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Heroines of Cinema: How Thuc Nguyen’s ‘Bitch Pack’ is Fighting for More Female-Driven Stories

Heroines of Cinema: How Thuc Nguyen's 'Bitch Pack' is Fighting for More Female-Driven Stories

One of the most heartening aspects of writing about women and film – and there are times when it is far from heartening – is discovering and conspiring with allies to the cause. By all accounts, the number of people talking about or even aware of feminist issues in the industry has increased dramatically in the past few years alone. This can only be a good thing. It can be hard to figure out proactive solutions to a problem as endemic as Hollywood sexism. But many of the newest voices on the scene are decidedly activist in nature, seeing little point in their efforts unless they point towards tangible results.

One such example is Thuc Nguyen and her brainchild, The Bitch Pack. A group dedicated to promoting female-driven screenplays, they have an increasingly vocal online presence, exemplified by a Twitter feed filled with both general feminist inspiration and endless specific examples of men and women proudly writing screenplays with women at their heart. More tangible still are the lists they compile: The Bitch List, and next the Diversity List – two concrete examples for anyone who would dare to argue that the screenplays that don’t get made simply aren’t out there.

I asked Thuc to explain what motivates her, what she hopes to achieve and what progress has been made so far.

Bitch Pack is driven by the idea that women and men can work together to craft more and better representation for women on screen.

Every year, dismal reports come back about the numbers of women in the entertainment industry and how women are more often portrayed as over-sexualized or just significant others to male characters. The thing to figure out is whether this really is just a simple fix. It begins with looking at words people put down on a page of a script. Small tweaks in dialogue can make a big difference in meaning. Of course, there are plenty of great films that do not pass The Bechdel Test (according to Jezebel, only 9 films released in 2014 pass The Bechdel Test). But it would just be nice if we had more that did, so we can all have more choices out there. For me, as an average American viewer and media consumer, I want to watch more things to which I can relate – more things where women talk about a multitude of topics in their lives and not just about boyfriends or husbands.

She shares Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s concept of “the danger of a single story.”

Scripted entertainment (film and TV) is the world’s furthest reaching media and if people who make it aren’t more aware of what damaging things we put out there and pass off as acceptable, there’s a great danger. They need to open their eyes and be more aware, look at and listen to the plights of others and then make conscious choices. I know that our society needs more diverse voices and perspectives. It really saddens me to read how out of the Top 500 films in history, there’s only been one live action film with a woman of color lead. Women of color are nearly absent from film history – how crazy is that? It’s a real travesty, when women of color have greatly contributed to all that we are today.

She strives to draw attention to under-represented voices and stories.

We want to support writers who have an understanding of women’s representation issues and are consciously creating stories that improve things. It is important to be making an active change. We see discussion groups, tweets and blogs about how bad things are for women in this industry. There’s a minority of people doing something about it. We need more people seeing how beneficial the uplifting of women’s voices and POVs are for the business as a whole.

She believes that a lot of the discrimination and injustice is perpetuated by fear.

It affects the whole system, from the reader and assistant levels all the way up. This seems to keep many things at a status quo, that’s led to a lot of money being lost, a lot of great projects not seeing the light of day.

Writing education is a large factor that is often overlooked.

I’ve had fantastic welcoming writing classes and I’ve had some where even the instructor encouraged a male student to create dispensable “sexy assistant” female characters “that could be killed off” a certain way and laugh about it. I’ve seen female instructors give more attention to “golden boy” male students and be overly critical and put down female students. This is where The Bitch Pack idea came from. Our culture – from where we are taught how to write screenplays to the larger societal one – is “just ok” with women being written, perceived and ultimately treated in demeaning ways.

She is very supportive of male screenwriters, but believes the female perspective is essential.

I’ve read scripts by men who write amazing female characters, who can really capture aspects women – heck, humans care about – who draw you into the character. I must say, it helps to have female readers and note givers to catch things or say “this is a bit wonky” about your female characters, or “a woman wouldn’t do that in this case” (generally). However, because women have lived it, I think they are highly equipped to tell it like it is.

Some of the resistance to her activism has come not from outside the feminist movement but within.

Luckily, the response has been mostly positive and people are really supportive. A lot of encouragement comes equally from men and women. Occasionally there will be naysayers and detractors or people who see women’s representation as more of a business than a cause who adopt a “we were here first” attitude. Women shouldn’t downplay each others efforts for the sake of business. What I find most disturbing is women out there saying proponents of the Bechdel test are out there “damning” movies that don’t pass. I don’t ever recall seeing this. It’s like saying “all feminists hate men” – just generalizations someone made up and kept perpetuating. All the other inclusion tests out there are very laudable. The Bechdel Test is just a good place to begin.

She is proud to be part of an international movement.

it’s really awesome to be in touch with other believers in change who
stand for the same thing.  Such is the case with Ellen Tieje and her
group in Sweden who started the Bechdel Test “A-Rating” – it’d be nice
in the US to know at the theater what films feature more women’s
content. I am in awe of Le Deuxieme Regard in Paris. They rock things
hard and have made great strides. I wish we could be more like this in
America. With Europe having more government help in filmmaking, there
can be more safe guards to more diverse voices not getting lost in
culture. We just don’t have this in the U.S. with our private film
funding system.

She is left frustrated by the prevailing attitudes within the industry.

really wish Hollywood could have a big “town hall meeting” and make
conscious decisions for action to really make things better, more
equitable. I think this would lead to things being more fun and even
more profitable, as studies have shown that projects strongly featuring
women, passing The Bechdel Test and featuring multiculturalism do better
at the box office. We read articles like “Bechdel Test passing films earn BILLIONS more at the box office” – there’s so much money left on the table that could go to seeing more films about kick ass women. What are we waiting for?

Heroines of Cinema is a bi-weekly column written by Matthew Hammett Knott, a writer and filmmaker based in London. Follow him on Twitter.

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