Monday, March 21, 2016

In praise of...Zoo and television's strong female characters

I released my short story on the 17th, and I'm putting out my full-length on the 28th. These new releases are all about power; some of it's politics, some of it's wealth. Like everyone else in the country, I'm mentally exhausted by this election season, and I think fondly back to the 2008 election, when I didn't feel compelled to watch every debate. (But the town halls can still stuff themselves.)

So I come to you here, not to talk about politics, but to talk about television.

I feel vindicated by all of the articles over the last few months that finally recognize that if you're not a straight white male, Hollywood studio movies- the kind people spend money producing and promoting- are not speaking to you. For those of you sick of hearing about "strong female characters", please stay far away from your television and head to the nearest movie theater, where those are few and far between. 

A couple of months ago, I finally got the chance to watch Now You See Me. I love magic, I love capers, I love twisty plots and I love revenge. So on paper this movie hit all the right spots, but it still left a bad taste in my mouth. No, it's not because I couldn't see any possible way that Isla Fisher would be the one jilted by Jesse Eisenberg (but seriously, come on); it was that every time Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) came on screen, she was nothing but an angelic foil for Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), and primarily there to accept his abuse. Eww.

They don't get how they could be a couple either

Be assured, Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is snarking at Dray (Melanie Laurent) and she's not giving it back
While I was thinking, oh my god, why doesn't she put him in his place and maybe show the audience the kind of deadly force training French agents get, my husband insisted that she was the same blonde actress who played another French character on the summer series, Zoo. He was wrong; the actress on that series is Nora Arnezeder. But the physical similarities between the two actresses on highlighted the stark differences between the characters.

On Zoo, Arnezeder plays Chloe Tousignant, a French agent who's trying to track down a biological agent that's causing animals to hunt people. She and her thrown together team (a journalist, a burnt out scientist, the prodigal son of the mad scientist who created the problem and a child soldier turned safari guide) track down the cause pretty quickly, but taking the corporation that unleashed the agent into the wild and then implementing a cure are going to be much harder. All of the characters have necessary skills, but in many cases Chloe is clearly in charge of the overall strategy. She is, in many ways, the leader.

Why is Chloe Tousignant (Nora Arnezeder) the only one standing? Because she's in charge
She's a wounded character, to be sure (she meets with another member of the team after she's dumped her fiance at the altar for sleeping with her sister), but this doesn't make her any less able to do her job. And she is a good, principled leader who protects the members of her team even that means putting herself at risk. No one has benefited from Chloe's protection more than disgraced journalist Jamie Campbell (Kristen Connolly), who killed a corrupt FBI agent in self-defense. That means that not only does Zoo feature two "strong" female characters, it also passes the Bechdel Test: these two named characters talk about plenty of things that aren't men. Now You See Me? Not so much.

It's worth mentioning that this series is on CBS, a network that has been rightfully criticized for its lack of diversity and conservative orientation. That even this network produces something with more believable female characters says something about Hollywood movies.