by Gina L. Grandi
On July 25th, The Bechdel Group presented our biannual 24 Hour Writing Challenge! 10 playwrights had 24 hours to write a ten-minute, Bechdel Test friendly play that incorporated “the voice of reason.” The writers wrote for a specific group of actors and were free to incorporate the phrase in any way they wished: as a title, as a theme, as a line of dialogue, or as a vague source of inspiration. The result: 10 new plays featuring strong, dynamic female characters. We were thrilled to have the chance to work with some of our favorite actors and playwrights, as well bring some new favorites into the community. Be sure to tune into our Bechdel Podcast (the second week of each month), since we will regularly feature readings of plays created in these challenges. Want to play? Make sure you're signed up for our mailing list, where we'll send out the call for January's challenge.
Our final event of the summer will be an August Takeover! That’s right, women of Bechdel are taking over to bring you selections from their own work for workshopping. Join us on Monday, August 29th a at the Back Room at Jimmy's No. 43 for new work by Executive Director Alexa Fitzpatrick and board members Patti Veconi and Suzanne Willett.
We are delighted to officially announce our Fall Reading Season! Each month, we’ll feature selections from two new plays or screenplays, followed by a festive discussion. Mark your calendars; we hope to see you there!
Monday, September 26th:
Bara Swain’s Providence
Suzanne Egan's Homestyle
Monday, October 24th:
Lavinia Roberts’ The Will
Brooke Berman’s Hurricane
Monday, December 12th:
Kristine M. Reyes’ Eggs on Ice
John Barrow’s Lillian Paula Carson
The reading period for our Spring Season is currently open – all scripts received between now and November 15th will be considered. Please read our submission guidelines carefully!
Have a marvelous month! See you at Jimmy's!
by M.J. Moneymaker
“Suicide Squad” features Amanda Waller, Katana, The Enchantress and Harley Quinn who have conversations with each other about something other than a man. Somewhat true, let’s face it, they are surrounded by men. Overall, I think the soon to be released movie, will pass the Bechdel test… not really a test, more a rating by my standards. Now that’s out of the way…
At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), Harley Quinn cosplay was everywhere. I couldn’t search #SDCC without spotting Harley’s classic joker onesie or her newer Daisy duke knock off ensemble. Even Tara Strong, who voiced the animated series, showed up in Harley Quinn gear.
What I didn’t spy was anyone wearing the spectacles, red blouse and white lab coat of Harleen Frances Quinzel, M.D. And I’m not sure why… Dr. Quinn is as sexy as her harlequin side.
This bugs me. I feel like the best part of this DC character is getting left behind. It’s a layer of Harley Quinn’s character that I don’t think should be shed so easily or boiled down.
The New 52 origin story is not the same as the original. In the animated series, Dr. Quinn is a challenge to the Joker and the Joker is a challenge for Dr. Quinn. I agree with Donna Dickens (@MILDLYAMUSED) that the New 52 origin story loses agency having the Joker ‘create’ Harley rather than Harley choosing to be a supervillian.
I will even take it further, I think Harley Quinn is Dr. Quinn’s social experiment in freedom. The Joker may have pointed her in the direction with dialogue like, “Because once I didn’t care about the rules any more, I had all the power.” But it was the hypocrisy of seeing the Joker continuously escape and return to Arkham Asylum beaten down by Batman that motivates Dr. Quinn to throw the rules out the window. I will also venture to say that Dr. Quinn never loved the Joker. The Joker is just her muse to release her inner ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. A man didn’t make Harley Quinn… the doctor did.
In an interview with Margot Robbie she states, “You Can Always See a Bit of Dr. Harleen Quinzel in Harley Quinn.” I want more than a little bit. Harley Quinn from the start has had a layered complex backstory that’s lead her becoming the toast of SDCC 2016. I don’t think some of the new character choices give new fans the full breathe of how freeing Harley Quinn is for Dr. Harleen Quinn.
At least, that’s what I’ve taken away from the trailers and reading the New 52. Regardless… I will be going to see “Suicide Squad” next weekend. I mean, what other summer blockbuster movie features as many women lead characters?
