SNL Gap Girls

Drawn in Drag: Examining Male Voice Actors Cast in Female Roles

This article first appeared October 3, 2014 in my Chick on the Draw column at Luna Station Quarterly.

Sometimes animation is sort of like SNL in the early 90s–it assumes men dressed as women are funnier than actual women.

SNL Gap Girls

I’m not saying Cross-Dressing Voices is always men-as-women. Where would animated boy roles be without June Foray, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Christine Cavanaugh, E. G. Daily, Laura Torres, Tara Strong, and Cree Summer? Not every show dares to let their male kid lead grow up –as Avatar: the Last Airbender and Adventure Time did.

And I’m not saying men posing as women can’t be funny or subversive. Divine as Edna Turnblad, the Kids in the Hall as their lady counterparts, and Jordan Peele as Meegan are all comedy gold. But what’s vital to their success is that the funny comes from the characters and situations, and not simply the drag itself.

And I’m not saying the male performers don’t deserve the part. Many of the cases I’m about to describe are actually male show creators who took on female roles in development and never let go. Who could say a show creator doesn’t know the character?

What fan would single out one not-entirely-satisfying drag performance in an otherwise satisfying movie or show?

Who could ask a show creator to give up their sweetest plum?

Who could suggest the character might take on a new dimension in the hands of, say, a professional female performer with decades of experience?

That person would have to be a bit of a nit-picky dirtbag.

Let this dirtbag say it: unless a man-in-drag voice performance is damn funny or damn subversive, it’s frustrating to see.

Jack and Jill movie theater still

And maybe just a bit tired.

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Bechdel test revisited guardians of the galaxy

The Bechdel Test Revisited: Women in a Hero’s Journey

This article first appeared as Luna Station Quarterly’s Chick on the Draw column, September 5, 2014

There are three reasons Alison Bechdel’s famous test–one canny gag in an indie comic strip from 1985–has been embraced by entertainment critics, theorists, and journalists as the gold standard for determining whether a film has, Feminist Frequency describes it, “significant female presence”:

  • It’s dead simple.
  • It quantifies the vague.
  • It hilariously indicts movies that can’t jump the first bar.

The rule itself is offered by one character sick of macho “Barbarian”/”Vigilante” movie BS, and received by the other as “pretty strict, but a good idea.” At the time of its introduction, the rule was not presented as more than the preference of one woman tired of supporting an industry happy to exclude her (Bechdel’s friend, Liz Wallace.)

The Bechdel Test does not bother with shades of agency, complexity, or quality. It is simple. It is elegant. It is brass tacks.

So why do so few Hollywood movies pass it? And how can this be fixed?

(Final act spoilers ahead for movies released in 2014.)

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Frozen kristoff fixer upper

Another Defense of Frozen: The Subversive Appeal of Disney’s New Breed of Fairy Tale

I dug Frozen. I laughed. I cried. I gasped at the third act reveal. In the wake of Dani Colman’s essay for Medium asserting the film has a problem with false feminism, I feel the need to tell you why. I hope you can stand another defense of Frozen.

(You may also enjoy the original Defense of Frozen.)

Elsa Frozen strut triumph

Because here it comes

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