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“Too Emotional”: “Interstellar”, “Star Trek: Discovery”, “Captain Marvel” and the Re-Gendering of Science-Fiction…

Women have very obviously had a huge impact on shaping and defining science-fiction as a genre.

Many of the key figures in the genre’s history have been female, across all forms of media. Ursula Le Guin is one of the defining science-fiction authors. The first showrunner of Doctor Who was a young woman by the name of Verity Lambert. Among many of the key figures overshadowed by Gene Roddenberry in developing Star Trek was Dorothy “D.C.” Fontana, who was responsible for defining and shaping a lot of what fans know about the iconic character of Spock and of Vulcan. Indeed, modern science-fiction fandom owes a lot to early female enthusiasts. Spockanalia was one of the earliest professional-quality fanzines, dedicated to the idea of Spock as a cultural icon and sex symbol. The “Save Star Trek” campaign was organised by Bjo Trimble.

However, this aspect of the genre’s history and development is largely ignored and overlooked. Modern science-fiction is largely defined as a masculine genre. MIT Technology Review’s Top Ten Hard Science Fiction Books of All Time includes one female author, while Forbidden Planet’s 50 Science Fiction Books You Must Read includes only three women. The recent forays of directors like Ava DuVernay, Patty Jenkins and Claire Denis into big-screen science-fiction only underscored the degree to which the genre has historically been dominated by male directors. Even the public perception of science-fiction fandom is gendered. Despite the formative role that women played in defining fandom, the stereotypical image of a fan is white, middle-class, male, heterosexual.

As with many issues in fandom, this has been pushed to the fore in recent years, a long-simmering culture war over ownership of these conceptual spaces has spilled over into the mainstream. Fandoms traditionally considered as white, heterosexual and masculine have begun lashing out at what they perceive to be invaders who do not conform to their expectations. These attacks are gendered. GamerGate was an organised attack on women within the gaming community, beginning with a smear campaign from a jilted boyfriend. In terms of science-fiction, the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies attempted to game the Hugo nominations to target women and minorities. This is to say nothing of organised vote-brigading of female- and minority-led films.

Against this context, one of the more interesting pushes in contemporary mainstream big-budget science-fiction is a firm attempt to recontextualise and re-gender science-fiction storytelling, to push the genre away from these more reactionary elements and these more conventional definitions of masculine interest. Some of these examples are generated no shortage of attention and blowback, most obviously through the casting of more diverse leads in projects like Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens and Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, which led to an online explosion of targeted misogyny and vitriol at the female actors involved.

However, some of this reinvention has been more subtle and nuanced, such as the conscious rejection of hard science-fiction in big-budget mass-audience science-fiction projects as high-profile and diverse as Interstellar, Star Trek: Discovery and Captain Marvel.

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A Man’s Mann…

I have to confess I was not overly impressed with Public Enemies. In fairness, it was mostly down to the choices Mann made in filming the work – the high definition cameras and the insistence on shakey hand held movement. You might argue that it was a choice designed to place us in the real world of the Great Depression – to put us on the streets with Dillinger and immerse us in his world rather than the sanitised grandiose version of the 1930’s that typically finds its way on to our screens. This ignores one fundamental fact about Mann’s film making: it is no less grandiose or fantastic than those myths of times past. Mann is a film maker who works best exploring the dynamics of a masculine ideal that never existed. His male characters are drawn in the mold of a classic image that never actually existed.

I'll bet Pacino ordered the Large Ham. Overdone. VERY LOUDLY!

I'll bet Pacino ordered the Large Ham. Overdone. VERY LOUDLY!

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