The Dragon Prince: Beautiful story, Problematic Production

I’m always late to get into the newest Netflix trends. My latest acquisition, The Dragon Prince, I binged all three seasons over New Years. I loved the series, and I had to talk about it.

Got halfway through Ep 1 of Wakfu. Not the same. Nice try, Netflix.

The Dragon Prince is a beautiful and dark fantasy epic. Two human princes and a Moonshadow elf must bring the young dragon princeling to his mother in the land of Xadia in order to end the war between their peoples. They face all sorts of death-defying odds and fun magic adventures with a healthy dose of humor.

What’s great is it’s incredibly diverse cast. Women are portrayed alongside men in combat. General Amaya is mute, and communicates only with sign language. There’s several LGBT characters and it’s not made a big deal of. There’s also wonderful themes of finding yourself and helping others at any cost.

TDP reminds me of one of the best animation series I’ve ever watched — Avatar: The Last Airbender. In fact they share some crew, including a voice actor and the head writer on ATLA Aaron Ehasz, who is showrunner for The Dragon Prince.

Unfortunately, after I tweeted my love to the two people on Twitter who see my posts, I uncovered the controversy associated with the showrunner, and why there likely won’t be a Season 4. Several women accused Aaron Ehasz of misogynistic behavior.

After the trailer for Season 3 dropped in November 2019, several women started talking about their problems with the company.

Lulu Younes said she needed to leave the company for her own mental and emotional health:

Danika Harrod, the former Head of Community Development at Wonderstorm (TDP production company), also said her experience was “painful” and what she witnessed drove her to leave the company. “It was just so much shutting women down, not taking women seriously, not listening to women, firing a woman and then shit talking herHarrod stated on her Twitter account.

At least three women left the company. Soon to be followed by co-producer of TDP Giancarlo Volpe, though it isn’t clear if it’s in relation to the allegations. 

Then there’s this thread by Diandra @Work (@MesaanaSedai) who worked with Aaron — this time at Riot games. As an editor, she was in charge of making sure the narrative of what they were producing was consistent. Instead, according to her, Ehasz usurped her job and make it a team activity, all while treating her as a personal assistant.

Her experience is worth noting, as it corroborates the other women’s accounts.

ehasz response
The comments on Ehasz’s response were a mix split between indignation that he avoided the allegations to promote his own company, to people claiming they’d never believe the women. “If they have proof, awesome, but I’m not going to believe the rumor mill on social media,” one commenter stated. “Word of mouth is not proof, sorry. Camera footage from the offices is proof. Text messages or emails are proof.”

But that’s the thing about workplace sexism and gaslighting — it’s not something that’s often handily encapsulated in an email or text message. It’s an employer or employee acting in the way that these women described — not respecting them or their jobs and treating them a particular way because of their gender.

This inherent disbelief of women’s experiences is the very reason why they don’t come forward on these allegations in the first place. They’re afraid they won’t be able to work again. Television is a flighty career path — cross the wrong person and you find you never work again.

A company — and the product it creates whether it be a TV series or video game — benefits greatly when you bring a variety of voices to the table. That’s why seeing this kind of controversy associated with a piece of media I really enjoyed is so upsetting. It’s why seeing articles like this after the #MeToo movement is head-smacking-against-the-desk frustrating.

I may be slow on the uptake when it comes to watching the latest Netflix craze, but the powers that be are incredibly slow in treating their women employees as equals — and that needs to change.

The Dragon Prince is still a beautiful series, worthy of being made an example of for its incredible characters and deep world building, though the real stories behind the scene do negatively color my experience. Luckily the women who had to leave the company found good jobs, but the problem of gaslighting still persists. Let this be a two-fold lesson: How to write a good series …and how to treat your employees as people.

Sources:

 

The Cinematography of A Quiet Place

This blog references this podcast interview from The Kodakery with Charlotte Bruus Christensen, cinematographer of A Quiet Place.

Charlotte-Bruus-Christensen

 

In the interview, cinematographer Charlotte Bruus described how the story dictated what type of shots they could get. Since the characters conversed mostly in American sign language with subtitles for the layman, most shots had to leave enough room for the sign language to take place. Even when they might want a close up on a face, they had to make that conscious choice that the hands had to be seen. It was done for practicality but very much dictated the look and feel of the film.

