Screenwriting is one of my favorite things in the world. I have always been obsessed with TV and film, and have dreamt of being able to tell my own stories in a style I love. In college, I’ve taken a lot of classes on the subject, learning how to craft characters and tell meaningful stories. As much as I’ve loved those lessons, I’ve learned something else—being a female screenwriter can be a really complicated role. As a female writer, there are automatic disadvantages in a writers’ room. Your stories are often told they are less relatable, people assume you’re less funny than your male counterparts, and (the one that affects me most) is that you sometimes feel compelled to work too hard to prove that you’re worth being taken seriously.
As much as I want to say I don’t care what people think of what I write, of course I do! Presenting in front of professors and classmates is nerve-wracking, and you are bound to hope for positive feedback no matter how much you love your own pieces. Especially as a woman, you want to feel validated in your intelligence and validity as a creator. However, I think this determination to be seen as mature and serious by peers can be an inhibitor to creativity and even worse, joy.
I know that I want to tell stories that focus on young women and the challenges they face—it matters so much to me to do so. Issues with baes, body image, and besties are pretty universal experiences, and they deserve to be done justice with truthful storytelling. And for a while, they were. The golden age of teen movies—envision She’s the Man or Mean Girls—told female-centered stories full of wit and heart. Women were in the lead, and they were allowed to be complex, flawed, funny, and fierce all at once.
Recently, as a self-proclaimed connoisseur of this “teen girl” genre, I’ve noticed a shift. Everything lately in film and television is so dark. Trauma and tragedy colors most of the media we consume, even though there’s so much of that in the world already. The ones that attempt to be fun, like The Kissing Booth or The Perfect Date, do an even greater disservice to women. These sorts of movies assume that they can follow a formula: hot guy + love triangle = satisfied female watchers. There is no effort in the dialogue or storylines. We’re smarter than that. You can’t trick us into thinking those stories, full of one-dimensional female leads and toxic relationships, are all that we deserve.
It’s not to say that all the recent changes in our media are bad. The early 2000s missed the mark on a lot of things, especially and awfully on the basis of diversity and inclusion. A lot of our old favorite flicks have jokes that we would now find uncomfortable, and only highlight a very small portion of our population. But this is the problem! As our world changes, shouldn’t this genre evolve too? Why did it get abandoned instead?
When I was younger, screen-queens like Julia Stiles, Reese Witherspoon, and Anne Hathaway played characters that I looked up to. Kat Stratford was a feminist icon who reminded us all to accept nothing less than the best from the people in our lives, Elle Woods taught us that anything we put our mind to is possible, and Amelia Mignonette Thermopolis Renaldi made us all secretly believe that we were probably, no definitely, meant to be princesses. Being a young woman is hard. We constantly judge ourselves and in turn, believe everyone is judging us back. These movies provided so much joy in a stage of our lives where there’s so much stress and sadness. Unlike the recent cookie-cutter teen flicks, this era focused on the girl at the center and made her story the focus. They gave fashion inspo, to-die-for soundtracks, and most importantly the ability to believe that regular girls deserve their happy ending—and they do. It isn’t feminist to view femininity as unworthy. Feminism is about giving a platform to all of the various, complex forms of womanhood and embracing them all.
It makes me sad that girls growing up now will have to rely so much on movies from before they were born. Movies that my generation is still rewatching. That’s the other side of this coin. The whole world seems to know the significance of things like October 3rd, the iconic-ness of one matching yellow plaid suit, and the story of how one pink-clad queen got into Harvard (“What? Like it’s hard?”) These movies weren’t barely-known cult classics, they were cultural phenomena. And to discredit their validity is to discredit the power, influence, and importance of young women.
I’ve sworn to never make that mistake. I will sit in every writers’ room and present these stories with a modern touch. I will be laughed at and looked down on—I have been laughed at and looked down on—but I refuse to let that spark die out forever.
One day, one day soon, I hope we see media that encourages girls to support girls in the most beautiful way we know how: at a sleepover, doing facemasks, one of those movies playing as we quote every line, truly understanding that together we are so much stronger than we ever were apart.