Thanks to Patreon supporter James Hart for this week’s Top 5
Screenwriters are responsible for crafting the characters on-screen. They have to infuse them with life, backstory, and personality. But for some screenwriters women are just a bizarre mystery that can’t be conveyed on film. And we’re looking at the screenwriters who should never write a female character again.
If I could have filled all five slots with just this dicknozzle’s name I would have. My hatred of Taylor Sheridan is known far and wide, and every time I mention it a guy (or a guy masquerading under a woman’s name) has to tell me I’m wrong. The man only sees women as objects to either be treated “like a man” – and by that we mean beaten, assaulted, and in Sicario actually held down and given a time-out. Other times they’re just sexy victims or sexy, but inept characters whose sexiness OBVIOUSLY got them the job. Every time I think of Taylor Sheridan I turn into Madeline Kahn in Clue. “Flames….on the side of my face.”
Full disclosure: I love Edgar Wright’s movies. I’ve met him and he’s delightful. BUT he should probably have someone vet his female characters. I do think Liz in Shaun of the Dead is presented well, but from there on it’s a mixed bag. Ramona Flowers is pretty much slut-shamed by a horrible lead in Scott Pilgrim (and she’s obviously in an abusive relationship that’s presented as little more than the princess being stolen by Donkey Kong); Lily James’ character in Baby Driver is so generic I don’t remember her name….oh, and she’s supposed to be a stand-in for his mom. And everyone in The World’s End says Rosamund Pike’s character is a bitch because she’s…responsible? I don’t actually remember anything about that movie because I hated it.
This might be a taste cheating because Stephen King is a writer, but he doesn’t write film scripts often. That being said, his work has been the launchpad for countless movies and no one’s really attempted to improve on his female characters. All the women in King’s work find their periods to be the single biggest horror ever. Some are incest/rape victims who need to be saved by men. Other times they’re heinous shrews whose comeuppance can’t come quick enough. Or they’re all three of those things, on their periods!
I’m fairly certain Woody Allen just makes whack-off material masquerading as films. His women are all outpourings of his own fantasies. Thank you, next.
You might not know Eric Roth by name, but you’ve probably seen several of the movies he wrote: Forrest Gump, The Horse Whisperer, A Star is Born (yep, the Gaga one). I find that it’s the screenwriters who aren’t commonly known that are the most insidious and Roth lost me at how maligned poor Jenny is in Forrest Gump. A child of incest who becomes little more than a drugged out shell of a human whose life is presented as not worth living until she’s struck down by AIDS and dies. I do enjoy Forrest Gump, but #JusticeforJenny. The rest of his films leave women as little more than supportive wives (Munich), pain-in-the-ass wives (The Good Shepard), and Ally…..oh, Ally. You and Jenny need to start a support group.
Yeah, I said it. I enjoy some of Woody Allen’s films, but his female characters leave a lot to be developed. His leading ladies almost always fall into one of two categories: the Manic Pixie Dream Girl or else cold, detached, and generally unlikable. His supporting women rarely possess any depth besides a cursory singular character trait. And when you add the vast and generally inexplicable age gaps between the characters that are himself and his love interests, it just gets worse.
To be fair, Chazelle generally doesn’t bother to try. Were there any women in Whiplash at all? Emma Stone may have won Best Actress for La La Land, but her Mia was completely sidelined in service to Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian. When Mia finally gets the chance to shine and tell her story, it turns out that all of her key motivations are actually the unfulfilled dreams of her deceased aunt. And then there is Claire Foy’s Janet Armstrong in the admittedly underappreciated First Man. Foy delivers her lines well, but she is the typical Wife Waiting for Bad News Beside the Radio. We’ve seen this role a thousand times.
Million Dollar Baby is enough of a reason to land Haggis on this list. But the truth is, his best films are the ones with few or no women in them at all. For example, Letters from Iwo Jima. His female characters tend to be focused solely on women as men see them, and with motivations and interests that a man would assume they have. And they are almost always in service to the men in their lives.
