly demonstrated why I don't think I'm making a personal preference argument. I will not, I can confidently predict, prove to anyone that Wall-E is a bad film, because that would require a lot more work than I'm about to devote to this.

(Also, yes, really, I'm saying Idiocracy had a keener message. Please note: not an all-time great film, by any stretch of the imagination. Just notable here in that it has the same message, but it is deployed there with a lot more teeth.)
posted by rusty at 12:02 PM on June 15, 2009


Right, but no one's asking for Pixar to create the next great work of Social Justice. I'm just hoping that, someday soon, they'll find the inspiration to create a female character that my daughter can look up to. I've yet to be convinced that this hope is an intrinsically bad thing, all the protestations about the sanctity of art or whatever notwithstanding.
posted by shiu mai baby at 12:04 PM on June 15, 2009


Sorry, that comment was aimed at msalt. Rusty: noted, and I would actually be interested in seeing such a thesis, if you were ever so inspired. I'd still think you were completely and totally wrong and have a heart of cold, cold stone, of course, but I'd love to read it all the same. :)
posted by shiu mai baby at 12:07 PM on June 15, 2009


So Pixar's next movie should be female-centric above all else? They've made wonderful films, all successful, so now Pixar must better represent all genders equally?

There's only two genders, unless you're really getting into some trans-theory, which not even the most liberal of us expect Pixar to do at this time. Though it delights me no end to imagine the reaction of most of the media to a cross-dressing genderqueer Pixar character. But I digress.

Your statement is a classic case of (intentionally?) misunderstanding the argument being made. In what way does "more equitable representation of 51% of the human race in Pixar's films" equal "female-centric"? It doesn't, no one said it did, no one demanded that boy characters be banned, but your overreaction to what is, in essence, a fairly mild and qualified critique, says a great deal about your assumptions.

Equality is not a zero-sum game; allowing women onto the playing field or the silver screen does not "ruin" things for men, unless you think men are so boring/fragile that merely allowing women to be represented in equal numbers with them somehow ensures that they'll be obsolete and pushed off the stage entirely.

I personally think strong male characters will continue to thrive and be compelling even if strong female characters exist in equal numbers. You don't seem to, which makes you look sexist towards men.
posted by emjaybee at 12:09 PM on June 15, 2009 [10 favorites]


Astro Zombie: "Artists repond quite frequenly and well to suggestions about what they might do differently or better. And I'm not sure Shylock, one of the classic antisemitic characters of theater, is an example of a playwright knowing better than anybody else whether a character should be Jewish or not."

I picture a manager of the Globe Theater taking the writer aside. "Billy, love the new play. But the producers have some notes. The focus groups aren't loving this Shylock character. And I don't need to tell you that a lot of our season ticket holders go to Ye Stage Delicatessen after the curtain, you know what I'm saying? So how about making him an Iranian instead?"
posted by Joe Beese at 12:10 PM on June 15, 2009


if one of Shakespeare's contemporaries, after being dismayed by the portrayal of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, asked him to write a nice Jewish character next time to balance it out.

Although, oddly, Dickens did precisely that - after writing the loathsome but entertaining Fagin in Oliver Twist, he responded to reprimands from the Jewish community by putting the saintly, but frankly rather dull Mr Riah in Our Mutual Friend.
posted by Grangousier at 12:12 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Asking politely for decent (not equal, not mandatory) representation for both genders from a company you otherwise admire is not demanding "social justice" actually.
posted by jessamyn at 12:14 PM on June 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


On one hand, I'm pleased that so many of you are keyed up to examine gender representation in film. I know for many of you in this case it's because of the extraordinary appeal of Pixar's films to your inner selves, and I love Pixar for bringing that sense of wonder and lore back to the big screen, creating such a smart, worthy fan culture which can be critical and push for something EVEN BETTER.

On the other hand, this gender binarism in light of all the incredibly easy progress Pixar has made by now (the characters of Up being Asian and oooooold and infiiiirm respectively, yet well-rounded and relatable as only one example [but an aside: where my bitches? no girl dogs??? wha-wha-HOW?]) seems downright facile. Ellie was all through thte film, she was a major part of it, was its backbone, its spiritual core. That's pretty fucking good, yo. THERE ARE LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS of other films and programs that are much much worse. We are wasting time here. Up: OK!!! NOT BAD! Please go watch some broadcast television and worry over that - it's bad there, and its reach is broad.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:15 PM on June 15, 2009


Who is calling for quotas? To me, it seems someone brought up the quota strawman and everyone who is making the more-female-leads-please argument spoke out against it. I've just read this whole thread and I can't see anyone calling for quotas or calling Pixar "evil sexists." In fact, I just searched for "sexist":

It's pretty much implied by the title - Pixar is a "boys club", the count of films vs num,ber of female protagonists. links to "Pixars gender problem". And after that there's comments pushing the idea that Pixars back catalogue is broken and wrong and they should be pilloried for it.

And the reason it's broken and wrong is that there are not enough female leads, so yes, that's applying a quota.

As the the thread takes a slant downhill, somewhat predictably afeter Skeptics STFU. Which is odd because he also comes out with "Bird and Lasseter may be somewhat intimidated by women. Those are two HUGE nerds we are talking about, after all".

And then we get bits and peices like:

It never fails to surprise me that some folks not only don't notice the casual, consistent sexism in the way Pixar handles gender in its characters

As well as a bunch of stuff about how Pixar movies aren't any good anyway and thwey are just cynical exploiters of particular market demographics. And the suggestion that they could just swap out characters if they cared to, because, you know, that's how hacks work and they're just a bunch of hacks.

And then we're all the way down to the end of the thread we get accusations that Pixar are just thinking with their body parts.

I'd agree with you that there are some pretty dumb statements by people leaping to the defence of Pixar here, and a fair element of getting the defence in first, but there's no lack of people wanting to take a swing the other way.
posted by Artw at 12:18 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pixar is awesome.

Pixar could do a better job of diversifying their leads between genders and races.

I have no idea why that line of thought causes such a fight.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:20 PM on June 15, 2009 [13 favorites]


some trans-theory, which not even the most liberal of us expect Pixar to do at this time

I dunno... Consider Kevin! "Kevin's a GIRL?" was not really a big laugh line among the kids at the two screenings of Up I've been to, which interested me. Also, what with all the local Bay Area easter eggs and references, this woman can't escape being thought of. If Kevin's and homage to her, I imagine she'd be WAY honored. SQUAAAAwk!

Also, where was Kevin's daddybird counterpart? I daresay Kevin might have been one of those "nature finds a way" type trannybirds on that isolated plateau...
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:20 PM on June 15, 2009


Although, oddly, Dickens did precisely that - after writing the loathsome but entertaining Fagin in Oliver Twist, he responded to reprimands from the Jewish community by putting the saintly, but frankly rather dull Mr Riah in Our Mutual Friend.

And D.W. Griffith responded to criticisms of Birth of a Nation by making Intolerence, which expanded the language of film editing, was vastly influential when Russian filmmakers began codifying the techniques of narrative filmmaking, and employed a huge array of crew members who would later go on to be some of the defining voices in Hollywood. It's also a pretty damn astounding film in its own right.

We could tit for tat all day about whether artsist should take notes or not. It's up to the artist. But sometimes it produces dreck and sometimes it produces greatness, just as with everything in the muddy and uncertain process of creating art.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:21 PM on June 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's pretty much implied by the title - Pixar is a "boys club", the count of films vs num,ber of female protagonists. links to "Pixars gender problem". And after that there's comments pushing the idea that Pixars back catalogue is broken and wrong and they should be pilloried for it.

I think the point of the "count of films" is to show that there are ZERO Pixar films with female leads. That's not the same as saying, "Only four of ten movies have female leads! that is not 51% - we demand exactly half, that is the quota to fill!"

Same with gender problem. Zero female leads. Same with boy's club - because there are no female leads! None. We're just arguing for at least one movie with a female lead. If you want to consider that a quota, fine, but "more than zero" is a pretty tame quota.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:21 PM on June 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Artw, great job of combining about two dozen different opinions -- many of which directly disagree with each other -- into the Grand Unificiation Theorem of The Sexism Inherent in Pixar, OMG.

Good lord.
posted by shiu mai baby at 12:21 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't understand the third act of Idiocracy. It felt like the studio forced changes or something, because what started off as an interesting critique of a willingly lazy society, turned into a really stupid uninteresting action film. As I watched it, I kept thinking that at some point they were going to pull a fast one and rib the audience for enjoying an action sequence that was the very kind of thing they had been deriding the entire film, but they never did. It was literally just a stupid climax just which kind of sort of wrapped up the plot, but without any sort of cap to the commentary being pushed via the contextual subplot.

Granted, it's hard to do that well. Network, for instance, is a smart, witty film that has an incredibly annoying punchline of an ending that would have been better suited to one of the lesser episodes of MASH. Dr. Strangelove, OTOH, had a deliciously ironic ending.
posted by nushustu at 12:23 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Joe Beese: Because that's not the way art is supposed to work. [Yes, Pixar is a commercial enterprise - as has been extensively discussed here already. But they are also producing art. And it is that part of it that bears on the question you asked.]

But that's the way that art actually does work. I just read how audiences would shout out "C-sharp" at Rachmaninoff's performances. Now certainly the artist can chose to answer or decline those requests, but the audience is under no obligation to withhold it's critical evaluation either.

2. To whatever extent Shakespeare's imagination does not naturally encompass sympathetic Jewish characters, I don't want him forcing him it to please anyone. Shakespeare's plays, antisemitism and all, are more important that that guy's pleasure - or even social equality for my people. [Which isn't coming about as a result of anything Shakespeare does or doesn't write anyway.]

Except in this case, we are asking nothing of Pixar that it has not proven it is both willing and interested in doing in previous films. A studio that has already pushed the envelope forward (and yes, I'll argue that Jesse, Young Elle, EVE, & Helen are more progressive than many Disney princesses, and much of what we see from Dreamworks.)

I mean, really, who has less respect for the creative staff at Pixar in this discussion, the side who is arguing that they, due to some quirky, and poorly expressed quirk of the artistic temperament, are unable to create stories with female characters, or the side that argues that they can and they already have?

(And this is aside from the whole fucking fetish that people have regarding Shakespeare as Orpheus reborn touched by Apollo himself. Nope, it's entirely reasonable to call Shakespeare out on his antisemitism, racism and sexism. He's dead after all.)

msalt: I think the reaction to this call for female leads in future Pixar films has a lot to do with the hundreds of bad films and shows Hollywoood has made with the best intentions, from afterschool specials to very special episodes to self-congratulatory do-goodism like "Victor Victoria".

Really, because, I'd much rather watch Blake Edwards's treatment of the subject than Robin Williams's approach to The Bridcage in which the protagonists let their son walk all over them, or Ang Lee's Brokeback which sentences the protagonists to a life of murder and lonely despair. But then again, I've always had a bit of lust for Robert Preston. The relative lack of political polemic makes it rather refreshing. Edwards certainly could have used it to grind a political axe. Instead, he settles for making Toddy and Squash human.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:25 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Artw, great job of combining about two dozen different opinions -- many of which directly disagree with each other -- into the Grand Unificiation Theorem of The Sexism Inherent in Pixar, OMG.

Hey, Solon and Thanks asked, thank them.
posted by Artw at 12:34 PM on June 15, 2009


For the record, I said "not looking beyond their own body parts".. not "thinking with their body parts." The difference between the two is huge and should not be mistaken one for the other.
posted by hippybear at 12:39 PM on June 15, 2009


I know my body parts are huge.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:41 PM on June 15, 2009


Flagged.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:42 PM on June 15, 2009


ack, I said not "thinking beyond their own body parts"... still the sentiment above remains.
posted by hippybear at 12:42 PM on June 15, 2009


Hey, Solon and Thanks asked, thank them.

Actually, I asked you to "please cite where you see people in this thread calling Pixar a bunch of evil sexists. Or saying OMG Sexism. Or for calling for quotas."

You did cite one call of sexism (not the EVIL or OMG sort) and explained where you saw a call for quotas, but don't blame me for the rest of your post where you lumped several other arguments together (like the people who don't like Pixar movies because they're trite, or whatever the various reasons are) as if there were one grand unifying argument against Pixar.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:44 PM on June 15, 2009


Because that's not the way art is supposed to work. [Yes, Pixar is a commercial enterprise - as has been extensively discussed here already. But they are also producing art. And it is that part of it that bears on the question you asked.]

So, you've never heard of the Sistine Chapel, then?
posted by nooneyouknow at 12:47 PM on June 15, 2009


They could hire anyone they liked, including female writers. If they can stretch their minds into being fish or robots, being a girl should not be beyond possibility.

This, however, gets to the root of the issue, I think. Think about the amount of time and energy it takes to make one of these movies. Then think about how WALL*E, released just last year, was the final of the ridiculous list of hits that were discussed over the famous lunch in 1994. So, there's fourteen years of essentially only making those movies discussed back in '94, and the ones forced upon them by Disney. Sure, The Incredibles and Ratatouille and Cars got into that mix, but the culture being built up there - and working phenomenally well - was one of a small group of guys (Catmull, Stanton, Lasseter, eventually Brad Bird) who were working like crazy off of these initial bursts of inspiration, and to have been a part of this means you basically need to have come out of Cal Arts or something similar during a period of time (let's say '77 to '85) when there were still almost no women in Animation, and come up through a much more overtly sexist Hollywood than even what we've got today.

So there was bound ot be a lot of luck involved, but what I'm getting at is that working for Pixar is about the highest possible standard in the industry, and it's not until now that there's likely to be a significant pool of women who meet the criteria.

Which isn't to say that they couldn't have written female lead characters themselves. I'm a man and prefer to write female leads. I'm also in the camp that Helen Paar/Elastigirl is absolutely a lead - and a fabulously drawn one. Still, the movie is named after Bob/Mr. Incredible, so I'll concede the point.

The important thing, to me, is that Pixar seems to believe they've finally found a woman who ranks up there with Bird, Lasseter and Stanton in Brenda Chapman, who will be making our female-protagonist Pixar film. Personally, as excited as I am for the film itself, I might be even more psyched to see the vision of who - by her resume anyway - looks to be the female superstar that animation needs.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:48 PM on June 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


nushustu: (Responding because it's gotta be my fault you're even asking about Idiocracy in a Pixar thread...) That's the biggest of a flawed film's flaws, I have to agree. I think Mike Judge either just didn't know how to wrap up this story, which is, let's face it, set up as a really downer-type "Way too late, no way out" situation, or perhaps there were changes forced to try to salvage some sort of commercial film out of what's, up to the third act, more or less a direct personal savaging of the movie's intended audience and social milieu. But yeah, it falls apart at the end.
posted by rusty at 12:54 PM on June 15, 2009


Another post that drives me to the response - So what? I am soooooooo tired of people pointing out perceived gender/race/sexual preference imbalances in pop culture. Want a nice animated film with a female in the lead role? GO FUCKING MAKE ONE. Shazbot.
posted by PuppyCat at 12:57 PM on June 15, 2009


PuppyCat - Nothing wrong with saying you want something different in a reasonable and well thought out way. You read the Linda Holmes link, right?
posted by Artw at 12:59 PM on June 15, 2009


Navelgazer: Which isn't to say that they couldn't have written female lead characters themselves. I'm a man and prefer to write female leads. I'm also in the camp that Helen Paar/Elastigirl is absolutely a lead - and a fabulously drawn one. Still, the movie is named after Bob/Mr. Incredible, so I'll concede the point.

Sure. No one seems to have objected there. And I'll gladly make the argument that given how much love is showered on people like Joss Whedon, Ronald Moore and David Eick who get the gender thing partly right, that Pixar has nothing to fear by moving forward. The lament that writers are better off doing nothing than risk criticism for doing something that's imperfect was a big feature of Race Wank among the science fiction community, and it really doesn't match the reality that creators get perhaps too much credit for their progressive baby steps.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:00 PM on June 15, 2009


Glad to know that, out of 10 otherwise excellent movies, having exactly zero female leads is only a "perception" of imbalance. Whew! Problem solved!
posted by shiu mai baby at 1:01 PM on June 15, 2009


Brandon Blatcher: "Pixar is awesome.

Pixar could do a better job of diversifying their leads between genders and races.

I have no idea why that line of thought causes such a fight.
"

Because I for one don't see having gender- and race-diverse leads as their "job".

Their job, as I see it, is to make excellent animated films. A job they're doing quite well.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:01 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Their job, as I see it, is to make excellent animated films. A job they're doing quite well.

And yet they can't seem to imagine a world in which women exist as the primary characters in their own stories. I'd say that's a huge artistic failing. So you and I are going to have to disagree on whether they're doing a great job. I'd say they're doing half of a great job, and neglected the other half.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:04 PM on June 15, 2009 [9 favorites]


Joe Beese, please don't twist the words around like that. "A better job" is an expression that means a company could improve at a certain area, not an implication that it is their JOB to do so.

You know that.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:04 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually, maybe I'm being belligerent. Sorry, Joe Beese. This thread just seems bizarre and fighty in general.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:10 PM on June 15, 2009


Am I the only one that remembers Bebe's Kids?
posted by box at 1:11 PM on June 15, 2009


I am soooooooo tired of people pointing out perceived gender/race/sexual preference imbalances in pop culture.

....because there are none? Or if there are, it's our problem because we noticed?
posted by Miko at 1:15 PM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


[Knick Knack] was completely rebuilt and re-rendered for release in theatres preceding Finding Nemo. In this version the girl on the "Miami" knick knack and the mermaid in the fish bowl have undergone a breast reduction, and the mermaid is now wearing a bra rather than just starfish pasties, presumably to make the short more family friendly.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:24 PM on June 15, 2009


Joe Beese: Because I for one don't see having gender- and race-diverse leads as their "job".

Their job, as I see it, is to make excellent animated films. A job they're doing quite well.


On the contrary, I think even fantastic fiction is more believable when it minimizes the need for suspension of disbelief to the things that are important. A multi-ethnic Firefly or Galactica is more believable than a work that forces us to ask, "what happened to all the people of color?" The fact that the urban population of Up looks a lot like the urban population of many other American cities makes it easier for us to give the writers credit when the house lifts into the air. (A contract that's violated when the entire wolf pack is male.) The addition of Jesse and other characters to the Woody character line is entirely believable and consistent with the fictional universe created. The family dynamics of The Incredibles are entirely believable, allowing us to suspend disbelief in regards to their super powers.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:37 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I wonder if maybe - because civilization has provided thousands of years of stories starring men - it's just harder for society to accept breaking stereotypes where women are concerned. It's not too much to ask to make the main male character the physically weaker one, people are willing to accept that without any commentary. Wall-E is a good example. If you switched the names of the two main characters, you would have a classic Disney princess formula movie: loney, little character wants nothing more than a companion. Strong kick-ass co-star shows up. The two have adventures on the spaceship and the little robot makes sacrifices, but at the end of the day, the tough robot has to kick a lot of ass and save the little robot.

They switched the genders on these two characters, so the princess is Wall-E, and the hero is Eve, but other than that, the very basic plot is the same. But since they made the main character the male character (really in name only), nobody batted an eye. But if they had done the same story from Eve's POV, I dunno. I kind of get the feeling that people wouldn't have liked it. It would have been about a tough, career-minded (female) robot who has to fight against a conspiracy of male robots to save the human race. And also, she has to be taught how to love by a "weak" (but again, male) robot. Somehow I get the feeling that it would have come off as pretty bad.

I'm entirely sure I could be wrong, but sometimes I just wonder if the reason that Pixar hasn't focused on females as main characters is because they know that it would be considerably more difficult. Maybe it wouldn't be that hard for them to build a story around a female that wasn't a helpless princess story, but maybe it would. Even if they could do it, it might be just as difficult for the audience to swallow such a story. Of course there are examples of great stories with female leads, but these are rare. Of course this is in part due to sexism since the beginning of time, but that doesn't mean that at least part of the problem could be a general unwillingness on the part the audience to accept the strong female as the lead.

I give Pixar the benefit of the doubt, because I think people forget how very difficult it is to tell a good story. The reason Pixar is sort of the holiest of holies in Hollywood these days is because they consistently tell good stories.
posted by nushustu at 1:39 PM on June 15, 2009


So, let me see if I got this right:

1. Pixar is bad because they never make movies with female leads.

2. Pixar is currently developing a movie with a female lead.

3. People are still angry because Pixar never makes movies with female leads.

I pity Pixar for the backlash they're going to get about their first female-led movie from the very people who are howling at their sexism. No matter how good it is, or how nuanced the main character is, they're going to get raked over the coals.
posted by papercake at 1:40 PM on June 15, 2009


papercake: if points 1 and 3 of your post are what you gleaned from the OP and the subsequent comment thread, then you've not been paying attention.
posted by hippybear at 1:45 PM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


papercake, as has been noted, that movie with a female lead is being made by a woman (and who must, by nature of directing for Pixar, have proven herself to be an absolute badass by this point). That should hopefully help them ward off some coal-raking.

Also, from the wiki-synopsis, the Merida character is apparently quite flawed, which leads to devastating consequences that she then has to fix. In other words - a real, rounded chartacter, with an arc that matters.

I have a feeling that it's gonna be good.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:47 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one that remembers Bebe's Kids?

Sadly, no.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:52 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


This thread is already 300+ comments long, and so please forgive me if this point has been made above -

This isn't about PIXAR. This about humanity, and the construction of male as normal, and female as derivative. Look across all mediums and most genres which are intended to appeal equally to men and women, and there are far more male characters than female. Think of how the classic five-man-band has a character known as the girl/chick - you have the leader/hero, the lancer, the smart guy, the big guy, and the girl. Yes, having ovaries (like being black) is a character trait.

I could forgive Star Trek for having 7 main characters and only one woman, because it was from the 60s. But ST:TNG, 30 years and one major feminist movement later, still had of 9 main characters, 3 women (to start) and two of them in "caring" professions and basically acting as if "female" were a character trait, while the other one's major conflict is between her gender and her job. Does Geordi ever sit around and wonder if his manhood is threatened by being an engineer?

Basically, when people - male or female - think up characters, it seems like the basic is male, unless there is a reason to make the character female. Why was Data male? He has no sex. Now Brent Spiner was awesome - if they made the character male to cast him, power to them. But did they even audition women? I don't know, but I doubt it.

As for the fact that the PIXAR writers are male - well, I'm female, and I've written male and female characters just as easily. I'm currently reading a book by a woman who so far has done 9 novels in a male first person voice. And great female characters have been created and written by men. Writing someone of a different age or culture is far more difficult than writing someone of a different sex.
posted by jb at 1:53 PM on June 15, 2009 [12 favorites]


KirkJobSluder: "I think even fantastic fiction is more believable when it minimizes the need for suspension of disbelief to the things that are important. A multi-ethnic Firefly or Galactica is more believable than a work that forces us to ask, "what happened to all the people of color?""

Very interesting comment - with repercussions for the lily-white Star Wars that I'll need to mull over for a while. I would only note that, in the case of Pixar, the required suspension of disbelief is almost total to begin with - i.e. talking cars. Even when the characters are human, their appearance is stylized to the point of reading as cartoons. So you don't ask, say, why the dentist in Finding Nemo keeps giving the girl fishes as presents when they always end up dead. You just accept it as a plot mechanism.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:54 PM on June 15, 2009


Cars 2?
posted by mazola at 1:56 PM on June 15, 2009


papercake: if points 1 and 3 of your post are what you gleaned from the OP and the subsequent comment thread, then you've not been paying attention.

Quite possibly. I've read pretty much every post in this thread, but I'm running on fumes right now.

Still, what I keep thinking every time someone goes on about how Pixar is incapable of getting out of their boyzone heads to create a female-lead movie with the random explanation of why this is so (it's too hard, or they're too big of geeks to understand women, or the market won't bare it) is "THEY ARE CURRENTLY MAKING A FEMALE-LEAD MOVIE."

Which, to me, kind of destroys their argument. Pixar, obviously, is now interested in making a movie with a female lead character.

I, personally, can't wait to see what they do with the female lead. Just as I couldn't wait to see what they'd do with a robot. And an elderly man...
posted by papercake at 1:58 PM on June 15, 2009


Why was Data male? He has no sex.

ORLY?
posted by hippybear at 2:05 PM on June 15, 2009


jb: "This about... the construction of male as normal, and female as derivative."

Quite ironic, given our biology.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:05 PM on June 15, 2009


From "Sociological Images: GENDER IN PIXAR FILMS - I have read, in discussions of gender in children’s films, that there is a general belief in the industry that everyone will watch a movie with a male lead character, but boys will be turned off by movies with a female lead. So we see the pattern Caitlin points out: males are the neutral category that are used when the movie is meant to appeal to a broad audience, while females get the lead mostly when the movie is specifically geared toward girls. The assumption here is that girls learn to look at the world through the male gaze (identifying with and liking the male lead, even though he’s male), while boys aren’t socialized to identify with female characters (or actual girls/women) in a similar manner.

Well, having experienced children's films in the presence of children, I would say that this is absolutely true. Though I do know that the opposite also exists; some girls will not watch movies with male leads and insist on only watching films with "Princess" leads.

I don't know how much Disney or Pixar could really do about this. The problem is one that's re-inforced, not caused by children's movies. The gender binary in the u-SOFA is one that's strictly policed, and no one is more of an identity police than a child. They're only starting to see themselves as autonomous, and part of that identify formation has to do with gender: "*I* am a boy, *YOU* are a girl." For boundaries to really be crossed, our society first has to define boundary crossing as acceptable.

Which, y'know, isn't something a movie studio that wants to make any money is apt to do. Not to say that they shouldn't, just... they probably won't.

Or, as iamkimiam said:
It's less about how the child views that character and more about how children develop and view themselves. When you're young and starting to become aware of your own reality and the world around you, you are consciously and unconsciously absorbing all of societies expectations and rules about behavior. You are becoming socialized, and that involves some very clear distinctions about gender roles and identity. You learn about what options boys have and what options girls have. Acting a particular way gets you praise or punishment. The cultural norms are reinforced by the movies, music, parents, teachers, peers, neighbors...just about everything in a child's range of perception.

Oh, and, It's nuts to say that fathers, when they're present, or other male relatives have no impact on the gender education of children.

Anecdotal: When I've brought things up whilst nannying such as "Why can't Prince Philip wear a dress?" or "What if a boy wants a Princess valentine?" it's been the child's FATHER who has politely shot me down with a "Oh, don't start confusing her just yet!" Her mother, on the other hand, just laughs.

Fathers provide gender policing every bit as much as mothers do.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:08 PM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


“Still, the movie is named after Bob/Mr. Incredible, so I'll concede the point.”
Oh, c’mon. It’s called “The Terminator” but it’s most certainly Sarah Connor’s story. (Sequels aside – but that’s addressed below on the Hollywood system)

“That's funny. The main theme in all the Pixar movies I've ever seen has been: don't let the petty little people and their petty little jealousies (of your talent, ambition, or adventures) keep you down. They're about how the lazy majority oppress the hardworking minority. It's a thread running through The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and in a different and exciting way, Up.”

Ironic given the criticism. Completely divorced from content – take the gender issue away from the conflict – and that’s pretty much exactly what’s occurring. An extremely talented, successful, hardworking group of people in a different sort of company are getting criticism for not doing something other people, who apparently aren’t successful, alternative filmmakers, want them to do.

Y’know tho, I think the criticism is valid, but, gentle as it many be – it’s still an accusation of misogyny and misplaced. So we’re saying Georgia O’Keefe should have painted more phalluses for equality’s sake? Well of course not Smed, women are oppressed therefore that’d be ridiculous for *her * as an artist to change. And yet, that’s what’s being chewed over. Artists changing what they do.

So ok, we’ll start from the basic premise that, sure, most of western culture’s art (although I’d argue that what we think of as ‘eastern’ is far too limited and that western culture has been far more tolerant of female expression…which is a shame as well really) is dominated by males, for male audiences and sometimes there’s transgression against females and so forth.
Some people argue that the latter is what Pixar is engaging in. That’s been well argued as pretty much B.S. but I think the broader point stands – it’s mostly male dominated art generally.

So what’s being questioned here, however gently, is an artists duty to address this and change in response.
I’d be with the crowd that says Pixar has not made women, for the most part, unequal in their roles. So ok, should there be more female leads?

That’s a social problem. And again – what is an artist’s duty to address that?
I’d argue then: should O’Keefe have changed her art in some way? I mean, it’s merely expressive in one way. She didn’t contrive to make some sort of social statement, she just followed her inspiration. Which, while I know that’s not what’s being asserted, is the practical upshot of what’s being asked, and it’s a conflict.

You don’t want a contrived statement with art, because then it’s not really art, it’s propaganda. It’s mere agenda with storytelling or image or whatnot tacked on.
One can act naturally from a position and still have a statement that is not contrived. But what’s being asked is to have a “female lead.”
Well, you can’t just do that. You need a story, some sort of structure that requires a leading female because that must come first, otherwise you’re definitely just preaching, not making art.
And that’s not a male-centric perspective, that’s a unified perspective of art as, ideally, purely human – certainly there shouldn’t be inequity in art generally, that is, women should have an equal role and equal attention, and should be treated like any other character – as opposed to being a separate sort of thing, a thing unto itself - like a female story as opposed to a story that happens to have a female lead.

That’s not just me, Andrea Dworkin has the same perspective:

"Feminist art is not some tiny creek running off the great river of real art. It is not some crack in an otherwise flawless stone. It is, quite spectacularly I think, art which is not based on the subjugation of one half of the species. It is art which will take the great human themes — love, death, heroism, suffering, history itself — and render them fully human.”

Now, the argument in reverse – that the art being produced because of the system – and that the system that demands money be made and that the art that gets attention and backing tends to have male-centric characters and so male writers and etc. etc. – that this is misogynist - yeah, sure. I’d have to fully agree it is. And I think that’s been asserted in a number of comments tacitly or otherwise. I’m not with the folks who use it as an excuse to perpetuate the state of affairs, but I am with the folks who don’t lay it off on Pixar for making what they make.

So this criticism, however gentle, is misplaced. I’d be much more open to criticism of the system in Hollywood that demands work with male leads get produced because the assumption is that only that makes money. In fact, I think it deserves harsh acrimonious criticism, and for precisely the same art-stifling effects that an arbitrary female lead (divorced of a story necessitating one) would create. Only real difference is, on the one hand we have here gentle criticism asking for this arbitrary b.s., and on the other an actual system in place forcibly placing the focus on it and, not to mention, pure profits. Seems to be the bigger, more responsible, creator of these kinds of problems I’d think, and so, more the reason why we're not seeing more female leads.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:12 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


grapefruitmoon: and that's why it sucks so much to grow up gay in the US.
posted by hippybear at 2:13 PM on June 15, 2009


Smedleyman: if O'Keefe's paintings EVER begin to have the same influence over perception of gender roles within young people as Pixar films, I'll give you money. Lots of it.

Misogyny doesn't have to be intentional to be present. And it doesn't have to contain malice to be present. It is present, in most of our culture, so much so that we look askance on instances where it isn't so.

I'll say it again -- I want to see a Pixar hero who is basically a young Starbuck from the new BSG. Female, brave, competent, not in need of rescue, and fully rounded.
posted by hippybear at 2:17 PM on June 15, 2009


hippybear: Tell me about it.

(Full disclosure: Totally queer. Totally grew up in the u-SOFA.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:18 PM on June 15, 2009


But did you notice the jab at "lawsuit culture" in the beginning, when Carl's self-defense gets him taken away and his home foreclosed to pay the damages?

You are so wrong about one of the best moments in the whole movie. It has nothing to do with "lawsuit culture". Carl was arrested for assault! Hitting someone on the head with a metal cane because he broke your mailbox is not self-defense.

What would have been, in almost every movie ever made, a throwaway slapstick moment (old geezer smacks bad-guy construction worker with his cane, HAW HAW!), was used masterfully to create a dramatic shock of realism -- he drew blood and was held legally responsible for his actions. Not to mention being an awesome rebuke of the slapstick violence that so predominates cartoon comedies. No kids, it's really not okay to just hit someone like that.

The gender thing has bugged me off and on about Pixar's movies. My reaction to Wall-E was that it was like every other Hollywood comedy - scruffy, goofy guy gets paired up with sleek beautiful woman. After UP I found myself wondering how and if the story would work if it were the story of a widow - instead of "Carla" being a substitute father-figure for Russell, they would both be dealing with the loss of the man in their lives. But I couldn't get around the undeniable fact that tying a bunch of balloons to your house to make it fly away is definitely a guy thing to do.

On the other hand, with Helen Paar, Pixar is already head and shoulders above every other Hollywood studio in creating a fantastic female action hero. And I have very high hopes for Bear and Bow.
posted by straight at 2:20 PM on June 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


jb, I'm sure this is obvious as well, but the grand majority of the male-equals-normal story problem (and it is a problem) comes simply from thousands of years of story tradition, wherein the heroes were always men and women were consigned to the roles of mother, daughter, mistress and wife, because those were the roles they were restricted to in society as well.

Society (eventually, a little bit) evolves, but the story tropes remain largely the same. More importantly, the big archetypical plot that all stories sort of strive to fit into was designed around the male-centric story. So yeah, if the grand majority of your stories are "go fight the dragon," and if you accept that going off on a quest to kill a dragon is more reflective of a stereotypical male mentality than female, then in crafting more of those stories we are either going to (a) keep the men and women in the places that we're used to seeing them in, or (b) switch them around a bit. But option (b) isn't going to tell a woman's story as much as it will use a female protagonist to tell a story built for men.

Which is an issue. But if we have talented women working in the medium (there are a few, but there's still a paucity directing films in general right now) then we'll see more honest stories, and ways to tell them which arise out of the characters instead of a need to shoehorn them into old models.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:20 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I haven't read the entire thread, but I often enjoy reading MeFi threads about issues of race, gender, religion and sexuality, partly because of the defensive paroxysms of those who are essentially against such threads.