“X-Men,” “GhostBusters,” President Clinton… hhmmm, women leads are trending this summer.
by Alexa Fitzpatrick
When did being a strong woman become synonymous with acting like a man? Not even like all men, but like the stereotype of commitment-phobic, misogynistic men who have sex with women and then move on with no consideration for their feelings.
I just watched the movie Trainwreck and, while it technically passes the Bechdel test, to call it a pro-women film feels like a huge stretch to me. It is a story about a woman who has sex like men (though some might say, “boys”) and does what she wants and makes no apologies for herself. I just don’t think any of that makes it a feminist anthem.
I’m a fan of sex. Even more than that, I’m a fan of women having the right to have sex how and with whom they please and without any judgment. Be that with other women, with multiple men, with strangers, or with one husband to whom they are happy to be committed.
In the film, Amy, the main character, is the one who does most of the judging of sexual choices. She judges her sister for being married and for loving her awkward stepson. She judges the women at the bridal party as being members of the cult Heaven’s Gate. Most offensively, she judges the cheerleaders for how they look, complaining, “The pole isn’t always greased right.” And, “You’re going to lose us the right to vote.”
She even judges her boyfriend (Steven, played by John Cena) as being gay because of what he says while fighting with another guy in a movie theater. Later, her character defends the gay population, by reminding us that they are “people,” as one of the women at the bridal shower complains, “Two girls kissing, I haven’t even explained to them what gay people are!” There seems to be no point to any of the gay jokes/references other than cheap humor. It might be an uncomfortable attempt to show us growth, but it feels more like an inconsistent and insensitive character choice.
Back to the sleeping around, while some of the guys in the beginning were maybe poor matches for Amy, none of them were shown to be inherently bad people. Anyone, of either gender, who has been on the receiving end of being used for one night of sex when they were hoping for more, can agree that it’s not the kindest way to approach someone else’s feelings. It’s not about the sex, it’s about being a kind person, which the character clearly isn’t and never really becomes. Spoiler alert: she stops drinking, she stops doing drugs, she stops sleeping around, but she never stops putting what she wants (even though it’s eventually Aaron) above everyone else. That’s not being a feminist; it’s being a narcissist.
For the record, I would totally put on a cheerleading uniform if it meant that I got to make out with Bill Hader, but I try to look at cheerleaders and loving and embracing your body as empowering rather than demeaning. Let’s stop judging other women for their clothing choices.
So, if mirroring male traits doesn’t make you a strong woman, what does?
How about knowing yourself and staying true to it?
Everything the main character does is in reaction to the men in her life. Her personality is formed in the beginning by her father’s rant against monogamy. Aaron is the one who decides that they belong in a relationship and she just goes along with it even though it goes against every bit of her established character: the woman who always has one foot out the door. Even the decision to go after Aaron in the end is motivated by the comments and insight of her awkward ten year-old nephew.
Nobody’s perfect and women have a tendency to over-apologize…have you seen the pantene video on apologies? It’s great, and it makes some very valid points, but not apologizing for who you are is very different from not apologizing for poor behavior. When Amy deserts Aaron as he gets an award for being a good person, it’s a point of pride with her that she doesn’t apologize. She has her phone on during his speech, makes fun of him for carrying the award (“You don’t have to carry it around like Anne Hathaway at an Oscar party”), and then basically walks away when he tells her he’s angry and disappointed by her behavior. I think we'd all want an apology after that.
From the outside, this is a story about a trainwreck who finally gets it together when she meets the right guy. I was prepared for that. It’s standard romantic comedy fare. Girl meets boy. Girl falls for boy. Girl puts on cheerleading outfit, the ultimate symbol of the adolescent male fantasy, and dances around to win boy over.
What I wasn’t prepared for was seeing so much of myself in the main character’s approach to relationships, and it was an ugly but real reflection. So many times I’ve looked at men and thought exactly what Amy says to Aaron, “What’s wrong with you that you want to be with me?” Like Amy, I’ve never learned how to fight. When I’ve been in a relationship and things got tough, even just recently, my instinct was more to run than it was to work it out. If you’re mad at me, and listing my faults, I assume you’re preparing to leave and I shut down. Before you start to worry about me, I’m also different from Amy in many ways, but I found their break up scene very raw and real and well done.