His films, while often very funny, are also bro-y when it comes to women. At least, his earlier films. And by that I have to include The Big Short, which has a lot of value and also has Margot Robbie in a bathtub for no reason whatsoever. Don’t get me started on his treatment of the Cheney women in Vice.
Paul Thomas Anderson
It’s really saying something when one of his best written characters is a misogynist who has built a career on teaching men to take advantage of women and who never faces a reckoning for it. When everyone started singing the praises of the supposedly strong women in last year’s Phantom Thread it seemed like the world had lost its collective mind. A stubborn woman isn’t necessarily a strong one, and that is a lesson PTA will apparently never learn.
Paul Schrader isn’t a great writer to begin with – his best work was done in tandem with better writers and directors, and whenever he goes off on his own, he tends to produce some very misogynist and often poorly structured scripts. I don’t know if Schrader really hates women or if he just doesn’t understand women – I get the sense that we’re vague creatures to him, totally opaque, and possibly good for sex and baby-making. But that’s about it.
His original Wonder Woman script is now notorious, but what drives me crazy about Joss Whedon is how long he’s coasted on outdated “feminist” tropes that actually don’t treat women as complex individuals. Whedon might have been groundbreaking back in the ’90s, but times have changed – and even Buffy has some very questionable sexual politics.
Yeah, that’s right, I said it. Old QT occasionally creates some Strong Female Characters ™, but for the most part he relies on old stereotypes and the strength of his actresses to convey a complexity that the scripts themselves simply don’t have. He also enjoys making certain that women are subjected to any form of humiliation – from rape to harassment to physical endangerment – just in case they didn’t know their place.
Showgirls. I mean…*gestures wildly*.
Brian De Palma
Well, obviously. De Palma has never liked women, and usually turns to the “but it’s a THRILLER!” excuse for why they are so consistently manipulated and brutalized in his films. But turn on Dressed to Kill, which he wrote as well as directed, and tell me that he doesn’t consider women as bodies to be dismembered.
Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci
This pair couldn’t get much hotter in the mid-2000’s. Their strength in mild and unchallenging fantasy stories placed them in a nice, cushy spot as the screenwriting team all the hot directors wanted to work with. However, while their stories are interesting, the woman really aren’t. Transformers… Star Trek: Into Darkness… yup…
Shane Black established himself as a go-to boy in Hollywood in the 1980s. While he’s a pro at fun and quippy dialogue, his stunted man child characters don’t lend themselves to interesting ladies. The 1980s are well-known as being a reactionary swing against second wave feminism and Shane Black is a poster boy for this era. Don’t even get me started on The Predator and Olivia Munn…
James Bond…enough said.
Robert Young and Joseph T. Steck
Okay, this one is a bit of a cheat. When all is said and done, Young and Steck didn’t actually write many movies. However, their one credit is enough to place them squarely on this list. Months ago, I sat down to watch the little “gem” called Waterhole #3, a 1967 western comedy starring James Coburn and Carroll O’Connor. Think of it as In Like Flint getting trapped in the old west. The film features one female character, played by actress Margaret Blye. She is subjected to some of the worst treatment I’ve seen, especially when played as a comedy. There are rape jokes a plenty, including O’Connor mentioning to his daughter Blye that she’s pretty, so “of course they would want to rape” her. She’s also reduced to waiting nude on a rock to be saved by Coburn. Are parts of it funny? Sure. However, in order to make this movie a success, you need to watch this film with the eyes of a 50 year old man. I doesn’t play well otherwise.
Harold Ramis and Douglas Kenney
This one hurts a bit to include. I’ll preface this by saying, I absolutely love Animal House, and it is still one of my favorite movies. However, it doesn’t make it any less problematic. This also applies to the long string of National Lampoon brand comedies worked on by the two men in the 1970s and 1980s. The broad sex comedies are funny, sure. However, the interesting female characters are few and far between.