One comment I do want to make: many of the posters who aren't responding generously to the linked article argue that any gender equality problems are moot because one can offer an alternate explanation for the lack of representation that suggests the absence of malicious intent. For example, many people in this thread argue that Pixar's films are not sexist, they simply feature almost an entirely male cast because--among other reasons mentioned--every animator at Pixar is male and John Lasseter, as a nerdy male, may be uncomfortable around females. But, the point of pointing out these power imbalances isn't to impugn someone's (i.e. Pixar's) virtue--that is, the point isn't to adjudicate a specifically misogynistic intent--but to illustrate a problem with the system, whether conscious or not. Viewed this way, these counter explanations don't make the problem moot--they further *prove* the institutional inequality.
posted by johnasdf at 2:21 PM on June 15, 2009 [9 favorites]


Metafilter: I am programmed in a number of ... techniques.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 2:23 PM on June 15, 2009


So I guess we can throw "no one is calling Pixar sexist or misogynist" right out of the window.
posted by Artw at 2:23 PM on June 15, 2009


grapefruitmoon: you and me both. (queer, USites)
posted by hippybear at 2:32 PM on June 15, 2009


Folks, Lasseter is married with five kids. I'm thinking the "nerdy and therefore not comfortable around women" thing that keeps surfacing in this conversation is probably as inaccurate as it is offensive. Which is to say: very.
posted by shiu mai baby at 2:33 PM on June 15, 2009


Misogyny doesn't have to be intentional to be present. And it doesn't have to contain malice to be present.

Misogyny, by definition, contains malice. I think sexism is the more appropriate term for what most people are talking about here. Unless I am mistaken and people do believe that Pixar's films advocate a hatred, dislike or mistrust of women rather than conforming to stereotypes or are discriminatory towards women.

Maybe it's just me, but I see misogyny as requiring a more active agent. Do correct me if I'm wrong. I'm not exactly a native-speaker of English nor am I read up on feminist theory.
posted by slimepuppy at 2:36 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


So I guess we can throw "no one is calling Pixar sexist or misogynist" right out of the window.

Maybe we could agree that almost no one is, directly, but that people are interested in talking about the gender imbalances in their films and in Hollywood and storytelling traditions generally and would like to talk about that general topic without people showing up and acting like every discussion of gender imbalance is a fight brewing or turning a non-fight into fightyland.
posted by jessamyn at 2:36 PM on June 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


slimepuppy: I believe you are correct, and I apologize for misusing vocabulary. That was uncalled for, and was an echo of a comment I had just read, rather than being a fully-formed thought.

Yes, sexism is the better word for it. It doesn't have to be intentional, it doesn't have to contain malace, but it is pervasive.
posted by hippybear at 2:39 PM on June 15, 2009


This about humanity, and the construction of male as normal, and female as derivative.

Then gimme our goddamn rib back!

Mmmm, ribs....

Anyway, the problem here is a failure of language. Calling the lack of female leads in Pixar films sexist may be right, but the word "sexist" comes with so much baggage. There's no word for saying "hey, what you're doing is sexist, but it's probably not intentional or malicious but it is a problem." Until there is such a word, these epic fights over reasonable requests will continue.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:41 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's the same problem as using the word "racist". I cannot remember the context or even who said it, but I recently heard someone on the radio say that accusing someone of racism because of a stray comment is fallacious. It assumes that the person is above the predominant culture within which they were raised and live, and demands a level of awareness and dissection of everyday thought which most have not learned. It is better to look at the overall pattern of a person (or companies) behavior and thus determine whether there is real hate or feelings of superiority over the "other" within their psyche, or perhaps they are good hearted and love people of all colors and genders and simply have never disentangled their learned modes of expression from the thoughts those expressions might contain to a more educated ear.

I should try to find that. It might have been on NPR.
posted by hippybear at 2:46 PM on June 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


"Racist" is pretty much the most damning epithet you can throw at someone in modern society, except maybe "pedophile". "Sexist" and "homophobe" falling a little behind it. It's a damning judgement of profound moral failing, despite all arguments to the contrary. So when a a particular artist is singled out for some failing on one of those front you're going to get a very strong reaction, especially if their crime is the failure to meet some requirement of the accusers that seems fairy arbitrary, or attempt to pillory an indivual work or artist (or company) for some broad societal failing.
posted by Artw at 2:59 PM on June 15, 2009


Artw: So I guess we can throw "no one is calling Pixar sexist or misogynist" right out of the window.

With the caveat that "misogyny" has been substantially watered down by quite a bit to the point where it doesn't imply evil motives by anyone involved. But that wouldn't be convenient to the particular strawfeminist you wish to rail against.

Smed: Y’know tho, I think the criticism is valid, but, gentle as it many be – it’s still an accusation of misogyny and misplaced. So we’re saying Georgia O’Keefe should have painted more phalluses for equality’s sake? Well of course not Smed, women are oppressed therefore that’d be ridiculous for *her * as an artist to change. And yet, that’s what’s being chewed over. Artists changing what they do.

Certainly. You know, I was just involved in a big kerfuffle in which someone kept arguing that I shouldn't criticize Rowling's half-assed after-the-fact reframing of Dumbledore as gay all along. And what it came down to was, "well she's the artist." Well, so fucking what? More and more I'm coming to agree with the more radical advocates of "The Death of the Author" that the most morally thing to do rhetorically to the author is shove them in a shallow grave and piss on it. And I say that as a person who makes a living on my writing skills and the knowledge that I'm responsible to the audience for how they perceive the work.

Damn right the process of criticism is partly about changing what artists do. It's also about changing what readers and viewers do. So fucking what? What is the resistance to having conversations about how to take the next steps forward?

Which is what, in spite of Artw's openly blatant and dishonest attempt to poison the well by manufacturing strawmen from words like "misogynist" pulled out of context, is really what is suggested there. A step forward.

Steps that Pixar appears to be quite willing to take. Steps that Seleck, McKean, Whedon, and the producers of multiple other worlds just as fantastic as Pixar have already taken. Steps that Disney have taken.

And yeah, we can also look at the studio system as a whole, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't lay off criticism of actual works. Because at the end of the day, it's going to the the movies themselves that will be preserved for posterity and not interviews or articles about the state of sexism in the movie industry circa 2008.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:59 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


With the caveat that "misogyny" has been substantially watered down by quite a bit to the point where it doesn't imply evil motives by anyone involved.

In the mind of some academic or livejournaler that may be the case, but no, not in general conversation.

TBH I always suspect people that take this particularly argument of wanting to have their cake and eat it.
posted by Artw at 3:03 PM on June 15, 2009


“Misogyny doesn't have to be intentional to be present. And it doesn't have to contain malice to be present. It is present, in most of our culture, so much so that we look askance on instances where it isn't so.”
Yes, of course. But it’s this attitude that is corrosive. E.g. ‘You don’t get it so you’re part of the problem – asshole’
Indeed, I’d argue that you’re attitude favors dichotomizing art while ignoring the cultural underpinnings. You’ve got it all bassackwards son, you’re built too low, I keep pitchin’ ‘em and you keep missin’ ‘em, putcher hands up they’re goin’ over, I say, they’re goin’ over your head
.
“I'll say it again -- I want to see a Pixar hero who is basically a young Starbuck from the new BSG. Female, brave, competent, not in need of rescue, and fully rounded.”

Plenty of those. From Eve to Elastigirl. But that’s a different argument and it’s been addressed.
Again - you’ve got Pixar on the one hand who is just a group of artists following their muse as O’Keefe was and on the other an entire smorgasboard of blatant real and overt misogyny, and greed, and profiteering in favor of stifling creativity – but instead of laying heavy criticisms at the feet of Hollywood and the system that perpetuates this … y’all go after Pixar. Oh, but, gently so it's ok.
If going after the artists EVER begins to create better art with greater perception of gender roles within young people, I'll give you money. Lots of it.

Seems to me there’s plenty of well balanced female led roles to be put on film, doesn’t look to me like it’s Pixar that’s stopping those from being created or financially backed by virtue of them doing their own thing.
I don't buy that simply because an artist is more popular, suddenly they have to change what they're doing. I wouldn't buy it with O'Keefe either. If there were a large system that forced only O'Keefe's work to be shown, that promoted her work over all other work and marginalized other artists, I wouldn't be bitching that it was O'Keefe had to change.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:09 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


juiceCake: Sure, but so what. Why should they just because they can? They have no responsibility and no obligation to do so.

Sure, Pixar and Disney can make the movies they want to sell, (personally, I have no illusions regarding their artistic integrity,) and viewers can point out the multiple flaws in the movies they sell. The mandate that I turn off my brain at the movie theater only applies when I'm at the concession counter.

Except that's not what's being said at all. It's a piece of art. Art has it's own universe, first, and references, social, political, or otherwise, second, though you and many others may disagree. I find most art transcends the current social/political arena to be universal. You may not, so go ahead and turn off your brain and miss everything. I've got no problem with that.

Take 1984 for example. No denying it has buckets of political commentary, but it is often praised for that, whereas it's literary merits, it's use of metaphors from the Bible onward are usually place in a lower spot. That's fine. We all come to such things with different expectations. I don't give a fuck if a character is male or female or if it has social commentary or is socially responsible (people are too me, not films) in it and thus feel that the artist(s) don't have any obligation either. This does not mean it's not appreciated and admired when it is there. Indeed, like propaganda or cheap corporate interests, I find making art for Marxist, Feminists, Fascist, Social Union reasons usually makes it absolute crap.
posted by juiceCake at 3:10 PM on June 15, 2009


Brandon Blatcher: Anyway, the problem here is a failure of language. Calling the lack of female leads in Pixar films sexist may be right, but the word "sexist" comes with so much baggage. There's no word for saying "hey, what you're doing is sexist, but it's probably not intentional or malicious but it is a problem." Until there is such a word, these epic fights over reasonable requests will continue.

Oh, come on here. It was pretty clear from the way that Smedleyman introduced the m-bomb that he was talking about misogyny in the pervasive social bias sense of the word and not in the j'accuse sense. To take a few words that were plainly, clearly, and explicitly framed as to be not about intent or malice and then say that it's all about accusing the artists of Pixar of malice is dishonest wankery with intent to derail the discussion.

Artw: In the mind of some academic or livejournaler that may be the case, but no, not in general conversation.

Or, here on Metafilter where we come to expect a generally more literate and honest discussion than you are apparently willing to offer.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:15 PM on June 15, 2009


I want to see a Pixar hero who is basically a young Starbuck from the new BSG

BSG SPOILER




You want a Pixar heroine who is drunk, temperamental, slutty and self absorbed to the point of leaving a trail of destruction and finally winds up committing suicide only to be resurrected and turned a little crazy as one God's personal tools. Ooooookay....




END SPOILER.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:18 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


You're quite the little stirer aren't you, KirkJobSluder.
posted by Artw at 3:19 PM on June 15, 2009


Oh, come on here.

Do you have ribs? I'm come over for ribs.

It was pretty clear from the way that Smedleyman introduced the m-bomb that he was talking about misogyny in the pervasive social bias sense of the word and not in the j'accuse sense.

I wasn't speaking specifically to that comment, just the general idea.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:21 PM on June 15, 2009


Smedleyman: Again - you’ve got Pixar on the one hand who is just a group of artists following their muse as O’Keefe was and on the other an entire smorgasboard of blatant real and overt misogyny, and greed, and profiteering in favor of stifling creativity – but instead of laying heavy criticisms at the feet of Hollywood and the system that perpetuates this … y’all go after Pixar. Oh, but, gently so it's ok.

Oh, the whole "following their muse" is, in essence pure bullshit. I'd much rather see Neil Gaiman's model in which he volunteered his work to Nalo Hopkinson for hints on how to authentically portray the Caribbean dialog of Anansi Boys than some romantic bullshit about the arts as the breath of the muse which renders the original artist and artwork immune from criticism.

And no, criticism of larger economic systems does not replace or preemptively nullify criticism of the works themselves. The works themselves stand on their own and together as a body of work, and it's just as valid to criticize their flaws as that of the system that created them.

Smedleyman: I don't buy that simply because an artist is more popular, suddenly they have to change what they're doing.

Of course, that's not the argument here. Whether they actually change what they are doing (and did you miss the fact that they are?) is up to them. They can produce the works they want to produce, and we can make our criticisms (not at all arbitrary, but grounded in some fairly solid theories) of what they produce.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:25 PM on June 15, 2009


It assumes that the person is above the predominant culture within which they were raised and live, and demands a level of awareness and dissection of everyday thought which most have not learned.

Yay unexamined privilege! Let the disadvantaged be aware and dissect that shit because they're the ones affected and excuse those with the actual power. Of course if the less privileged say anything about the injustice they're being all mean to those with the power. And demanding special treatment. And hurting the feelings of the privilege by pointing this shit out. It's an excellent way of maintaining the "proper" order of things, don't you think?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:26 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


“Because at the end of the day, it's going to the the movies themselves that will be preserved for posterity”

So why not change the movies from an earlier era? Think Casablanca should be led by Ilsa? Why not go back and recut it?
That’s not what’s being argued, so do me the same courtesy of assuming I’m reasonable as well. I’m not talking about a conversation. There’s certainly a conversation to be had.
(But where *is * the criticism of the actual works? Far as I can tell the argument is there are no female lead characters and that it is this that is a problem, not that Pixar’s work marginalizes females. In fact I think most people agree it’s the opposite.)

But where then does the flaw lie? Is it a creative problem or one of emphasis by the studios on male–centered media?
One can argue Pixar can do more, and I’ve allowed for that. But I don't think the majority of the problem lay in the creative process especially when it would be far better to have more female artists in the business writing/creating more female centered stories, etc. and having that be more widely distributed, fostered, etc. by movie companies?
Essentially the same thing johnasdf sed.

MGM, et.al. have made thousands of films. Pixar is still relatively new. So their first films have been fairly pedestrian. I suspect were there less institutional inequality in Hollywood, in the money end and decision making, there would have been even more innovation in Pixar's work and that would include gender.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:28 PM on June 15, 2009


But mostly I think that boys might actually have an antipathy either through nature or nurture to female centric stories. Tomboy is not a positive but it doesn't have the same rancor as sissy.

I think this point has been addressed to some extent, but just to spell it out in layman's terms, maybe the reason many boys don't like many of the movies out there featuring female protagonists is because they are "girl" movies. The traditional Princess movies, for example, feature girls in the traditional gender stereotype of girls as damsels in distress, which boys, and I would think at least some girls, don't relate to. So maybe the reason female-centric movies have so far failed to capture boy audiences isn't because they're female-centric but because not enough of them feature female characters who are doing the kinds of things little boys would want to do. Which is where Pixar could come in.

Also, on the artist note, I don't really see how suggesting that Pixar produce more female-centric movies is synonymous with telling an individual author how to write her next story. As a studio, don't they receive ideas/screenplays/(whatever animation studios start with) from different sources? Correct me if I'm wrong (having no actual knowledge of the animated film production process), but if they're choosing between source material, couldn't they just as easily choose a story with a female protagonist as one with a male protagonist without somehow selling out as artists?
posted by inara at 3:28 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Brandon Blatcher: I wasn't speaking specifically to that comment, just the general idea.

Really? Because quite honestly almost all of the comments that agree that we are overdue for a big-budget animated Pixar feature with a female lead have been generally quite respectful of the art they produce, and where we've talked about "sexism" it's been the the context of broader social attitudes and bias rather than deliberate malice.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:30 PM on June 15, 2009


...except for where it isn't, and that doesn't count.
posted by Artw at 3:32 PM on June 15, 2009


Love this: This about humanity, and the construction of male as normal, and female as derivative.

Not at all surprised that some find a simple request that 50% of the population be more represented by central characters to be ludicrous.
posted by agregoli at 3:34 PM on June 15, 2009


Watched half of the Incredibles, I've seen the Up trailers. Those aren't humans. They're cartoons.

Watched half of The Godfather. I've seen the Gran Turino trailers. Those aren't humans. They're shapes on 35mm film.

Read half of The Amazing Aventures of Kavalier and Clay. Read the back of Lolita. Those aren't humans. They're a bunch of words imperfectly describing fictions.


So true. It's unfortunate that a character in a novel, poem, film, a work of art, is equated to a real person. They are characters, not people, and drama has it's own universe that is quite remarkably rather different than atoms and astronauts.
posted by juiceCake at 3:36 PM on June 15, 2009


inara, actually, animation studios pretty-much develop entirely from within, but your point still stands. During brainstorming sessions (like that famous lunch) and everything else, there's no reason that stories built around leading women wouldn't be coming up at least once in a while.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:37 PM on June 15, 2009


So let's actually look at those women's roles in Pixar movies:

Toy Story (1995) - Woody and Buzz, etc (male)

Bo Peep is missing here, but this is an unmatched pair buddy movie, so she's extraneous.

A Bug's Life (1998) - Flik, Francis, Heimlich, Slim, Manny, Dim, Tuck and Roll (male); Princess Atta, Dot, The Queen, Gypsy, Rosie (female)

Lots of women, but on the whole it's down to Flik.

Toy Story 2 (1999) - Woody, Buzz, Mr. Potato Head, Rex, Slinky Dog and Hamm ... (male); Jessie (female)

Jessie's the first strong female character Pixar has. Low on the damsel-in-distress meter.

Monsters, Inc (2001) - Sulley, Mike Wazowski, Randall ... (male); Boo, Roz, Celia Mae (female)

Male buddy movie, though having Roz be the "deep cover" was a nice touch.

Finding Nemo (2003) - Marlin, Nemo, .... (male); Dory, ... (female)

Dory is pretty ditzy, but compared to Sleeping Beauty she's a freakin' Nobel winner.

The Incredibles (2004) - Mr. Incredible, Dash, Jack-Jack, Frozone, Syndrome (male); Elastigirl, Violet, Edna Mode, Mirage (female)

By 2001 Pixar was coming under criticism for not having women in major roles in their movies. The Incredibles was their first response. And it was picked apart mercilessly on all sides for perceived Objectivist views and for the nuclear family bias.

Cars (2006) - Lightning McQueen, Chick Hicks, Strip Weathers, Mater, Doc, Ramone, Luigi ... (male); Sally carrera, Flo, Lizzie (female)

Sally may be the classic city-girl-goes-country cliche, but she's crucial to the plot, and at no point does she ever get her butt bailed out by any man. I think Cars is underrated, personally. It's definitely Pixar's most realistic story.

Ratatouille (2007) - Remy, Linguini, Skinner, Ego, Django, Emile (male); Tatou (female)

Very disappointing in terms of women's roles. I've thought it might be a comment on the chauvinism of the French culinary scene, but that doesn't make sense.

WALL•E (2008) - WALL•E, M-O, Capt. B. McCrea, Shelby Forthright, John (male); EVE, Axiom's computer (voice), Mary (female)

I'm still not sure what's so wrong with EVE. In so many ways this movie is an inversion of the classic Disney princess movie.

Up (2009) - Carl, Russell, Dug, Alpha, Kevin Charls F. Muntz (male); Young Ellie (female)

Young Ellie might be the single greatest female character Pixar has ever created. That Ellie is gone by minute 15 sucks, yes, but this movie is so much about loss that something precious MUST be lost in the opening moments.

From here on we know there will be a couple more female characters introduced into Toy Story 3, and then Bear and the Bow will bring us Pixar's first movie headlined by a woman. But if you look at the list you can see that Pixar actually has been progressively adding and expanding on women's roles in their movies (with the unfortunate exception of Ratatouille). In fact, I'd say they've been far more responsive to criticism about female roles than they have been about minority roles.
posted by dw at 3:40 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or as an example where Pixar's bias just doesn't make sense, in Up! a large pack of domesticated dogs is voiced by three men, somewhat in contrary to what we know of the ways in which dog packs are socially organized around breeding pairs. Of course the whole thing about talking dogs is based on an invention as plot device, and one could explain it away as Muntz gendered all his devices as masculine. But then, we loose the idea that those voices are expressive of individual personality. It's one of those little details that don't quite add up.

What bias? Why is the way in which dog packs are socially organized in the real world relevant to a work of art? Why does this need to be "explained away"?
posted by juiceCake at 3:42 PM on June 15, 2009


“I'll say it again -- I want to see a Pixar hero who is basically a young Starbuck from the new BSG. Female, brave, competent, not in need of rescue, and fully rounded.”

Plenty of those. From Eve to Elastigirl. But that’s a different argument and it’s been addressed.


And by "plenty of those," I presume you mean "secondary characters," which, you know, is awesome, but still not a protagonist. Which is kind of the core of this entire argument.

Also, Brandon: A woman who is sexually aggressive and goes after what she wants, as is the case with Starbuck, is not slutty. I'll totally agree that she has issues galore with regards to massive self-absorption and serious alcohol problems, but being "slutty" isn't one of them.
posted by shiu mai baby at 3:43 PM on June 15, 2009


To be fair to Satrbuck, she's only slightly more bonkers and inconsistent than half the other characters - which is to say very bonkers and inconsistent.
posted by Artw at 3:48 PM on June 15, 2009


I've been lurking on this place forever and i sign up to mention two movies that no one had mentioned (coraline and monsters vs. aliens) because at the time no one had mentioned them, only to be brutality beatin to the punch. anyway.

My girflfriend and i have this discussion often though (last night on the way home from dinner, totally unprompted by this post as a matter of fact) "gender nuetral" means male. You can over sex something you can make it as manly as possible and it's geared as nuetral. You can drag your girlfriend to any action film and she leaves there no less a woman. If your girlfriend drags you to any chick flick though, you had better check your pants to make sure you still have your manhood on the way out.

Wasn't J.K. Rowling shortened to J.K Rowling so that people didn't know a woman wrote it?
posted by djduckie at 3:51 PM on June 15, 2009


*munches popcorn*
and might go put on TOY STORY II so that everyone else could, too. Pixar makes good movies!
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 3:51 PM on June 15, 2009


Smedleyman: So why not change the movies from an earlier era? Think Casablanca should be led by Ilsa? Why not go back and recut it?
That’s not what’s being argued, so do me the same courtesy of assuming I’m reasonable as well. I’m not talking about a conversation. There’s certainly a conversation to be had.


I am assuming you, rare in this discussion, are reasonable. My understanding of your argument is that we should ignore the body of work, and just focus our criticism on the institutions that make that body of work. While I'm arguing that criticism of the body of work is valuable and critical.

So certainly approaching Casablanca it is certainly valid to criticize the sexism (in the broad bias sense of the word) of that film. And I certainly wouldn't object to someone filming their own version focused on Ilsa, or remixing the original. Such revisions, remixes and parodies are valid works of their own right. Criticism of the Hollywood studio system and criticism of Casablanca can exist quite well side by side.

But where then does the flaw lie? Is it a creative problem or one of emphasis by the studios on male–centered media?
One can argue Pixar can do more, and I’ve allowed for that. But I don't think the majority of the problem lay in the creative process especially when it would be far better to have more female artists in the business writing/creating more female centered stories, etc. and having that be more widely distributed, fostered, etc. by movie companies?


Certainly. But none of that preemptively nullifies criticism that women in Pixar films have been underrepresented so far, and could be represented better. And it seems that Pixar is responding to that criticism, either because it was raised in-house or from outside.

Sure, we need more women in the arts and entertainment industry. But opening the door to these kinds of criticisms is also part of the change process.

And you know, we don't hold creative staff on a pedestal when it comes to whoppers like restarting the sun with a nuclear device or red matter. I don't see why we can't talk about how one of the best female characters in Pixar's history is fridged in the prologue.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:53 PM on June 15, 2009


inara: "couldn't they just as easily choose a story with a female protagonist as one with a male protagonist without somehow selling out as artists?"

Just as easily? I don't think so.

delmoi: Finding Nemo could have been about a mother looking for her son

padraigin: as a mom sensitive to the way these things are portrayed, I can't help but imagine the grief that would have arisen from a movie where Coral yelled at her fatherless son, causing him to rebel and get caught by a diver. BAD FISH MOTHER! You will be vilified by mommybloggers and right wing politicians! Seriously, it would have taken a whole different weight for a lot of people with that seemingly small change in plot.

Indeed, "A father overprotects his son" and "A mother overprotects her son" are two entirely different movies.

Even Kung Fu Panda - a well-made film with a no-apologies female martial arts exemplar - becomes a completely different story if you make the central character a female glutton who lacks self confidence.

Which isn't to say that there aren't compelling movies to be made with leading female characters. But it's a different storyspace and needs to be conceived that way from the ground up.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:56 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


“I'd much rather see Neil Gaiman's model in which he volunteered his work to Nalo Hopkinson for hints on how to authentically portray the Caribbean dialog of Anansi Boys than some romantic bullshit about the arts as the breath of the muse which renders the original artist and artwork immune from criticism.”

I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m only aware of some of Gaiman’s work. I don’t know Nalo Hopkinson. If you’re trying to prove you know more about art than I do – you win. Maybe I’m misstating my point so I’ll go over it again.

“The works themselves stand on their own and together as a body of work, and it's just as valid to criticize their flaws as that of the system that created them.”

Of course, that's not the argument here. Again, I’m arguing that it’s a systemic, not a creative problem, not that people can’t criticize, but that the criticism is misplaced.
You yourself argued that that Jesse, Young Elle, EVE, & Helen are more progressive than many Disney princesses, and much of what we see from Dreamworks - so what is *your * resistance to having conversations about how to take the next steps forward?
We agree Pixar can, and has, produced stories with solid female characters. So what’s the hold up? Why aren’t they making more stories with female leads?
I think it’s more – key word there: MORE – the system and so forth than the creative nature of the folks at Pixar. So I think it’s logical to weight the criticism accordingly.
Want more female lead characters? Change the environment so more people with stories that have female leads are involved and so that those stories get produced.
I’m not arguing “muse” - I think it’s less productive to say that someone with no interest in creating a given story should create a story. Why not get someone who wants to make and see that kind of story to do it? Why not plug them in at Pixar? It’s a company.
And just because they are changing, doesn’t mean that they agree creatively with the move. Pay me enough money and I’ll write something about lizard cowboys in space. Doesn’t mean the story will be worth a damn. So why not get someone who is all about lizard cowboys and really would love a story set in space and gear them to be supported?

I’d really rather have someone who’s heart is in the subject than someone who’s just working for a paycheck. So treating Pixar like Santa Claus rather than demanding more female writers, artists, etc. and/or people who want to produce those kinds of stories, seems counterproductive. At least to producing good work. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they can hammer it out. So then, what, you've got more stories with female leads, maybe even good stories, still being written by an almost exclusively all male crew. That's ideal?

Obviously it's better than the status quo, but c'mon. I just think, creatively, someone with the kind of story they want to tell, it's going to tend to be about people like themselves. I don't really fault Pixar for doing a lot of male centric stories because they're mostly male, sure - but on the other hand, I do think that's a bad state of affairs and there should be a far more diverse range. To me, that's a problem with the system. Not so much the artists.

“And by "plenty of those," I presume you mean "secondary characters," which, you know, is awesome, but still not a protagonist. Which is kind of the core of this entire argument.”

And ceded by me from the beginning. My beef is with how is it so. And it’s so,I think, because that’s the environment Pixar is in and that’s what the system is geared to focus on.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:01 PM on June 15, 2009


"I am assuming you, rare in this discussion, are reasonable."
KirkJobSluder I'm not really clear why I should have to take that kind of shit.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:03 PM on June 15, 2009


*sigh*

The basic question is this (though it can be used with a variety of names in a variety of Pixar films):

Did the child in Up have to be male in order for the film to work? If not, then the writers simply fell back on their default, knee-jerk instinct, which is "character's gender not intrinsic to storyline. Therefore character is male."

Choose next character, choose next film, lather, rinse, repeat.

In other words, the majority of characters in Pixar films (and Pixar is the focus because we are talking about the #1 movie studio that influences small children's understanding of the world) are male for no other reason than that's how the writers write. Any character that doesn't have to be specifically gendered for the plot is, by default, written as male--over and over and over and over and over.

You want to complain about how that criticism is somehow whiny P.C. feminism? Fuck you.
posted by tzikeh at 4:09 PM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Weighing in late in the discussion...might the apocryphal story about J.K. Rowling instead be about S. E. Hinton of The Outsiders and Rumble Fish renown?
Hinton's publisher suggested she use her initials instead of her first name so that male reviewers would not ignore the novel for having been written by a female.
posted by pxe2000 at 4:10 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


inara: "couldn't they just as easily choose a story with a female protagonist as one with a male protagonist without somehow selling out as artists?"

Just as easily? I don't think so.


Why not? I want a world where it's as natural as breathing.
posted by agregoli at 4:12 PM on June 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


And yet they can't seem to imagine a world in which women exist as the primary characters in their own stories. I'd say that's a huge artistic failing.

This seems like a confusion of depth/merit and scope to me, not to mention the confusion between political and critical perspectives discussed earlier. Lots of fantastic art is limited in scope of consideration and some of it's even limited in appeal. Broader appeal and variety is an achievement, but sticking with something you like and are doing well is never a failing.

If for whatever reason, you primarily like writing bluegrass fiddle tunes, and you write good ones, you haven't failed if you don't write roccocco violin concertos.

If for whatever reason, male characters are primarily what you're driven to tell stories about, and you tell good ones, not focusing on more female characters isn't an artistic failing.

I wouldn't be surprised if Pixar decides to venture into new territory on their own sometime. Or, maybe they won't (the range of good male-focused stories probably isn't anywhere near exhausted). In the meanwhile, certainly it's anyone's privilege to express their opinions and even hopes to them regarding their work... and perhaps someone at Pixar will listen and find the principle behind the feedback connecting with a story they feel motivated to tell. If they don't, though, there's really nothing wrong with them continuing to make whichever stories they choose, especially as long as other people are free to tell different stories. And there do seem to be an increasing number people in film and television that seem compelled to tell stories with capable female protagonists. They're the people who should be doing it.
posted by weston at 4:12 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


So then, what, you've got more stories with female leads, maybe even good stories, still being written by an almost exclusively all male crew. That's ideal?

I don't understand why it isn't. Being able to write a good female character is indicative of being a good writer, nothing more, nothing less. While there is a certain amount of truth to the "write what you know" adage, writing a male or female character is not the sole domain of the matching of one gender or the other. There have been plenty of male writers who have created multidimensional female character, just as there are plenty of female writers who can create interesting and believable male characters.

As has been pointed out upthread: the writers and animators at Pixar have done a terrific job creating fish, robots, cars, toys, monsters, and bugs, and imbuing them with life and characteristics that are relatable to we humans, even though neither we nor they are fish, robots, cars, toys, monsters, or bugs. Why is it such an unthinkable thing to presume those same writers can create a worthy female protagonist?
posted by shiu mai baby at 4:13 PM on June 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


If for whatever reason, you primarily like writing bluegrass fiddle tunes, and you write good ones, you haven't failed if you don't write roccocco violin concertos.

I think it would be far closer to the argument at hand if you said, "If, for whatever reason, you primarily like playing in major keys, and you write music major keys, you haven't failed if you don't write songs in any minor keys." In other words, you're completely ignoring the other elements that are intrinsic to the concept of music, just because doing so is familiar to you.

Asking Pixar to write an actual female protagonist isn't like asking them to write a movie about "lizard cowboys in space," to borrow Smed's weird example. It's just asking them to consider the other 50% of the people on this earth. Not exactly some specialty subset, you know?
posted by shiu mai baby at 4:20 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


You are so wrong about one of the best moments in the whole movie. It has nothing to do with "lawsuit culture". Carl was arrested for assault! Hitting someone on the head with a metal cane because he broke your mailbox is not self-defense.

It may well be readable in multiple ways, but certainly there's a large portion of the audience that is bound to read his actions as justified or at least read the punishment as over-reaching. Carl is besieged at that point by developers, so we're led to side with him against the developer's lackey. Taking an old man from his house and his memories because he was protecting his land stinks of injustice, and struck me as a reference to Castle doctrine. More than one grandfather was thinking, "I'da shot that guy!"

This isn't to say that I agree with the view advanced by the movie: my whole point is that there's a strong and troublesome anti-statist radical individualism element in Pixar's films. But the scene does evoke tort-reform and pro-property sentiments, and those elements are present in many of their other films so it's more than a one-off.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:29 PM on June 15, 2009


His opinion on authors and entitlement issues of fans is the same as mine when it comes to Pixar's choice of stories, protagonists, and antagonists:

Pixar is not an author - Pixar is a film studio. An individual director may be unable to to work with female leads, but a studio can have more that one director on its books.

(I also find it ludicrous that you're citing a guy who can write leads which include Norse Gods, supernatural ur-entities greater than gods, and superheroes, in defense of the idea that it's a stretch to ask a guy to produce something with a female lead.

And kind of sad that Dirty Harry can direct women in Oscar winning lead performances, but apparently asking the guys at Pixar to might make their creative juices shrivel up and drop off.)

Dear Joss Whedon: I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but why couldn't it have been more about Giles, the heroic paternal librarian? Giles the Watcher would have been a more mature, nuanced television programme.

Terrible example. There's a lot I dislike about the Cult of Whedon, but you can hardly argue that he's incapable of writing shows with male leads.

Inspiration is not a coin toss.

No, it isn't. That's why artists like Oscar Wilde and Wilfred Owen (to grab two examples I'm familiar with) would set themselves, or be set by peers (and, in Wilde's case Oxford tutors) exercises in writing in particular styles and on particular topics, in order to help them develop as artists.

I will argue that in regards to gender, Potter is more progressive than many Pixar feature films.

The Harry Potter series is a rehash of 1930s - 1950s Boys' Own school stories with. Jimmy, the New Boy, School in the Skies, I got a bunch of them. Potter's characters are pretty much drawn from the archetypes of those school stories.

"why is it such a travesty to ask Pixar to create a character that little girls can relate to?"

Because that's not the way art is supposed to work.


No great art has ever been created to commission or formula. Or it has, but it shouldn't? That's quite an assertion and one that, on the face of it, ignores much, maybe most, of the history of art.

I picture a manager of the Globe Theater taking the writer aside. "Billy, love the new play. But the producers have some notes. The focus groups aren't loving this Shylock character. And I don't need to tell you that a lot of our season ticket holders go to Ye Stage Delicatessen after the curtain, you know what I'm saying? So how about making him an Iranian instead?"

You know, perhaps the people using hypothetics re: "Billy" might want to establish adequate literacy in the English canon that they are familiar with how many nods to patrons and conformity to political winds of the time drove not merely minor in-jokes but the thrust of whole plays. Because otherwise you end up looking like an illiterate grabbing at random cultural figures you don't know much about to bolster a flawed argument.
posted by rodgerd at 4:29 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


So, Joss, I, a reporter, would like to know, why do you always write these strong women characters?
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:31 PM on June 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


"I don't understand why it isn't."

Well, The Bear and the Bow is being directed by a woman. She's only the 3rd woman to ever direct an animated film. The other two, one was a 1926 German film, and the other was the freakin’ care bears movie (according to wikipedia). So, maybe the princess schtick is no good, but Brenda Chapman is something going very right I think. And in the real world.

"Why is it such an unthinkable thing to presume those same writers can create a worthy female protagonist?"

