Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express. She also writes a monthly steampunk romance column for Coffee Time Romance.

Looking To The Future: Women on Top of the SF&F World

One day I asked myself, “What exactly would it take for a woman to direct a major motion science fiction romance film, one funded by a Hollywood studio?” (My mind works in fascinating ways!) The answer, of course, is an immensely complicated one. I can’t imagine how many stars would have to align for such an event to happen.

Let’s sample a few SF films with romantic elements/romantic SF from the past few decades. Who helmed them?

  • The Terminator (1984) – directed by a man
  • Dark City (1998) – directed by a man
  • The Matrix (1999) – directed by the Wachowski siblings (one of which, Lana (nee Larry), was male at the time)
  • Happy Accidents (2000) – directed by a man
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) – directed by a man
  • Wall-E (2008) – directed by a man
  • Love Story 2050 (2008) – directed by a man
  • Avatar (2009) – directed by a man
  • Upside Down (2012) – directed by a man
  • The Host (2013) – directed by a man

I should note that SF related or not, any big budget Hollywood film directed by a woman is still a rare bird. (There’s only one Kathryn Bigelow.)

And certainly a woman helming a theatrical release is by no means a guarantee of success (as measured by Hollywood studios). But as the underperformance of Upside Down shows, a man doesn’t necessarily increase the odds, either (and director Juan Solanas had a high concept idea to boot). But as a moviegoer, I don’t even have an opportunity to find out. The odds are you don’t, either.

I can watch an SF film with romantic elements written and/or directed by a man. I can see an SF film without romantic elements helmed by a man. But if I want to experience a woman’s take on either type? Forget about it: I. Have. No. Choice.

But wait — why should I forget about it?

The reason I ask is because after my hypothetical question above, I read this article by Lois McMaster Bujold at Fantasy Cafe. She points out the cyclical nature of the “women in SF/F discussion.” No doubt her observation is correct, but in her essay she also seems to imply-assuming I’m interpreting her words correctly–that it’s time to move on from the discussion. That it’s an established fact there are women authors in SF/F. What’s the point of regurgitating the same old topic, Bujold seems to be asking:

“I have begun to suspect the structure of these two conversations actually creates the pictures that their narratives demand, regardless of the facts, perhaps through some kind of mind-ray. In each case, the demand is dramatic: we see the stricken SF genre on the longest deathbed scene in history, or the poor-little-match-girl of female F&SF writers, crying out for the essayist to rescue them (and thus grab the heroic role)
[…]
The emperor: pretty well dressed, actually. Can we please move this conversation along? My pick would be: “Science in science fiction-let’s have some!””

I sensed as a veteran author she was tired of this discussion, and I can understand why. But then I realized the issue isn’t just about women in SF&F-it’s about what’s happening to women in SF&F.

For authors like Bujold, maybe this isn’t their fight anymore. Maybe it’s time to pass the torch because there are new battles to fight win.

When I learn about men who avoid reading books by women (and where would male authors be if women refused to read books by men, hmm?); anthologies and awards skewed toward male authors; the challenges faced by women geeks and ongoing fandom misogyny; gender imbalance in book reviews; insistence that female-authored books nominated for major awards couldn’t possibly have earned the recognition; accusations of female authors promoting too much; and graphic novel covers that sexually exploit the female body, I feel the conversation is not over-not by a long shot.

Author Mur Lafferty aptly stated:

“Women are here and we’re writing and we’re getting nominated for awards and we’re going to keep doing outrageous things like building fan bases and having opinions and perhaps even being rude at conventions or even WINNING awards.”

The ongoing challenges for women in SF&F are why I look to the future and what it could hold. The day a Hollywood studio releases an SF romance film with appeal across all quadrants and undisputed box office success is a day we experience a major milestone in the movement of establishing validation for women in SF&F. Not as an outlier, but as the norm.

We all have responsibility for the current lack of female-helmed SFR films. We’re also in a time, culturally, where it’s easier for women to take the reins. Difficult? Yes. But not impossible. As they say, ladies, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

Here’s an example of how much purchasing power and influence women have in SF&F:

The Host (2013) is a film adapted from a book by Stephenie Meyer. But here’s the really interesting part. Meyer first wrote Twilight, a paranormal romance that appealed to a whole bunch of women. I mean bunches of women. These women spent so much of their hard earned money on the Twilight franchise that Meyer had enough leverage to sell the film rights for The Host.

So because a massive group of women catapulted Twilight into the stratosphere, The Host became a viable Hollywood property. Now, the film was directed by a man, but the situation demonstrates how a group of women readers who like vampire romance propelled a science fiction romance film into being. That’s the type of power women wield as consumers.

Despite my enthusiasm and optimism for the future, I fully realize the immense number of obstacles facing women artists in all genre mediums. It’s difficult to know which set of actions we need to set in motion so a woman who wants to direct an SFR film can, in fact, achieve her goal (and it’s certainly difficult enough for anyone, male or female, as it is). She’ll need time, luck, and many, many resources along the way. She’ll also have to be ready when opportunity strikes.

But you know, I have this torch. I’ll help light the way for her as long as I can.

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