Christensen also described how she uses elements from the script and the director to add the character to her camera operating in each scene.

“I constantly work towards a word or a scene or something that the director has given me…to give that to the audience,” Charlotte Bruus Christensen said.

How do you do that? Well, you accomplish that with the lighting design, the camera movement, handheld vs. tripod… each choice adds another layer to what Christensen is saying with the camera.

“That’s the work that doesn’t really come out in the dialogue or in the set design,” she said. “That’s something that I can add. These words, I get very set what I’m aiming for with the light and with the movement. That will guide me to whether this [tracking shot] should be going fast or slow or if you zoom.”

Not all Directors of Photography will operate the camera themselves, but Christensen did. She adds an intuitive element to it, very much responding to the actors in the moment.

“When you operate yourself, you really can feel that, when a character moves his head or these little details… to me that’s very, very important to catch those moments and try and convey emotion… to move an audience. Show that emotion. To move an audience. But that’s another amazing thing about cinematography. It’s such a powerful tool.”

It’s interesting to note that part of the personality lent to the image by the cinematographer herself was also her choice to shoot in film. People balked at her choice, assuming the film would not be able to handle the dark scenes. Christensen, however, knew better.

A QUIET PLACE

Being knowledgeable with film stocks, she chose the right tools for the job. The funny thing is, shooting in film means you don’t see exactly what you’re getting through the viewfinder. Using her experience, intuition and a light meter, Christensen captured amazing visuals for an incredible film.

Teachable Moment: The Nxivm Case

My last post was about separating artist from art. Weinstein was a topical case study of course, but my intention was to ask whether we could still enjoy art created by problematic people. Y’know, the Hitchcocks of the world.

During all the discussions regarding problematic directors and producers, I never felt personally affected, except to put trust in the victims and decry the actions of those who abused their power.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In 2001, Smallville premiered. The TV series that showed Clark Kent’s journey to become Superman quickly became my favorite. Show runners Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, in addition to bringing in a number of classic characters of the Superman mythos, also introduced a couple original characters. One such character was brave and smart. She stopped at nothing to expose the truth, help her friends and make a better world in her own way.

I’m talking about Chloe Sullivan, played by Allison Mack. She was the nascent reporter turned pseudo-Justice League Watchtower. She was my favorite character besides Clark.

Last year I saw someone share an article that didn’t look legit. It stated that Allison Mack had been found to victimize girls and prostitute them for cult leader Keith Raniere. Pimp Mack, they called her. I was sure this article wasn’t true.

This week Mack was arrested. The story was real.

mack

See full article here.

Mack co-founded Nxivm with Keith Raniere. The organization operated under the guise of a mentorship program for young women. The company website states: “NXIVM is a company whose mission is to raise human awareness, foster an ethical humanitarian civilization, and celebrate what it means to be human.”

No. It’s a pyramid scheme meant to trap women, self-branded as a form of self help and entrepreneurial endeavor.

Apparently Kristin Kreuk, the actress who played Lana Lang on Smallville, recruited Mack before eventually getting out of it herself. Kreuk shared in a statement on Twitter that she had joined the group to help with her shyness, assuming it was simply a self help workshop. She closed her statement with how she is “deeply disturbed” and thanked the women who came forward about the violent inner workings of Nxivm.

Mack continued in the group, leveling up to Raniere’s inner circle by luring girls into the pyramid scheme turned sex trafficking ring. Women were encouraged to recruit other women in order to become masters instead of slaves. Girls were branded and made to starve themselves to fit Raniere’s sexual fantasies. These were impressionable women who were seeking to better their careers through what they thought was mentorship.

Emil: Chloe, I couldn’t help but notice that you practically jumped out of your chair when I came in here. I’d prefer that if there were no secrets between us.
Chloe: Then you’re in the wrong business.

Smallville Season 9, Episode 6: Rabid

I usually use this blog to teach about film, but sometimes those teachable moments are less about technique and more about the seedy underbelly of the entertainment industry.

It upsets me to my core that this case has brought to light the dirty laundry of an actress I thought I could admire. It upsets me that it was an actress at all who lured women into this trap.