Because it's contrived. Or at least seems so. I could be wrong. But why go to any given writer, make them write 'x' when they want to write 'y'? Sure, they can write whatever they wish. Most people tend to write about folks like themselves. So it can become an echo chamber where making the default character male is just fine.
So ok - taking your point - it's not a problem if those male writers write great stories with female leads. And it isn't. I see that. And I've argued that art should be human. So I'm actually with you really.
So then why is it ok that the industry is saturated with males?
It's worse that - of 10 movies, or, ok a dozen or so, only one has a female protagonist (counting The Bear and The Bow - unless you don't want to be charitable) - than it is out of the thousands of animated films made there's only been one (modern) female director?
(Or two if we count *cough* care bears).
I think if Pixar were all female writers producing exclusively male leads, that would be pretty indicative of something as well.
As it is the complete lack of female representation on screen I think has something to do with the dearth of female artist representation. And maybe female executive representation. Etc. Etc.
And again, I'm not arguing mutual exclusivity here.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:33 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks for that, anotherpanacea. From the Whedon speech:
So, why do you write these strong women characters?

Because equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity, we need it to stand on this earth as men and women, and the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and women who’s confronted with it. We need equality, kinda now.
Preach it, Brother Whedon.
posted by shiu mai baby at 4:34 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


inara: "couldn't they just as easily choose a story with a female protagonist as one with a male protagonist without somehow selling out as artists?"

Just as easily? I don't think so.

Why not? I want a world where it's as natural as breathing


I can't favorite this a million more times, but I *CAN* repeat it.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:36 PM on June 15, 2009


rodgerd: "You know, perhaps the people using hypothetics re: "Billy" might want to establish adequate literacy in the English canon that they are familiar with how many nods to patrons and conformity to political winds of the time drove not merely minor in-jokes but the thrust of whole plays. Because otherwise you end up looking like an illiterate grabbing at random cultural figures you don't know much about to bolster a flawed argument."

If you tell me that Hamlet went to Wittenberg because of product placement, I'll be very unhappy.

sheesh... piss splattering everywhere in this thread...
posted by Joe Beese at 4:36 PM on June 15, 2009


juiceCake: What bias? Why is the way in which dog packs are socially organized in the real world relevant to a work of art? Why does this need to be "explained away"?

TOTAL SPOILER: Because one of the whole plot twists is that Carl and Ellie's childhood hero has become the canine equivalent of a crazy cat lady. As he's been in isolation for most of Carl's life, the obvious conclusion is that his canine civilization must have grown from the relatively small population he brought with him. So there must be female dogs in the pack. And the real-world hierarchy of dog packs is referenced in the way the dogs are presented as characters. But Muntz anthropomorphizes his dogs to a high degree, and pet owners gender their pets, so why no female-voiced dogs?

Since characters in the film are male by default, all of the dogs (and about a half-dozen other miscellaneous characters) are also male. But if they actually thought through Muntz's story in the jungle, the insight that some of the dogs must be female would have popped instantly to mind. It's a lapse of detail compared to the logic by which Carl moves the house.

And yes, it's art, but art should not arbitrarily violate the viewer's logic and common sense. If it does so too often, it violates the viewer's willingness to buy the fiction.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:38 PM on June 15, 2009


Really?

Really.

Also, Brandon: A woman who is sexually aggressive and goes after what she wants, as is the case with Starbuck, is not slutty.

Starbuck was sexually aggressive and slutty, that was pretty much the character's reputation, doing whatever she wanted, never mind anyone else. I liked the character, but she had flaws.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:38 PM on June 15, 2009


Also: this attitude of "Pixar's writers are men! They're writing about what they know!" smacks of bullshit to me beyond the mere fact that yes, they wrote about fish. Why ARE Pixar's writers all men? Why aren't there more women on their staff? Why don't we have successful animation studios run by women?

Where is my rainbow-pooping unicorn ridden by an astronaut princess ballerina veterinarian?
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:39 PM on June 15, 2009


tangential, but since this is a thread about equity/equality in movies and people brought up Russell from Up...thank you, Joss Whedon
posted by inara at 4:43 PM on June 15, 2009


And I'm just saying that I think it's bullshit to equate sexual aggression in a woman with sluttiness, but that's a topic for a completely different thread.
posted by shiu mai baby at 4:43 PM on June 15, 2009


Smedleyman: I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m only aware of some of Gaiman’s work. I don’t know Nalo Hopkinson. If you’re trying to prove you know more about art than I do – you win. Maybe I’m misstating my point so I’ll go over it again.

Well, you could have just googled it. But Anansi Boys is a fictional work written by Gaiman, a white Englishman living in America, about persons of Afro-Caribbean heritage and culture. He credited Nalo Hopkinson, a Canadian writer of Afro-Caribbean heritage, as a reviewer of his dialog.

Of course, that's not the argument here. Again, I’m arguing that it’s a systemic, not a creative problem, not that people can’t criticize, but that the criticism is misplaced.

And I'm arguing that you are conflating two separate things. We criticize bodies of work, because the bodies of work themselves have something to say to their audience. We can also criticize systems of production. One does not replace the other.

I’d really rather have someone who’s heart is in the subject than someone who’s just working for a paycheck. So treating Pixar like Santa Claus rather than demanding more female writers, artists, etc. and/or people who want to produce those kinds of stories, seems counterproductive. At least to producing good work. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they can hammer it out. So then, what, you've got more stories with female leads, maybe even good stories, still being written by an almost exclusively all male crew. That's ideal?

Well, you are drawing from a false premise that hearts can't be changed, or that only female writers can write or produce good stories about women. But certainly, yes, I'd love to see Sally Potter and Mira Nair get more filmmaking dollars. I'd like to see more women in Pixar. On the other hand, the people who are already at Pixar have demonstrated skill in creating female characters, and their heart certainly seems to be in it.

And of course, those groundbreaking female characters are going to come out of a critical tradition that looks at Disney, Pixar, classic Hollywood, and Bollywood with an eye for how issues of gender and sex are portrayed in film. And whether critical discussion changes the climate within Pixar is rather aside from the point. As I said above, the development of audiences willing to be more than cognitive sponges, audiences willing ask questions of films like "what the fuck is up with red matter?" or "where are the female characters?" is an end to its self.

KirkJobSluder I'm not really clear why I should have to take that kind of shit.

I complemented you in contrast to certain others who are engaged in a fairly obvious and dishonest derail any time they see words like misogyny and sexism.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:57 PM on June 15, 2009


Heh. You repeatedly accusing someone else of intellectual dishonesty or trolling is really quite something.
posted by Artw at 5:06 PM on June 15, 2009


Young Ellie might be the single greatest female character Pixar has ever created.

And that is really sad. Young Ellie is present in, what? - 1/8th of the movie? 1/9th? I'm sorry, using her lingering memory as a point in this argument is ridiculous. She's gone as an active character. Period.

Also, people are forgetting that it's not just about the lead characters here. Pixar's regular default for secondary characters always seems to be male. Why is there no female dog at all in the pack of villainous dogs in Up?

Seriously: Why? If the answer doesn't include sexism, I'd love to hear what you think it is.
posted by mediareport at 5:09 PM on June 15, 2009


Smedleyman: Because it's contrived. Or at least seems so. I could be wrong. But why go to any given writer, make them write 'x' when they want to write 'y'? Sure, they can write whatever they wish. Most people tend to write about folks like themselves. So it can become an echo chamber where making the default character male is just fine.And kind of sad that Dirty Harry can direct women in Oscar winning lead performances, but apparently asking the guys at Pixar to might make their creative juices shrivel up and drop off.

LOL. Men have written and directed strong performances centered on female characters: Billy Wilder, Neil Gaiman, Henson & Froud, Miyazaki, Blake Edwards (he was married to her, that helped).
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:10 PM on June 15, 2009


No one sat over their shoulders and told them they had to though.
posted by Artw at 5:11 PM on June 15, 2009


I think it would be far closer to the argument at hand if you said, "If, for whatever reason, you primarily like playing in major keys, and you write music major keys, you haven't failed if you don't write songs in any minor keys."

I'd actually say that's true (if you're writing great music in a major key, you're successful as an artist), even though I don't think it's more apt, given that the range available to male-focused stories is broader than the range available to modally limited music. And I'd go farther. It may nor may not surprise you that there are artists who intentionally limit themselves to smaller musical realms than a given mode. It certainly surprised me when I was given an exercise in writing using four pitch classes or even one pitch class, but the experience was certainly educational and showed me that it's possible to create some worthwhile and impressive art under those constraints.

Some artists thrive in a niche. Some artists prefer wider latitude and they should explore it. Some people prefer isolated monastic contemplation, some want to wander the world seeking, some want to settle down in a community but travel sometimes. I think it's worth respecting those choices, even when some of them seem limiting, as long as the opportunities for different ones are available.
posted by weston at 5:14 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Artw: No one sat over their shoulders and told them they had to though.

Sure, and no one is doing it now. At the end of the day, while we can certainly bring up the flaws in a body of work, media producers have no obligation to listen.

That doesn't make discussion of those flaws illegitimate.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:14 PM on June 15, 2009


I'm sorry, using her lingering memory as a point in this argument is ridiculous. She's gone as an active character. Period.

It would help if you didn't cherry-pick one sentence while leaving out the sentence that followed. Period.
posted by dw at 5:14 PM on June 15, 2009


Sure, and no one is doing it now. At the end of the day, while we can certainly bring up the flaws in a body of work, media producers have no obligation to listen.

That doesn't make discussion of those flaws illegitimate.


You do however seem to have defined faliure to pick up your prescriptivist take on what makes art good as a "flaw" though.
posted by Artw at 5:18 PM on June 15, 2009


And kind of sad that Dirty Harry can direct women in Oscar winning lead performances, but apparently asking the guys at Pixar to might make their creative juices shrivel up and drop off.)

I should probably point out that Eastwood did Play Misty for Me, High Plains Drifter, The Eiger Sanction, Bronco Billy, Firefox, Honkytonk Man, Sudden Impact, Pale Rider, Heartbreak Ridge, Bird, The Rookie, Unforgiven, and A Perfect World before he got to The Bridges of Madison County, let alone Million Dollar Baby. So a little over thirty years; I don't see people in this thread giving Pixar that kind of latitude.
posted by Amanojaku at 5:20 PM on June 15, 2009


Come on, Artw - no one is telling anyone they "have to add a female lead." What's tiring is the defensiveness at the very suggestion, as if women are some foreign "other" that will ruin the art of the perfect movie that happened to have a male lead. WHAT about a movie changes with a female lead instead of a male lead? What is lost?
posted by agregoli at 5:21 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, people are forgetting that it's not just about the lead characters here. Pixar's regular default for secondary characters always seems to be male. Why is there no female dog at all in the pack of villainous dogs in Up?

Why do people keep forgetting about Kevin?
posted by Amanojaku at 5:25 PM on June 15, 2009


Think Casablanca should be led by Ilsa?

Belatedly, you just described Barb Wire.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:26 PM on June 15, 2009


I should probably point out that Eastwood did Play Misty for Me, High Plains Drifter, The Eiger Sanction, Bronco Billy, Firefox, Honkytonk Man, Sudden Impact, Pale Rider, Heartbreak Ridge, Bird, The Rookie, Unforgiven, and A Perfect World before he got to The Bridges of Madison County, let alone Million Dollar Baby. So a little over thirty years; I don't see people in this thread giving Pixar that kind of latitude.

Clint Eastwood is a director; Pixar is a Studio. Eastwood made Million Dollar Baby for Lakeshore Entertainment. Their first 10 films included Runaway Bride, Underworld, Million Dollar Baby, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and Æon Flux. In other words, half of their first 10 movies featured female leads.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:32 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


It certainly surprised me when I was given an exercise in writing using four pitch classes or even one pitch class, but the experience was certainly educational and showed me that it's possible to create some worthwhile and impressive art under those constraints.

Which is exactly why I find the argument that Pixar creates only male protagonist because they are male and that's all they know and OMG what about their aaaarrrrrrttt just plain silly.
posted by shiu mai baby at 5:32 PM on June 15, 2009


Artw: You do however seem to have defined faliure to pick up your prescriptivist take on what makes art good as a "flaw" though.

So? I think it's a flaw when shows that arguably are based on contemporary culture have demographics that are inexplicably skewed. And I think it's a flaw when narratives have gaping plot holes. It's interesting to me that we can rip into Star Trek as an example for infidelity to canon, bad physics, and obvious plot devices (like a two-meter blob of star-destroying red matter waiting to explode). But we can't rather mildly say, that the representation of women by a studio could be better, while also saying that studio has produced some of the best characters in animation, without accusations of wanting to direct their creative output.

Amanojaku: So a little over thirty years; I don't see people in this thread giving Pixar that kind of latitude.

A key difference here is that, of course, times have changed over the last 30 years. So its reasonable to expect that Pixar should start from the 1990s, rather than the 1970s. And of course, that we are talking about a studio rather than an individual artist. And it's been noted a couple of times already, that studio has greenlighted a feature film with a female protagonist and by a female director. So really I'm not clear as to what the objection here is.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:37 PM on June 15, 2009


If having a female director, writer or protagonist is such a high risk, then Pixar can do what the rest of the industry does with female directors, writers, and protagonists. They can commit a smaller budget.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:40 PM on June 15, 2009


no one is telling anyone they "have to add a female lead."

It's being described as a flaw, so the implication is there.

What's tiring is the defensiveness at the very suggestion, as if women are some foreign "other" that will ruin the art of the perfect movie that happened to have a male lead. WHAT about a movie changes with a female lead instead of a male lead? What is lost?

Believe it or not artists actually make these decisions for a reason. Interfere with the decision and you're interfering with the artistic process. If you change the gender of someone in a story, or shift the focus to a different character it has many implications, examples of which you'll see in the discussion above. They may be positive, they maybe negative, they make a nonsense out of the entire thing. You know what? I'd probably considering the posibilities as recommend it as an exercise for any author. But at the end of the day it is the authors decision.

You know what? Having made those decisions I think Pixar has made pretty fine movies. Had they made different decisions then they would have been different movies, which may have been worse or hugely better, who knows? The point is they made the movies they made, and those movies are pretty damn good, and neither the movies nor the creators deserve some of the attacks they've sustained here.

KirkJobSlubber may disagree on that point regarding the quality of Pixars movies, but hey, he's a pretentious snob who hates absolutely anything for the shear sake of it, and is in love with his own sense of smug superiority, so who cares what he thinks?
posted by Artw at 5:40 PM on June 15, 2009


Why do people keep forgetting about Kevin?

Ha, ok, but I think the general point stands. Seriously, the ratio of male to female in secondary characters is way out of whack - from where I sit, for no good reason.
posted by mediareport at 5:42 PM on June 15, 2009


Clint Eastwood is a director; Pixar is a Studio. Eastwood made Million Dollar Baby for Lakeshore Entertainment. Their first 10 films included Runaway Bride, Underworld, Million Dollar Baby, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and Æon Flux. In other words, half of their first 10 movies featured female leads.

Ok. Except the quote was "Dirty Harry," not "the studio Dirty Harry made that movie for."
posted by Amanojaku at 5:43 PM on June 15, 2009


Believe it or not artists actually make these decisions for a reason.

Okay, I'd love to know - what's the big, important reason?
posted by agregoli at 5:44 PM on June 15, 2009


Okay, I'd love to know - what's the big, important reason?

Well, that would entirely depend on the story, wouldn't it?
posted by Artw at 5:46 PM on June 15, 2009


No? Why would a female lead be a huge difference from a male lead in, for example, the stories Pixar has put out so far?
posted by agregoli at 5:47 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


And, more importantly, I am not the person to ask.
posted by Artw at 5:47 PM on June 15, 2009


[comment removed - this sort of needs to not be a "one person fights with everyone" thread - please quit with the name calling and commence with the decent discussion, thanks]
posted by jessamyn at 5:48 PM on June 15, 2009


Believe it or not artists actually make these decisions for a reason. Interfere with the decision and you're interfering with the artistic process.

Are you at all familiar with the artistic process at Pixar? They're not hermits, living in some cave, at the mercy of supernatural muses, disturbed by the slightest provocation which then destroys what otherwise would have been a perfect creation.

I am curious about your experiences with the creative process, art. It's something I am quite familiar with, and your description of it sounds like a youthful fantasia to me, and not the words of someone who has worked in any field that requires collaborative storytelling. If I am mistaken, I apologize, but even if I am mistaken, the process you are describing is so passingly rare that I have never actually seen it done. Most creative storytelling is the product of intense collaborations, with the story shifting and molding constantly, and usually involves the input of hundreds of people. I have been to the Pixar studio and seen the development process, but even if I hadn't, they put out books that describe the development of all of their projects, and it's not as you describe.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:49 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


No? Why would a female lead be a huge difference from a male lead in, for example, the stories Pixar has put out so far?

Well, lucky you, all the movies come with a ton of DVD extras explaining the creative process in detail - why don't you start your hunt for clues there?
posted by Artw at 5:49 PM on June 15, 2009


Artw, you aren't interested in defending your position. So...I don't really think you have much of an argument.
posted by agregoli at 5:51 PM on June 15, 2009


Artw: It's being described as a flaw, so the implication is there.

Bwah? Pure nonsense. Star Wars is a very flawed work. I don't think Lucas should have changed a thing because the flaws are part of the general charm.

But at the end of the day it is the authors decision.

Certainly. And it's the decision of the audience to respond to the work of the artist. Which we have no problem in doing if the artist were Uwe Boll, but for some reason, rather respectful criticism that takes into account both the strengths and weaknesses of a work seems to get under your skin when it's Pixar.

You know what? Having made those decisions I think Pixar has made pretty fine movies. Had they made different decisions then they would have been different movies, which may have been worse or hugely better, who knows? The point is they made the movies they made, and those movies are pretty damn good, and neither the movies nor the creators deserve some of the attacks they've sustained here.

And you know what, I agree that they've made some pretty fine movies. But those movies are not perfect or above criticism by any sense of the word. I talk about Up much more than I talk about Star Trek because Up is a better movie. It's one I might take my parents to see next week.

KirkJobSlubber may disagree on that point regarding the quality of Pixars movies, but hey, he's a pretentious snob who hates absolutely anything for the shear sake of it, and is in love with his own sense of smug superiority, so who cares what he thinks?

I'm in love with pie. Cherry is best, but apple can be good as well.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:54 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


“LOL. Men have written and directed strong performances centered on female characters:”
Because clearly I was unaware of such a thing ever occurring. Obviously my point was more broad. Perhaps not obviously….. No, no, I must be an idiot because there’s no way that was a segue into the culture (which has been the core of my argument) where I say ‘echo chamber.’ Gimme a break.

“And I'm arguing that you are conflating two separate things. We criticize bodies of work, because the bodies of work themselves have something to say to their audience. We can also criticize systems of production. One does not replace the other.”

If I am it’s not intentional. I happen to agree with the Whedon speech – especially the part about equality not being a concept we should be striving for but a reality we need to realize, like gravity. Again, not mutual exclusivity, but emphasis on my part. They can, certainly, write solid female leads. Your emphasis seems to be on ‘can’ mine seems to be on ‘they.’ I don’t think we’re in disagreement per se.

I think the environment has a great deal to do with this, not that this replaces criticisms of the work itself, rather that it underscores it.
To my mind – what’s the alternative? I mean, either the guys at Pixar are doing it knowingly or unintentionally. Folks seem to be leaning towards unintentionally.
I’d agree. So – why?
I’d think the root cause is the social blindness folks are complaining about rather than a statement within the art itself. Certainly it can be criticized – but where does it come from? I think it comes from the system of production.
So it’s that system that’s tainting the art. One can argue criticism can, and perhaps has, changed that. But I still think that’s where it’s rooted. And sure, it’s a reciprocal dynamic, but I think women are going to be more aware of it, or at least more naturally aware of it and less susceptible to overlooking a given nuance than the guys. As with any other kind of human experience. And sure, the men there are capable of it – but that begs the question why haven’t they had a female lead until now? Which brings us back to ‘do.’

So ok, they’re producing something with a female lead now (lamentably, from some quarters, with a princess). And that appears to dovetail with hiring a female director.

The art is important yes. Criticism, yes. But I bring up the latter point primarily because it hasn’t been much addressed. And to augment the point that diversity is a reality. Not to counterpoint whatever criticism, whether I agree, disagree, or I’m indifferent. Just a sort of sporting tangent to that central issue. (I do digress).
Certainly you could have all males doing all the art everywhere for all time, and they’re certainly capable of producing great pieces with excellent female protagonists – but why should you?

I’d like to see it not matter one way or the other. As it is, I think that component has to be addressed as a reality of the creative process. And, to my mind, a stifling one. I think the people at Pixar would like more female leads. What their work says, then, is not necessarily wholly or solely the result of their creative vision. To say otherwise doesn’t recognize that facet of the industry and is to lay it all on Pixar. Which I think it unfair.

“I complemented you in contrast to certain others who are engaged in a fairly obvious and dishonest derail any time they see words like misogyny and sexism.”
Ah, so, rare for the discussion, not rare for me. Got it. Just not used to compliments perhaps.

“Belatedly, you just described Barb Wire.”
Truly, a classic film.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:59 PM on June 15, 2009


And it's been noted a couple of times already, that studio has greenlighted a feature film with a female protagonist and by a female director. So really I'm not clear as to what the objection here is.

I agree, although maybe not in exactly the same way. As you point out: Pixar is working on a film with a female protagonist and by a female director, so I'm not really sure what the objection here is, either.
posted by Amanojaku at 6:00 PM on June 15, 2009


Artw, you aren't interested in defending your position. So...I don't really think you have much of an argument.

I don't think you even understood the argument to begin with, TBH.

Are you at all familiar with the artistic process at Pixar? They're not hermits, living in some cave, at the mercy of supernatural muses, disturbed by the slightest provocation which then destroys what otherwise would have been a perfect creation.

Hey, I'm just naive enough to believe that artists make decisions for reasons, possibly more so at Pixar than at other places. You're right to point out the flaws in auteur theory though, and that the decisions and input of other artists working with them will have some impact on the work. So rather than an artist I should in this case be talking about several artists. Also pretending that they exist in some kind of vacuum and entirely without constraintswould be absurd. Neither of those undermine the fact that a work of art is the result of a decision making process unique to that work of art.

(I'll ignore your demand for papers of identification, as it's a blatant set-up.)
posted by Artw at 6:01 PM on June 15, 2009


Smedleyman: Because clearly I was unaware of such a thing ever occurring. Obviously my point was more broad. Perhaps not obviously….. No, no, I must be an idiot because there’s no way that was a segue into the culture (which has been the core of my argument) where I say ‘echo chamber.’ Gimme a break.

I apologize. That post got mangled by an html error, and that line was a response to another post.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:03 PM on June 15, 2009


Truly, a classic film.

The question wasn't "Is it good" but "can it be done?" Casablanca was also remade as a television movie starring David Soul, which was likewise bad. Neither had anything to do with the gender of the lead performer.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:03 PM on June 15, 2009



And, more importantly, I am not the person to ask.


Well, that's pretty obvious. Artw, the belief that they'll make more money by featuring male leads and mostly male secondary characters is the only reason that's been given here for why Pixar does what it does with gender. Your vague hints that there are mystical compelling reasons beyond the Pixar stories we see on the screen - few of which require gendered male protagonists, and that's something anyone with eyes and a brain can see - are unconvincing at best, and hilarious dodges at worst.
posted by mediareport at 6:08 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Amanojaku: I agree, although maybe not in exactly the same way. As you point out: Pixar is working on a film with a female protagonist and by a female director, so I'm not really sure what the objection here is, either.

The way I see it, here is where the debate pretty much stands:

1) Women are underrepresented in Pixar's prior work. The production of a new feature film with a female protagonist and creative director is a positive step forward that builds on previous steps. Pixar staff are very well capable of handling female characters well, and have previously done so.

2) Criticism of Pixar's prior work is mean-spirited and unjustified. It puts constraints on them that would undermine the quality of work, and they can't be asked to do something that runs against their creative instincts.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:11 PM on June 15, 2009


Hey, I'm just naive enough to believe that artists make decisions for reasons, possibly more so at Pixar than at other places.

And those reasons can be ill-informed, or wrong, or bad for the story, or just uninteresting, and they are worth discussing. Pixar is better than most, but they produce terrific but sometimes flawed work, and I think one of those flaws is that they can't seem to manage to make a female lead. There is a trend in theater toward genderblind casting -- and it is not a new trend. I have seen quite a few plays that featured characters that were written to be men but were instead played by women -- in fact, I just saw a staged reading of Mac Wellman's Bellagio, in which he demands that several prominent fascists and futurists, predominantly male, be instead played by women. You'd be astounded at how rare it is that characters actually have to be male, and how much more interesting it is when you simply cast the best actor for the role, or cast against the stated gender of the character. I don't think Pixar has made absolute and necessary decisions here. I think they have not checked their assumptions, and they are less interesting artists because of this. And I say this thinking they are consistently one of the best studios working.

The reason I asked for your credentials was because you seem to be operating in a juvenile fantasy of the creative process, and I wanted to see if you had actually experienced what you described.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:17 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Which is exactly why I find the argument that Pixar creates only male protagonist because they are male and that's all they know and OMG what about their aaaarrrrrrttt just plain silly.

I'm not sure it's silly, particularly if you look at the wave of criticism unleashed here. Some MeFites surely seem to believe Stanton is handicapped not only in his understanding of women but in his personal development. This might indicate that there can be some difficulties and potentially even hazards present in writing about females which may not apply to bugs, fish, cars, and other things that won't engage in social analysis about their portrayals on film.

However... I am more or less of the belief that Pixar could probably pull it off if they wanted to, and I won't be surprised if they do. Mostly, I have a problem with the idea that it constitutes an artistic failing if they're not driven by that goal.
posted by weston at 6:19 PM on June 15, 2009


It seems to me that if the argument made here (and I could be wrong on this, there is a ton of bullshit to sift through) is that Pixar can't or shouldn't make woman-centered films because it would be a box office bomb (possible), or because their internal corporate culture just can't deal with female characters (doubtful), that a new film with a female protagonist and director would be undesired.

I disagree that their corporate culture is unable to rise to the challenge, because, as I've said before, in some other respects their female roles have been more progressive than the rest of the industry.

weston: However... I am more or less of the belief that Pixar could probably pull it off if they wanted to, and I won't be surprised if they do. Mostly, I have a problem with the idea that it constitutes an artistic failing if they're not driven by that goal.

Certainly. But the audience is not obliged to withhold their criticism either.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:25 PM on June 15, 2009


And those reasons can be ill-informed, or wrong, or bad for the story, or just uninteresting, and they are worth discussing.

Right with you there on that.

Pixar is better than most, but they produce terrific but sometimes flawed work, and I think one of those flaws is that they can't seem to manage to make a female lead. I don't think Pixar has made absolute and necessary decisions here. I think they have not checked their assumptions, and they are less interesting artists because of this. And I say this thinking they are consistently one of the best studios working.

That's absolutely a valid discussion to have about the decisions leading to the making of a particular movie. Sweeping dismissals based solely on statistics without individual consideration, less so.

The reason I asked for your credentials was because you seem to be operating in a juvenile fantasy of the creative process, and I wanted to see if you had actually experienced what you described.

Comics, FWIW. Which does tend to be less of a parralel collaboration and more of a linear one But you already knew that, fire away with whatever attack you had lined up. I;m not really expecting a sensible follow up on that.
posted by Artw at 6:35 PM on June 15, 2009


I don't have attack, and I didn't know your experiences. My experiences are in theater, short fiction writing, and journalism, most of which require an awful lot of external input and collaborative work to create, and all of which I have found to be enormously malleable and open to radical revisions. Of course there are decisions that, once locked in, can't be changed without transforming the story so radically that you might as well just write another story. But why were those decisions locked in in the first place? Why the decision to make the rat a boy? Why the decision to make the fish a father instead of a mother? Was it because those decisions were artistically necessary, or because that's what the artists were comfortable with, or didn't consider another option? A few films without a female lead is fine, but when they haven't, so far, managed to produce a single one with a female lead, I suspect there is more to it than that these movies required a male lead. And that's really the question that puzzles me.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:43 PM on June 15, 2009


“That post got mangled by an html error, and that line was a response to another post.”
Ok. No sweat. Consider the entire response retracted then.
“The question wasn't "Is it good" but "can it be done?" “
Relax babe, just a tongue in cheek comment. Of course it can be done. Look, I hate puppies and children and I’m a Nazi who likes to stomp homosexuals, but I don’t feel like doing battle over every single offhand comment I make. And I’m a bit tired of chasing every tangent whether intentional or not.
I don’t know that anyone’s being willfully obtuse such that they don’t want to take a point as elementary as historically revising an established film and destroying the original to serve a purpose such that it’s suddenly about a remake or being recut or a parody or a remix, but there’s such a vast gulf between what I’m saying and what’s being addressed that it’s very quickly approaching pointlessness.
But to straighten this shit out so I stop being the fucking puppy kicking Nazi here:
KirkJobSluder made the point that looking at the studio system as a whole doesn’t mean we should lay off criticism of the actual works. To support this he said the movies themselves will be preserved for posterity, not the state of society or state of the industry they were generated in.
I responded that I wasn’t arguing that we should lay off the criticism of the actual works and tacitly further deflected that by saying it was akin to my arguing that if he’s serious about a film’s message for posterity why then not destroy the original by recutting it in such a way that it eliminates all sexism and makes Ilsa the lead.
I believe I pretty much emphasized that this was not what was being proposed but that there were valid points of criticism otherwise to be leveled at Pixar.
The response was this dross on remix and so forth which I ignored because it was, as far anything I was addressing was concerned, noise. Right, wrong, or whatever.
So, no, the question wasn’t “is it good” or “can it be done” or anything to do at all with whatever you’re talking about. There was, in fact, no real question at all .
That said, I think destroying the original Casablanca and recutting it would be appalling. Hell, people complain about Lucas changing his own films. And there was a massive hue and cry over colorization a bit back.
Remaking it? Sure. There’s tons of remakes. “Barb Wire” does suck though.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:46 PM on June 15, 2009


Relax babe, just a tongue in cheek comment. Of course it can be done. Look, I hate puppies and children and I’m a Nazi who likes to stomp homosexuals, but I don’t feel like doing battle over every single offhand comment I make. And I’m a bit tired of chasing every tangent whether intentional or not.

That seemed like a battle to you? I was just trying to clarify my point.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:48 PM on June 15, 2009


Questions that are possibly worth asking for each and every one of those films, for which, as you noted, a wealth of material is available. Though, TBH, I think it's far more interesting asking those kinds of questions in a spirit of what types of story can be told in the future than in an axe-grindey hunt for What Went Wrong.
posted by Artw at 6:48 PM on June 15, 2009


Note to casual readers: Barb Wire is fucking awful, don't be fooled into watching it, even ironically.
posted by Artw at 6:49 PM on June 15, 2009


So, I've got a lot more to say on this than I wrote while I was at work, and let me just say that this is one of the best threads I've read on MeFi in ages, or would be if it weren't for the needless pissing contests.

Anyway...

I feel like there needs to be a siren at the top of this thread that tells everyone, "Hey! Pixar currently has a female-protagonist-project in development which will debut in December of 2011! It is directed by a woman named Brenda Chapman in a move which - sad as this may be - is a huge breakthrough for women in the field of animation! Know these things before diving into the debate, please!"

Pixar is not being consciously sexist, but is rather creating great work in a mindset which is absent-mindedly sexist, and as has been said above, views "male" to be equal to "gender-nuetral." Pixar, however, because they rock despite this flaw, seems to be noting it and working to correct it. But first of all, they will always tell the best stories they can, and those stories will be very personal to them, and that means that they'll probably throw politics like this to the wayside if they feel like it's messing with their stories. That is a good thing for art, and is why (in the general sense) Pixar is head and shoulders above every other studio in Hollywood. (seriously, their commercial and critical track record is such an outlier that they might as well be considered god's among mortals in the industry.) Dreamworks could see this problem with themselves and solve it within a year or two, because they grind out factory work, and you'd end up with forgettable tripoe but, hey! a woman is the central character. Pixar will want to make sure they fix themselves artfully and correctly.

So how do they solve this problem - by hiring a very talented and experienced woman who will naturally - and honestly - direct from that perspective. Again, I need to repeat this point, but the reasons there are no (or very few) women on staff at Pixar are:

1. There are very few successful women (yet) directing or screenwriting at all.
2. This is exponentially truer for animation, a notorious boy's club where you need to go through the system for probably fifteen years or more before you have a shot at the position now available to Chapman.

It's not a good thing, and needs it's own correction, but it is how it is, and that's why Artw is correct at least in part at pointing to the systemic aspect as being to blame.

That said...

tzikeh and mediareport are getting closer to the real issue here, which is that men are almost invariably chosen for the "gender-neutral" characters, which is true. There's a somewhat sensible reason for why this continues to happen, but it still needs to stop. (The "somewhat sensible reason" being that character design inspiration is the lifeblood of animation, and if someone pictures a male in the role - which the men at Pixar seem to do far more often than not - then that character will be designed, with a certain degree of brilliance, as a man. Forcing the change to women later in the game will mean a probably less-inspired design - though not necessarily - and loss of a LOT of investment of time and capital from bringing the original design to life. In other words, it's a problem that needs to be solved in the very beginning stages of development for any project.)

For an example of Pixar choosing a woman for a "gender-neutral" character with spectacular results, however, look to Dory from Finding Nemo. There's no reason that the forgetful buddy-character needs to be female in the context of the film - she doesn't serve as a romantic interest or anything like that, and we've already seen that Pixar usually does that sort of thing male-male. She's female because, well, because she is. And she's a very deep character, actually, with flaws and humanity that are neither specifically feminine nor woman-in-"man's"-role. One of the sub-themes which makes Nemo so effective (of the ones I've seen, it's second only to The Incredibles) is that everyone involved has a flaw (except for maybe Peach and the Sea Turtles); everyone is broken. Dory is no exception, but her arc of dealing with it is both uplifting and heartbreaking, and thanks in no small part to the absolute genius which is everything about Ellen Degeneres, she's the most loved and memorable person in the film.

In more female-specific roles, though, Pixar has indeed done a yeoman's job in making them real. Tatou in Ratatouille is the worst example, of course, most likely because of script and story problems and release deadlines and just the general way that animation works. It's clear that they had the love story, which was important to the story as a whole, and also that they had set up Tatou specifically as an ardant iconoclastic feminist in the kitchen, but then those two didn't mesh properly, which is sad.

