I came across this quote from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin in a recent Hollywood Reporter roundtable.
THR: And what's been your worst experience as a screenwriter?
Sorkin: My very first movie was A Few Good Men, which was an adaptation of my play. There was an executive on the movie who gave me a note: "If Tom Cruise and Demi Moore aren't going to sleep with each other, why is Demi Moore a woman?" I said the obvious answer: Women have purposes other than to sleep with Tom Cruise.
It almost makes you want to go "Oh snap!" doesn't it? But this is where having a near-eidetic memory comes in handy because I immediately thought of this line from Roger Ebert's 1991 review of the movie:
Given decades of Hollywood convention, we might reasonably expect romance to blossom between [Cruise and Moore], providing a few gratuitous love scenes before the courtroom finale, but no: They're strictly business - so much so that it seems a little odd that these two good-looking, unmarried young people don't feel any mutual attraction. I have a friend, indeed, who intuits that the Demi Moore character was originally conceived of as a man, and got changed into a woman for Broadway and Hollywood box office reasons, without ever quite being rewritten into a woman.
Granted, this was 1991, but it's a little strange to think a prominent female character not being written as a sex object was seen as so odd. That was the same year of Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, one of the strongest female characters of that decade. Perhaps one would argue that the sexism she faces is specific enough to her gender that it "justifies" making her a woman.
But it's strange because I've never thought of movie characters in those terms. This is partially because so many of the scripts I read seem to go overboard in making the women into sex objects. And yet, as I try to come up with a recent film where the lead female character's gender was completely irrelevant to anything else in the script, I seem to be coming up empty. Oddly enough, Mary Elizabeth Winstead's character in The Thing prequel is the only one in recent history that seems to pass that test, at least that I can come up with.
So here's a New Year's resolution for all of you - write a strong female character who's arc doesn't depend on who she's sleeping with, or anything centric to any gender issues.
(Not that writing characters with experiences that are uniquely female is a bad thing, but it would be nice to break the stigma of "Why didn't the lead female sleep with the lead male?")