I look back at her most famous role, that of the dynamic and strong Chloe Sullivan.  I feel betrayed by a person I never met who doesn’t know I exist. She doesn’t owe me an explanation. An actor is not their character. This much is definitely clear here. We must out predators wherever and whomever they are.

We must not throw judgment on the young women who were sucked into this world. Like with any cult, it probably didn’t seem so bad until they were in deeper than they could escape. Maybe that’s even how Mack’s involvement began.

“I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but the people who are the worst at taking care of themselves are the ones the world actually needs the most.” — Chloe Sullivan, Smallville

I hope that young women will take note from this case, and be very careful who they put their faith in for mentorship opportunities and career advancement. Not all who say they are there to help you have your best interests at heart.

Hopefully this will be a teachable moment for Allison Mack too. She could have taken many lessons on doing the right thing from the character she portrayed for ten years. Instead she, like the Weinstein-like men before her, must face consequences for her actions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RE: Hollywood Scandals. Should we separate artist from art?

The floodgates have opened to scandals about sexual abuse from high level people in Hollywood.

We shouldn’t be surprised at the numbers, right? The “Casting Couch” is a dirty joke for a reason. This ousting of abusive, harassing jerks has been long awaited.

But now with this news comes the moral dilemma — can we continue to consume content knowing someone who made the film is a creep? Series have been cancelled, movies have halted production, and companies no longer want to work with those who’ve been named, but what happens when the choice is left to us?

I’ve written before on a moral dilemma surrounding the creation of a film and the final product.

I’ve also had this internal crisis with an author I once admired — Orson Scott Card. I had already read and enjoyed several of the Ender’s Game books before I found out how much a bigot the author was. It was hard to fathom how he could promote empathy and understanding in his writing, but not in real life.

Prime examples of abuse fill the shadowy corners of Hollywood classics.

shelley duvall

Shelley Duvall was forced to do 127 takes during that baseball bat scene in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Several documentaries, including one by Kubrick’s own daughter, showed Duvall intentionally bullied. Kubrick told crew members not to sympathize with her, and she skirted illness constantly due to the stress.

Duvall did not have many acting credits after her 13 month stint on The Shining, and is reportedly not in good mental health these days.

Tippi Hedren dealt with Alfred Hitchcock’s obsession and sexual abuse on The Birds and Marnie. She said he would suddenly grab her, put his hands on her and become “petulant” whenever she talked to another man. He even jumped on top of her and tried to kiss her in a limo. He tortured Hedren on set with live birds when he was supposed to use fake ones. She described the scene as brutal and relentless.

tippihedrenbirds_large

Hitchcock threatened to ruin Hedren’s career when she wouldn’t cave to his advances.

In an interview with Variety in 2016, she explained why she opened up about the abuse in her memoir:

I wanted to let women, especially young women, know never to allow that kind of approach and to be forceful in telling people you’re not interested in having that kind of a relationship. It’s not a bad thing to say no.

Full article here

This abuse doesn’t live solely in the past. Finally, women and men are taking on their abusers in order to create change in a problematic industry.

Then there’s us. The consumers. Articles like the one below are popping up everywhere, everyone wondering: What should we do now?

 

It’s all down to personal choice at this point. If Netflix didn’t cancel House of Cards, could you still watch it? Will movies from the Weinstein Company leave a bad taste in your conscience?

What to do

Yes, it’s problematic when things we like are made by people we don’t agree with on a fundamental level. There are several things we can do, though.

  1. Talk about it.

    Don’t internalize this struggle. We have numerous forms of social media in which to share an opinion. Tag the production company. You’d be surprised who is paying attention. Also, consider writing an opinion piece for your local newspaper on the subject. Local newspapers enjoy getting public input and people will be interested in reading those words, and maybe someone can be swayed.

  2. Don’t consume the art.*

    This one can be more difficult if you are already a fan of the work. Your spending power says something. If enough people don’t pay for a movie, the box office will reflect it and production companies will take note. They will not want to work with an actor or director that the public is no longer willing to support. They like predictable cash flow.

    * a necessary side note: for the love of all that is art, do not pirate a film. If you want to see it, you pay to see it. It’s as simple as that. Use Redbox instead of going to the theater, or watch it at a friends house. I don’t care. Just don’t pirate. Thousands of people’s livelihoods depend on box office receipts, mostly people who make significantly less money than the person you have an issue with. Don’t steal their work.