Helen Paar (or is it Parr? I never know for sure) is a complete character who also makes defiantly feminist points while remaining very rounded and true to life. Hell, the final line of the intro is her statement, "Leave saving the world to the men? I don't think so..." While the first half of the movie is built around Bob Paar and his mid-life crisis, the more dramatic second half is all about Helen, and is absolutely equal to and probably superior to the first half. Fanboy note: my favorite moment in the film might be when Bob is leaving for Syndrome's island the second time, and Helen is almost certain that he's having an affair, and still wants to save their marriage if she can. Bob gets in the car, Helen composes herself for a half-second before saying, "I love you." Bob, not getting it, remains distracted and backs out the driveway. And then you see the crushing moment of Helen, in her robe, having just sold the last little bit of her dignity and gotten nothing in return - the last straw that puts the second half in motion. It's an astounding piece of animated "acting," equal to anything Gollum does in LotR.

I could go on and on about EVE and Violet Paar (funny how everybody remembers her "transformation" as asking out Tony at the end and not about her bravery and assertiveness in leading the charge from defensive to offensive against Syndrome's henchmen in the climax) but this comment is long enough. The point is that the sexism at work in Pixar studios is real, but not malicious nor, I think, intentional at all. They are better at it than most, and are working towards being better about it, but it is indeed a systemic problem first and foremost, which doesn't mean that works of art shouldn't be analyzed singularly. And also, Brandon Blatcher, the phrase you're looking for is "Male Gaze."

Finally, just because Joss Whedon is being brought up here so often as proof that men can write strong women (and he is) let's not forget that he wrote Toy Story as well Nothing is as black and white here as we might make it seem.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:58 PM on June 15, 2009 [13 favorites]


Btw, no one's pointed out in this thread how yukky the pre-Up short Partly Cloudy is. (I'll leave aside the fact that the only non-animal baby we see is almost certainly a human boy - Pixar girls are clearly girls, so don't try arguing we can't tell the sex of the baby - who gets a football and helmet before getting his ride on the stork. Really, Pixar? Football as shorthand for boy? How very clever of you.) The real problem with the short is the awful mean feeling it leaves hanging in the air. Here, have a brief unpleasant experience before the main feature.

Yuck.
posted by mediareport at 7:02 PM on June 15, 2009


“That seemed like a battle to you? I was just trying to clarify my point.”

… again, offhand comment, of which that would be another….gets tedious, etc.

“1. There are very few successful women (yet) directing or screenwriting at all.”
Big Magilla right there.

“They are better at it than most, and are working towards being better about it, but it is indeed a systemic problem first and foremost, which doesn't mean that works of art shouldn't be analyzed singularly.”

…I’ve really got to work at being concise.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:09 PM on June 15, 2009


I feel like there needs to be a siren at the top of this thread that tells everyone, "Hey! Pixar currently has a female-protagonist-project in development which will debut in December of 2011! It is directed by a woman named Brenda Chapman in a move which - sad as this may be - is a huge breakthrough for women in the field of animation! Know these things before diving into the debate, please!"

There is one. It's called "Read the OP before posting."
posted by hippybear at 7:24 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you don't really care to address me or my responses, smedleyman, could I respectfully ask that you stop responding to me, even to complain about how tedious they are? Come to think of it, if you don't care to have your points addressed, and find the whole experience unwelcome, then perhaps a Web forum might not be the best place to bring them up.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:26 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]



Uwe Boll can make the movies he wants to make.
Michael Bay can make the movies he wants to make.

And as the audience, we can engage in critical discussion of those movies.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:31 AM on June 15 [+] [!]


Can I just say that Michael Bay and Uwe Boll should not make the movies they want to make? Just sayin'.
posted by ooga_booga at 7:29 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just wondering: How many future uncriticizable male-centered movies has Pixar earned by greenlighting its first movie with a female lead?
posted by mediareport at 7:32 PM on June 15, 2009


The real problem with the short is the awful mean feeling it leaves hanging in the air.

Really? Me and the wife thought it was great, especially with the demented cloud making such interesting things.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:48 PM on June 15, 2009


mediareport, that's a damn good question. As a whole, I have trust in the boys (and girl) at Pixar, and hope that they aren't looking at the issue in this way, though it's certainly possible.

I might be too optimistic, but experience shows that "the boys" (Lasseter, Stanton, Bird) can write well for women, but haven't put them in the forefront. Hopefully "the girl" (Chapman) will push the issue, and keep them conscious about it. By my understanding of how animation development works, and Pixar in particular, this doesn't seem to be out of the range of possibility.

I'm not going to dig through the 400+ comments in this thread to pull it out, but somebody way upthread mentioned the possibly apocryphal quote by Walt Disney about making money to make more movies, and another person quickly shot that idea down. I feel like that person (the cynic) has clearly never worked in entertainment.

If you're in it to make money, entertainment is the last industry you want to go into. It's a fool's gamble at best. The ONLY reason you go into it is because your interest in being a part of telling stories trumps all reason and sensibility on your part. Some people in the business are much better at making money than others. Some people are craven about it, to be sure. But all of them are making money to tell more stories. I forget who said it first, but the classic advice to people who want to write for a living has always been, "first, try something, anything else."

Pixar wants to tell great stories, and they're great at doing so. Having a woman at the Big table - one who probably had to claw tooth-and-nail to get to that position - should should help adjust the perspectives of the stories told from the studio.

One hopes, at least.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:54 PM on June 15, 2009


Just wondering: How many future uncriticizable male-centered movies has Pixar earned by greenlighting its first movie with a female lead?

None, really, but if she's a white female lead, the privilege shifts a bit. When's Pixar gonna get to that black Muslim protagonist, hrm?
posted by Amanojaku at 7:59 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd settle for one of the three main dog villains being a girl.
posted by mediareport at 8:01 PM on June 15, 2009


I'd settle for one of the three main dog villains being a girl.

I still say the velociraptor/peacock counts. Now that I think about it, one of the dogs was DelRoy Lindo, so maybe I'm covered after all.
posted by Amanojaku at 8:04 PM on June 15, 2009


I still say the velociraptor/peacock counts.

It's a cute character and I liked brief flash of gender-bending, yay. But the point remains loud and clear: Pixar routinely misses easy opportunities to include women as half of its character world. Routinely enough that it's obviously either a conscious choice or lazy sexism.

There are no other options.
posted by mediareport at 8:11 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's a cute character and I liked brief flash of gender-bending, yay. But the point remains loud and clear: Pixar routinely misses easy opportunities to include women as half of its character world. Routinely enough that it's obviously either a conscious choice or lazy sexism.

There are no other options.


Didn't we just do 458 comments on this? I disagree, but I don't particularly feel compelled to head back into that breach. I will just say that with this forthcoming female lead, I hope people's feelings on representation move to include groups that have yet to see themselves represented as a lead at all. I wasn't kidding about the privilege shifting if that princess is white. Either conscious choice or lazy racism, etc.

Physician, unpack thy knapsack.
posted by Amanojaku at 8:45 PM on June 15, 2009


You could try offering an explanation for why so many of the supporting characters in Pixar films are male, Amanojaku. You haven't done that yet. I've offered the dogs multiple times as an example, if you're needing one.
posted by mediareport at 8:49 PM on June 15, 2009


I've offered the dogs multiple times as an example, if you're needing one.

Remind me how many times we saw the genitalia of the dogs in the movie.
posted by dw at 9:32 PM on June 15, 2009


The Pixar stuff also surprises me because on the contrast, Disney has probably been a better advocate of children's programming with leads that are not white males than any other network. (Hannah Montana, Kim Possible, Proud Family, Fillmore, Brandy & Mr. Whiskers, Lilo & Stitch, Cory in the House, and so on)

Apparently Disney-proper welcomes diversity with open arms because it's profitable, whereas the studio that is known for their "art" finds a lack of interest in 90% of the world's cultural demographic.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:32 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Remind me how many times we saw the genitalia of the dogs in the movie.

All the dogs that were voiced were voiced by male actors. If your contention is that some of the unvoiced dogs may have been female, or maybe not, because we can't know because we never saw their genitalia ... well, I've already lost you. How is having ungendered dogs that might be female, if they spoke, which they don't, better than, or even different than, having no female dogs at all?
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:45 PM on June 15, 2009


I heard Pixar tried having one of the canine militia be a female. Unfortunately, test audiences thought she was a real bitch.
posted by ooga_booga at 9:54 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'll say it again -- I want to see a Pixar hero who is basically a young Starbuck from the new BSG. Female, brave, competent, not in need of rescue, and fully rounded.

And also outrageously violent (random fights, torture, murder, bullying), dishonest, stupid, and alcoholic and with out a shred of personal integrity - she fucks her fiance's brother (Lee Adama) while he's passed out in the next room. Then she fucks Lee Adama even though they are both married and she knows full well human morale and unit cohesion is crucial given they are in a war of extermination on the losing end - she lets her emotions so distort her mission to the point she fights Lee in an idiotic dysfunctional boxing match. And I'd disagree that BSG's Kara Thrace was remotely competent at anything other than killing Cylons. At literally everything else she was a complete fuck-up.

So. No. OMFG NO! They made Starbuck a girl because nobody would ever except a male lead doing those idiotic things repeatedly without having him killed off or made a bad guy and because of Katee Sackoff's fan boy sex appeal .

If Pixar made a film with a female character of with the traits of Kara Thrace Metafilter would flame them to death.

While I think it would be awesome to drop the wimpy Princess shit and get kids a decent female lead character after reading this thread I honestly think most of you guys have no idea what your really asking for and you'd scream blue murder once you got it. Pixar simply can not win.
posted by tkchrist at 10:02 PM on June 15, 2009


Yes, but since they are apparently an evil spreadsheet of genderhate devoid of creativity, staffed by robots lacking compassion or any other discernible human characteristic they probably won't notice.
posted by Artw at 10:08 PM on June 15, 2009


I think the explanation for the dogs' voices might be that the bad guy provided the starter voices himself. So, all male voices.

But of course, we see that the collars can change the pitch of voices, so he could have just pitched up the female dogs' voices starting with his own voice as a sample. Which brings us back to - they're all male, for no reason.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:12 PM on June 15, 2009


Well, you can’t just do that. You need a story, some sort of structure that requires a leading female because that must come first, otherwise you’re definitely just preaching, not making art.

Now, when that sentence is rewritten so that it states "you need a story, some sort of structure that requires a leading male because that must come first, otherwise you're definitely just preaching, not making art." -- well, that reads as ludicrous, because no one thinks that way when creating a male character.

Male characters are the automatic default that need no justification -- but, somehow, female characters need some kind of justification because we're assuming that a story about a girl somehow has to revolve around her girlness -- is that the point here? And the story has to justify using a girl instead of a guy, because, for instance, a baby girl fish can't get lost and wind up in trouble? A girl rat can't help a guy run a restaurant? A girl car can't want to win a race? I'm not sure why any of that would be true.

And for all the people going "OMG, you idiots, Pixar is making a movie with a female lead so SHUT UP!" -- well, if you'd read the article we're talking about, the writer is wistfully asking for a female lead who is not a princess. The Pixar movie is about a princess, which apparently is the default role for a girl in the lead of an animated film.

Also, yeah, Kevin is a girl, but her defining characteristic is the fact that she's a mother worried about protecting her babies, so she's definitely a traditional female character with a traditionally female agenda. She happens to be a delightful character, but she's not exactly ground-breaking.
posted by OolooKitty at 10:25 PM on June 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


I just have to add that it really disheartens me that a simple plea to have a female lead in an animated film, from a studio that's done 10 films with male leads, can engender the kind of hostility and furious hyperbole about angry feminists and compromised artists that it has here. It really does.
posted by OolooKitty at 10:29 PM on June 15, 2009 [11 favorites]


The female characters they've done have been really good. But Dory is the only one coming to mind where it's just a female as a random normal person in the world, rather than a mother/wife/daughter/girlfriend of the protagonist. (No, Edna too!) I'm serious that it would be a majorly pleasing step to have some of the background goofball characters be female.

Also, as I said way above:
I think pretty much everyone here (maybe with a couple of exceptions) thinks the Pixar movies are really good, and approves in general of the people making them. So, the overblown "oh you guys hate Pixar and think they're evil" is way off the mark.

And nobody wants Pixar to go into the production process thinking "first and foremost, it has to be about a female character!" It's just that you can pick good story, and have it be about a female character. Spin the wheel! Any of these could be about a girl!

-Overconfident youngster gets in trouble and learns humility and the value of friendship/loyalty
-After a terrible loss, scared parent is forced to leave safe place and have scary adventure to save child, learns the value of taking risks and letting child take risks
-Naive lonely person falls for indifferent person, takes huge risks to pursue indifferent person, inadvertently helps indifferent person achieve their life goal, finds love
-Most beloved person is displaced in lover's affections by rival, then must rescue rival to preserve the happiness of the lover
etc

Spin the wheel and combine with fun settings:

Gods and Goddesses!
Tropical birds and monkeys in a rainforest!
Strange creatures inside the earth!
Wild west from the horses' point of view!
Carnivorous plants in a prehistoric forest!
Pirates!

on and on.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:34 PM on June 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


Also, yeah, Kevin is a girl, but her defining characteristic is the fact that she's a mother worried about protecting her babies, so she's definitely a traditional female character with a traditionally female agenda. She happens to be a delightful character, but she's not exactly ground-breaking.

And, she doesn't talk, so she doesn't have a female voice, so it's easy to forget/miss.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:37 PM on June 15, 2009


certainly there's a large portion of the audience that is bound to read [Carl attacking the worker] as justified or at least read the punishment as over-reaching. Carl is besieged at that point by developers, so we're led to side with him against the developer's lackey. Taking an old man from his house and his memories because he was protecting his land stinks of injustice, and struck me as a reference to Castle doctrine. More than one grandfather was thinking, "I'da shot that guy!"

But what I'm saying is that Pixar uses this scene as a solid rebuke to that attitude. It says to all those guys sitting in their armchairs thinking "I'da shot that guy!" that in real life, you'd go to jail for murder.

When Carl draws blood from a guy who has damaged a mailbox, you're quite obviously supposed to be shocked and think, "that was the wrong thing to do. This is not the way to fight back against these guys."

So no, I don't think you can reasonably point to this scene as an example of this attitude Pixar supposedly has of Randian-ubermench-protecting-his-rights-and-property-and-superiority-from-the-grasping-inferior-hordes or whatever it is that people (wrongly) criticize The Incredibles for.
posted by straight at 10:43 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I do think there's something to the theory that they may be nervous about doing female characters and getting slagged for bad stereotypes. But the thing is, the fewer female characters there are, the more weight gets put on each one of them.

If you only have one female character in your movie, but you have ten male characters, the decisions you've made about what the female character is like get amplified. Is she too-loud? Or too-quiet? Or attention-hungry? Or pushy? Well, there's some suspicion maybe you're saying something wider about all women by making her that way.

But if you have, say, three or four female characters, the pressure eases off because you'll have one that is too loud, one that's clumsy, one that's a scaredy-cat, etc.


Ok - one last thing, then I'm done.
For the first section of Wall-E, when we've only heard Wall-E's voice, I was excitedly hoping that they were going to do a love story between two robots that never get assigned genders. Which I still think would have been effing great.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:46 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Dear Disney

Please remake all of your movies to be about boys. Snow White should be about this ranger dude who shacks up with seven hot elf chicks who hunts gay wizards with mirrors. Cinderella should be about a kid who is horribly abused by his step-parents but who escapes to have magical shenaniga...well, maybe you'll need to think that one through a bit. Pocahontas should have some awesome Indian warrior dude who can shoot ten arrows at once and fight bears and have no singing. The Little Mermaid should be about cool Atlantean dudes who fight giant octopuses and pirates. Peter Pan should have some girl fly through young Peter's window then take him away to live in a tree filled with girls who do all his cooking while he fights scantily clad female pirates. You should stop making The Princess and The Frog and just do Monkey Island already - it looks like could reuse most of the backgrounds. Sleeping Beauty should be about some guy who wakes up for some reason and kills everything with a magic sword that eats souls. This page better be about raising strong boys who can fight a Red Dawn-like war for real.

Yours sincerely
Obiwanwasabi, who has been opressed by female-centric animated feature films for decades
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:58 PM on June 15, 2009


Yes, but since they are apparently an evil spreadsheet of genderhate devoid of creativity, staffed by robots lacking compassion or any other discernible human characteristic they probably won't notice.

Dude, Artw, give it a rest, buddy.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:59 PM on June 15, 2009


The dogs in Up are anthropomorphized as a troop of bumbling soldiers whose fearsome commander has lost his authority. For comic effect, the group has to remind you immediately of the trope it's parodying. When have you ever seen that gag done with female soldiers in the group? The joke just wouldn't work as well.
posted by nicwolff at 11:43 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


she fucks her fiance's brother (Lee Adama) while he's passed out in the next room. Then she fucks Lee Adama even though they are both married and she knows full well human morale and unit cohesion is crucial given they are in a war of extermination on the losing end - she lets her emotions so distort her mission to the point she fights Lee in an idiotic dysfunctional boxing match.

I know why you're attacking Kara Thrace, but it's kind of inexplicable that you completely ignore the fact that there's someone else pretty damn crucial to all of that - Lee Adama, who fucks his brother's fiancee (they don't actually get that far), screws Kara even though they are both married and he knows full well blah, blah... everything else you said about Kara is basically true of Lee.

And if we want to bring this discussion more closely in line to gender portrayal and balance, BSG was pretty clearly hailed in most quarters for having strong female characters throughout its cast - and it didn't do too bad with covering the spectrum of race, too.

So you might rant and rail about how terrible Kara Thrace is as a person, but it's largely got nothing to do with the fact she's a woman. And it's preposterous to suggest a male character isn't likely to get away with exactly the same kind of actions - and has - in other movies and television shows previously.

Besides, whoever brought Kara into this outlined why they used her as a yard stick:

Female, brave, competent, not in need of rescue, and fully rounded.

Fully-rounded means she's everything you accuse her of being - she's multi-faceted and she's not just defined by one characteristic or another. But apparently her morals offend you, so she's a bad fictional character? That's a ridiculous double-standard right there - male characters have slept around, perpetuated violence, killed, murdered and are alcoholics (in BSG and elsewhere) but no one suggests that Colonel Tigh or Admiral Adama aren't good male characters because of it. No, Kara Thrace is shat on because she's a woman and apparently all female characters should be "good role models". Fuck that noise.

As to the rest of this thread, it's honestly depressing to me. The idea that Andrew Stanton and crew are obviously going to always want to write about men because they are men is just sad. The argument that they should write what they want to write is relevant - of course they should. But why not suggest they try something different? Why not look at the evidence and nudge them toward a female protagonist? The idea that this will oppress their creativity kind of sickens me - they shouldn't have to write about women because they aren't women? Because women are so unknowable that men can't be expected to empathise with them? That there is a big fucking problem, because if men can't get into the minds of women to write films about them (or with them in central, multi-faceted roles), what hope do women have encountering male privilege in the wider world?

The boys club exists because the boys club wants it to exist. All anyone is suggesting is that Pixar not be an exclusive boys club. One film with a female director and a female protagonist is a start. Where's the harm in seeking a better balance?
posted by crossoverman at 11:44 PM on June 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


You could try offering an explanation for why so many of the supporting characters in Pixar films are male, Amanojaku. You haven't done that yet. I've offered the dogs multiple times as an example, if you're needing one.

Well, I'm going to take an unusual position around here, and say I don't know. I can speculate, of course, just like everybody else. For example:

* it could be because most of the writers at Pixar are men, and writers do, in fact, tend to write what they know, regardless of gender, unless something comes along to make them reconsider the "default" gender of some of their "gender neutral" characters.

* every single one of the hundreds of people who are on staff at Pixar, where they supposedly have a massively collaborative effort to create stories ... are somehow all men. And misogynist.

* they just haven't gotten around to making Grrlzone: the Movie, a la Eastwood's thirty years of hammering away at stuff like the Eiger Sanction before getting around to making Million Dollar Baby; multi-million dollar CGI movies take a while to make, and they had lots of pressing ideas that they felt really personally about up first.

* it could be for the same reason nobody is asking why they didn't make 25% of the dogs in UP Indian, just like the global population; they just didn't think of it.

* or they did think of it, and decided that reversing the gender roles in Wall-E would make it into just another "somebody needs to rescue the girl" story, and a girl rat who just wants to cook is playing to stereotype, and making some of the dogs in UP female is an obvious set-up to genuinely sexist jokes, so they avoided that by arranging things in the way we have them now.

* that things are a bit skewed by selective evidence: Edna Mode and the two outstanding Parr girls from the Incredibles don't count; Mr. Incredible does. Kevin doesn't count; the dogs do. And so on.

* personally, I kind of think it's because Muntz is so obsessed with finding Kevin, that unlike Carl who wanted children and couldn't have them, he's intentionally forsaken a social and romantic life, and the voices of women piping out of his dogs for over seventy years would remind him of everything he's given up in his mad quest, yet is still unwilling to relinquish; again, in contrast to Carl, who learns how to finally let go over the course of the film.

Could be all of 'em. Could be none of 'em.

I do know that lamenting the lack of female characters in a movie where the leads are an old man and a fat Asian kid seems a bit myopic.

(I am right about the dogs, though.)
posted by Amanojaku at 11:53 PM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


And for all the people going "OMG, you idiots, Pixar is making a movie with a female lead so SHUT UP!" -- well, if you'd read the article we're talking about, the writer is wistfully asking for a female lead who is not a princess. The Pixar movie is about a princess, which apparently is the default role for a girl in the lead of an animated film.

I'm pretty sure everyone got that. The point that she's a princess who doesn't like being one and who wants to go be a kick-ass archer is more than a bit relevant to "de-princessifying" her.

The argument that they should write what they want to write is relevant - of course they should. But why not suggest they try something different? Why not look at the evidence and nudge them toward a female protagonist? The idea that this will oppress their creativity kind of sickens me - they shouldn't have to write about women because they aren't women?

How is that not completely contradictory? Also: they shouldn't have to write about anything, period.
posted by Amanojaku at 12:04 AM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dear Disney

Please remake all of your movies to be about boys.


Adventure Time!

Other Disney movies I liked growing up...

That Darn Cat

The Cat from Outer Space

Escape to Witch Mountain

Return to Witch Mountain

Books I liked but the movies were meh: Heidi, Pippi Longstocking, Isle of the Blue Dolphins

I don't think Trixie Belden had any movies made about her. I do remember getting razzed to hell and back the one time I picked up a "real" girl's (read: romance) book. "why, I didn't know you'd progressed to that level" - from other girls. If I'd been quicker on my feet, I'd have told them I was slumming.

Oh, a point? I'm supposed to have one? It does no harm to ask the studio if they could have a female lead. Really, get a grip. You think other places don't get letters and emails?

Whenever the "new Dora" silhouette was released, I joined the petition to try get that changed. I'll admit my contribution wasn't terribly eloquent, but it got me on a list called "The Hardy Girls" that notified me of Ms. Holmes' letter last week. They were inspired to create their own petition that asks, in a positive way, for a lead that's not some princess.

If the next one is about a princess who "breaks out", hey, cool. Good to know. That's why I haven't signed on to this one.

My grandmother did her best to mold me into a PROPER LADY (like somene else upthread) but it didn't really take. My parents raised me to be a human being. I intend to do the same with my boys.

What's interesting is that I mostly only have movies with strong female leads. Lots of original Dora, and the Power Puff girls. (I'm not going to to into the male and female animal characters. The kids don't care) They love PPG, but the one episode they really get into is the Rowdy Rough Boys. Diego's ok, but kind of bland. They're really into Godzilla's "All Monsters Attack" right now because the hero is a boy.

So yeah, I get that little girls can be entertained and empathize with a little boy lead. But I'll bet they'd really get into more varied and complex and stronger female leads.
posted by lysdexic at 1:53 AM on June 16, 2009


The lack of a female-voiced dog is an ugly plot hole in the internal logic of the film. The dynamics of the flying house are demonstrated in loving detail, as is the nature of the canine civilization that Muntz creates in his exile. The leads us to assume three facts about Mutz's pack: 1) the dogs act mostly like dogs and sometimes like humans, 2) Muntz treats his companions like humans, and 3) the dogs are descendants of his original companions. My suggestion is that if they considered the logic of Muntz pack with the same level of detail that they considered a flying house, that having one of the dog voices be female would have been obvious.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:22 AM on June 16, 2009


How is that not completely contradictory? Also: they shouldn't have to write about anything, period.

Because films don't spring fully formed from someone's head. Not even Brad Bird, one of the clear auteurs of the group, writes/directs/draws/scores/voices his films. Film is a collaborative medium. So suggesting they make a film with a female protagonist is not different than suggesting "what about making a film about a rat who wants to be a chef" - except, of course, rats aren't a part of Pixar's demographic, but girls and women are.

Of course, they shouldn't have to write about anything. No one is suggesting thumb screws. No one is suggesting the entire Pixar canon be ignored. But why not point out a deficiency in their entire range of films. Taking them on a case by case basis, wherein many of them do have strong female characters, isn't a problem. Looking at their entire output and wondering why they couldn't try a female protagonist who isn't a princess seems like a reasonable question to ask. A reasonable suggestion to be made.

And if we could point to another animation studio that regularly puts out films which centre on strong female characters, we would. People have pointed out Studio Ghibli puts out a better balance of male and female protagonists, but the two studios are hardly in the same league - and they tell different kinds of stories.

As has been recognised, it's not a problem unique to Pixar. It's Hollywood-wide. There's a lead character gender imbalance - and shrugging and saying "boys will always make films about boys" is sad. Or "boys will only watch films with boy protagonists" is the child of that kind of thinking.

I rant and rave about what Hollywood does a lot. "Why do they have to keep remaking things?" "Why do they keep making movies where the only good thing about them is that shit blows up good?" "Why do they keep casting Shia LaBeouf in stuff?"

Of course, Hollywood doesn't listen to me. And as people have pointed out - Hollywood does things for money not out of concern for anyone's taste or gender imbalance. But there's one thing to rant about remakes and Shia LaBeouf - and quite another to recognise that one entire sex is under represented in all films. Pixar's lack of female protagonists isn't the disease but it is a symptom.
posted by crossoverman at 5:55 AM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


And I'm just saying that I think it's bullshit to equate sexual aggression in a woman with sluttiness, but that's a topic for a completely different thread.

The issue, for me, isn't that she slept around or enjoyed sex, but did it in such a self-absorbed manner, not caring the consequences. Hardly an admirable quality, IMO.

Besides, whoever brought Kara into this outlined why they used her as a yard stick:

Female, brave, competent, not in need of rescue, and fully rounded.

Fully-rounded means she's everything you accuse her of being - she's multi-faceted and she's not just defined by one characteristic or another. But apparently her morals offend you, so she's a bad fictional character? That's a ridiculous double-standard right there


Not really. Starbuck was a damn good character, one of the best put on tv, at least until the sub-par final season. She had several terrible negative traits that make her a less than ideal role model.

- male characters have slept around, perpetuated violence, killed, murdered and are alcoholics (in BSG and elsewhere) but no one suggests that Colonel Tigh or Admiral Adama aren't good male characters because of it. No, Kara Thrace is shat on because she's a woman and apparently all female characters should be "good role models".

I think you're really reaching here. No one is shitting on the character, just disagreeing that she's a role model, mostly because of her self destructive traits and love of killing, which she never grew out of.

If we're picking female role models from BSG, Laura Roslin and Athena are better fits.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:56 AM on June 16, 2009


Amanojaku: How is that not completely contradictory? Also: they shouldn't have to write about anything, period.

It seems to me that an underlying disagreement in this discussion is about the nature and role of fans, which is all that most of us are as critics of Pixar's work. We are just fans having a conversation about an aspect of a body of work that annoys us. Pixar may or may not pay attention to these fan discussions, but the only real power we have is to, at some point in the future, decide that Pixar's product is not worth the annoyance of inflated box office prices and bad cineplex service. I'm not there yet. Attributing powers we don't have as fans, or motives that we've not expressed as fans strikes me as ludicrous.

The meta-problem as I see it is that certain forms of criticism seem to trigger a knee-jerk defensive wank that does not seem to happen with other forms of criticism. You can poke fun at the bad science of Star Trek, or the bad performances of Star Wars until the cows come home. Start talking about gender bias and heterosexism (again in the larger social bias meaning of the term) and we're off the the races with wank about PC, quotas, and wanting to stifle the creative muses of genius artists.

If anything, I think that looking at the way that Lucas coaxes the worst performances from some of the best actors is a harsher criticism of his work than looking at the role of women in his narratives. But that's just me.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:03 AM on June 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


People keep saying, "well, X is a buddy movie, so of course there aren't any females."

Why can't there one of the buddies be female? Are females incapable of forming platonic relationships with males or other females?

But in our culture, it's (nearly)* inconcievable that one of the Monsters, for example, could have been a female monster. Because then she wouldn't be "buddies" with the other.

*yes, I realise this is changing - X-files did the buddy thing well with a female, except for the annoying attempts at tension, and there have been several male/female cop things done well, including a graphic novel about retired super-heroes I'd like to read...

--------------------------------

On preview: NO CHARACTERS ON BSG are very good role-models. Which is just fine, because that stuff is brilliant but scary as shit and I wouldn't let a child under 12 watch it. Actually, my 30 year old husband has already declared it too dark and scary for him to watch.
posted by jb at 7:04 AM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Of course, they shouldn't have to write about anything. No one is suggesting thumb screws. No one is suggesting the entire Pixar canon be ignored. But why not point out a deficiency in their entire range of films. Taking them on a case by case basis, wherein many of them do have strong female characters, isn't a problem. Looking at their entire output and wondering why they couldn't try a female protagonist who isn't a princess seems like a reasonable question to ask. A reasonable suggestion to be made.

Some people thinks it's absurd to call that a flaw or deficiency. Others do not. The Pixar stories work wonderfully. I don't see a flaw but I'm fine with others seeing flaws, it's just a different point of view, as is mine.

And if we could point to another animation studio that regularly puts out films which centre on strong female characters, we would. People have pointed out Studio Ghibli puts out a better balance of male and female protagonists, but the two studios are hardly in the same league - and they tell different kinds of stories.

There's this example, but they don't count. Wonderful.
posted by juiceCake at 7:09 AM on June 16, 2009


Hey, I'm just naive enough to believe that artists make decisions for reasons, possibly more so at Pixar than at other places.

Yeah, and one of those reasons just might be that Pixar, like most other story creators in our society, have not questioned that male=default.

I've been a creative artist, I've made the decisions - and I'll tell you, I didn't think through EVERY decision. Gender of characters is something I tend to think about, but I don't think about their race, for example. In fact, I have defaulted to white characters in everything I have ever written. That was not an artistic choice - there was nothing about the race of the characters that was important to the story. It's an example not of racism, but of racial laziness on my part. In fact, just thinking about this is making me think that the next time I write a story, I'll question my white=default/normal habit, because it's not really a reflection of the world I live in.

That's what the critics are asking Pixar to do - to question their own male=default/normal habit. And it's a damn important thing for them (and all creative artists) to do.
posted by jb at 8:08 AM on June 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


How is having ungendered dogs that might be female, if they spoke, which they don't, better than, or even different than, having no female dogs at all?

1. Muntz is roughly 100 years old. What would make him, living essentially alone in Venezuela for the last 70 years, into women's rights? Assuming he'd create some equal mix of male/female voices is a bit much.

2. If you have one or two female-voiced dogs, it's tokenism. If you have too many female-voiced dogs, then you have aggressive women attacking Carl and Russell -- and then people would complain about misogyny.

3. The dogs serve the purpose of stormtroopers here. Whether or not they're male or female voiced is pointless; what's important is that they are the Henchmen, and they have flaws that can be exploited.
posted by dw at 8:22 AM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Linda Holmes argues with every intention of restoring dignity to storytelling, but I think she has quite forgotten the dignities of myth. I hope to write something in defense of the Princess and the Queen.

“I have nothing against princesses. I have nothing against movies with princesses. But don't the Disney princesses pretty much have us covered?”

Holmes’ mistake is in trusting the Disney model more than Pixar itself does:

The Bear And The Bow: The film, Pixar's first fairy tale, is a combination of Brenda Chapman's love of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, as well as a reflection on raising her daughter. (wiki)

To begin with, Holmes is partially right; Disneyland does indeed have us covered. Grimm is the plot over which it was spread.

There is still an undeniable magic in the Magic Kingdom. Disney has tapped the black forests for an essential pitch dark; in the mines of the Dwarves, they have found something hard enough to grind the lenses of their Technicolor; in Snow White, something bleached enough to chill. In some scenes she is almost negative space, undrawn, overexposed. And the rotoscoping is eerie. In some ways it is slicker, more freehand and alive, than anything else they’ve done. But the formula is still off, they’ve burnt the transfer, let in too much sun. The real story of Schneewittchen ends with a dance to the death, a pagan and lethal rite of returning spring. This is obviously too nightmarish, too metal, for anything but German children, but it completes a symmetry left open - Snow White follows a progression that ends in a Queen, and her aged predecessor is physically replaced with something she saw in a mirror. Eerie, but more on the evolution of Queens later.

(Bambi’s mother - not Snow White - survives still as Disney’s most real, most persistent, image of death. And it comes offscreen, announced by a modern and universal declarative: gunshot.)

A blinking 20th-century realism has, in other ways, finished what the cartoons started. A thousand pages on the Freudian underpinnings of Grimm, and Freud is now the able cartographer of your dreams. Disney sells the tickets. Realism has uncovered the bones, told us the volume of their crowns, buried Troy by locating it. The psychologist proves that the common person is the residence of myth and royalty - Oedipus, Electra. And Arthur Miller proves unquestionably that any head is worthy of great tragedy.

And this is all very sensible - and so why might it matter at all that Hamlet is a prince? Or that Lear is a King? Why not discard or update it as costume, a dramaturgy rather than drama?

It might matter if royalty were to actually signify something; and in a Western tradition with its roots still sunk in allegory, it is improbable that it does not. The “discarded images” of the Middle Ages have proved most difficult to discard. Kings and Queens aren’t just that. Since the fourteenth century, the King and Queen have appeared comfortably intermingled with numbers on our playing cards. These concepts, these stations, are as solid as fixed values, and more enduring than the Staves and Cups, and all the devils, hanging men, inversions and weird etcetera of the tarot.

There is a certain low drama among the face cards. In early decks they might be mapped explicitly to the Greek gods, to real or mythological courts. A game of cards could thus represent a set of states, positions, on fortune’s wheel - from king to hanging man, and back. A drawing of cards thus plots a kind of a ricochet story. The pieces of board games, like chess, and card games, take on certain human states, and stories play out in the miniature of paper and plastic. This is the natural connect between game, and art, and divination, a system that girds a literature, an automatic telling. We shuffle a court, deal out a nursery rhyme, take fate in our hands.