The movie gave us a great character window, I just wish it had gone on to pay off the growth of a potentially strong female character by letting her learn how to stand up for herself kindly and respectfully to make the relationship work. Jumping off a trampoline isn’t as interesting as getting clear on and communicating what’s in your heart.
I also wish the movie either addressed race responsibly or left it alone. It’s impossible to consider something pro-women unless it is pro-all women (of every color). A few examples:
I’m glad I saw the movie, and I mostly enjoyed it, but the distinction between technically passing the Bechdel Test and passing in spirit is an important one because it was never created to be a test. Still, if art mirrors life and life mirrors art, it would be nice if we could be more conscious about what’s going on in our romantic comedies and how we are characterizing women’s roles and responsibilities in relationships. Especially when we put something forth as representing strong women, we have to be careful of how we define strong women and the messages that we hope to send.
On a technical note, kudos to Amy Schumer for writing and staring in a film where 18 out of 55 credited characters are female. Having a third of your characters be woman is a huge jump for Hollywood, but still a far cry from reflecting our society which is much closer to half.
by M.J. Moneymaker, Board Member of The Bechdel Group
Twice a year The Bechdel Group has a 24 Hour Writing Challenge where writers and actors collaborate to put on an evening of ten-minute plays that pass the Bechdel test. Our current challenge will take place July 24-25th.
Last month, we decided to turn some of the plays ( with the permission of the writers ) into podcasts. We started the ball rolling with a ten-minute play by M.J. Moneymaker called, “Untitled," which is a story about an interview with God. Below are a few questions we asked the writer.
What inspired this piece?
Friends on Facebook had helped me with writing prompts. I choose: documentary, heaven, that weird sour liquid candy that comes in a tube. So, the jump to an interview with God wasn’t far.
How did the reading make you feel?
They laughed. Actors played. The audience joined in. It was as funny as it was in my head.
Was the experience motivating?
Very much so, I had had a writer’s block. I found having a deadline and getting to play reminded me that…
it’s suppose to fun. And to push through a block I needed to just write.
Why do you think your play passes the Bechdel test?
It’s an interview with God, and all the players are women. Plus, romance is only hinted at…
Enjoy listening to the podcast.
Original cast for the Monday night reading:
Well hello and good morning to you, Bechdelians! Welcome to The Bechdel Blog, our new weekly feature. Check here each Tuesday for updates on our work, our thoughts on films, plays, and the world, and our monthly Bechdel Podcast, featuring some of our favorite playwrights and actors.
Happy Anniversary to us! Two years ago, on June 29th, we had our inaugural workshop reading, featuring the amazing Chisa Hutchinson. Since that evening, we’ve presented and discussed selections from 31 plays and screenplays that included over 100 new roles for women and hosted two 24-hour writing challenges that resulted in 20 10-minute plays that focus on something other than romance.
At right: The first Bechdel Workshop Reading, June 29th, 2014
Last month, we presented our second full staged reading. Holly Hepp-Galvan’s Cardinia’s Calling was performed for a full house on Monday, June 20th. The reading was directed by Alice Jankell, and featured the talents of Andrew Anzel, Todd Lawson, Toya Lillard, Brandi Nicole Wilson, and Malik Work. Cardinia’s Calling had been workshopped at our November 2015 reading, and we fell in love with Cardinia and her story. It was a privilege to have the opportunity to present the script in full, and an honor to work with such a phenomenal director and cast.
Above: Toya Lillard and Andrew Anzel perform in Cardinia's Calling
This summer will bring even more festivity! In three weeks we’ll be hosting our third 24 Hour Writing Challenge, where ten playwrights will have 24 hours to write a 10-minute script. The playwrights will write for a specific cast, following the parameters of the The Bechdel Test and incorporating a special bonus challenge. The cold reading of the final plays will take place on Monday, July 25th. This event is one of our favorites, and we can’t wait to see what our writers bring to the table this time around.
Have a happy, happy July, everyone. See you here next week.
Gina L. Grandi
The Bechdel Group
Working to challenge the portrayal of women in film and on stage.