  3. Consume art by artists you DO believe in.

    Use your purchasing power to support indie films, films by women and LGBT filmmakers or other poorly represented minorities. Kickstart someone’s passion project. Get voices out into the light who need to be heard. Your $10 here will make a bigger difference than your $10 on a blockbuster summer tentpole.

Your opinion matters. Keep the discussion going. It’s the best way to turn things around so future generations don’t have these stories anymore.

Sources

Tippi Hedren on Why She Went Public About Being Sexually Abused

Tippi Hedren says Hitchcock sexually assaulted her – USA Today

Orson Scott Card: Mentor, Friend, Bigot

An Ethical Guide To Consuming Content Created By Awful People Like Orson Scott Card

He’s a Creep, but Wow, What an Artist!

The Real Horror of ‘The Shining’: The Story of Shelley Duvall

The Women of Stranger Things

What makes a strong female character? The details matter, regardless of gender. Characters should be multifaceted. The problem is we often see the stereotypes, the lowest common denominator. Female characters are often the mother, girlfriend or love interest and not much else.

You can use the Bechtel-Wallace Test as a guide. With this test, you ask if a work of fiction presents two female characters who talk to each other about anything other than a man. The test is helpful in finding better represented female characters, but it is flawed and limiting.

A strong character not only reacts to what going on around her but is also proactive and a main character is instrumental in moving a plot forward.

Well written characters are fully realized humans, not just cookie cutter impressions.

Although Stranger Things focuses a lot on the four main preteen boys, there’s also a great number of fantastic female characters. Let’s look at what makes them so special.

eleven

Eleven: The Wild Card

The one we all secretly wish to be.

Eleven is our obvious hero type, but she also displays a sweet childlike innocence due to her lack of knowledge of the real world.

Eleven is strong  not just because of her powers, but her depth. Each episode reveals more about her.

She has a complicated parental relationship with Papa and Hopper. Her search for family brings her to the boys, Hopper, Mama and Roman’s gang.

She is also a little bit scary. Her power, and willingness to kill, make her a very potential bad guy if she had only stayed with the Hawkins Lab. Since she escaped, she has learned a great deal about the world and what to appreciate.

Joyce

Joyce: The Detective

Joyce is wonderful because we finally get a TV mom worth watching. Her detective skills in two seasons show she is willing and capable to do anything to save her son.

Although she skirts insanity, talking to Christmas lights and chopping into a wall like Jack from The Shining, Joyce is instrumental in saving Will.

Nancy.jpg

Nancy: The Warrior

She easily could have been the damsel in distress. Instead, we learn Nancy will do whatever it takes to get answers and justice for Barb. We also see Nancy as one of the only characters capable of taking up arms against the Demogorgons.

When Hopper asks one of the boys if he can handle a shotgun, Nancy confidently takes it from him instead. She may be freaked out by what has gone on in the town, but she’s not hiding from the fight.

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Max: The New Girl/Zoomer

Season Two introduced Max as the new girl in town, there to rival the boys at the arcade and in their friendship.

She’s a bit of a cool girl stereotype, but she has her development. Her troubled household has caused her some bitterness. She has an inner battle to fight.

We didn’t get quite enough of Max’s character but there is a lot of potential for her in Season Three.

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Terry Ives

We only see Terry in a flashback and catatonic in the present day, she was a formidable force in her time. She shows a conviction in pursuing her child years after her abduction. There may be more that Terry could teach us.

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Roman: The Rebel

The introduction of Roman answers the question we had since the beginning: Are there others like Eleven?

She is the child who fully rebelled against Hawkins Lab. She is brutal in her retribution, but also has a soft spot for family matters, just like Eleven.

Although her moral compass could use a tuneup, Roman provides the emotional stimuli Eleven needs to beat an ultimate foe.

Takeaway

“What’s the trick to writing a great female character? Make her human.” — Nicole Holofcener, director and screenwriter of Lovely & Amazing and Friends with Money.

Just because you’re writing a female character doesn’t mean the character development stops at that extra X chromosome. Our entertainment is so much more engaging and meaningful when the characters are better written.

Sources

Bechdel Test

Writing Better Female Characters

35 Powerful Quotes by Women in Hollywood