Ok, so here’s the thing.
We live in the internet age. This is super special. Why? Because in the internet age, you no longer have to wonder about anything.
“Gee, what shape is our heart, really?”
“How do I get this stain out?”
“Where do I find some bangin’ boots for my Halloween party?”
“How can I make this extremely odd dish?”
It used to be we’d ask our friends, and if they didn’t know, we’d call someone, and if they didn’t know, we might go to the library and browse some books, or maybe go to a specialty store that would know.
Nowadays though, we just grab our beverage of choice, sidle up to the computer, and ask Lady Google or that Yahoo gentleman.
This is a convenience and a trouble all in one. It’s a convenience for the obvious reasons: now we can get information faster and easier than every before. It’s a trouble because everyone knows you can get that information at the drop of a hat. So if you’re wrong… you’re not only wrong, you’re lazy and wrong.
Which brings me to Riddick. As I mentioned, Riddick relies a lot on it’s stereotypes, which should be faux pas enough thanks to tvtropes.com. But there’s one particular stereotype, and the “plot twist” it takes, which makes me wonder what rock the writers had their heads under, and it all has to do with Dahl, the token strong chick.
Dahl. Now, first, I want to emphasize that the actress did an amazing job with her part. It was perfect. I really loved the character, I’m mad at the writers who made the character. Why? Because either they were abysmally lazy in their writing, or straight up dumb in their research.
First of all, can we talk about her name? Dahl? For a girl? Michael said he assumed it was a last name (which it was), but on hearing it the first time, my first thought was “why the fuck are they calling the token strong female ‘doll?!’” It wasn’t until the credits rolled that I realized her name was spelled D-A-H-L. Ok, I get it, symbolic naming, but really? REALLY!? I shouldn’t have to outline why this little homophone is uncool (hint; women as objects). Smith would have been better. By light years.
Next, if you aren’t aware of the movie’s “twist” regarding Dahl, sorry, you’ve had a few weeks to see it, so I’m going to spoil you. You see, she proclaims that she’s a Lesbian near the beginning of the movie. It is never indicated, by action or word that she isn’t telling the full truth. There’s some seductive lines thrown at her by Riddick (I guess it was supposed to be flirting? I didn’t think it came off that she was responsive to it.) and then by the end of the movie she magically wants to sleep with Riddick. (Because he’s so Manly for nearly getting killed? I don’t know.)
Why do I call this a research problem, rather than a lazy writing problem? As I said, it’s both. In the Lazy writing arena, it’s… it’s done to death, guys. It’s even a tvtrope. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and mention that they may have been trying to imply that Dahl was lying when she said she didn’t sleep with men, you know, just saying it to try and dissuade the bad guys from hitting on her. However, she never corrected that declaration either to the audience privately, or to any other character in the movie. All of my problems with this character could have been evaporated with nothing more than a ten second conversation between Dahl and her superior:
“Why’d you say you didn’t sleep with men?”
“He doesn’t even deserve to think he has a chance.”
“Does that excuse even work?”
“No. Figured it was worth a try.” *gun cock* ”This is my plan B.”
Done. That’s ALL THEY NEEDED TO MAKE THIS OK. We can say “oh, but I assumed”. That’s the problem though. We can assume a lot, and a lot of people do, but when it comes to mindfully consuming media, you have to look at exactly what is given, not because we’re trying to demonize anyone, but because exactly what is given, that face value, is what worms into our subconscious and colors our perceptions of what is acceptable and what is not.
Now, let’s assume that it wasn’t merely a writing error, but that everything was meant exactly as said. In truth, it’s probably some mix of the two of these extremes, but either way, there are several problems with the research there. #1, if the writers had done even a little asking around, they probably would have found that “I don’t sleep with men” is not an excuse that works anyway. Maybe that was the point? Probably not, because, #2 Rape and harassment are not a ‘bad guy only’ thing. The “Oooo, he’s so bad, he RAPES PEOPLE.” thing is kind of… tired, I suppose. I was quite aware the guy was bad when he shot the prisoner in the back, I didn’t need the further obnoxiousness with Dahl. And finally, the doozy, #3 if she’s a lesbian, she’s…uh… a lesbian. Making her “turn straight” is incredibly offensive.
Why? Ask yourself, what are you telling people about the LGTB community if you show Riddick’s manly manliness suddenly turning a Lesbian Straight? You’re saying that homosexuality can be “cured” with some straight sex. This has been the basis for lots and lots and lots of horrible, awful things, all under the umbrella term of “Corrective Rape”. That’s right, this idea is so prevalent, it has a name. Do I think that the writers meant to perpetuate this idea? No. Do I think they did? Unfortunately, Yes.
I can’t even give them the excuse of “this is a boy’s movie”. It’s not. I watched it. My female friends had the intention of watching it until they read the reviews. If you hadn’t noticed, Vin Diesel has a large female following, and Riddick does as well. Half of all moviegoers are female. I’m not saying please everyone, but not offending and alienating them would be nice. The first two movies weren’t too bad for that – why did this one completely off the charts fail?
The research to understand why it was a bad idea to have this little plot twist in 2013 was all right there at google’s finger tips. Go ahead – google “Make Lesbian Straight”. You either get corrective therapy sites or “No. That doesn’t happen.” In the end, that’s why I’m writing this post.
Google is there, my friends. I’m not saying you have to get it perfect, every time. We’re all victims of our own blindness and privilege, and sometimes it gets the better of us. I’m saying that if you’ve got something going on in your writing which you are not a part of (I’m white, writing characters of color, or a man, writing as a woman, etc.) pass it through someone who IS or STUDIES these things. Analyze your words with a friend that has a careful eye. Read up on the culture you’re going for, spend time with it on youtube or the web, or go to a board and say “Hey, I’ve got this thing, and I want to try and be right. Someone help?”.
The information is THERE. It is EASY. There is no excuse.
Now for the caveat: if you liked Riddick, I’m not yelling at you. As I said in the first post, I liked Riddick! I really enjoyed the action, the “my side of the mountain” thing survival, the puppy dog (sadface.) and I thought it was really fun. You are allowed to enjoy problematic media. However, you do have to be mindful. It’s hard, rage inducing at times, and people will get sick of you and ask “can’t you just enjoy the film/song/book?!”
The answer is yes, you can. But we need to criticize it as well, take it in, and change the conversation to something less problematic. That’s how you teach, that’s how we learn. That’s the writer’s responsibility.