Friday, October 3, 2014

Some Thoughts On The Ladies Of Gotham

So, I really really really want to like Gotham. I've loved Batman since I was a kid, and I've been a huge fan of The Mentalist for years. And parts of the show are really great. It's a fun perspective on Gotham, with great design and moments of fantastic writing. Donal Logue steals the show as the Bullock we never knew we wanted, and let's be real, I've always loved Jim Gordon.


But through the whole first episode, I found myself instinctively disliking almost all of the female characters. I was happy to see that there was, proportionally, a pretty good number of them, but for some reason, I found a lot of them really grating. It took me until the end of the second episode to be able to articulate to myself why, exactly, I felt this way, and it's this: the female characters feel like set pieces and stereotypes. 

I read somewhere that Jada Pinkett Smith's part was originally written for a man, and when I heard that, I was positively delighted. A straight gender swap is one of the easiest ways to get a compelling female character, and Smith seemed so enthusiastic about getting to "prove" herself in the role that (as much as that phrasing should have been a red flag) I was pretty intrigued to see how her character would play out. But the swap almost definitely wasn't a straight sex change. Fish Mooney is defined by her sexuality and sensuality, and her power is a very stereotypically "female" power. Don't get me wrong - Jada Pinkett Smith rocks the role, and it's obvious that Mooney is a very powerful woman in her own right. But something about it doesn't sit right.

I'd much rather see Jada Pinkett Smith playing Falcone as written and John Doman (or as Dave calls him, Mobster #1) recast as Mooney, as written. Wouldn't that be vastly more interesting? A flamboyant, aging mobster prancing around in silk clothes in a fancy nightclub. His straitlaced, old-school, black female boss double speaking all over him, then beating up his boyfriend to make him cry and lose his temper. That whole scene (as written) was just bizarre to me. The only reason Mooney's fuck buddy mattered to Falcone was because he assumes the guy matters to her because she's slept with him. Of course, because she's a woman and women can't have casual sex, he's right, despite the fact that, elsewhere, Mooney seems to have little loyalty or attachment to any of her conquests (or, really, anyone but herself). Sexes swapped, Falcone probably wouldn't have thought twice about his male subordinate's sexual partners. Yet, Falcone exploits this "weakness," and cool, composed Mooney totally loses her shit over it, before Falcone is even out the door. Why does she care so much about this no-name waiter we just saw for the first time? Oh right, because she's a woman.

The other female characters don't fare much better. Barbara, another character I was very interested to see represented on this show, has drifted between being a plot device (tell Gordon it was a setup! Get word to the papers!) and... a recap machine? I almost said sounding board, but Gordon never really shares any of what's ACTUALLY going on with her; even two episodes in, he's keeping some pretty big secrets. Barbara is also one half of the only two females that have had a conversation with each other on screen, and it was to talk around their (implied?) shameful, possibly sexual history that SHE'S hiding from HIM, while the guys are all extremely nonchalant about their sexual histories. Hm.

What really drove it home for me, though, was Selena Kyle, who, towards the end of the second episode, threatens to cry rape against a police officer if he doesn't do what she tells him to. This is maybe the worst and most upsetting thing this show has done, because - let's pretend for a moment this is the real world and not Gotham, where the cops openly execute criminals and generally do whatever the fuck they want without any consequences(oh wait...). In the real world, no girl would ever do this, because no one would ever believe her, even if it were true, and no cop would come to her defense against another cop, even if it were true. And this is Gotham. And yet, the cop hops to it and does what she says. This isn't giving a (let's remember, 13 year old) girl sexual power, it's perpetuating the belief that women lie about rape to get what they want, when in actuality it's astronomically unlikely for any woman to lie about rape, because it's so painful, personally dangerous, and often pointless to tell the truth about rape. This doesn't make Selena the sassy spitfire she's supposed to be, it just gives us a little glimpse into the fact that every single writer for this show is a man. And don't get me started on the fact that this dirty, down on her luck, totally broke, homeless urchin living on the rough streets of Gotham is perpetually slathered in makeup. 

Guh. I'm so frustrated with these ghastly missteps, in no small part because this show comes so close to being good. Fox has made it a priority to add diversity to their programming, and though it's mostly among the secondary and tertiary cast members, this is probably the most diverse Batman we've seen on film, both in terms of race and sex makeup. But where Sleepy Hollow effortlessly creates three dimensional, interesting women who are invested in the main plot of the show, have their own agency, and who aren't prized for or defined by their sexuality, and who are important beyond the context of the men around them? Gotham misses again and again. I hope it gets better, but I have a sad feeling it won't, and that this lack of well-rounded female characters isn't going to do the show any favors in terms of ratings.

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