Female Agency in Film
This week I write about an idea that has been in many ways the driving force behind much of my work, especially in film: agency.
Since childhood it was agency that I desired. I grew up in a cultural atmosphere in which agency, to one degree or another, was denied me. I was told in one way or another that I couldn't do certain things, or that I had to be or behave in a certain way because of my sex. Sometimes I would become obsessed with a certain movie character, and I realized it was because that person was the one who was allowed, in the story, to move and act with agency, in a way that displayed great acumen, power, or courage. I was often disappointed, subconsciously or consciously, by the female characters who in one way or another embodied weakness and impotence. I have come to know now, though, that there is nothing weak or impotent about the female principal. Probably my desire for agency in media was a desire for the media to reflect the actual reality of female power.
Female agency in culture and media has long been denied, and a counter-image of frailty, vulnerability, disempowerment, and ineffectualness has been promulgated. This is particularly apparent in literature and film. The image of female frailty is counterpoised against the image of male agency. For example, the film trope of the hero who rescues the damsel in distress. Or the wife or lover who has to stay at home, unable to do anything but cry and worry, while her male partner goes off to fight. Or the helpless female being raped.
Though this is changing, in the past we did not see many images of females being strong, capable, or masterful. Numerous examples of female disempowerment can be found in literature, film, television, and art, and these are simply a reflection of the cultural ideas in which these media were created. There have of course been a few notable examples of media in which females are given unapologetic agency, including 'The Matrix', some Wuxia (Chinese martial arts) films, the films of Quentin Tarantino, 'Princess Mononoke', and more recently, Disney's 'Frozen' films. Through my own work I would like to add to this list. The images that fill our minds become the realities that manifest in the world.
In my short film 'Narrow Alley', which I made while at the London Film School, I indulge my own real-life "agency fantasy". The film is based on one version of a fantasy I have in which a female is attacked by rapists. Little do they know that the female they chose to attack is dangerously capable (another version of the fantasy includes a female who is a master of martial arts). You can view the film below, I won't spoil it too much for you. Though the film was a sophomoric effort on my part, being a neophyte director, the work of the talented actors, cinematographer, and other crew were highly professional and skilled. I wish to make more films in future that show powerful female characters who have agency.
Agency is one of the qualities I want to show in my work. Through art, I want to create the world I wish to live in, rather than showing more of the shortcomings of the world I want to change. Rather than show violence, war, and ugliness, I would show beauty, strength, and love, because it will beget more of the same. 'Narrow Alley' is just one example of that.
In her film 'Narrow Alley', Emily Weeks creates a powerful, dangerous female character who has agency. Click To Tweet