Okay, this is magical reasoning, but it can yield immediate (and minor) insight to Shakespeare. He was, of course, somewhat particular about the roles of Joker, Fool, Queen, King.

I had a teacher who offered Hamlet, Macbeth, and Lear as the three stages of man, youth to age. Sure, okay. But we can also look at them as an ascent from the Jack - the knave, from knabe, boy - to King. The Queen stands between, and the Fool is, as always, detached, wild, immutable - he may be the secret king, and the King Hamlet’s “thing of nothing.”

Hamlet is properly a Prince because his primary relation is to father, to bloodline. This oath to a dead King forces interaction with the living Queen and King, but the whole is driven by a conversation - real or imagined - between father and son.

Macbeth is a figure in transition; he crosses from mere soldier to King. And Macbeth’s defining relations are to women - to his Lady, and to a circle of fates, a trilogy. Call them the Moriae, the Parcae, the Norns, or Badb, Macha, and Morrigan. Witches in packs of three are precedented things. It is through this trifold Queen, and her particular tarot, her telling, that Macbeth’s ambition is called into being, or activated.

For Lear, the king, the end, it remains only to relate back to his offspring, unless through some fugue he can become the Fool. He is Hamlet backwards; a ghost of a father seeking his kin.

These are admittedly simple and imperfect insights, but enough to show that title - Fool, King, Queen - is not completely irrelevant. It can be nearly as regular as a move in a game. We can (as so many adaptations do) lay Elizabethan tragedy onto a modern brow, but there is a certain weight in the missing crown.


So what does the Princess do? What role is allotted for her?

A most central and profound role: waking up. The horror of sexual awakening, or the jolt of knowledge, or the hypnic start of sleepwalking into new worlds.

The Princess is a transgressive figure. She is adamantly and yet indecisively somewhere between girl and woman, caution and command. She interacts with mirrors, and occasionally steps through them. Like Lewis' Queen of Drum, she is an oneironaut, capable of being transported to other places in dreams. Because she is called to and recalled from other worlds instantaneously, she may be given the horrific task of completing Odysseys’ journey in a single, halting step - bang, picked up by a Kansas twister, set down in the shoes of some great Witch. More often than men, she will assume the roles of either gender - whether ‘unsexed’ like a St Joan, or reversed as Rosalind.

We might find an original type in Eve, who - bit by some coiled logic, and choosing to bite - unfurled the entirety of knowledge in an instant. But there also Dornroschen, or Sleeping Beauty, bitten by a spool of thread at fifteen, and frozen there. She is the Princess constructed minimally and pure: she awakens. That is her only task.

Of course, there is some direction to Princess stories - a fixed end, a Queen, towards which they advance. There can only be so many awakenings until some final eye is opened, so many shadowlands until the light is found.

Schneewitchen, Snow White, actually weaves a number of Princess tropes around two Queens. One, the stepmother, is descendant; the daughter, ascendant. The aspects of the Princess are distributed freely among its characters. There’s a pricked finger - the mother, who conceives and then dies. There’s dialogues and visions that take place in a mirror - in these, the stepmother envisions the new queen who is to take her place. There’s a poisoned fruit - which the daughter eats - and then a deep winter trance, and then her essential awakening. This is a balanced story told across the plane of a mirror: the diminishing of the old, the advance of the young. You might suspect - as with Tieck’s Der Blonde Eckbert - that the story is of only one character, one nature or one year, permuted into seasons. That it begins and ends with a Queen makes it tempting to read as cyclical and annual.

There is another character who notably becomes Queen, and whom I find to be the more compelling symphony of these tropes. What Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (or Lewis Carroll) found in his intense fascination with youth and physical maturity (or immaturity), with the rigor (and whimsy) of mathematics, and with the miniature drama of chessmen and playing cards, he assembles into the modern sphinx of Alice. I would argue that, at least in her satisfaction of the Princess’ many roles, she is among the most unique and memorable characters in modern literature. Most interestingly, she hits these many notes - and does so believably - while somehow avoiding tragedy. This, I think, is her success.

Consider: she stands poised in a curious half-girlhood. She slips down rabbit holes and behind mirrors to find skewed representations of the real. She experiments with hallucinogens, grows to Gulliver’s extremes. She is dealt monarchy in the guise of playing cards - the Queen, King, and Knave of Hearts, armies of numbers. She keeps her head. And she follows a parody of chess maneuvers past monochrome courts and into the back rank The journey of Alice is an orderly procession of nonsense and games, and culminates logically in a promotion to Queen. Carroll’s universe is as nonsensical as it is mathematical and causal, filled to the limits and with the limits. If a Virgil was necessary to count the rings of hell and its symmetrical heavens, Carroll counts the halos of our catepillar smoke, and the contradictions of our tweedledum punditry. Our living punishments. He is (next to a certain talking book for hitchhikers) among the most recognizable of guides to absurdism, to the monsters and arbiters of nonsense, to the egghead orators - to the modern world.

The expressionism that gives us Alice is not at all a dead tradition, and part of this is because of Alice. She is an excellent ambassador of the Princess and the Queen to writers of every tradition. Hell, Pan’s Labyrinth is uncorked from this same stuff:

Watching the film, the brain goes “Goya!” but in the context of the scene, it surpasses quotation. “It doesn’t get in the way, no. Well, y’know, the movie is full of quotations. For example, many fairytales. It quotes Hans Christian Andersen, it quotes ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ it quotes The Red Shoes, The Wizard of Oz, many, many, many fairytales. And even Charles Dickens is quoted in the movie. When she first meets the stepfather, and he says, ‘It’s the other hand, Ofelia,’ that is straight out of, I think, chapter three in ‘David Copperfield,’ […] If you wanna see it, it’s there. It’s unabashedly a quote, like the dress of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in Pan’s Labyrinth. [here]

The movie opens with a fairy tale. Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a young girl who loves to read, lies on the ground, bleeding, while the narration explains that Princess Moanna of the Underground Realm, curious about the world above, escapes to the Earth, where the sun blinds her and, forgetting her past, she weakens and dies. Nonetheless, her father retains hope that her spirit will eventually return to him.

This is very much a “Princess story.” But then there’s the Goya: it is also a story of a very military Saturn, or a very clockwork Chronos, devouring his sons, forever. In answer to this it offers only the Princess, only a sleepwalk through a maze of nightmare and war and death, only an imagined birthright and its chance paradise. How else to access something so secret as to be untroubled by war and time?

I would invite Holmes to weigh in on this - has Disney given us that? Have we had enough of the Princess?

Spirited Away is a Princess story, too. Even if some part of this myth was once consciously Germanic, it has already splintered, diffused into the global cauldron of myth. It is impossible to calculate what role Alice and Carroll played in this. Rabbit-holes and “eat-me” shrooms are, among other things, the precursors to Mario.

And so those more inclined to matters of Real Importance, and with Critical Essays to write, and Progressive Ends to meet, might ask the Political Questions about whether the Queen is good or not, as a role model or otherwise. But it doesn’t really matter to say that it’s good; it suffices that it is powerful, and summons the imagination, and underpins stories. The good proceeds from there. Any enduring form or mythos only does so because it invites the best efforts from both writer and reader. It exists at our suffrage - like any sovereign. We have it by the throat. And just so it is appropriate for this trope to take the title of Queen. It is, I think, a proper coronation of a myth. And it is singular that, while our machines and spacemen can walk on the faces of dead worlds, we look to girls at the edge of womanhood to find certain living ones. We make the Queen the most maneuverable piece on the board.

Also, someone above has apparently warned you all of the Male Gaze. This phrase is so awful and so Monster Manual that I taste Mountain Dew in its syllables. Now save versus wands against my beholder.
posted by kid ichorous at 8:44 AM on June 16, 2009 [10 favorites]


dw: 1. Muntz is roughly 100 years old. What would make him, living essentially alone in Venezuela for the last 70 years, into women's rights? Assuming he'd create some equal mix of male/female voices is a bit much.

Why is the assumption that it would have anything to do with women's rights rather than the general fact that most people, especially pet-owners tend to use properly gendered pronouns in talking about their pets? Sure, he could do so, but it would conflict with how his character is established as a pet-lover, how the devices are established as reflecting, to some degree, the personality of the dogs, and especially the entire premise that he's ruler of an ersatz civilization.

dw: 2. If you have one or two female-voiced dogs, it's tokenism. If you have too many female-voiced dogs, then you have aggressive women attacking Carl and Russell -- and then people would complain about misogyny.

Nonsense. All of the dogs are voiced by three actors. One of three certainly wouldn't be tokenism, and it would mitigate the impression that Kevin is gendered female as a token. The argument that people wouldn't be satisfied if given a suggested change is nothing more than an ad hom., and rather beneath you.

dw: 3. The dogs serve the purpose of stormtroopers here. Whether or not they're male or female voiced is pointless; what's important is that they are the Henchmen, and they have flaws that can be exploited.

Certainly, and there are a ton of unpacked gender bias behind the assumption that henchmen are necessarily male or male by default. It's interesting to note that Lucas retconned his world around this very problem by proposing that all of the stormtroopers are clones of Jango Fett. But back to [i]Up[/i] the rather lazy use of a literary trope without thinking through the logic of the setting and characterization is a flaw, in what is otherwise a fairly well-done movie.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:51 AM on June 16, 2009


But Dory is the only one coming to mind where it's just a female as a random normal person in the world, rather than a mother/wife/daughter/girlfriend of the protagonist. (No, Edna too!) I'm serious that it would be a majorly pleasing step to have some of the background goofball characters be female.

This is what I keep coming back to as well, when I think about this. Dory is hands-down my all-time favorite Pixar character, and I think the fact that she's almost gender-neutral is part of that. I had to really think about what clues tell us for sure that she's female, other than Ellen's voice, and that basically amounts to the big group of fish saying "let the lady guess" and the incidental third-person "she" here or there.

The secondary and tertiary characters of Pixar films are overwhelmingly gender-neutral in how they look, by virtue of their being toys, insects, fish, cars, and robots. And they're mostly gender-neutral in how they act as well. And their genders are rarely referred to at all. But I can only think of a few that are voiced by women--Dory, Peach, Nemo's octopus friend, ummm? I'd say Roz but I think there's a moment where she flirts with Mike and he's disgusted by the idea. All the female-voiced cars have male-car love interests. And I can't remember the Bug's Life characters well enough to say. But the rest are all voiced by men for no apparent reason other than neutral seems to equal male, which is a common problem in children's entertainment.

I have the same criticism of my beloved (beloved!) Sesame Street Muppets. Their most popular character, Elmo, is essentially gender-neutral, and I think that's one of the things that gives him such a wide appeal to toddlers, but he's incidentally male. Big Bird, Grover, Telly, Baby Bear--same. Then you have the female ones. Zoe would be gender-neutral except that she wears barrettes and jewelry all the time and often also a pink tutu. And Abby is a fairy. Only Rosita seems to be both female and mostly gender-neutral. It's a start. But I'd love to see a character that has a look and manner as truly neutral as Elmo but with a female voice/creator behind it.

For the first section of Wall-E, when we've only heard Wall-E's voice, I was excitedly hoping that they were going to do a love story between two robots that never get assigned genders. Which I still think would have been effing great.

I know! On one hand, it's really cool how close they actually came to making them both totally genderless. On the other...so close!
posted by lampoil at 9:05 AM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


“If you don't really care to address me or my responses, smedleyman, could I respectfully ask that you stop responding to me, even to complain about how tedious they are?”
/rant
Not my point man. I’ll fully grant hyperbole in my responses. Whether that’s a failing or not, I can see how it can distort what I’m trying to say or distract from it. So yeah, that part of it is fully my fault no question. I wouldn’t want to have to completely formalize everything I say though so I wind up sounding like some academic or humorless robot or something. But I’ll try to be more careful. That said, I’d appreciate simply having an accurate response, which means reading and accurately representing the gist of what I’m trying to say or at least recognizing error in that when it occurs – as a perfect example: KirkJobSluder said something I took as insulting. He explained that it was in fact a compliment. I recognized my mistake in taking his meaning.

It’s really that simple. Tedium occurs when one contends with someone who is not contesting a given point. I think that too occurred between KirkJobSluder and myself, in that case I’d say the miscommunication was mutual – his point being a criticism of what appeared to be my point but wasn’t, and my error in not being more clear and concise that I was exploring a perspective more than leveling a more serious argument.

I enjoy having my points addressed, as long as they’re represented properly. If they’re not, I clarify. If I have to repeatedly clarify that points to my perhaps failure in communication, but I’d think repeated revision and shaping would reveal a more accurate picture of what I’m trying to say. I don’t mind that process. I enjoy coming to terms over an idea as, I think, I did with KirkJobSluder. When I more fully grasped what he was saying I took his point as well as further clarified my own such that I think we mostly agree. Different terms perhaps, and I’m speaking from a less informed position. But I think it’s only a difference of perspective rather than actual contention.

What I don’t enjoy is having to go back and go over all of it again and again. I said you were misrepresenting my point. You apparently don’t want to hear about it or recognize that a miscommunication occurred – whether it’s my failure in clarity or your failure to read, same practical upshot. Now you’re saying I should take a hike. That doesn’t seem like that would frustrate you?
/end rant

“I want to see a Pixar hero who is basically a young Starbuck”

Funny, I read this as a Moby Dick reference. BSG makes more sense. Not that I’m qualified to comment on it.

“The Pixar movie is about a princess, which apparently is the default role for a girl in the lead of an animated film.”

Yeah, but it’s written and directed by a woman. And again, only the 3rd female director – etc. I get the wistful pleading. It just rings like an African American c.1964 asking why Jews aren’t doing more for the civil rights movement.
Oh, sure, they made up half of the white northern volunteers and more than half of the southern civil rights attorneys, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was side by side with MLK in the march on Selma, but why aren’t Jews inviting blacks to marry their sisters? It's just a naturally charged issue.
I get that it’s not unreasonable to ask the leading group to do more, but let’s recognize at least the environment they’re in and that they’re way out front. I mean, 1964 black folks were still ‘negros.’ That’s the environment. A Jew in 1964 who says he’s for civil rights for negros isn’t an obstructionist.
2009 Hollywood – female leads are princesses. Pixar has done oodles of strong female characters and hell, it’s not even really criticism in the OP. It is just a wistful yearning. Ok, fair enough. But it'd be nice at least to touch on the fact that Pixar is way way out front, has a female director and that perhaps their progress on the matter is being retarded by something other than their own failings in creativity – which is, to my mind, the structure of the Hollywood system.

Should be more female leads. I agree. Why isn’t there? I don’t think one can point to Pixar as the hold up – whatever criticism, and however valid it might be, that can be leveled at their work.
Further – they are a boys club, ok. Why’s that? Again, the confluence that leads to that is not internal company decision making (or at least I’d suspect it isn’t - Pixar is the – only – company with a female director directing an animated film in 80 years (or 25 years if you count Care Bears)) but rather a product of the environment they’re in.

The question shouldn’t only be why isn’t Pixar producing more animated features with female leads that aren’t princesses, but why aren’t other companies? Why doesn't society as a whole prize this like any other good story?
In this case, why is the author of the OP lamenting it isn’t coming from Pixar?
Well, by her own statement – precisely because Pixar *is* at the forefront.
Thus – some of the knee jerking in response* because why (getting away from the OP) criticize the folks doing the most, first? Or without recognizing the greater environment? Etc.

(*the crazy stuff aside)

Not that they shouldn’t “to question their own male=default/normal habit” of course.
But again, however warranted the criticism, recognize what a morass there is socially and economically in their environment (and the larger environment as a whole) and the effect it has on them (and that's as well as, not instead of). It’s not like they’re in isolation.

And there again - Spirited Away gets made - it's dubbed for the U.S. by Lasseter from Pixar. So the criticism just seems unfair placed where it is. And again, why does Holmes want it from Pixar? Because therein lay the best chance of getting a solid female lead: "So I'm not complaining; I'm asking. I'm asking because I think so highly of you."
posted by Smedleyman at 9:28 AM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]



Obiwanwasabi, who has been opressed by female-centric animated feature films for decades

Obiwanwasabi, it's kind of pathetic that you can't tell the difference between someone saying "I'm oppressed by Pixar's male-centric films" and "Pixar's films would be more interesting and realistic if they had more main characters who are female."
posted by straight at 9:36 AM on June 16, 2009


Certainly, and there are a ton of unpacked gender bias behind the assumption that henchmen are necessarily male or male by default.

No there isn't it. You speak of logic and how dog packs are in the real world and then you want them to present a mixed set bunch of henchman. It's not a bias, it's a convention.
posted by juiceCake at 10:07 AM on June 16, 2009


juiceCake: No there isn't it. You speak of logic and how dog packs are in the real world and then you want them to present a mixed set bunch of henchman. It's not a bias, it's a convention.

Why should henchmen be necessarily male or male by default when it contradicts the logic of the setting as described by the work?

Narrative conventions are frequently biased in regards to gender. Saying "it's just a convention" is a rather insipid and lazy cop-out.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:27 AM on June 16, 2009


Pixar is not being consciously sexist, but is rather creating great work in a mindset which is absent-mindedly sexist, and as has been said above, views "male" to be equal to "gender-nuetral."

Consciously sexist of absent-mindedly sexist: end result is the same. The first I don't attribute to Pixar, really, but the second I most certainly do, and for whatever reason-- market demographics, box-office whatever, laziness-- it looks the same in the end.

I'd love for Pixar to give us a Spirited Away. The thing is that they are so obviously capable of it, but choose not to. That's the problem.

And I disliked Lee Adama. Spoiled, petulant, selfish Lee Adama.
posted by jokeefe at 10:41 AM on June 16, 2009


To use an example, Spielberg can certainly get a pass for making most of his Nazis male, because most historic Nazi soldiers were, in fact, male.

For George Romero it makes no sense to have almost all of his zombies be male, when the entire premise of the setting is that the dead of our humdrum human reality have come to life.

In Up the whole premise of that plot twist is that the pack exploded in population from the handful of animals Muntz brought with him. As dogs don't grow from cuttings or parthenogenesis, something funky is going on that all of them appear to be male.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:01 AM on June 16, 2009


dw: 2. If you have one or two female-voiced dogs, it's tokenism. If you have too many female-voiced dogs, then you have aggressive women attacking Carl and Russell -- and then people would complain about misogyny.

There are three spotted hyenas in The Lion King, and one of them is voiced by Whoopie Goldberg. I'm sorry, but your arguments for why there can't be one dog with a female voice just, in general, sound like an apologia rather than a compelling series of reasons for why all the dogs are gendered male. They are not stormtroopers, who are all clones, anyway. The three vocalized dogs serve similar functions to Shenzi, Banzai and Ed, and yet Disney somehow was able to figure out a way to make one of those characters female. Further, Shenzi's character is not defined by her femaleness; she just happens to be voiced by a woman.

I can't believe that Disney can manage this and Pixar can't, and I am likewise astounded by the hue and cry that has gone up in this thread when a very reasonable request for a tiny amount of gender parity from a major studio has been made. Based on the fact that some of it has been quite over the top, and has mischaracterized the request, I suspect a lot more is going on here, and that might be something worth taking a look at.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:06 AM on June 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


There are three spotted hyenas in The Lion King, and one of them is voiced by Whoopie Goldberg.

I've heard similar numbers called tokenism, in relation to other works.

They are not stormtroopers, who are all clones, anyway.

Male clones.

/pedant
posted by AdamCSnider at 11:26 AM on June 16, 2009


That being said, I'd like to think it's motivated by people really, really liking Pixar, and not wanting them to get ruined by being beholden to political correctness. But THAT being said, it's hard not to read the tone of some of these contents as being more angered by the request for a femal lead than the request would seem to warrent. That might be a question of tone, rather than people responding with reflexive sexism, but I am not the first person in this thread to read it that way, and I don't think it's just because me and a few others are unreasonable and overread into comments.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:29 AM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


but the two studios [Studio Ghibli and Pixar] are hardly in the same league - and they tell different kinds of stories.

Sorry, but I was wondering if you would clarify this comment. How are they in different leagues? Studio Ghibli films are higher quality than Pixar? Pixar's are more profitable than Ghibli's? I think they are very much in each others' league - Ghibli might not have sales as large as Pixar's (or maybe they do - I think I heard that Spirited Away was the highest grossing film ever in Japan), but they are just as influential as each other.

I also don't think that they tell radically different stories - both tell imaginative and complex children's/all ages stories, with strong elements of fantasy and world creation, but also strong character development and humour. Perhaps one could argue that Miyasaki (and his very distinctive interests and style) dominates Studio Ghibli in a way that no one person dominates Pixar, but perhaps one of Studio Ghibli's most important films is Grave of the Fireflies, directed by Isao Takahata (his Only Yesterday is really good too - and I really want to see Pom Poko).
posted by jb at 11:33 AM on June 16, 2009


AZ: Based on the fact that some of it has been quite over the top, and has mischaracterized the request, I suspect a lot more is going on here, and that might be something worth taking a look at.

It strikes me as very similar to the wank that develops among gamers regarding gender representation. It's perfectly kosher to say that certain character models look like shit because of the low triangle count and ugly texture, and talking about issues of game balance are very well accepted, but talk about design decisions like armor bikinis and you find yourself in a virtual Noah's deluge of bullshit.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:35 AM on June 16, 2009


There are three spotted hyenas in The Lion King, and one of them is voiced by Whoopie Goldberg. [...] I can't believe that Disney can manage this and Pixar can't

Brenda Chapman, writer and director for the upcoming The Bear and the Bow, is also credited as the lead writer for Lion King. Even if whatever distinguishes the Lion King from Up is not Chapman's hand, it is now at least harder to casually separate the Pixar and the Disney.

I haven't the slightest idea how to read the crazy tea of Chapman's output: The Real Ghostbusters (!), Cars, Heathcliff, Beauty and the Beast, Rock n' Wrestling (?). This is Tori Amos meets WWF. It could be amazing. But especially since the upcoming movie represents a double-down on Chapman's skills as director and writer, I think it's far too early to hazard a guess.

And, again, Holmes' vague protestations at the eidos and telos of Princess do make sense, so long as we're mired in the strict vocabulary of Disney; by Chapman's own accounts, she's not going for that. Any vote against the wider class of Princess is a vote against the best of Miozaki, or, hell, Ovid.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:53 AM on June 16, 2009


*Miyazaki
posted by kid ichorous at 11:55 AM on June 16, 2009


All I want to add to this thread is to say that I think Kara Thrace is one of the worst characters ever.

As the show progressed I kept expecting to see Laurel Hamilton with a writing credit. Thrace is the best pilot, she's the best shooter/sniper, she's an outstanding pugilist, she's an artist, she's a musician, she's on a Mission from God, lots of the alpha males -- good and bad -- want to sleep with her or possess her or are extremely protective of her. So, to sum up, she's got a bunch of powers--gaining some as the narrative goes along -- and she's the most desired woman (not all of it sexual desire) in her fictional universe. Yep, sounds a lot like Anita "Mary Sue" Blake.

BSG has many admirable and even realistically written and portrayed female characters, but Starbuck ain't one of 'em.
posted by lord_wolf at 12:00 PM on June 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'd like to see even just more female incidental speaking characters in Pixar movies.

When I saw Ratatouille, it felt like watching the Smurfs or reading Tintin. All of the main characters except one are male - OK, upscale kitchens can be pretty gender-segregated and Colette points out that problem.

But ALL of the speaking rats are male? And the health inspector? And the lawyer? And the food critic? And the restaurant waiter? And the guy who narrates Gusteau's story on TV? The little old lady in her house sparked things at the beginning of the movie, but I can't even remember if she had a name or any speaking lines.
posted by cadge at 12:04 PM on June 16, 2009


People keep saying, "well, X is a buddy movie, so of course there aren't any females." Why can't there one of the buddies be female? Are females incapable of forming platonic relationships with males or other females?

My daughter is reading the Ivy and Bean books. Kiddish but very funny, I recommend them for adults too. And they are a great female buddy pair.
posted by msalt at 12:46 PM on June 16, 2009


Yes, if all of Disney's animated films had a character list like the very heavily male Lion King, the use of a few female sidekicks here and there would be considered not particularly impressive. This is pretty much the argument about the characters in Pixar: they occasionally toss in a single female, but mostly just make all their characters male unless there's some good reason not to. It's not objectionable for any single movie to have a heavily male cast, even down to the sidekicks, it's the weight of all of them put together.

One of their shorts (Lifted, shown before Ratatouille) was about a cute little alien teen being taught how to fly a spaceship, and screwing it up massively. There were exactly zero cues about whether the characters were male or female. Great! Until the credits, where the aliens were Stu and Mr. B.

I have never quite decided whether Starbuck or Apollo is a more Mary Sue-ish character. But at least Starbuck was sometimes interesting. I also thought that her relationship with Sam Anders was open, like the Saul/Ellen one.
posted by jeather at 12:59 PM on June 16, 2009


Interesting, a little disturbing, and definitely timely given this thread: Dina Goldstein's Fallen Princesses photo essay. It's what might one call "after the Happily Ever After." (via)
posted by shiu mai baby at 1:19 PM on June 16, 2009


So, uh, about that Rand orgy...
posted by rand at 1:22 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd be all for Pixar making a film with a female lead character that didn't have a load of nods to the audience to the effect that "LOL it's a GIRL HERO", the narrative equivalent of pink. I think it's a pretty high compliment that anyone would expect them to do it, given that it's a higher standard of gender equality than we hold the real world to (for example, the media representation of female scientists).

I understand that there's an infinite pool of stories, and that if 1% are good, and 50% feature male protagonists, and Pixar sticks to that 0.5%, they still have a larger pool of movies than they could ever hope to make. I guess if their thing was making only films about talking animals, they could still churn out plenty of smart funny films. Some people would say "why don't you extend your range a bit - you could do something about robots, or toys, or even humans", and the response could well be, "we don't want to, we like animals". It would be frustrating, but fair enough, like when a talented actor goes for the hack gigs, or gets typecast as the X guy.

The evidence suggests that Pixar aren't hacks though, and they don't seem to want to be typecast. Their films are thematically pretty varied, their characters well rounded. They created every polygon that makes Russell look Asian, and didn't make anything of it in the film. Assuming they don't consciously think "girls can't be heroes", they have an inadvertent case of inattentive sexism when casting lead roles, which they appear to be addressing. I expect (and hope) that people will criticise how that film represents its female lead. I hope that a load of kids* get the message that being a princess isn't inherently interesting, and being a girl isn't inherently being either passive or a supporting role.

Basically, Pixar are good enough to help change the default, and smart enough to realise it, and innovative enough to change. Which is why people are criticising them, rather than rolling their eyes and moving on.

* Hi to any of those kids reading this in historical archives, I hope that the underrepresentation of females in our films looks as quaint to you as blaxploitation does to us. If not, keep at it!
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 1:29 PM on June 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm washing my hands of this trainwreck. But here's an FPP from the future:

Merida Shot First
December 1, 2011 2:24 PM

Ladbrokes has installed The Bear And The Bow, Pixar's long-awaited "female" film, as the 1-9 favorite to win Best Picture. Spirited Away director Hayao Miyazaki has hailed it as "the best film I have ever seen... I wish that my films were half what this film was." CalArts reports that they have received over 15,000 application requests from women since the film opened on Friday. Clarence Thomas was so moved by the film that he penned an apology to Anita Hill that was run in today's Washington Times. Is this movie the greatest ever made?

posted by RustyShackelford (1276 comments total) [add to favorites] 57 users marked this as a favorite [!]

You would think that a company as good as Pixar would be enlightened enough to include more South Asian characters in this movie.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:28 PM on December 1 [2 favorites +] [!]

You would think that a company as good as Pixar would be enlightened enough to include more South Asian characters in this movie.

The movie was set in SCOTLAND in the 1300s.
posted by dw at 2:29 PM on December 1 [+] [!]

So? Surely Pixar could have included some Indians. And gays.

And a bear? I thought we were at war with Russia.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:29 PM on December 1 [17 favorites +] [!]
posted by dw at 2:23 PM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think they are very much in each others' league - Ghibli might not have sales as large as Pixar's (or maybe they do - I think I heard that Spirited Away was the highest grossing film ever in Japan), but they are just as influential as each other.

Well, it depends what you mean by influential. To other animation artists - sure. To the vast majority of Pixar viewers, though, Ghibli is an unknown quantity. Unless they've seen the revoiced Princess Mononoke. (Uh oh, she's a princess! Get her!)

If we are talking about female characters being necessary for girls to be able to see lead female characters, Pixar v Ghibli is a completely unlevel playing field. It's not about quanlity but market penetration.

Someone suggested I think this means "Ghibli doesn't count". Far from it. But noticing that Pixar - a world wide brand name - doesn't have lead female characters and then pointing to Ghibili - a well-known animation house amongst cartoon afficiandos - and suggesting this means an overall balance in animated female characters is a bit ridiculous.

However, Pixar might learn a thing or two from Ghibli. I just am not sure if they have - yet.
posted by crossoverman at 2:41 PM on June 16, 2009


Dina Goldstein's Fallen Princesses photo essay. It's what might one call "after the Happily Ever After." (via)

I began to imagine Disney's perfect Princesses juxtaposed with real issues that were affecting women around me, such as illness, addiction and self-image issues.

What a load of rotten crap. "Not so Little" Riding Hood, a tone-deaf, insensible photograph from a woman who cares about "self-image issues." Laughable! How in the world does that tale have anything whatever to do with obesity, and why shoehorn them in together if not just to make a LOL Fatties art photo? ...and THIS. THIS... re-essentializing, re-oversexualizing, flaccid attempt at political art. What the fuck is that purple camo bullshit? Man, there's much worse out there than Pixar, friends.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:48 PM on June 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


But ALL of the speaking rats are male?

Yes! Actually Ratatouille was just as much an opportunity as Wall-E to have a gender-neutral or incidentally female protagonist. Remy could have been voiced by a woman, easily. He even has an androgynous name. There isn't anything about his personality that would seem either offensive to women or pandering to women if he were female. The story establishes that it's tough for a woman to get ahead in a professional kitchen--well, try being female AND A RAT!

(I don't know, the philosophy/lesson behind that movie is murky to me, as fascinated as I was with how it simultaneously made me feel nauseated and ravenous. I guess if you saw part of the lesson as EVEN A RAT can get ahead in a professional kitchen faster than a human woman if the rat's male, then having him be male matters. But that's not what I took away from it. And even then it's really Linguini's maleness that matters. And also there's the ever so slight possibility that I'm overthinking this).
posted by lampoil at 3:02 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fully-rounded means she's everything you accuse her of being - she's multi-faceted and she's not just defined by one characteristic or another. But apparently her morals offend you, so she's a bad fictional character? That's a ridiculous double-standard right there - male characters have slept around, perpetuated violence, killed, murdered and are alcoholics (in BSG and elsewhere) but no one suggests that Colonel Tigh or Admiral Adama aren't good male characters because of it. No, Kara Thrace is shat on because she's a woman and apparently all female characters should be "good role models".

Double standard? Her morals offend me? What in the hell are you talking about. You're just making strawman after strawman shit up. I guess some people are REALLY invested in BSG. Jesus Christ. We are talking about the context of role models here. It's what this entire thread has been about. Not dark soul of gender politics in Battle-Fucking-Star Galictica. Okay?

Again you REALLY think "A Young Kara Thrace" type would be an excellent "well rounded" female character in an animated Pixar kids film? And you wonder why I think there might be some controversy concerning your tastes and choices?

All I want to add to this thread is to say that I think Kara Thrace is one of the worst characters ever.

Amen. Kara Thrace was so poorly fleshed she nearly poisoned the last season and about ruined the last episode. And the idea that she be some sort of template for A Complete Female Character is laughably absurd since she was just another unconvincing Waif-Bad-Ass with nothing uniquely "female" about her and played by a sub-standard D-list actress. This demonstrates so clearly why one persons vision is so different from another. And thus why everybody demanding more female lead characters in kids films should GO OUT AND WRITE THEIR OWN DAMN SCREEN PLAY instead of trying to retrofit another persons vision.

That's what needs to happen. Flood producers with scripts you want to see. Go make your own movies.
posted by tkchrist at 3:04 PM on June 16, 2009


Don't you think we know that there's "much worse out there"? That's not the point.

Bad media images of females are a widespread problem, yes.
Pixar does quite a good job when they have a female character.
Pixar makes terrific movies that we love and care about.
Pixar does a lot of things right and we like them.

Here we are talking about a weird thing we've noticed, namely that they haven't yet had a female solo lead (though they're gonna), and their incidental background characters are 90% male (or whatever). How weird, given that in most cases those characters would be equally good and fit the story and so on if they were female. (Since the world of these movies does have females in it, unlike dw's bizarro specious example about including Indians in medieval Scotland.)

Golly, it would be nice if Pixar were better about this, since they do much else really well and we love them so.

WTH is so upsetting about this, I can't fathom.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:07 PM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


One film with a female director and a female protagonist is a start. Where's the harm in seeking a better balance?

This is another strawman. There is no harm in seeking a better gender balance. In fact there is a great deal of good in it. I never said otherwise. in factt I said quite the opposite.

But if your conception of that balance in kids films is a charachter like Kara Thrace? Well. I question your ability to conceptualize very completely. And I question your ability to even abstractly predict the negative controversy such a film would draw from our peers who are hoping for just such a balance.
posted by tkchrist at 3:20 PM on June 16, 2009


WTH is so upsetting about this, I can't fathom.

I don't think anybody but DW is "upset" about this. So I don't know who you are talking to.
posted by tkchrist at 3:21 PM on June 16, 2009


For the record, I started the Starbuck-as-heroine thread, and here were my exact words:

I want to see a Pixar hero who is basically a young Starbuck from the new BSG. Female, brave, competent, not in need of rescue, and fully rounded.

Now, I'm sorry that the end point of that character's story arc somehow eliminates the overall archetype of being resonant for you. Personally, I'm not at all invested in BSG (I think it's meant to justify right-wing post-9/11 paranoia, and I won't participate in that), but if you're taking that suggestion as a literal desire to see the Young Kara Thrace Chronicles appear as a movie, you're missing the point.

The point being, she is female, brave, competent, not in need of rescue, and fully rounded. She's NOT a princess, she's not helpless, she's not a genderfuck caricature.

It is unfortunate that my suggestion of a possible springboard point for developing future Pixar female leads was taken so incredibly seriously. I don't withdraw the point, however.
posted by hippybear at 3:43 PM on June 16, 2009


Thank you, hippybear, for restating your point.

But if your conception of that balance in kids films is a character like Kara Thrace?

tkchrist, that's not what I said or meant to imply. hippybear has restated and clarified his point - and that was my springboard. Nobody thinks porting Kara Thrace into a Pixar movie is ever going to work - but you describe Kara Thrace as "just another unconvincing Waif-Bad-Ass with nothing uniquely "female" about her".

