In 2016 the film and TV industries got many things wrong. Will they learn from their mistakes in the new year?
‘Wonder Women’ by Simon Fearn
On the surface 2016 looked to be a promising year for women in film. Star Wars delivered another fantastic heroine in Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, whilst even Disney – that bastion of feminist values – appeared to get their act together with Moana, described by some as featuring “the first feminist Disney princess.”
But let’s not forget the misogynistic abuse directed at the cast of Ghostbusters, and the fact that aside from Erso women seemed entirely absent from Rogue One.
When women weren’t excluded altogether, they often found themselves cast in passive ‘love interest’ roles. For example, in the Deadpool comics Wade Wilson’s girlfriend Vanessa is a badass, shape-shifting mutant, whereas in the film Deadpool has to save her from Ed Skrein’s villain.
2017 will see the first female-fronted superhero blockbuster in Gal Gadot’s Wonder Women, though judging by the other films in the DC Extended Universe I wouldn’t hold out hope that it will be any good. Meanwhile Disney continue to show their more progressive side with the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast in which Emma Watson’s Belle is an inventor like her father. The trailer got 127 million views on YouTube in the first 24 hours after it premiered; let’s hope the film lives up to expectations.
On the small screen Sherlock has already drawn criticism for not only killing off its only major female character (Amanda Abbington’s Mary), but then having the famous detective defeat Sian Brooke’s villain by giving her a hug. Weirdly nobody ever thought that Moriarty just wanted to be loved.
The BBC will hopefully redeem themselves with new BBC3 campus thriller Clique. Louise Brealey (Sherlock’s Molly Hooper) stars as Jude McDermid, the unofficial leader of a disturbing group of ‘alpha females’. Creator Jess Brittain says it’s about “the different ways ambition plays out in young women at university;” whether it rings true remains to be seen.
Meanwhile Netflix are taking on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian tale set in a repressive patriarchy where women are literally the property of men, with Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss as Offred. Expect it in April.
‘Fantastic representation and where not to find it’ by Johanna Farr
For something with a plot centered around young people’s resistance to fascism and bigotry, the Harry Potter series hasn’t had the best record with LGBT characters. In last year’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them graphorns and billywigs abound; gay and bisexual people are – unsurprisingly – nowhere to be found.
The movie is set in New York in 1926 – during the time of the Harlem Renaissance, a black literary and cultural movement incorporating a strong gay and lesbian subculture – and still managed to feature overwhelmingly white and straight characters. True to form, the two main female characters, sisters Porpentina and Queenie Goldstein, are conveniently set up as romantic interests for the two male leads, Newt and Jacob.
Fantastic Beasts goes further than merely ignoring the existence of gay people however: it picks up the story of one of the only two gay people to exist in the Harry Potter universe, Gellert Grindelwald (disguised for the majority of the film as Collin Farrell’s Percival Graves).
Grindelwald is a deliberately queer-coded character and it is hinted that he has been in a relationship with Dumbledore (in the books their conflict ends with Grindelwald “conjuring a white flag from his wand and coming quietly”). Given this knowledge, the intensity of Grindelwald’s relationship with Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) shifts from being merely creepy to become an explicitly homophobic trope: a gay man as a sexual predator preying on a much younger person.
There is of course nothing wrong with writing a villain who happens to be gay, but when the only explicitly non-platonic physical contact between people of the same gender in the entirety of the Harry Potter franchise comes in the form of a violent and bigoted older man manipulating a young, vulnerable, abused teenager – it might be time to pause and think about why that is.
2016 provided J K Rowling with the opportunity to up her game and provide much-needed representation for same-gender-attracted and transgender people. Instead, LGBT characters in the wizarding world remain as stubbornly invisible as demiguises, with the striking exception of morally corrupt and manipulative white men. Perhaps in 2017 Rowling’s ability to imagine real life diversity will finally catch up with her otherwise delightfully creative world-building skills. Until then, this gay trans fan remains disillusioned.
‘Better than the book’ by Hannah Woods
Literary adaptations: get them right and they can form an iconic piece of film history: Silence of the Lambs, Trainspotting (the sequel is due on 27th January), and the Harry Potter franchise to name but a few. Get them wrong and it can permanently taint the book, actors and producers.
2016 has definitely been an interesting year for literary adaptations. While Room and Nocturnal Animals received impressive reviews, The Girl on the Train managed to annoy both those that had read the book and those that hadn’t. So the question is, what makes a good literary adaption and what have we in store for 2017?
Adapting a book into a successful film is a difficult task for any filmmaker. The success of a literary adaptation relies on striking a fine balance between individuality and continuity: stick to the book too much and the film risks becoming forgettable; try to deviate too far from the original and it may result in an outcry from loyal fans and film critics alike.
2017 presents us with a wide array of potentially successful literary adaptations. This includes Wonder by R.J. Palacio, a book based on a young boy who is born with a facial deformity. Released on April 7th 2017, the film centres around Auggie Pullman who struggles to fit in at a new school. It promises to be a heart-warming tale similar in some ways to Room (especially since Jacob Tremblay plays the lead role in both films). It features a strong cast including Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson and will hit cinema in April.
Another film to look out for is Agatha Christie’s iconic Murder on the Orient Express, a whodunit detective thriller in which an American tycoon is found dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times. Scheduled to be released in November, Kenneth Branagh directs and also stars as the famous Belgian detective Poirot, while corralling a big name support cast: Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Olivia Coleman and Derek Jacobi to name but a few.
Photograph: Jacob Tremblay and Julia Roberts in ‘Wonder’, courtesy of Lionsgate