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November 1995, Week 1


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Jeffrey Apfel <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 3 Nov 1995 12:47:23 -0800
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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You wrote:
>I am beginning to research a paper on the question of moral ambiguity
in male
>and female characters in film, dealing with the primary issue that
>quality has been allowed in male characters (hero/anti-hero), and not
>female characters.
>Does anyone have any thoughts on the subject that they wish to share?
>Thank you,
>Justine Sawyier ([log in to unmask])
I agree this should be an interesting thread and I look forward to
seeing how it develops.  My suggestion to you in terms of your query
with the group as well as your own research is to define more clearly
what you mean by  moral ambiguity .  I mean, is it your view that it is
a  thing  that a character has more or less of?  Or is it a sensibility
embedded in the narrative itself, one which males and females might
respond to in different ways in different eras?  And is there such a
thing as a single type of moral ambiguity, or does it differ over time
and by gender?
If I might be permitted to trade in two-bit archetypes here, I would
say that a lot of cultural products (films, folktales, fiction, you
name it), in the course of telling similar stories, create certain
standard characters and roles which often break down by gender.  Now I
hold to the somewhat old-fashioned and reprobate view that gender is
not *just* socially constructed, but is also tied to biological,
hereditary and behavioral differences.  And, to simplify, part of that
view is the centrality of the female and the extraneousness of the
male--metaphorically, the extra chromosome thing.  So men tend to
occupy the hero roles with the upside of valor tempered by their
one-dimensionality; it is the female who carries with her the more
complex earthy stuff.
That being said, I know the old saw about  there are just no good movie
roles for females  and need to think some to try to reconcile the fact
that women are often morally complex in cultural imagery with the
notion that  there are no good roles .  Certainly the earlier posting
was correct in pointing out lots of female film characters from earlier
decades  with lots of shading and nuance--a lot of the noir genre is
built on the image of the lady with a dark character.  And think of
Preston Sturges (Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve, playing one complex,
cool customer to Henry Fonda s straight-arrow male).  Or Faye Dunaway
as Evelyn Mulwray in Chinatown, a neo-noir.
So my instinct is that you won t find a straight-line development
(e.g., old movies, no female nuance; newer movies, female nuance), but
rather different depictions of archetypal male/female characters
depending on period and genre requirements.
Jeff Apfel
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