Nothing uniquely female about her? What the fuck does that even mean?

That's what needs to happen. Flood producers with scripts you want to see. Go make your own movies.

That's a bullshit argument. Particularly if you're willing to recognise the boys club goes deeper than Pixar hasn't yet had a female protagonist.

Besides, if young girls could see young girls in animated films that aren't princesses, maybe they'd then want to write animated films in the future. Perhaps gender bias in these films leads to boys wanting to make animated films, which means the boys club continues? Hard to say.

Yet, even as women gain more power in Hollywood (slowly but surely), animation is a particularly male-dominated bastion. Yes, Disney makes films about princesses - but how many of them are conceived and created by women?

It's all very well to demand a grass roots campaign for people outside the system to write their own screenplays and try to break down the walls into film production, but why not - in the meantime - demand more of the studios now. It's one way to make change happen.
posted by crossoverman at 4:15 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I thought Pixar conducted some market research which indicated that the majority of their female audience prefers (with their pocketbooks) a male lead over a female lead in their movie and DVD purchases.
posted by Aquaman at 4:39 PM on June 16, 2009


Don't you think we know that there's "much worse out there"? That's not the point.

Bad media images of females are a widespread problem, yes.


Well, I'm not in the least crying "Leave Pixar Alooone," but that photo essay is an all-too-convenient example of an out-of-bounds volley in the back-and-forth discourse defined by the narrative of women's representation as bounded by femininity. You have to hand it to Pixar that they've never fucked up as badly as (I am claiming) that photographer is, in trying to be alternative and significant. They stay on the sidelines and keep their feet well away from their mouths. As artists, that's good. As educators, that's poor. Fortunately, Pixar is clearly on the art side of the art-education spectrum, and our kids (should) have other places to find authentic performances of gender.

Though abstaining from adequate political engagement isn't itself part of any an art form, I would suggest that in film, say, male-centered narratives remain passably classicist and the use of gender and race remain, in manifest parlance on all kinds of screens, optionally allegorical, and not necessarily authentic. That's the damn way it is and I'm not really optimistic that our egalitarian aims will be a drop in the bucket against history in the consciousness of a single kid, on the topic of femininity as a character attribute. Adam, Eve, that whole yarn. It's still a good fight, though. I'm happy that this is such a fighty thread, because this is, despite my hardened, weird approach to the problem, a defense mechanism, probably, a topic near to my dark little heart.

Nobody's bothering to really interrogate the premise being relied upon here: that authentic represenations of races and genders onscreen is important, is right, is just. I won't for a moment argue that it isn't a good, but I do wonder how everyone came to accept this as logical. It seems to me an undue overlap of representational and the real. Let's not live in a world where movies have to reflect reality, even moral realit, ok? Let's allow it to be free, and react to it without being prescriptive.

And why does the acceptance of this notion as a truth make confrontation of Pixar so appealing, rather than so many other optional targets, including one issue that interests me: the export of American-produced capitalistic cinema to foreign subaltern cultures. Because it's what yall are seeing, is why. Because y'all can participate in this small battle, right?

If I suggest you look elsewhere, I don't mean you must not look here, but that I don't see enough cogent confrontation of other problematics in this vein in this, my milieu. I think, based on studying media this way for just 5 academic years so far, that turning a critical eye to material of which you ARE NOT A FAN is enriching in a way that, well, let's say a way I prefer. It's harder, too.

Go make your own movies.

FYI, film schools (where they teach the making of films) are ridiculous in terms of gender imbalance. Critical studies programs not so much. There's meaning in that.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:41 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Something that struck me while re-reading the past few posts is that the problem may reside in the relatively narrow range of options for a female lead versus a male lead:

male characters have slept around, perpetuated violence, killed, murdered and are alcoholics (in BSG and elsewhere) but no one suggests that Colonel Tigh or Admiral Adama aren't good male characters because of it

The thing is, you can write males however you want to and no one is going to complain about it. They can be wimps, they can be bastards, they can be stuck-up or socially incompetent. They can be utterly loathsome, and still be cast as the main protagonist, without any fear of a serious social backlash.
With a female main character, you're going to have to worry a bit more. This applies whether a) the studio in question is cynically trying to avoid feminists and/or family types from crawling all over them or b) the studio is run by people who honestly want to improve or at least bring into question the dominant way of viewing women in our society. If you create, for example, a Starbuck, there are those who will see her as a "good" female character, whereas others will feel that you are reinforcing certain stereotypes - women who are independent and tough must also be violent, self-centered sex maniacs or whatever (see criticisms of Starbuck above). Or take the Tina Fey character in 30 Rock, who can be read as a good liberal role model or as a woman who's immature and insecure (it works with the implied humor of the show, but in a more serious series it might raise eyebrows).
Female main characters are going to take a lot more thought than male main characters simply because you can do whatever you want with a male, up to and including making him a cannibal (Hannibal) or multiple murderer/vigilante (Boondock Saints, among others). The raw meat of most cinema is the stereotype - and a screenwriting team can happily play off of all kinds of male stereotypes - clueless nerd, oafish bully, crazy old man, stoner, emotionless killing machine. If you're writing a film script based around a female protagonist, with an eye specifically toward avoiding easy stereotypes (doting "good" mother, psychotic "bad" mother, distant, emotionless female fighter, damsel in distress, independent but neurotic businesswoman), that female protagonist is going to have to take some serious thought. You simply won't be able to access the cultural stock of material, because the cultural stock is, in this case, polluted by, you know, millennia of patriarchy. How many "positive" (in a feminist sense) stereotypes are there to draw on?
I for one would like to see Pixar, among others, put in the effort to do this, and I don't think suggesting that they do so is "PC". But that said, it may be that the reason that they are so hesitant to do so is because they are well aware of how difficult it will be to pull it off right. Here's hoping The Bear and the Bow works out well.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:42 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ambrosia: I hear you on the initial sheer obnoxiousness of the LOLFATTIES photo -- it disgusted me, too, and it's my mistake for not noting so, but I'd still argue it's an interesting topic overall, even if some of the photos are more ham-fisted than others.

Little Red Riding Hood is, after all, a story about consumption; the irony is that in the picture Red has become an even tastier morsel for the wolf. In other words, I can see the connection she was trying to make (and that may just be because I'm feeling charitable today, forgive me), even if the final product fails because there's no question that it directly clashes with Goldstein's claim to care about self-image issues. The comments on that picture are about as odious as anything I've ever seen on a website, and to me simply prove the fact that the picture fails.

As for Jasmine, I mean, hell -- look at what's going on in Tehran right this very second. The Persia of Aladdin no longer exists, never did, and if anything it's a nod to the very real turmoil of the region that is so far removed from the gleaming Sultan's palace and flying carpet world from which she's been removed. Each of the princesses in the photos has been kept in her iconic attire, so yeah, purple camo is silly but definitely in keeping with what I'm guessing was the message of the image.

The other ones I thought were slightly more nuanced and thought-provoking. The picture of Sleeping Beauty who never woke up and who has been dragged to the nursing home with her faithful and now aged prince was pretty amazing, as was the one of Rapunzel who has been stripped of her trademark hair because of chemo.

Does the set overall smack a little of Freshman Photography 101? Most definitely. But I stand by the fact that it's still an interesting set to consider in light of the conversation here.
posted by shiu mai baby at 4:43 PM on June 16, 2009


Um. Thought I'd spaced that out more. Sorry for the wall of text.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:46 PM on June 16, 2009


Good point about consumption that escaped me, shiu my baby. I always appreciate good readings of art... something the comenters on that site do not seem to share. I don't think the set is worthless, I just don't like it, eh what?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:47 PM on June 16, 2009


Studio Ghibli

Just saw My Neighbors the Yamadas and the female characters are nothing special. Miyazaki himself has a focus (if not a fixation) on strong young (presexual) female characters, as well as the environment, flying machines, and a few other things. But these are things that drive him personally, not audience demands that he is fulfilling. I see no evidence that Pixar has any reticence producing or selling movies with strong female characters that everyone here would love. Almost none of us would have heard about Spirited Away or Totoro (two of my all-time favorite movies) if Lasseter and Pixar had not championed Miyazaki and shoved him down Disney's throat.

You can wish for Pixar to do anything, but with a sample of 10 movies clearly stamped by a strong personal vision from a very small number of directors, the conclusions being drawn here are wildly overstated. Analyzing the dogpack in Up? Absurd. They had exactly as much screen time and differentiation as the story required - an initially fierce army troop that proves bumbling when confronted was correctly gendered as vaguely male. Anything else would have required fruitless explanation.

I want to see a Pixar hero who is basically a young Starbuck from the new BSG. Female, brave, competent, not in need of rescue, and fully rounded.

Then go see Up (Ellie) or the Incredibles (Elastigirl, Edna) or Wall-E (Eve).
posted by msalt at 4:51 PM on June 16, 2009


I thought Pixar conducted some market research which indicated that the majority of their female audience prefers (with their pocketbooks) a male lead over a female lead in their movie and DVD purchases.

1. Uh, cite, s'il vous plaît?

2. If 100% of Pixar films feature male leads, then guess what? 100% of the females who purchase movie tickets and DVDs of those films are going to "prefer" male leads.

Lack of a choice is not the same as a preference, hoss.
posted by shiu mai baby at 4:51 PM on June 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


msalt: as has been pointed out about 4,284 times in this thread, neither Ellie nor Elastigirl nor Edna nor Eve are the main characters.

I mean, I could see some wiggle room on the Elastigirl -- maybe -- but The Incredibles is, at its core, the story of Mr. Incredible coping with the mundane life that the public shunning of the Supers has forced him into. His marriage to Helen is definitely awesome, and one of my all-time favorite movie marriages because of the absolute realism it has been given, but aside from the 20 minutes where Elastigirl must reassume her identity to go save her husband (step in the right direction! Yay Pixar!), it's still the story of Mr. Incredible first, his marriage second, and his family learning to operate as a cohesive unit third.
posted by shiu mai baby at 4:56 PM on June 16, 2009


AV: Nobody's bothering to really interrogate the premise being relied upon here: that authentic represenations of races and genders onscreen is important, is right, is just. I won't for a moment argue that it isn't a good, but I do wonder how everyone came to accept this as logical. It seems to me an undue overlap of representational and the real.

Really interesting point. What is the ideal against which folks are critizing Pixar, anyway? Let's put it this way: what would be the good or ideal thing for Pixar to do, or have done? Miyazaki has 100% young, prepubertal heroines. Is that good?
posted by msalt at 5:03 PM on June 16, 2009


What is the ideal against which folks are critizing Pixar, anyway?

This is an interesting question, because I think that we're still working out (in society at large as well as within feminist circles) how "female" should be portrayed in our culture. We can say a lot about what images the word shouldn't conjure up: one-dimensional mother/wife/girlfriend. But many of the attempts to break with that have simply involved taking women and tacking on traditionally masculine attributes: fighter, bread-winner, defeminizing the character rather than...er...hell, there's not a word. "Differently feminizing"? One of the best elements of Elastigirl, for me, was the way they managed to keep from just slotting her in. She was still a mother, but not just a mother. A kick-ass, but not just a kick-ass in the way that a lot of female action heroines are. It was a good balance.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:11 PM on June 16, 2009


Nothing uniquely female about her? What the fuck does that even mean?

Bud. Okay I get it. You reeeeeeally like Starbuck. You are waaaaaaay to invested in this Starbuck thing. So no matter what I say your taking it deeply personally. First you issue a bunch of strawmen about how I'm offended by the character and then you went on to another strawmen about how male characters could be as flawed as Starbuck. Now this.

Female Starbuck was a conceit of the producers. Okay. A sexy tidbit for the fan boys. There was nothing to her charachter that made her any different from the male charchters becuase the producers had no idea what to do with "her" not becuase of somesort of statment.

My point is this: Everybody has a radically different idea what a strong female character actually IS. That you saw "brave, competent and not in need of rescue" was as, in my opinion, utterly blind to the glaring flaws her character had. which made her not only particularly loathsome and just about ruined a good story line because the character itself was drawn so lazy and cliched. She literally was one of the few in that series that was a typical cartoon like male character we are already sick of seeing - only with tits. You saw brave. I saw bravdo. You saw competence. I saw lack of integrity and psychotic. If you think that is some sort gender neutral advancement or even more baffling a double standard on my behalf? Well I don't know what to say to you. In my mind she was in no way even an acceptable archetype for something like Pixar to use. I really wish you'd quit the strawman garbage.
posted by tkchrist at 5:25 PM on June 16, 2009


dw: Except, of course, as I've said multiple times already, the standard is consistency with the setting as presented by the narrative. The fact that everyone in Spirited Away is Japanese isn't a problem. The fact that almost all of the German Army in Raiders of the Lost Ark is male isn't a problem. The fact that everyone in The Bear and the Bow is likely to be Scottish, isn't a problem.

(Of course the flip-side of the coin is that I would have no objection to a blind casting of something like Don Giovanni. It's a fucking opera, and the voice is the most important thing. If you are putting something on stage, you have complete liberty to throw historical accuracy out the window.)

The fact that the narrative of Up says that a small number of dogs grew fruitful and multiplied into a big pack, but all two-odd dozen of them are voiced by three men, is something of a conflict. And when Pixar creates a fictional setting that takes its cues from America circa 2000 and there are very few female roles, that also is a conflict.

Ambrosia Voyeur: Sure, I can buy the claim that art doesn't have to be representational. But I think that, for example, the first hour of Up (a movie that is my favorite of the ones I've seen over the last year) is much better because the city and its inhabitants look like my experiences of urban America.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:35 PM on June 16, 2009


Almost none of us would have heard about Spirited Away or Totoro (two of my all-time favorite movies) if Lasseter and Pixar had not championed Miyazaki and shoved him down Disney's throat.

Hey, I saw Nausicca sometime in the mid-90s at 5 in the morning at a sci-fi con while I was trying to sleep in the 24-hour anime room. And loved it, even if I fell sleep soon after the 3rd scene, which is why I was so excited about Spirited Away, and saw it before I had actually figured out who Pixar were.

Wait - did I just boast of my Miyasaki cred, or out myself as a total nerd?
posted by jb at 5:49 PM on June 16, 2009


msalt: Really interesting point. What is the ideal against which folks are critizing Pixar, anyway? Let's put it this way: what would be the good or ideal thing for Pixar to do, or have done? Miyazaki has 100% young, prepubertal heroines. Is that good?

I think the ideal is having an environment in which we can talk about gender, ethnicity and sexuality in film without wild claims of evil feminist harridans who just hate everything and will never be satisfied. Which is partly true in a way. Star Trek was shockingly progressive for the late '60s, but is significantly less so in the year 2009. As I've said before, I don't have a problem loving Up and recognizing its failings in terms of portraying women.

And it's been repeated multiple times. But it seems that most people who see a problem with Pixar's prior track record are very happy to hear about The Bear and the Bow, so I'm a bit baffled as to why Pixar defenders are arguing against something that is already in pre-production.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:54 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Miyazaki has 100% young, prepubertal heroines. Is that good?
posted by msalt at 8:03 PM on June 16 [+] [!]


No, he doesn't. The protagonist of Princess Mononoke is Ashitaka (as Emishi prince), the protangonist of Porco Rosso is Porco Rosso (a male pilot with the head of a pig), and the protangonist of Lupin III is Lupin III (also male). Laputa aka Castle in the Sky really has two protagonists - an early teens boy and a girl of a similar age. And the protagonist of Howl's Moving Castle is a 20-year-old who spends most of the film looking and acting 80 years old.
posted by jb at 5:55 PM on June 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Figures there's a Pixar post and I don't have a chance to read until it has over 400+ posts. I noticed that Princess and the Frog was named dropped, but what no one has mentioned is that its creation was spear headed by John Lasseter, one of the Pixar giants. Here's someone who has had an undeniable major influence on what Pixar has done and for the first major hand drawn animated film at Disney opted to do a movie about an African-American woman.

Otherwise, I throw my pebble in with Artw's concerning the creation process.
posted by Atreides at 6:07 PM on June 16, 2009


I'm not at all invested in BSG (I think it's meant to justify right-wing post-9/11 paranoia, and I won't participate in that)

I think a more common reading (at least of Season 3) is that Battlestar Galactica was sympathetic to the Iraqi resistance. I'll stipulate that the response-to-attack was probably a reaction to 9/11, but the show evolved and matured over the first couple of seasons.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:47 PM on June 16, 2009


That being said, I'd like to think it's motivated by people really, really liking Pixar, and not wanting them to get ruined by being beholden to political correctness. But THAT being said, it's hard not to read the tone of some of these contents as being more angered by the request for a femal lead than the request would seem to warrent.

It's motivated by the privilege. When it comes to giving women or people of color fair representation in a field, whether college sports funding, or film, or gaming the usual suspects will come up with the same sort of weird justifications for the status quo; all to avoid any sort of change.

I mean in this thread alone, we've heard all kinds of nonsense about Shakespeare, Michelangelo, and Miazaki, all to argue that gender imbalance is normal and good, and to portray the desire for change as oppression. As rational arguments go, they're pathetic- but as attempts to dodge or obfuscate the issue, they work well enough.

It strikes me as very similar to the wank that develops among gamers regarding gender representation. It's perfectly kosher to say that certain character models look like shit because of the low triangle count and ugly texture, and talking about issues of game balance are very well accepted, but talk about design decisions like armor bikinis and you find yourself in a virtual Noah's deluge of bullshit.

I've been in some of those debates, and yes, gamers get incredibly defensive when one points out the massive sexism in the games. And the weird thing is, it's a sort of low-grade sexism that substitutes for mature sexuality or relationships. They put hundreds of hours of computer rendering time to get the breast jiggles right, but the relationships in the games are stuck at a 1930s level for the most part.

This also reminds me a lot of the Racefail debacle. At least we have a lot of the same suspects making the same arguments against any sort of change in the medium, and trying to derail arguments in the same way.
posted by happyroach at 7:29 PM on June 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


Obiwanwasabi, it's kind of pathetic that you can't tell the difference between someone saying "I'm oppressed by Pixar's male-centric films" and "Pixar's films would be more interesting and realistic if they had more main characters who are female."

Straight, it's kind of pathetic you can't tell when somebody's being facetious. But hey, if you want to go there:

I disagree with both of the statements you present, and think Pixar's movies are just fine and fucking dandy the way they are.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:56 AM on June 17, 2009


Ambrosia Voyeur: Sure, I can buy the claim that art doesn't have to be representational. But I think that, for example, the first hour of Up (a movie that is my favorite of the ones I've seen over the last year) is much better because the city and its inhabitants look like my experiences of urban America.

Eehhhhhhh that pretty much goes against basic animation theories. You know, that identification and emotional investment aren't tied directly to photorealism or narratives marked by familiarity and authenticity. Is Up really powerful because of its use of humans and towns? As opposed to bugs, fishies, robots, toys, superheroes or monsters? Heck, Miyazaki gets us keyed up about little black poofs. Similar emotional responses under more fantastical premises than Up's are de rigeur in great animated films. Maybe the others don't work for you, but I think that would make you an outlier of sorts. Anthropomorphization is part of the emotional engine in all of them, pretty much.

The contemporary human setting in Up is kind of an incidental trapping to me (since I'm apparently hung up on themes) which is interesting considering the film's theme of bravely letting such contexts go in order to embark on new creative adventures. But that's some erudite overreading right there, and as I was just saying, computer freaking animation is usually a pretty incredibly imaginative kit with which to produce narratives, and is not in any way effectively limited by such limits as realism and authenticity, so this is kind of an affectation, this consideration of domesticity by Pixar.

What is it that determines the levels of authentic humanity in a Pixar film? Well, that's an unanwerable question, but the phenomenology and politics of the question and its evidence are interesting. The last four films, by my weirdass reckoning, break down like this:

- Friendship/Consumerismishness with Cars in America, with NO HUMANS AT ALL which was creepy. Thematic upshot: Too bad about there being so many people because if it was up to us we could have bitchen cars AND see the sights. More people ruined everything, waaah. Smalltown values, friends and brews and funny talkin' Italians.

- Talent/Exceptionalism in fuckin' France with a vaguely more human than human ZOMG rats are people too situation. Thematic Upshot: Eehh, breaking the rules feels right sometimes. Paris is sexy and shit. *shrug*

- People (in America) give away their birthright of agency to temptations of convenience and screw each other and the whole planet over. The very robots are living more interesting lives than we are (future) anymore. Thematic upshot: HEED THY DOOM, FOOLISH CONSUMER! You've been on autopilot, sheeple.

- Oh boy, life in America sure is full of stuff, innit? *sniff* Stuff you don't expect, and have to deal with and feel?? (Meta-thematic action for the people who were all wtf this is a sucky! sad! cartoon, *weep, weep*)Are you in a little box because of all that stuff defining you? Did you fill your box with other stuff? Memories, comfy chairs? Thematic upshot: You are not your fucking armchair! But your feelings are still valid. Only human. Let's hug it out.

I dunno, no conclusive point to that survey. Pixar plays its cards right and gets a new handful of fans with its themes in every sweep around the room. This last one is special, though, and apparently its close-to-home presentation and its wide-open door to adult analysis have stirred something up here.

But to me, there are such a lot of (brilliantly composed) "lessons" in these films, that... I do tend to think that such density of ontological, cultural concepts and themes somewhat eclipses the potential bright light of egalitarian representation. It wouldn't be as memorable, and isn't as crucial, as it is when it enhances more character-centered texts, which I would argue the bulk of children's narrarive programming are. I think egalitarian representation IS more important on tv, for example, than among the films of Pixar. I think WE just worry over Pixar because we're not watching hours of Disney every day, seeing commercials for board games where boys always win. Instead, we're seeing the most adult-friendly animation on the planet, getting into it, getting intellectual on it, and casually treating it as the end-all be-all (or at least worthy of a 400+ comments tail-chase) of commercial acculturation. It's not. So, 0 of 10 films star girls. How many of Dreamworks' do? How many Nickelodeon shows? Heck, how many females have won best original screenplay Oscars or best director Oscars? I think the narrow focus on Pixar is silly because these questions are of totally equal relevance but just not as sexy.

Or, to put it another way, reframing something that's been said here other ways, these movies are already masterpieces. They might not be more than that, because that is puh-lenty. What about the stuff that's not busy keeping its narrative, thematic, and spectacular balls waaay "UP" in the air? Can't that stuff nail the authenticity and politics at least?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:27 AM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Heck, how many females have won best original screenplay Oscars or best director Oscars? I think the narrow focus on Pixar is silly because these questions are of totally equal relevance but just not as sexy.

Best Director Oscars won by women - 0. (Only three ever nominated: Lina Wurtmuller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola)

Best Original Screenplay Oscars won by women - 7. (Five in the last 25 years. Most recent: Diablo Cody for Juno)

Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars won by women - 5 wins. (All in the last 25 years. 2 for Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, 1 for Emma Thompson. Diana Ossana co-wrote Brokeback Mountain with Larry McMurtry. Phillipa Boyens and Fran Walsh co-wrote Return of the King with Peter Jackson.)

Dreamworks Animated films with a female protagonist - 1/12. (Just to be generous, I only counted their CG animated films. Although looking at the future, it's likely to be 1/17 by 2011 when Pixar's "The Bear and the Bow" is released.)

Pixar's 1/13 for female protagonist, female director, female writer is basically on par with the Screenplay categories, behind Dreamworks so far and infinitely better than women vying for the Best Director Oscar.

In any case, I think all those stats are pretty damning in regard to Hollywood in general and computer animation in particular.
posted by crossoverman at 3:06 AM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


AV: I think the narrow focus on Pixar is silly because these questions are of totally equal relevance but just not as sexy.

We are worrying about Pixar because this is a thread about Pixar. There certainly have been extended critical conversations about other bodies of work including Star Trek, Star Wars, Lost, Battlestar Galactaca, and relatively recently on metafilter, Capote. It's a bit of a fallacy to assume that because we are talking about Pixar in a thread about Pixar that we are not concerned about other movies. It's not a sign of obsession, it's a sign of staying on topic.

But in another sense, you are right. Better works generally support more critical discussion of them. I don't say much about Hanna Montana because I don't consider them worthy of my time and attention. I think the second big fallacy that keeps popping up in this thread is that loving a body of work demands that we can't speak critically of it. And my response is that I don't see why we can't have the same conversations about gender representation in Pixar or Disney that we have about bad science in Star Trek.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:32 AM on June 17, 2009


Was it just me or was there a serious lack of women in positions of power in the new Star Trek?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:36 AM on June 17, 2009


Narrative conventions are frequently biased in regards to gender. Saying "it's just a convention" is a rather insipid and lazy cop-out.

Literature, art, film, story telling has it's own universe and conventions. Calling it bias is unfathomnably short-sighted and insulting to those who created it.
posted by juiceCake at 5:52 AM on June 17, 2009


In any case, I think all those stats are pretty damning in regard to Hollywood in general and computer animation in particular.

Isn't that true of the Oscars in general.
posted by juiceCake at 6:03 AM on June 17, 2009


Was it just me or was there a serious lack of women in positions of power in the new Star Trek?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:36 AM on June 17 [+] [!]


No, it was not just you. Basically the cattle call for Star Fleet admirals and command officers was for men. I think there was one woman I noticed on the Vulcan High Council - and she kept smiling weirdly at Spock.
posted by jb at 6:20 AM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Brandon: Was it just me or was there a serious lack of women in positions of power in the new Star Trek?

Sure, and there certainly is enough material there for another thread.

juiceCake: Literature, art, film, story telling has it's own universe and conventions. Calling it bias is unfathomnably short-sighted and insulting to those who created it.

So, should we still be making movies about the American West in which valiant white settlers defend themselves from evil savage Indians?

Should we still make plays about the American South in which former slaves are played by white actors in blackface singing happy minstrel tunes?

Should gay men be always portrayed as fashion-conscious sissies, and lesbians as deep-voiced women who smoke cigarettes?

Because those are also storytelling conventions. And while the principle that members of badly-represented groups have an interest in looking for representations that reflect their experiences of the world may be over your head, it certainly is not unfathomable to the industry in general.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:28 AM on June 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


As for "insulting," well, if you publish your work, it's fair game. Personally, I think the criticism that Star Trek (2009) has gaping plot holes that don't make sense of you bother to think about them is harsher than the criticism that Star Trek (2009) replicates many of the biases of the original series, and the criticism that the dialog in Star Wars I-VI is ugly and badly performed is harsher than the criticism that roles for women are few and far between.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:28 AM on June 17, 2009


Straight, it's kind of pathetic you can't tell when somebody's being facetious. But hey, if you want to go there:

I disagree with both of the statements you present, and think Pixar's movies are just fine and fucking dandy the way they are.


And when you just straightforwardly say what you mean instead of trying to do a lame parody of the other person's views, it's clear you're merely expressing your personal preferences, as are the people who would like to see more female protagonists in Pixar films.

"I'd like to see Pixar do a film about dinosaurs!"

"You idiot, Pixar's movies are just fine and fucking dandy the way they are!"
posted by straight at 9:17 AM on June 17, 2009


Me: Really interesting point, AV. What is the ideal against which folks are critizing Pixar, anyway?
KJS: I think the ideal is having an environment in which we can talk about gender, ethnicity and sexuality in film without wild claims of evil feminist harridans who just hate everything and will never be satisfied.

OK, now that we have a standard, let's see how Pixar stacks up. Compared to the ideal of an environment of feminist discussion without exaggerated disagreement with the original premise, Pixar is a film production company. They're not an environment of feminist discussion at all! Massive FAIL!

Oh wait, you're just stirring up shit. Never mind.
posted by msalt at 9:59 AM on June 17, 2009


So, should we still be making movies about the American West in which valiant white settlers defend themselves from evil savage Indians?

Should we still make plays about the American South in which former slaves are played by white actors in blackface singing happy minstrel tunes?

Should gay men be always portrayed as fashion-conscious sissies, and lesbians as deep-voiced women who smoke cigarettes?

Because those are also storytelling conventions.


No they're not literary conventions. Blackface, for example, is a solid example of something non-literary intruding on art, racism, and the failure to accept individuals who weren't white in acting roles. These questions are absurd and imply that I and perhaps others are saying just that and that we'll be jostled into realizing how wrong we are. I admire your use of absurdism, a great artistic not to mention debating tool, even if it's done so poorly.

There is no artistic reason to reflect that women may be in these roles that the dogs have because they are in modern society. Blackface wasn't an artistic reason, it was an extra-artistic reason.

And while the principle that members of badly-represented groups have an interest in looking for representations that reflect their experiences of the world may be over your head, it certainly is not unfathomable to the industry in general.

Except I understand taht members of badly-represented groups have an interest in looking for representations that reflect their experiences of the world. What they and you fail to understand is that these are works of fiction, they are not the real world. Love how you're such a cunt about it. That's classy.
posted by juiceCake at 4:23 PM on June 17, 2009


msalt: Oh wait, you're just stirring up shit. Never mind.

No, I'm pointing out that it's about process rather than product. Because the ideal movie written for 2012 is unlikely to be the ideal movie written for 2022, and so on. The ideal is for filmmakers to engage in those sort of discussions, not a treatment for a script.

juiceCake: No they're not literary conventions. Blackface, for example, is a solid example of something non-literary intruding on art, racism, and the failure to accept individuals who weren't white in acting roles. These questions are absurd and imply that I and perhaps others are saying just that and that we'll be jostled into realizing how wrong we are. I admire your use of absurdism, a great artistic not to mention debating tool, even if it's done so poorly.

Ahh, but there is no reason why art cannot be racist. And just because it's racist doesn't mean that it can't be art. The horde of male henchman is just as much a literary device as the blackface moor. And yet, it's reasonable to consider to consider one a valid crutch and the other a quaint product of prejudice.

Of course, there are times in which the default male henchman is perfectly acceptable, this just isn't one of them because it creates unnecessary conflicts within the narrative.

juiceCake: There is no artistic reason to reflect that women may be in these roles that the dogs have because they are in modern society. Blackface wasn't an artistic reason, it was an extra-artistic reason.

Consistency with the narrative as given is a perfect artistic reason. The absence of male dogs conflicts both with Muntz character exposition as a pet-lover, and with the narrative that the dogs were fruitful and multiplied the natural way. We are forced to conclude that Muntz's anthropomorphism does some kinky things with gender, or that the dogs are all clones ala Star Wars neither of which are supported by the work.

juiceCake: Except I understand taht members of badly-represented groups have an interest in looking for representations that reflect their experiences of the world. What they and you fail to understand is that these are works of fiction, they are not the real world.

Certainly, but they are fictional works that leverage our understanding of the real world to advance the narrative. We don't need to be told explicitly why Carl eats prunes, we can assume that he eats prunes for the same reasons that old people in the real world eat prunes. When we see a group of dogs grow from two to several dozen, we assume based on our real-world knowledge that they had puppies. If the directors saw fit to show us clone vats, then we could assume otherwise.

juiceCake: You're very welcome to accuse people of bias, even bias they may not realize they have, like a righteous jackhole.

Well, most works have some form of bias in them. And most works have plot holes that could have been fixed by more careful writing. Pointing out either does not reflect badly on the artist in question.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:10 PM on June 17, 2009


[comment removed - I would have thought that it goes without saying that the cunt/jackhole talk needs to go to metatalk feel free to head over there and defend your right to insult people, otherwise please stick to the topic here, thank you?]
posted by jessamyn at 5:37 PM on June 17, 2009


The problem with this thread is that people -- not only KJS -- are complaining that Pixar is doing it all wrong, without defining what doing it right would be. They've only made 10 films, by what, 3 or 4 directors. What would constitute an acceptable male/female ratio? The target keeps moving, and the only constant is impotent grousing.

Miyazaki, who everyone here loves, has a huge imbalance toward prepubertal female leads, which bothers no one. So apparently the goal is not parity or equality. Pixar is making a female-directed film with a female lead. Also not enough. Their female characters are the strongest in the business (except for Miyazaki). Still not enough. Disney has leads (snow white, etc.) but they're not strong enough. Pixar has strong, female inverse-knights in armor (Eve, Elastigirl). Not enough. Or not flawed enough.

So what do you need? 5 female leads in a row? 50% over their entire corpus? Making up for the history of Disney? I suspect that those complaining about Pixar realize that defining what they need would make their position patently absurd. But hey, prove me wrong.
posted by msalt at 9:04 PM on June 17, 2009


The problem with this thread is that people -- not only KJS -- are complaining that Pixar is doing it all wrong, without defining what doing it right would be.

*laughs*

Here's a hint: when someone points out that the speaking rats in Ratatouille are all needlessly, thoughtlessly male, they're saying Pixar should have made at least some of the speaking rats female. This isn't difficult stuff.
posted by mediareport at 10:09 PM on June 17, 2009


msalt, as has been explained, it's not about quotas and it's not about an acceptable percentage. There's no formula to this. Rules and regulations aren't the right way to go about it.

We've looked at Pixar's current output. We've looked at planned future output. We see there's something currently lacking - no lead female characters - and that one criticism isn't to denigrate the films that have come before. On an individual basis, many of Pixar's films have strong, supporting female characters. And in many respects, those female characters are more impressive than Disney's stock, default Princess characters - even those whose names are in the title.

We also recognise the fact that Pixar is developing The Bear and the Bow, which will have a lead female character. This is progress and we've noted that. However, even given Pixar's track record, it's not a home run. Particularly if the character falls into the Disney Princess cliche. The film is still in development/production. Yes, it's got a lead female character, but until we see the product, we can't know if this film/character will be the equivalent of Toy Story/Finding Nemo (cultural phenomenons) or Cars (marketing opportunity).

Miyazaki, who everyone here loves, has a huge imbalance toward prepubertal female leads, which bothers no one.

And you know why it bothers no one? Because if children want to find animated films with strong male leads they can look to lots of different places. If they want strong female leads in animated films, they can only look to Miyazaki.

Yes, the original post is about Pixar. That's the focus of this discussion. So we discuss what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. We see their flaws and their virtues.

Because none of it comes down to numbers. Looking for numbers would be ridiculous. Thinking our argument is about numbers is patently absurd.
posted by crossoverman at 10:52 PM on June 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


msalt: The problem with this thread is that people -- not only KJS -- are complaining that Pixar is doing it all wrong, without defining what doing it right would be.

No, the complaint isn't that Pixar is doing it all wrong. I don't understand how often I have to say that these are mild and annoying flaws in otherwise good movies.

But the problem is, I can't give you quotas because the ideal depends on the story being developed. If you've noticed, I've not complained about a lack of girls as Wilderness Explorers in Up, because that's obviously parallel to the BSA where participation by women is a minority in that organization, but a more careful consideration of the dog pack would make a role for at least one female dog likely. Consideration of the setting of Ratatouille might make a speaking role for women more likely as well.

Miyazaki, who everyone here loves, has a huge imbalance toward prepubertal female leads, which bothers no one.

There certainly is room for some critical discussion of Miyazaki's heroines. Heck, one can criticize the role of men in cowboy westerns beyond just their disproportionate number as protagonists, and it's been done.

I suspect that those complaining about Pixar realize that defining what they need would make their position patently absurd. But hey, prove me wrong.

Well, the position is that it should be possible to talk about gender, sexuality, and race in films the same way we talk about, for example, realism, plot development, characterization, and special effects. I don't find that idea to be absurd. And the people who call those conversations, "grousing" have yet to explain why they object to well-intentioned conversations that generally include high praise for Pixar's product and craft?

Is it grousing when I say that 4,000 liters of highly volatile Red Matter in Star Trek doesn't make a lick of sense but looks cool? Probably not. I don't see that noting the relative lack of female characters in a movie is different.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:20 AM on June 18, 2009


The idea of having five female leads in a row is patently absurd, but it's also patently absurd to criticize having eleven male leads in a row?

(The answer is no, neither of those things are absurd at all).
posted by lampoil at 7:58 AM on June 18, 2009


I'll rephrase that. It appears that two very different arguments are being conflated.
1) Pixar rocks, I can haz pony of teh kool girl leads?
2) Pixar (or society) is sexist cuz no female leads, this is wrong and has to change.

#1 is completely uncontroversial of course (but good luck). #2 is where it gets contentious, because there is an implicit claim of intention (or at least subconcious sexism, or being nerdy guys scared of women, etc.) Now you're attacking the most artistically successful filmmakers in history, and you shouldn't be shocked if people defend them. Esp. if it's OK for Miyazaki to be imbalanced because girls rule and boys drool.

What I see happening is people arguing #2, and everytime they're pressed, shifting to "all we are asking for is more kool girl leads, why's that a problem?"
posted by msalt at 8:43 AM on June 18, 2009


I can only speak for myself, but neither of those options gel with my take, or my understanding of others' takes. I'm not interested in authorial intent--my beef is with the work itself. The observation is: Pixar movies have been good so far, but here are some of their flaws: all the protagonists are male, very few of the secondary and tertiary characters are female, and the films tend to propagate the common problematic conflation of maleness and neutrality.

Am I surprised that some would defend these flaws? No. People defend much worse all the time. But the defenders are wrong and I am right. And I'm not going to not point out flaws of any work just because some people don't like hearing about the flaws of work they like.
posted by lampoil at 9:47 AM on June 18, 2009


What would be good enough for you, lampoil? (BTW, your statement of "eleven male leads in a row" is patently false, as has been well established in this thread.)
posted by msalt at 9:58 AM on June 18, 2009


msalt: #1 is completely uncontroversial of course (but good luck). #2 is where it gets contentious, because there is an implicit claim of intention (or at least subconcious sexism, or being nerdy guys scared of women, etc.) Now you're attacking the most artistically successful filmmakers in history, and you shouldn't be shocked if people defend them. Esp. if it's OK for Miyazaki to be imbalanced because girls rule and boys drool.

Yes, there is a claim that Pixar's movies demonstrate sexism. So what? We live in a culture in which sexism happens to be endemic. It does not mean that anyone at Pixar is a particularly bad person. It only means that we should perhaps talk about how gender is represented in Pixar's body of work, in the same way that we talk about other aspects of their work.

We can certainly have critical discussions of Miyazaki's view of young women. We have critical discussions about the Disney "princess" franchise which reveals the silliness of trying to reduce these discussions to quotas. We have critical discussions of how gender roles are portrayed in works by explicitly feminist filmmakers and writers. We can talk critically about gender in the works of Tepper, Le Guin, and Jane Austin. If you want to argue that anyone gets a free pass because they happen to meet a quota or ideological sniff test, you are barking up the wrong tree.

Personally, I think "most artistically successful filmmakers in history" is a bit of hyperbole. But even giving that full credit, artistic success makes a work worthy of criticism. If anything, Pixar "defenders" have taken a position that is more damning to the studio as a whole than that taken by the "critics."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:03 AM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


msalt: What would be good enough for you, lampoil? (BTW, your statement of "eleven male leads in a row" is patently false, as has been well established in this thread.)

I count 10 feature films released since 1995, none of which have a female lead, although Incredibles can be argued to almost have a co-lead. As of yet, we don't know what role Jesse will play in Toy Story 2, but so far all the marketing focuses on Woody and Buzz.

So I'll ask you a question, what kind of discussion of gender in films would you find acceptable?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:11 AM on June 18, 2009


What would be good enough for you, lampoil?

Why are you asking me this? Good enough for what? There isn't some perfect goal. I can't comment on art that doesn't exist. I'm talking about these movies, not some imaginary other movies. And I don't have to have some fully imagined alternative in mind to make observations, criticism or analysis of films that actually do exist.

(BTW, your statement of "eleven male leads in a row" is patently false, as has been well established in this thread.)

What the hell are you talking about? Established what, where? Are you saying The Incredibles doesn't have a male lead? Or that Toy Story 3 doesn't count because it hasn't been released yet? Fine--ten male leads in a row. The point is, you can't say five female leads would be an absurd idea and deny that ten male leads isn't doubly absurd.
posted by lampoil at 10:42 AM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


msalt: I'm not sure about comedy spelling as an argumentative technique.

What exactly is your point?

All art should be exempt from criticism?

Pixar should be exempt from criticism?

All art should be exempt from political criticism?

Pixar should be exempt from political criticism?

There is nothing to criticise about Pixar's representation of gender?

Pixar's representation of gender shouldn't be criticised?

Only other people producing art should criticise art?

You agree that Pixar's statistical bias is weird, but the other posters' arguments are so naive and unsophisticated that that has to be dealt with first before getting onto the main topic?

Any of the above points sounds like a more fruitful debate than whether it's ten or eleven male leads.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 11:46 AM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


lampoil: Wall-E has 2 leads, 1 male and 1 female. Incredibles has 4 leads or two, depending how you look at it; evenly split male and female. Discussed at great length in this thread. So now a film with multiple leads, male and female, isn't good enough either? It has to have female only leads?
posted by msalt at 12:10 PM on June 18, 2009


KJS: what kind of discussion of gender in films would you find acceptable?

Any. Discussion is great. You may have noticed I'm still here discussing, when everyone else not complaining has been driven off by these vague, unsatisfiable demands.

But I think this is an example of a problem common is debates over sexism in American society: people complain that we are not living up to some normative standard, without ever saying what that standard is. It's implied that there is an agent -- Pixar here, or the ever popular "patriarchy" -- that is consciously making bad choices, and WE MUST CHANGE THIS! (EG -- "male gaze" -- who exactly are you criticizing, and what is your proposal? That women stop caring what men (or other women) think? That men stop looking at women?)

But I'm not convinced that there is either a clear normative standard or an agent, which makes these discussions squishy and emotional and unproductive. Blame is being assigned vaguely, which naturally makes people defensive. The result is endless circular thrashes, with just enough truth in them to keep going and no movement toward improving the world.

So get tangible: who's doing something wrong? Lasseter? The directors of each film? Disney? The public who pays for these movies? Critics? What exactly should they do differently? As far as we know, the directors take the lead in developing script ideas that develop organically, with input from many others. Should Lasseter order the directors to change the scripts to female leads? Reject script ideas that don't have female leads? Should people boycott male lead Pixar films? Write scripts and bring them to Pixar?
posted by msalt at 12:13 PM on June 18, 2009


"the films tend to propagate the common problematic conflation of maleness and neutrality."

Therein lay the problem. And again - my position *augments* this concept not excuses it in the specific case of Pixar, at least not fully.
Pixar swims in the same seas as any other company. Some folks have missed, in the Studio Ghibli/ Pixar conflation - that "Spirited Away" was dubbed for the U.S. by Lasseter (et.al), y'know, from Pixar.
So I think the "absent-mindedly sexist" arguments fall by the wayside. I think many folks at Pixar are trying, consciously, to promote equality, et.al.
Are they failing that and is their work open to criticism? Sure.

But to my mind that's symptomatic of the actual cause which is, as you say the *common* problem - certainly including conflation of maleness and the default gender, but more the general widespread systemic (socially, but in Hollywood in microcosm) sexism which is both conscious and absent-minded as well as part of a self-perpetuating mechanism in terms of profit seeking.
That is, people like movies with male leads so we'll sell movies with male leads and so people become accustomed to male leads which means they like movies with male leads so we'll sell movies with male leads - and so on. They're not immune to that environment.

My daughter the other day asked me if Caillou was a boy and I said he was and that just reinforced my thinking. It's not just Pixar, it's freaking everywhere. And again - doesn't invalidate criticism of Pixar. In fact just makes me all the more certain - I would like to see more female leads in Pixar films. Everywhere in fact. And Pixar would be a great place to start.
But to my mind you help the forerunner, certainly with criticism, but certainly with the recognition that a lot of things need to be cleared to give Pixar - or anyone else willing or able - to make those moves.
Want to argue the films, swell. But don't tell me Studio Ghibli is so much more enlightened when you have people from Pixar more than willing to bring that work here. The hold up then is manifestly not as simplistic as the absent minded sexism that's being argued.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:13 PM on June 18, 2009


Shorter: it's useless to say "someone is doing something wrong", if you can't tell me exactly who someone is, or what doing something right would be.
posted by msalt at 12:16 PM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


msalt, WALL*E is called... WALL*E. While EVE is an important character, she is not the main character. She is a supplemental character to the protagonist, whose name is in the title. Furthermore, The Incredibles is about Mr. Incredible. Helen, Violet, and Dash are important, but they are not the protagonists. It is not their story, at least not at it's core. The basic story of the film is Mr. Incredible's coping with a world that is no longer friendly to his powers. The secondary story is his troubled marriage, and thirdly is his family learning to operate as a team. Why are you insisting on being so obtuse about this pretty fundamental point?
posted by shiu mai baby at 12:17 PM on June 18, 2009


Huge fan of tangibility here!

Is "think about the gender of minor characters, rather than making them auto-males" a decent tangible action?

How about "think about the gender of major characters, rather than making them auto-males"?

I think the question of who is "wrong" is barking up the wrong tree - the people making these criticisms don't want to see anyone punished, and don't think that anyone (at Pixar) is consciously trying to keep women down. Basically this isn't a legal investigation or a witch hunt, it's a recognition of an odd, sub-optimal situation which will probably disappear when people stop ignoring it, which is the entire point of criticism: to get people to think about it.

"What, exactly, should be done?" is always a great question. "Who, exactly, should do it?" is also good.
"Who's wrong?" not so much.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 12:45 PM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


msalt: But I think this is an example of a problem common is debates over sexism in American society: people complain that we are not living up to some normative standard, without ever saying what that standard is. It's implied that there is an agent -- Pixar here, or the ever popular "patriarchy" -- that is consciously making bad choices, and WE MUST CHANGE THIS! (EG -- "male gaze" -- who exactly are you criticizing, and what is your proposal? That women stop caring what men (or other women) think? That men stop looking at women?)

Where is that implication being made that these things are necessarily conscious?

The problem is that since our culture changes, you can't really have fixed goalposts. I can make the claim that the revival of the Disney princess in the 90s was initially a good thing for getting women as protagonists onto film. But is it a still good thing after multiple cookie-cutter iterations and a marketing blitz that has focused on the princess's desirability? Is the Masamune Shirow heroine progressive after she's been sexualized in cookie-cutter variations?

So if you want benchmarks, more female characters in leading roles, and more female characters in secondary roles would be a start. But then, discussion shifts to the nature of those roles. A half-dozen cookie-cutter iterations of the Disney Princess or the current trend of making chick flicks by having actresses do pratfalls while shopping probably isn't moving things forward.

But I'm not convinced that there is either a clear normative standard or an agent...

Because you are trying to reduce a moving target and something as inherently qualitative as film criticism to quotas.

Shorter: it's useless to say "someone is doing something wrong", if you can't tell me exactly who someone is, or what doing something right would be.

Except that both of those answers have been given. Pixar has done something wrong by failing to release a movie with a female lead. Pixar has been doing something right by facilitating the release of Miyazaki's work (again, this isn't saying Miyazaki is perfect), having strong writing for some of their female secondary characters, putting a woman in the director's chair and greenlighting The Bear and the Bow.

Wrinkled Stumpskin: Basically this isn't a legal investigation or a witch hunt, it's a recognition of an odd, sub-optimal situation which will probably disappear when people stop ignoring it, which is the entire point of criticism: to get people to think about it.

Yep, I fully agree with this.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:54 PM on June 18, 2009


Sorry guys but I just don't think there needs to be a specific person to blame. I don't think anyone needs to have a specific alternative in mind for criticism to be valuable. We're not talking about policy, we're talking about art, and in art I think analysis can be its own reward. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't see a problem with it being squishy.

Nowhere has it been established that Eve is the protagonist in WALL-E nor that Elastigirl is the protagonist of The Incredibles. I will not concede that they are, on account of the fact that they're not. I will concede, though, that those two movies are probably the best of the ten in terms of gender issues, and not even because they have a female character in the #2 role. Nemo a close third because of Dory and the larger number of incidental female background characters.

The reason I'm not taking the Ghibli bait is that I haven't seen enough of those films to comment on the body of work as a whole. I have seen all of Pixar's films, and those are the films I'm talking about.
posted by lampoil at 1:13 PM on June 18, 2009


And of course, it's something of a trap of a question. If we lay down guidelines for the perfect movie, we are criticized for asking too much. If we talk about what might make better movies, we are criticized for being too vague.

So, examples of better: Miyazaki and Gaiman come to mind. On this particular issue, Incredibles was better than Up. Expanding outward in genre and media, Whedon is better but not perfect. Vaughan and Simone in mainstream comics. And of course, there are some rich traditions of explicitly feminist film.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:15 PM on June 18, 2009


To the "Just get out there and write your own screenplays and make your own movies!" idea, here's a first-person account of the extra barriers facing people who do:
the million dollar question remains, as one of my writing students asked after reading two of my scripts: "Why are these scripts not made? What better scripts could people possibly be reading?" . . . Little hints of this invisible blockade pop up on occasion: a male student of mine with a fraction of my experience gets hired to direct a feature film; the manager who couldn't get my script out of his head tells me that he can't sell the script because the lead is a girl; an executive won't read my road movie because it's an ensemble with three female leads and, according to this executive, "women on the road has already been done." One producer urged me to pass my script to another director since I haven't made a feature before; this conversation took place while her husband was line-producing a $7M movie starring Bruce Willis, directed by a first-time male director. . . .
She acknowledges that we're all social animals so have internalized these ideas to some degree:
I teach screenwriting and consistently notice the different regard that I feel for my male and female students. No matter how "enlightened" I think I am, I find myself having higher expectations of the guys. I just assume that they have more experience, more confidence, more intelligence...? I've recently noticed that when I receive quality work from a woman, I feel a sense of surprise. When I see amateur work from a man, I think "hmm... for some reason I had him pegged as an experienced writer." For some reason.

So if I, a woman filmmaker, the liberated one who's not afraid to use the word "feminism" in a sentence, if I myself carry misinformation about women that has me question our competence and intelligence, what thoughts do other people carry? What "feelings", stemming from centuries of fear and prejudice, and mistaken for intuition, dictate their decisions? What do the well-intended producers, executives, agents, managers and investors, feel when my script comes across their desk? With what concern do they thumb through my script, the one with the name "Ela" on it, the one with a female in the leading role?

If they're anything like me, enlightened and all, they glance at the script and expect amateur work. If they get as far as reading a few pages, they're pleasantly surprised that I can write. If they get as far as reading it entirely, if they get past the fact that the lead is female (unlikely), if they get far enough to even consider packaging or selling or producing my film as an even remote possibility - and I'm happy to say many have gotten that far - then they have to muster up the confidence that I, a first time female director, could complete a meaningful, powerful and - profitable - movie. Beware of glass panes. . . .

Unfortunately, there are no bad guys to blame. Men are good and caring people; my own husband is my greatest ally in the world. Women are intelligent and powerful. But all of us carry the scars of centuries of misinformation, and we all make decisions, often without awareness, that stem from a sordid history. [emphasis mine]
So now what? Given the reality in which I exist, what do I need to do to move forward? Statistically, I have twenty times less of a chance to get a film made than my male colleagues. But this doesn't mean that my goal is impossible, it just means that I have to work twenty times harder. So I will.
Getting movies made, distributed, and financed is a process. The process involves gatekeepers. That's reality. She has spent years trying to get her work ok'd by gatekeepers at various points in the process. It's not impossible for people like her to help change reality, but the view that we don't see more intelligent female lead roles up on the screen because the complainers just aren't writing them? Simplistic.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:17 PM on June 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


shiu mai baby: While EVE is an important character, she is not the main character. She is a supplemental character to the protagonist, whose name is in the title. Furthermore, The Incredibles is about Mr. Incredible.

We disagree, and your standard is changing. The title "The Incredibles" describes a family, but you assert it's just about him. But with WALL_E, the title is your clinching fact.

WALL-E clearly has two leads, and Pixar pointedly reversed the Disney princess formula to make her the strong saving knight and him the passive love object. How anyone could prefer a Disney princess movie to that on feminist grounds -- because a woman is the lead -- baffles me.
posted by msalt at 1:32 PM on June 18, 2009


cybercoitus interruptus: here's a first-person account of the extra barriers..."one of my writing students asked after reading two of my scripts: "Why are these scripts not made? What better scripts could people possibly be reading?"

Ow, cringey. If I wanted to be snarky, I'd say "Holy crap! Ela Thier, the director of 'The Wedding Cow" and writer of "Two Girls From Different Distances" can't even get produced! Truly the patriarchy does crush us."

But truly, it's tough. Good commercial scripts are very rare, and even great filmmakers and writers turn out many duds. So it's very hard to say if a script should have been produced unless someone else produces it and does well. LA is famously phony and people will say "You're a first time director" instead of "I read your script and it's well-meaning but duller than tin." Ego colors every one's perceptions. She may be wronged, or be a self-promoting mediocrity blaming sexist barriers.

One of the few ways you can get a handle is to see if someone greenlights a piece of crap instead of the rejected (woman's) film. But because Pixar has the best batting average of any studio ever, they seem like an unproductive target. Why not the studio that greenlighted Ice Age 7? They clearly need help.
posted by msalt at 1:48 PM on June 18, 2009


msalt: Except that the gatekeepers in regards to movie-making have rarely bothered to hide their reluctance to consider scripts with female leads or multiple female characters.

msalt: But because Pixar has the best batting average of any studio ever, they seem like an unproductive target.

It really amazes me how "defenders" of Pixar can be so insulting to it as a studio. Pixar actually seems like a fairly productive target because they are already halfway there, and have already taken the steps that you keep asking for. The people who "defend" Pixar in this thread are not only arguing against feminist criticism of film, but against the direction Pixar is taking as a studio.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:04 PM on June 18, 2009


But because Pixar has the best batting average of any studio ever, they seem like an unproductive target. Why not the studio that greenlighted Ice Age 7

Because we don't give a rat's ass about some generic studio that churns out crap. We care about a studio that already produces great stuff, and could be so much better if they actually addressed half of the population.

WALL-E clearly has two leads, and Pixar pointedly reversed the Disney princess formula to make her the strong saving knight and him the passive love object.

That you say this doesn't make it so; plenty of people here disagree with you. That there's even a disagreement should be indication enough that she's probably not the protagonist, but you're mulishly refusing to even allow for the possibility, so this is a dead-end point at best.

How anyone could prefer a Disney princess movie to that on feminist grounds -- because a woman is the lead -- baffles me.

For fuck's sake: no one here, not a single goddamned person, has indicated that any of the Disney princess movies are better than WALL*E, and the fact that you'd even throw out such a fucking moronic statement indicates that you haven't been paying attention. At all.

Let me break it down for you, since this seems to be such a huge fucking challenge for you to comprehend:

1. Having a female lead doesn't automatically make a movie good.

2. Having a female lead -- an unquestionable female lead, not someone who is secondary to a male lead, or whose journey through the plot is somehow defined by her relationship to a male -- is a good thing.

3. Pixar makes good movies, which is why so many of us want so very badly for them to take on a movie where a female is indisputably a protagonist. It's because we all respect the hell out of them that we're all fairly confident that a movie from Pixar with a female lead won't feel like pandering, won't fall prey to easy stereotypes, and will actually have a character that little girls can be proud to emulate.

This is not rocket science. This is not the ravings of some crazy feminist agenda that is demanding exactly 50% of all Pixar protagonists be female. This is just a simple request for Pixar to rethink its character defaults, which to date have been male.
posted by shiu mai baby at 2:09 PM on June 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Me: because Pixar has the best batting average of any studio ever, they seem like an unproductive target.
KJS: Pixar actually seems like a fairly productive target because they are already halfway there

That wasn't my point. I'm saying, it's very hard to tell if a studio should have picked a different film (say, one with a female lead, or a script by Ela Thier) instead of what they filmed. Usually, you can't tell whether the script they passed over was just inferior.

One possible piece of evidence is if the studio made a crappy film instead. I'm saying that Pixar is an unproductive target because their films are universally successful and lauded. (I'm not a fan of Ratatouille or Cars, by Pixar standards, but they're at least as good as Madagascar or any of those type of kid movies. Less good than Miyazaki or Coraline.) So it's a thinner argument to second-guess their choices.
posted by msalt at 2:55 PM on June 18, 2009


Usually, you can't tell whether the script they passed over was just inferior.

Agreed. And we have no evidence that Pixar is passing on films with female protagonists to make films with male protagonists. But since they develop all their films in-house (as opposed to outside pitches or agented scripts), they bear 100% of the responsibility for what they produce. That's Pixar as an entity; no one person in particular.

And they haven't yet produced a film with a sole female lead (because fully-rounded co-leads are fine, but why not have a sole female lead?). And we are suggesting that maybe they should try it once (which they will do) and more often than once every 15 years. We'll judge the quality of it when it's made. (The question of quality doesn't come into it since A) we're talking about Pixar and B) you can make good and bad films with male and female leads.)
posted by crossoverman at 4:34 PM on June 18, 2009


But I think this is an example of a problem common is debates over sexism in American society: people complain that we are not living up to some normative standard, without ever saying what that standard is.

Uh, a "normative standard" of roughly half men, half women would be ok with me. What other normal would there be?
posted by agregoli at 5:26 PM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


For art? Really? My normative standard would be "whoever makes the best art."
posted by msalt at 6:09 PM on June 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's no such thing as art, we've been told.

Related evil sexism from Pixar
posted by Artw at 7:47 PM on June 18, 2009


msalt, if you could decide what exactly you're arguing that would help out the rest of us a great deal.
posted by crossoverman at 7:48 PM on June 18, 2009


Many of the pro-equality comments in this thread struck me as art.
Any attempt to argue against (or even discuss!) their content, ergo, would only sully their aesthetic merit.
posted by johnasdf at 9:20 PM on June 18, 2009


but the view that we don't see more intelligent female lead roles up on the screen because the complainers just aren't writing them? Simplistic.

Good thing that view was never put forth. Jesus Christ. Is straw all you guys have?

I never said "because" anything. I was giving you advice about DOING. Which is going to be far more rewarding and productive than just criticizing about what other people are or are not doing.

I worked in the film business. I know excatly how it works. Bitching about the gatekeepers just won't cut it anymore. How many women and men on the board right now would send you money to finance a film? I would.

My entire point was the fact there are not women in the business. That there are not enough women screen writers, directors and producers. You have no other course of action but to become the god damned gatekeepers.

One of my best friends clawed her way up the sexist ladder past the gatekeepers and now is now a Hollywood Bigshot Producer. If she can do you can. The more of you that do the better.

I realize that might be actual work. But I think you can manage it.
posted by tkchrist at 9:32 PM on June 18, 2009


msalt: My normative standard would be "whoever makes the best art."

and the criteria for determining "best art" would be...?


tkchrist: Is straw all you guys have? I never said "because" anything. I was giving you advice about DOING. Bitching about the gatekeepers just won't cut it anymore.


It is possible to criticize at the same time as do, but since your words


Which is going to be far more rewarding and productive than just criticizing about what other people are or are not doing

I realize that might be actual work. But I think you can manage it.


assume that criticism equals not doing a bloody thing about it, I can see why you think bringing up gatekeeping is a strawman.


My entire point was the fact there are not women in the business. That there are not enough women screen writers, directors and producers. You have no other course of action but to become the god damned gatekeepers.

One of my best friends clawed her way up the sexist ladder past the gatekeepers and now is now a Hollywood Bigshot Producer. If she can do you can. The more of you that do the better.


Looks like we agree on the ends and one of the means. The above lines espouse one and only one means. Others think there's more than one useful thing for people concerned about this issue to do. Criticism of the status quo helps keep it from becoming accepted as the way things are and always will and always should be. Yes, criticism by itself can be just lazy wanking. Since you acknowledge that there does exist a sexist ladder manned by gatekeepers, what's counterproductive about both pointing out its existence and at the same time, getting into the business and fighting through the bullshit as your friend did?
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:31 PM on June 18, 2009


Because we don't give a rat's ass about some generic studio that churns out crap. We care about a studio that already produces great stuff, and could be so much better if they actually addressed half of the population.

WTF. It's this kind of thinking that has me roling my eyes at so much of this thread. You don't get to pick and choose which texts are culturally relevant. Genre pieces are TOTALLY relevant and worth of study. They add up, those piles of derivative reiterative drivel. They're all the more fascinating. At least, to actual scholars. Fanboys? I don't especially care what fanboys talk about.* It's so frequently feckless and self-serving. So what shiu mai baby says above translates to me as "we want OUR feed to be the finest, and who cares about the kids anyway," but I find that bass-ackwards.

*studying fan culture itself is awesome, though.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:25 PM on June 18, 2009


Ambrosia, the word used was generic - not genre. Besides, it makes much more sense we'd want to see Pixar - who already writes strong female characters - to go that extra mile, than start somewhere else, somewhere further behind to get them to the stage where Pixar is already at.
posted by crossoverman at 12:00 AM on June 19, 2009


Well, that sounds selfish. And if we're all adults here who are clearly capable of cogent, resistant readings of texts, why should we need them to be perfectly calibrated compositions? As has been exhausted upthread, we don't really seek the perfect film, right? We're not REALLY after that, are we? I've never seen it. (okay, it's La Jetee. No, Zardoz)

The people who NEED egalitarian representation are the ones who don't stop to overthink a text, and the texts that aren't often enough questioned are "generic,"* as you say, assumedly to mean unmemorable, but yeah, usually they are also adherents to genre,** which is itself a way of saying derivative of their antecedents and unadorned by such voluminous literary gifts as Up boasts. Most of what comprises our visual culture is generic. That's what makes it important. Like I said before, saying "Well, you can see why we'd want OUR stuff to be above reproach" strikes me as funamentally pointless carping, and not actually activist in spirit. Let's not forget the topic at hand: egalitarian representation of gender. Are y'all being personally affected by the gender imbalance of Pixar films? Is that actually ruining your enjoyment of their fllms? I say blarney. And if not, why point it out if not out of a sense of cultural responsibility, a concern for others. And if that is the case, if this is about acculturation via representation, for "the kids," say, why on Earth limit the conversation to Pixar?

*But in a minute you're going to want me to define genre and that's as big a folly as trying to define "'good' 'art.'"

**Of course, Up being a giant riff on adventure genre pictures with the biggest, boldest homage in memory makes this ticklish.***

*** Asterisks are fucking addictive, boy.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:30 AM on June 19, 2009


Oops, meant to actually include the film Up makes homage to. The Lost World, groundbreaking film in special effects and hallmark of the adventure genre. Watch here at 5:50 to get the omg that's awful familiar moment. It's a great movie, check it out.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:41 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let's not forget the topic at hand: egalitarian representation of gender. Are y'all being personally affected by the gender imbalance of Pixar films? Is that actually ruining your enjoyment of their fllms? I say blarney. And if not, why point it out if not out of a sense of cultural responsibility, a concern for others. And if that is the case, if this is about acculturation via representation, for "the kids," say, why on Earth limit the conversation to Pixar?

I'll have a go at explaining how I feel about this. But I don't speak for everyone, disclaimer, etc.

Gender imbalance in Pixar films does affect me personally. It's not anywhere near being the worst problem in my life, but it kind of sucks that apparently the guys at Pixar make good movies using a technique I have an interest in (3d animation), but aren't interested in telling stories that I like, with real, varied women at the heart of them. When I was a girl I had a small number of books that had awesome female characters, and they formed my ideas of what it meant to be a grown-up woman, and I'm a better person for having read them. I'd be happier with more fiction like that in the world. (I'd be happier with free ice-cream brought to me by hot men everyday too, but that actually seems less likely than getting a response from the thoughtful people at Pixar.)

It's also out of a sense of cultural responsibility too, since (like every human on the planet) I assume that what I liked as a kid and made me a better person will be a Good Thing for other kids too.

As for limiting the conversation to Pixar, well, that's a matter of strategy, not ideology - they're already halfway to the state we'd like to see. If our only leverage is talking about it in public forums, and decisions about where we spend our money, it's a lot easier to get Pixar (a boutique studio with a less-corporate culture) to reconsider a few things in their approach than it is to overhaul studios that don't care that their stereotyped female characters are crap in many ways.

And in the same way that anti-sweatshop activists went after Nike, how climate change activists go after the coal industry, it's generally considered sensible to go after the biggest fish in the pond first. If you win and get what you want, stage two is turning around to the rest and saying "well, if Big Name can be better, the rest of you had better lift your game too if you want to compete".

(Apparently brackets are addictive too)
posted by harriet vane at 1:41 AM on June 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Are y'all being personally affected by the gender imbalance of Pixar films? Is that actually ruining your enjoyment of their fllms? I say blarney. And if not, why point it out if not out of a sense of cultural responsibility, a concern for others. And if that is the case, if this is about acculturation via representation, for "the kids," say, why on Earth limit the conversation to Pixar?

It depends what you mean by personally affected. Personally, I understand not seeing representations of diverse queer characters on screen. I could ask why Pixar isn't representing me on screen by including a gay characters. But that's not the discussion. We could broaden it out to include it, of course; we could also broaden it to include other studios and other places where women are under-represented. That becomes a big discussion, but I think we're all well aware of the context: see post header and the continuing, entrenched boys club in nearly every aspect of life.

But just because it happens elsewhere, doesn't give Pixar a free pass. "Oh, they should be allowed to be a boys club, because why should we expect any different?" Except some people are directly affected by their unconscious choice to cast male characters in the leads and others of us are empathetic to that because we have similar experiences and others just see a clear black and white case of "well, why shouldn't we suggest they try putting a girl front and centre? where exactly is the harm in that?"

The harm, as far as I can tell, only exists in the minds of the people who think suggesting Pixar have lead female roles will oppress their creativity. And that surely only comes from people upset that the status quo is being challenged. Why would people who are NOT affected by the lack of female characters even care?
posted by crossoverman at 2:22 AM on June 19, 2009


I was giving you advice about DOING. Which is going to be far more rewarding and productive than just criticizing about what other people are or are not doing.

Don't make assumptions about what I'm DOING outside of Metafilter. Though I may not be an aspiring film maker, this discussion is very relevant to the "actual work" I do every day, as one of those gatekeepers you'll never see me complaining about.

Even if I weren't though. Discussion about the strengths, weaknesses, and patterns observable in the art our culture produces is valuable in its own right. You won't convince me otherwise.

Every time someone you know says "hey this movie/play/exhibit/game/book I just saw/played/read was pretty good except for this one thing about it I wasn't so keen on," do you reply "well that's fine for you to say but why don't you DO something about it and write your own it'd be much more rewarding than criticizing! I guess because that would be actual work!" Because saying so then would be just as appropriate as saying so now.

Are y'all being personally affected by the gender imbalance of Pixar films? Is that actually ruining your enjoyment of their fllms? I say blarney. And if not, why point it out if not out of a sense of cultural responsibility, a concern for others.

Because it's interesting!

why on Earth limit the conversation to Pixar?

Because we can't discuss all films ever made at the same time. Each conversation has to have a limit somewhere. This one's about Pixar. Believe me, I have lots of other conversations about lots of other similar things all the time. Way above I did bring up another example--Sesame Street, which has had similar problems in its history. We've had, oh, one or two discussions about Sesame Street on this website, including discussions of its strengths and weaknesses. You can't accuse Metafilter, or the people on Metafilter whose interests lie in pop culture and children's entertainment, of spending too little time discussing non-Pixar films, shows, and books. This conversation may be limited to Pixar, for the most part, but The Conversation, in the larger sense, is most certainly not.
posted by lampoil at 5:33 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


So what shiu mai baby says above translates to me as "we want OUR feed to be the finest, and who cares about the kids anyway," but I find that bass-ackwards.

Kudos for one of the most bizarre and utterly, incomprehensibly wrong "translations" of anything I've ever written on this site.

Who cares about the kids? Me. I am 24 weeks pregnant. With a girl. And I am sick to death of being told that it is so fucking repugnant and outrageous for me to wish my little girl can someday go to the movies and, just once in a fucking blue moon -- not 50% of the time, not 25% of the time, just anything that is greater that zero, which is exactly what she would have right now if she were born today -- watch a story about a smart, interesting female protagonist that she can emulate and pretend to be and admire, a protagonist -- not co-lead -- that doesn't need saving, who isn't defined by shopping or materialist bullshit or by a romantic relationship to a man, one who hasn't been confined to the cinematic ghetto of a "chick flick."

I will not apologize for this. Nor will I apologize for hoping against hope that it is Pixar, the studio that arguably makes the best damned kids' movies today, that takes on this not-so-challenging challenge. Not Dreamworks or Disney-proper or some other film house that has yet to prove to the audience at large that they're capable of making a movie that isn't chock-full of easy stereotypes, marketing opportunities, disposable pop-culture riffs, and shot-to-the-junk humor.

To anyone who insists that wishing for strong female leads in quality children's movies is stupid, wrong, or unreasonable: please consider this an engraved invitation on Crane cotton stock to fuck right off.
posted by shiu mai baby at 6:20 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


First off, as repeatedly stated above, Pixar is producing a movie with a female main lead. We already know it'll be terrific, because terrific is what Pixar does. So it's not a question of Pixar not doing something, which defaults the criticism toward Pixar for taking too long to do it.

The harm, as far as I can tell, only exists in the minds of the people who think suggesting Pixar have lead female roles will oppress their creativity. And that surely only comes from people upset that the status quo is being challenged.

I think there's nothing wrong with suggesting Pixar have lead female roles. I think telling them they HAVE to have female characters is oppressive to the creation process. But what the heck do you mean about upsetting the status quo? Is there some kind of XY/Super Macho animated film cabal that I don't know about, whose entire goal is to insure the continuance of male characters in leading roles?


One neglected piece of short animation from Pixar is One Man Band, in which I think it's safe to say the protagonist is the little girl, who gets the better of two grown men by a display of amazing skill and exits the scene from a position of superiority and power. This was packaged with Cars.
posted by Atreides at 6:44 AM on June 19, 2009


Ambrosia Voyeur: And if that is the case, if this is about acculturation via representation, for "the kids," say, why on Earth limit the conversation to Pixar?

Well, 1) this is a thread about Pixar, if you want to start a thread about Dreamworks or Gibli, we can certainly talk about them, 2) generally, I think that better works are more worthy of criticism. But both of these have been brought to your attention before, and ignored, so please go back to your cherished exercise of arguing against a strawman of people who only consider Pixar worthy of criticism.

Atredes: First off, as repeatedly stated above, Pixar is producing a movie with a female main lead. We already know it'll be terrific, because terrific is what Pixar does. So it's not a question of Pixar not doing something, which defaults the criticism toward Pixar for taking too long to do it.

Certainly. And I have to ask what is the motivation of Pixar "defenders" in this thread to beat a dead horse by arguing against Pixar's public direction as a company?

Atredes: I think there's nothing wrong with suggesting Pixar have lead female roles. I think telling them they HAVE to have female characters is oppressive to the creation process.

Certainly. As I've seen abundant evidence of the former and little or no evidence of the latter, the question is why are people still harping on something that seems to be advocated by few people, if any still remaining in this discussion.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:50 AM on June 19, 2009


Part of the reason why this whole discussion has been a multi-day circular wank is because Pixar defenders are acting in profound bad faith by advancing the following arguments.

1) Persons concerned with gender equity only talk about Pixar.
2) Persons concerned with gender equity don't engage in the production of creative works reflecting their point of view.
3) Critical discussion of Pixar's body of work reflects badly on Pixar as a studio.
4) Critical discussion of Pixar's body of work in regards to gender negates other virtues their work may have.
5) People talking about gender in a body of work are in a position to or have a desire to force Pixar to change.
6) People talking about gender in Pixar's body of work are not looking forward to The Bear and the Bow and the probability of future change.
7) People talking about gender in Pixar's body of work are not aware of Pixar's strong writing of female secondary characters, production of English translations of Miyazaki, or shorts like One Man Band and Jack Jack Attack.

If you find yourself making any of those arguments, please take a step away from the computer and do something more useful with your time. Pick your nose, have sex, count your pubic hairs, twiddle your thumbs. Just please do something that's not a tired repetition of arguments that have previously been shown to be false.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:18 AM on June 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


the question is why are people still harping on something that seems to be advocated by few people, if any still remaining in this discussion.

I think the answer is in your most recent post. Some people react to the criticism as applying entirely to Pixar's works, rather than pointing to a lacking quality trait. That's not to say that some of the criticism has been applied in this manner, "No girl lead? Movie absolutely sucks and isn't worth my time!!!111" One of the successes of Pixar is to produce movies that most people genuinely care about because the flicks succeed on an emotional, usually well-written level; not to mention, animation that at times reflect the fonder dreams of many. (See Astro Zombie's post) As a result, it's nearly a base reaction to "Your favorite X sucks" type of attack. Any criticism of Pixar, is then felt as a criticism of their favorite Pixar movie, and by extension, upon themselves ("I love Wall-e, so now I'm a sexist Pig?").

My reference to One Man Band, by and by, was not to exonerate the lack of clearly leading ladies, but to point out that Pixar has and is capable of such.
posted by Atreides at 9:08 AM on June 19, 2009


That's not to say that some of the criticism has been applied in this manner, "No girl lead? Movie absolutely sucks and isn't worth my time!!!111"

Atreides, I'm having hard time parsing that sentence. Are you saying that some of the opinions here have been of the "no girl lead = movie sucks!" variety, or am I misreading? If it's the former, I've got to say that I've followed the thread from the beginning, and I have yet to see this sentiment expressed by any member here. I'd love to see where you're reading that.

If I'm mistaken, then, please disregard.

Furthermore, if anyone here is actually internalizing criticism of any Pixar film and interpreting it (whether consciously or no) as a form of criticism upon themselves, well, then perhaps MetaFilter isn't the place for them. Hell, I'd argue that they should probably walk away from the Internet entirely.
posted by shiu mai baby at 9:29 AM on June 19, 2009


To anyone who insists that wishing for strong female leads in quality children's movies is stupid, wrong, or unreasonable: please consider this an engraved invitation on Crane cotton stock to fuck right off.

Fortunately no one is saying that so the fuck right off won't be happening. To anyone who insists that it is being said however, that's a different story.
posted by juiceCake at 9:45 AM on June 19, 2009


Shiu mai baby, I had sincerely believed I'd read some posts along those sentiments at some point, but upon review, they seem to be a fabrication of my mind. So please consider that statement withdrawn. I think it may have been a bad memory affecting statements like, "I liked it, but I would have liked it more...." Thank you for calling me on it, I appreciate the correction.
posted by Atreides at 9:52 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Forgive me if I won't give much consideration to the opinions of someone who doesn't have a problem labeling someone he disagrees with "a cunt." That, plus the fact that you clearly didn't even pause to think about throwing out that epithet -- twice, no less -- in a discussion about a distinctly feminist issue... oh, the irony.
posted by shiu mai baby at 9:57 AM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


That was for juicecake, bw, not you, Atreides.
posted by shiu mai baby at 9:57 AM on June 19, 2009


Me:My normative standard would be "whoever makes the best art."
CI: and the criteria for determining "best art" would be...?

We can debate it. But by all accounts, Pixar is picking directors and writers who make the best art (as family movies go). No one is really disputing that, that I can see.
posted by msalt at 9:57 AM on June 19, 2009


And also: thanks for that, Atreides.

Sad little preview button. I shall neglect thee no more.
posted by shiu mai baby at 9:58 AM on June 19, 2009


NO ONE IS SAYING THINGS THAT SOME PEOPLE ARE SAYING PLEASE STOP PRETENDING THAT THEY ARE AND WE ARE VERY ANGRY THAT YOU ARE DISAGREEING WITH THEM.
posted by Artw at 10:19 AM on June 19, 2009


That's an endemic problem here on MeFi. I cannot believe how much energy I've had to put into unweaving plumes of bullshit that others try to put in my mouth. I understand that restatement of others' words is a useful rhetorical tool, but it gets tiresome having to constantly make sure that someone else isn't putting really hateful words into my mouth.
posted by hippybear at 10:25 AM on June 19, 2009


your cherished exercise of arguing against a strawman of people who only consider Pixar worthy of criticism.

Ridiculous. I've been reasonably arguing against the notion that addressing only Pixar on a topic like this is sound and fury, signifying nothing but whatever, obviously it's something y'all are deeply enjoying, despite it bearing discursive resemblance to a facebiting parade.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:39 AM on June 19, 2009


Forgive me if I won't give much consideration to the opinions of someone who doesn't have a problem labeling someone he disagrees with "a cunt."

This is an endemic and ongoing problem here at MeFi. UK/Aussies (Canadians?), please consider that even though you may not mean to be calling someone the American equivalent of "cum dumpster" or some other slutwhore derivative, that's what the word means here. Americans, consider that maybe what you took as a grievous insult wasn't intended as such.

That said, the fuck off talk pretty much needs to stop or go to MeTa.
posted by jessamyn at 10:40 AM on June 19, 2009


shiu mai baby, I hope at some point later when we're not BOTH operating as feminists in a thread amid SEXIST SLURS, you can see my posts here and posting history as non-threatenting to your point of view or hopes for child-rearing, because without getting dick-wavy myself, ummm these concerns are what I'm building a career around, the ideal of good media sources outweighing bad and a rich cultural lexicon in the field of time-based media, since its such a powerful tool in children's cognitive and cultural development. It's pretty important to me, and drawing the focus away from the 99% awesome to the OTHER 99% is something I can't help but do. For your daughter, I hope as you do she has enriching choices all around her, but it's not gonna be easy to keep the sneakily oppressive dreck at bay, I tell you what.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:46 AM on June 19, 2009


What AV said. For context, I'm the father of two preteen daughters and spend a lot of time finding good rich entertainment for them. Yes, that includes Miyazaki and Coraline, and Pixar.

Because the alternatives for them are so much worse -- The Suite Life with Zack and Cody, Ice Age 7, etc. etc. They're great kids (and brilliant and beautiful) but to be honest, they'll soak up whatever entertainment is placed in front of them, good or bad. So for me, Pixar is a rare island in a polluted ocean.
posted by msalt at 2:10 PM on June 19, 2009


And a lot of people here consider them that rare island. I just don't know what's so upsetting about suggesting they could still make improvements.
posted by agregoli at 3:11 PM on June 19, 2009


Suggest away, I'm still here discussing aren't I? But calling Pixar sexist for not answering your suggestions in advance, that's less reasonable.

And calling people idiots who should fuck off if they don't agree with your suggestions looks kind of desperate. It's the critics of Pixar who are telling people they shouldn't be discussing.
posted by msalt at 4:25 PM on June 19, 2009


What on earth is unreasonable about expecting men and women to be represented equally almost everywhere, naturally and organically, without anyone having to suggest it like it's a radical idea? Women make up about half of the population, it should be completely natural and normal and welcome for them to make up about half of art.

In the ideal, no suggestions would ever be necessary, because men and women would be treated equally, even in something as seemingly inconsequential as the amount of female leads in Pixar movies - until then, I really don't see what's so disturbing and angering about pointing out the inequity.
posted by agregoli at 5:00 PM on June 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


(I mean, I just feel a lot of anger behind some of these responses, and I'm having trouble understanding why anyone would be angry about these suggestions/pointing out about Pixar).
posted by agregoli at 5:06 PM on June 19, 2009


The real question is, why the anger at people who don't agree with your all suggestions for Pixar?

You're assuming that the fictional characters created by roughly 5 people at one artistically very successful company should be roughly equally divided between males and females, when many of them are not even human. There are other conditions, too -- they must be leads, fully rounded, not get rescued, etc.

Certainly that's one point of view, but it's not as obviously true as I think you imagine. A great deal of art is created by individuals with certain themes or obsessions that repeat in their work (eg Miyazaki's flying machines and young girls). As AV pointed out, it's not clear that animation needs to, or should, be realistic.
posted by msalt at 5:51 PM on June 19, 2009


To clarify my thought on that a little, I don't think any curated body of works (be they marked by production company, era, nation of origin, genre, whatever) can be irrefutably analyzed by any group in terms of realism AT ALL (showing my documentarian academic stripes in a big way there), but that doesn't mean that steps shouldn't be taken to meet general, cultural benchmarks, and I'm definitely in the "duh, Pixar's been lazy on this issue for reals" side, there. So the time does come to ask: what are our benchmarks and how should they be applied?

I don't put stock in the murmurs of the fanbase to get things done in the realm of commercial media. There are exceptional stories where that's happened, and of course we know that one of the things that does make Pixar special is their seeming tendency to listen to their fans on a personal level.

This is a long, long thread of frustrated people venting without any semblance of a plan or even any idea how these changes happen. And basically, they don't happen because you're mad. It takes commercial pressure, and the most common way for commercial pressure to build is for the culture to move slowly forward and render unfair representations unattractive. I'd like to have some historical example to point out, some representation of gender from history that wouldn't fly anymore, but I keep just thinking about how we seem stuck in a phase characterized by pseudoironic reiterations of some very reactionary gender-oriented values in tv and cinema. So, I'm impatiently patient that changes will come. But the whole system of art and culture have to be running in tandem in the right direction - people learning how the world is, the world being that way, people showing the world in stories, repeat ad infinitum. Forcing a studio's hand is a gimmick, almost. The muse, the market, they want what they want.

And besides that, one more point we're all continuing to take for granted it seems is that kids benefit from same-gender role models. I bet there are articles that support that idea, but I sort of think gender should be more thoroughly undermined than that, being the exclusionary, binary boondoggle of neurosis-generation that it is for practically everybody but certainly queer people. Maybe that isn't the point people here are supporting, maybe it's more akin to representation of the underrepresented as a benefit to all, I hope so. Of course, that tack conveniently bolsters Pixar again in that orthogonal way, being that Up has such unconventional heroes.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:28 PM on June 19, 2009


the most common way for commercial pressure to build is for the culture to move slowly forward and render unfair representations unattractive.

Or even more common, for someone to risk challenging the norm and make a ton of money doing so. The success of Coraline, for example, will undoubtedly to more to promote female lead characters than any amount of urging we could direct at filmmakers.
d
posted by msalt at 1:17 AM on June 20, 2009


The real question is, why the anger at people who don't agree with your all suggestions for Pixar?

Because the Defenders Of The Status Quo are relying on strawman arguments, namecalling, and shifting the goalposts of the discussion, and they started it up pretty early in the thread. After a dozen people have explained their position half a dozen different ways, trying to give evidence and nuance for a difficult-to-pin-down topic, seeing it frequently reduced to "You think Pixar are evil sexists and want to ruin their art!" with a side-order of "you're just hysterical c-nts" gets frustrating.

But that's just my explanation. What's your theory?

(For all this, I'm very much looking forward to seeing Up when it gets released here in Australia. A good movie is a good movie, after all.)
posted by harriet vane at 2:09 AM on June 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


The real question is, why the anger at people who don't agree with your all suggestions for Pixar?

No, please don't turn it around. The question is, why are people so angry when sexism, no matter how unconscious, is pointed out?

And...I'm not angry. I was asking the defenders of Pixar why it's so hard to hear this particular criticism of their work. No one has called the Pixar creators big sexist jerks or anything like that.

If animation doesn't need to be realistic, that's cool. Why is it then, so incredibly, traditionally, realistic in the sense that it almost always includes a male lead? As others have said, male is not the normal and female the odd. Male is not the default. It's not weird to expect that some of these fictional and yes, non-human characters be female. I don't see why that should be ludicrous and angering.
posted by agregoli at 5:53 AM on June 20, 2009


No, please don't turn it around. The question is, why are people so angry when sexism, no matter how unconscious, is pointed out?

Repeatedly calling me angry doesn't make it so, esp. with no examples. Call it "turning around" if you like but KJS ("go pick your nose or count your pubic hairs") and Shiu Mai Baby ("fuck off") seem to be the angry name callers around here.
posted by msalt at 12:17 PM on June 20, 2009


So...why are YOU (seemingly) upset about it? (If you're not, I'm sorry) You keep avoiding my question.
posted by agregoli at 1:50 PM on June 20, 2009


But, you know, on second thought, it's ok. I don't know how much I want to get invested in this thread. It all seems too eerily familiar here on Metafilter.
posted by agregoli at 1:59 PM on June 20, 2009


The real question is, why the anger at people who don't agree with your all suggestions for Pixar?

No, please don't turn it around. The question is, why are people so angry when sexism, no matter how unconscious, is pointed out?


Speaking as someone who has now read through this thread twice in its entirety (and it's a damn good thread, a certain amount of circle-wankery nonwithstanding), these are both real questions. There seems to be either a great deal of anger and frustration on both sides, or a great many people writing as if they are frustrated and angry on both sides. Given that none of us can see each other's faces here....
This seems to be complicated by the fact that a lot of people here are interpreting "I disagree with your statement" to mean "you are an evil sexist pig/evil feminazi and you should just shut up and go elsewhere". Which generally doesn't seem to be the intent.

And just because I couldn't resist it:

Metafilter: bearing discursive resemblance to a facebiting parade
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:02 PM on June 20, 2009


Forgive me if I won't give much consideration to the opinions of someone who doesn't have a problem labeling someone he disagrees with a wonderful person.

Except is has nothing to do with disagreements. It has to do with manners and being condescending. Despite that, I think it would be wonderful if we all accepted and respected the opinions of others, despite what me may think of their hideously condescending and insulting tone. The opinion is independent of the person, just as the art is independent of the social/economical/political/scientific confines of the real world.

I have no problems whatsoever with criticism of art on sociological terms. It is of course, not looking at the art itself in it's own artistic universe terms, but so many people don't bother to do so that's pretty much the standard. A shame really. It's like saying science fiction is bad because it isn't music, or animation is like, so totally unreal.
posted by juiceCake at 3:06 PM on June 20, 2009


You clearly didn't even pause to think about throwing out that epithet -- twice, no less -- in a discussion about a distinctly feminist issue... oh, the irony.

I did think of it. I must come from a different culture and you didn't think of that. Oh the irony indeed.
posted by juiceCake at 3:09 PM on June 20, 2009


This is an endemic and ongoing problem here at MeFi. UK/Aussies (Canadians?), please consider that even though you may not mean to be calling someone the American equivalent of "cum dumpster" or some other slutwhore derivative, that's what the word means here. Americans, consider that maybe what you took as a grievous insult wasn't intended as such.

Agreed, I made the error of assuming that we're all familiar with different cultural uses here. Obviously none of us are. My girlfriend uses the term constantly (I picked it up from her) and I assumed that it was merely a reflection of society at large, which is supposedly what this thread is about but obviously, it's a selective reflection we're talking about that is done to override the unique properties of art and unfortunately and distressingly, for me, impose social/political modifications on it that are pretty much meaningless. But to each their own viewpoint, expressed with condescension or not. Obviously a rather sensitive topic that has instantly distorted the multi-faceted reactions and takes on it.

I won't watch another Pixar movie again. I'm sure they won't care.
posted by juiceCake at 3:31 PM on June 20, 2009


Because we don't give a rat's ass about some generic studio that churns out crap.

Some of us do, though "crap" is a relative value judgment of course. I'm afraid that Pixar is no better or worse than many an animation studio, in my view, but then value judgments have no place in artistic criticism.
posted by juiceCake at 3:34 PM on June 20, 2009


Seriously, the only time I ever got thrown out of a bar was for repeating a George Carlin joke to the bartender, a sweet old lady who was a good friend of mine.

"Hey, what do you call a female peacock? A peacunt."

"I think you'd better go home now."
posted by hippybear at 3:48 PM on June 20, 2009


agregrioli: So...why are YOU (seemingly) upset about it? (If you're not, I'm sorry) You keep avoiding my question.

I don't think I am upset. I wasn't trying to avoid your question either, actually I was indirectly challenging you to give me examples of my upsetness but I wasn't very clear. Sorry about that.
posted by msalt at 5:49 PM on June 20, 2009


A common problem in Metafilter threads on sexism, to my eye, is that people lump each other into feminist and anti-feminist camps -- often inaccurately. For example:

HV: [Why anger?] Because the Defenders Of The Status Quo are relying on strawman arguments, namecalling, and shifting the goalposts of the discussion

I'm sure some people who disagreed with the premise of the Pixar criticism got angry somewhere amidst the 630 comments, but this kind of broad-brushing isn't very productive. People can actually disagree with your argument without being sexist, or defending the status quo, and it discredits you to assume otherwise. It also alienates people who share your goals and are your natural allies, like, well, me.

I find this kind of argument especially counterproductive:

[Why target Pixar?] Because we don't give a rat's ass about some generic studio that churns out crap. We care about a studio that already produces great stuff, and could be so much better if they actually addressed half of the population.

In other words, if a studio is actually responsible, and cares about the social impacts of their films, and listens, we'll attack them MORE. The problem is, any rational film company will say "If we try, we'll only get attacked. If we churn out exploitive crap and grab every dollar we can, they'll leave us alone. So that's an easy choice." Thank God that Pixar (and Miyazaki, and Laika, who made Coraline) are irrationally taking the hard road.
posted by msalt at 6:51 PM on June 20, 2009


Although speaking generally of Pixar, wow.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:55 PM on June 20, 2009


I'm sure some people who disagreed with the premise of the Pixar criticism got angry somewhere amidst the 630 comments, but this kind of broad-brushing isn't very productive.

It's a simple description of why there's anger towards people trying to shut down the discussion. I never claimed it was productive, I was giving an answer to your direct question (that's an example of the goal-post shifting I was talking about).

In other words, if a studio is actually responsible, and cares about the social impacts of their films, and listens, we'll attack them MORE.

Who attacked Pixar? No really, who? A lot of fans said "gee, I wish they'd include some more women in lead character roles", and this was interpreted as being an attack. But it's not even mildly aggressive, and it's really weird of you (along with many others) to characterise it that way.

Go back and read the Linda Holmes letter from the original post - that's all the pro-more-lead-girls group has been trying to say, and you won't be able to find an example to contradict that. The angry responses started with Skeptic's first comment, but the anger was towards the mindless STFU comments, not Pixar itself. Many people wanted to discuss it, but there's always a group who think that things are fine exactly the way they are, and try to police any discussion where suggestions for change are made.

If you're going to keep on with the "you girls are worked up over nothing" tack, have fun, I suppose. But it's not a good use of my time to keep replying if you're not going to answer in good faith.
posted by harriet vane at 4:20 AM on June 21, 2009


If you're going to keep on with the "you girls are worked up over nothing" tack, have fun, I suppose.

Now you've gone beyond a straw man argument to flat out lying and insulting me. Show us where I said anything remotely like that, or admit you're full of crap.

You see what you're doing here? When anyone disagrees with any part of your argument, you immediately call them a dismissive sexist. That's the essence of bad faith argument.
posted by msalt at 11:25 AM on June 21, 2009


AV: the most common way for commercial pressure to build is for the culture to move slowly forward and render unfair representations unattractive

The culture is unlikely to move forward much without people discussing their views, dissecting strengths and weaknesses of those representations, so that participants and observers get a spectrum of perspectives to evaluate and inform their own assessments, which may at some point develop into a critical mass. As we're doing in this thread.

we're all continuing to take for granted it seems is that kids benefit from same-gender role models. I bet there are articles that support that idea,

Yes.

but I sort of think gender should be more thoroughly undermined than that, being the exclusionary, binary boondoggle of neurosis-generation that it is for practically everybody but certainly queer people.

Moving beyond binaries would be awesome. The first step towards that would be to get people to think about the status quo. Which can be much easier when using categories that they're less likely to reject right off the bat as "sinful" or "freakazoid". It's hard enough to get people to think about the status quo regarding mere conventional gender binaries.

Maybe that isn't the point people here are supporting, maybe it's more akin to representation of the underrepresented as a benefit to all, I hope so.

That was my sense of it.

Of course, that tack conveniently bolsters Pixar again in that orthogonal way, being that Up has such unconventional heroes.

Unconventional in certain ways (old guy and Asian-American kid) and conventional in others (male). They're doing admirable work, and I look forward to them excelling their previous work by featuring protagonists with two, or three, or even layers upon layers, of unconventionalities.

msalt: People can actually disagree with your argument without . . . defending the status quo . . . like, well, me.

I get that your intent was different. Can you see that statements like

now a film with multiple leads, male and female, isn't good enough either? It has to have female only leads?

it's useless to say "someone is doing something wrong", if you can't tell me exactly . . . what doing something right would be.

it's not clear that animation needs to, or should, be realistic.


read easily as "defending the status quo"? (The first is answered in the NPR link. No goalpost shifting because the request was laid out as ""a [not-princess] girl and the things that happen to her," from the beginning. The second is also answered in the NPR link. The helpfulness of making animation realistic in the sense under discussion is addressed in the studies about role modelling.)

Now you're attacking the most artistically successful filmmakers in history, and you shouldn't be shocked if people defend them. Esp. if it's OK for Miyazaki to be imbalanced because girls rule and boys drool.

Quite a few of us weren't shocked, and the atypicality of gender imbalance in Miyazaki's work doesn't exactly counterbalance the heavy weight of more "normal," pervasive, unquestioned gender imbalances the other way.

if a studio is actually responsible, and cares about the social impacts of their films, and listens, we'll attack them MORE.


For one thing, the original piece (NPR link) was in no way an attack and people in this thread didn't start getting attacky until they got tired of having their statements constantly mischaracterized as demands (peppered through the several hundred comments that took place before you showed up mystified as to why your respondents had such short fuses). For another, being the best involves constantly paying attention to constructive criticism and incorporating whatever criticisms ring true.

No one objects to these goals, but any time you start a script with social justice rather than entertainment as your pole star,

Certainly, creating something in service of a hollow "social justice" goal that the creator plasters on soullessly would result in something phony and embarrassing and money sink.What I pictured when reading Holmes's piece was the Pixar people thinking about "keep them in mind, those girls in Band-Aids, because they want to see themselves on screen doing death-defying stunts, too," running those ideas by women (or other women) and girls, and hopefully having those other perspectives inform their future creative work because (the following are not my words but I can't remember where this quote is from) "writing that is alive never stops to admire itself" but is always seeking to be better.

We can debate it. But by all accounts, Pixar is picking directors and writers who make the best art (as family movies go).

Right. "Best" is debatable. The fact that they're currently leading the field doesn't mean there isn't room for them to get "better" (I'm sure some would dispute "better") in ways that would let "those [not-princess] girls in Band-Aids . . . see themselves on screen doing death-defying stunts, too" in a story about "'a girl and the things that happen to her,' the way [most stories are] 'a boy and what happens to him.'"

It's the critics of Pixar who are telling people what they shouldn't be discussing. groundlessly attributing to (ie mischaracterizing) [statements of] people in this thread who disagree with them.

Pixar is a rare island in a polluted ocean.

Yep, we all agree on that. Some of us think that means they'd be more open than conventional studios to continue to break new ground. I think that considering how much heart the Pixar people have already demonstrated, they can reasonably be expected to respond positively to the ideas and tone of Holmes's piece.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:12 PM on June 21, 2009


CI: These discussions naturally evolve and take on a life of their own. It seems a bit, I don't know, technical to insist that no one raise a point that was addressed in one of the 7 links in the OP, before the 650 comments that followed. We're discussing with each other, not NPR unless Linda Holmes shows up here. That's following the conversation, not moving the goalposts.

But in general -- can we treat each other as individuals instead of assuming people are part of warring camps? I don't assume you or agregioli share every opinion of KJS or shiu mai baby, and even if I were angry at them it wouldn't make sense to apply it to you too, just because you share the same side of the discussion.
posted by msalt at 12:03 AM on June 22, 2009


the atypicality of gender imbalance in Miyazaki's work doesn't exactly counterbalance the heavy weight of more "normal," pervasive, unquestioned gender imbalances the other way.

True, but it's true for Pixar too. Even if they made 10 new features starring plucky 8 year old supergirls, they would not counterbalance the heavy weight of more "normal" gender imbalances from other movie studios, Nickolodeon, Disney Channel, the Girl Scouts, etc. etc. etc.

So now they have to not only improve their own movies, but counterbalance the rest of the entertainment industry? *That's* moving the goalposts.
posted by msalt at 12:07 AM on June 22, 2009


I hope she does show up here, because the criticisms at NPR.org remain very shallow, and I'd be curious to see how she'd defend them. The film's wikipedia page (to which she links) does a better job of situating The Bear and Bow among its literary influences. Her exhortations against the 'princess' fail to understand it as a storytelling trope, and the call for more "death-defying stunts" should be kept to Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfiction boards before they do more harm. Her supporters in this thread are more persuasive than she is. And they say that journalism is dying.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:38 AM on June 22, 2009


kid ichorous, thanks for mentioning the wikipedia page. I'll check it out.

technical to insist that no one raise a point that was addressed in one of the 7 links in the OP, before the 650 comments that followed. We're discussing with each other,

I didn't mean "no one can raise this point." I meant, the comment "now a film with multiple leads, male and female, isn't good enough either? It has to have female only leads?" reads easily as "defending the status quo," because you had implied that you weren't (defending the status quo). My subsidiary point was that that comment incorrectly imputed goal-shifting. Incorrectly because that goal was laid out in that link and many on the one side understood "female lead" from the beginning to mean the main focus of the story.

can we treat each other as individuals instead of assuming people are part of warring camps?

I thought I was. People defend the status quo for a variety of reasons and I intended to point out ambiguity in some of your statements, not imply that you were arguing from a particular monolithic camp.

it's true for Pixar too. Even if they made 10 new features starring plucky 8 year old supergirls, they would not counterbalance the heavy weight of more "normal" gender imbalances from other movie studios, Nickolodeon, Disney Channel, the Girl Scouts, etc. etc. etc.

Yes, I know.

So now they have to not only improve their own movies, but counterbalance the rest of the entertainment industry? *That's* moving the goalposts.


No, no one "has to" do anything. "The atypicality of gender imbalance in Miyazaki's work doesn't exactly counterbalance the heavy weight of more "normal," pervasive, unquestioned gender imbalances the other way" contains no demands. It's an observation. It addressed the implication in "you shouldn't be shocked if people defend them. Esp. if it's OK for Miyazaki to be imbalanced because girls rule and boys drool." that Miyazaki's leads being predominantly girls somehow balances out the effects (eg, absence of varied well-rounded female role models who are the main focus of the story) of the fact that the leads of Pixar and of more conventional mainstream studios are predominantly male. Perhaps I misread and you intended that statement differently.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:34 PM on June 22, 2009


I would never claim that Miyazaki balances out the rest of the industry, or absolves Pixar of the need to make good characters. My point was the shifting standard of Pixar's critics in this debate, as the obvious imbalance in Miyazaki's work doesn't bother anyone.

Personally, I don't think either he or the what, four active directors at Pixar should be judged numerically. They are artists who follow their inspiration to great effect, and I wouldn't want Miyazaki to be pressured for more gender balance any more than Pixar's directors. At the artistic level they're on, I'm just thankful for every picture they give us.

(And I think it's distorting to keep treating Pixar as a huge corporate megalith. The decision makers here are a handful of individuals. We could all get their address and send them letters.)

Now if it's a hack commercial director making stuff like Shrek 4, Over the Hedge, Madagascar, etc., have at them. Nothing to lose. I don't see myself as defending the status quo; a great movie either challenges the SQ or zooms past it on its own plane, and that's what these directors (and Harry Selick of Coraline fame) do IMHO.
posted by msalt at 12:19 AM on June 23, 2009


Miyazaki's leads being predominantly girls

Miyazaki's leads are more diverse than people realise. Of 9 feature-length films directed for Studio Ghibli (where he has more creative control), Miyasaki has 2 films with a male protagonist, and another with co-protagonists (one male, one female). Of the seven films with female protagonists, two star grown women (not girls).

In order of release (1984-2008)

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind - lead: young, but grown woman
Laputa: Castle in the Sky - co-leads: a boy and a girl
My Neighbor Totoro - leads: two little girls (and one male monster, who I think is the real star, but isn't the protangonist)
Kiki's Delivery Service - lead: tween girl
Porco Rosso - lead: grown man (and an Italian pilot)
Princess Mononoke - lead: young man
Spirited Away - lead: girl
Howl's Moving Castle - lead: grown woman
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea - lead: girl fish

That said, I think people have been unfair to The Incrediables - that film really did have co-leads in the form of the husband and wife. The first half was about the husband, and the second about the wife. But maybe someone who has seen it more recently would argue that the wife's portion was shorter/more truncated to make room for the fights at the end. (I didn't like the film but for an entirely different reason - the villan was so understandable that I wanted to root for him against Mr Incrediable. The Incrediables just looked like bigots against those who use technology to make up for powers they were not born with.)
posted by jb at 8:15 AM on June 23, 2009


msalt: And calling people idiots who should fuck off if they don't agree with your suggestions looks kind of desperate. It's the critics of Pixar who are telling people they shouldn't be discussing.

No, I called people idiots who should fuck off if they are unwilling to engage in good-faith arguments with the suggestions that are actually being made. Or to put it another way, why are you wasting your time harping on quotas or about people making moral judgments of Pixar rather than deal in good faith with the arguments that are actually presented?

msalt: I'm sure some people who disagreed with the premise of the Pixar criticism got angry somewhere amidst the 630 comments, but this kind of broad-brushing isn't very productive. People can actually disagree with your argument without being sexist, or defending the status quo, and it discredits you to assume otherwise. It also alienates people who share your goals and are your natural allies, like, well, me.

It's not a broad brush. It's basic fact of the behavior of multiple people, including you, in this discussion. If we are, well, natural allies, is it not in your best interest to actually acknowledge common ground rather than strawmanning the conversation at every opportunity?

msalt: In other words, if a studio is actually responsible, and cares about the social impacts of their films, and listens, we'll attack them MORE. The problem is, any rational film company will say "If we try, we'll only get attacked. If we churn out exploitive crap and grab every dollar we can, they'll leave us alone. So that's an easy choice." Thank God that Pixar (and Miyazaki, and Laika, who made Coraline) are irrationally taking the hard road.

Well, there is a big problem with this discussion. Why do you equate criticism of a body of work with an "attack" on the artist? On the contrary, I work with artists and almost all of them crave discussion and critical feedback of their work. Spike Lee even cites this as an example of how not winning an Oscar for Do the Right Thing isn't very important to his goals. Do the Right Thing is on the curriculum of hundreds of courses around the world; Driving Miss Daisy is not. Do the Right Thing in Lee's estimate is more successful because it's driving discussion of race and cinema. Some of that discussion certainly may be that Lee may have done it better.

The goal of feminist-informed criticism of literary and artistic works is not at all about trying to set an agenda. The goal is to foster deep discussions about gender and representation in art and popular culture. We talk about Toy Story, we also talk about Pride and Prejudice, The Left Hand of Darkness, Simone's Birds of Prey, and James Bond. If it's produced, there is conversation about it.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:23 AM on June 29, 2009


msalt: I would never claim that Miyazaki balances out the rest of the industry, or absolves Pixar of the need to make good characters. My point was the shifting standard of Pixar's critics in this debate, as the obvious imbalance in Miyazaki's work doesn't bother anyone.

Which is a great example of what I'm talking about. I know I've certainly said that we could have a discussion of gender in Miyazaki's work (in another thread.) And it's quite reasonable to do so while having both a profound respect for him as a director, and his movies as art.

It's this kind of wankery that gets people quite reasonably pissed off. How can you claim to be a "natural ally" interested in finding common ground when you refuse to acknowledge it?

msalt: At the artistic level they're on, I'm just thankful for every picture they give us.

I think there is a fundamental difference of opinion around which this discussion turns. I don't think that being "just thankful" is a compliment to a work of art, and I often find it to be the case that understanding how a work ticks makes me appreciate it more. I openly question the writers, directors, musicians, and visual artists I love, out of both admiration for them and a desire to improve my own craft.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:53 AM on June 29, 2009


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