MC7-1 Article 'Women, Strength, Fetishes and Screen Ethics'. My approach to making 'MC71'
Women, Strength, Fetishes and Screen Ethics.
‘…and she’s wearing a body suit under her long dress for tactical reasons, but don’t worry, I won’t be placing the camera in a position to exploit this…’ I say to the actress who’s about to take on a role where she has to be confident, sexy and a lethal fighter. Nina Hatchwell (the actress) looks at me as if to say ‘what’s the big deal? I trust you…’. We’ve been best friends for years, I know she trusts me… but I still felt I needed to say it… for me.
So here I am, I’m about to make a science fiction short film about two women in an underground profession, trying to earn enough money to be free in a state and economy geared towards the super-rich. ‘MC7-1’ is the name of the short film and ‘Earn your way free’ is the tagline. Though this is science fiction and a character driven action thriller, it’s a new take on people earning a living via a different means yet the element of sexuality present in a female characterisation is here once again.
Does this always have to be the case? Many people find male action lead actors very sexy, so why am I more aware of the issue with my female actors? Is it because of the lack of female roles in cinema? In ‘MC7-1’ both characters need to be strong yet have a level of human vulnerability and of course the actors must portray these roles. One actress needs to be attractive, so happens they both are. What about costumes? The hero character ‘Valda’ played by Melissa Clements needs to be dressed in a way that’s both ‘every day’ and yet capable of performing her urban tasks which can mean anything from inconspicuous surveillance to outright fighting. The other character ‘Eartha’ played by Nina Hatchwell lures male/female victims from bars and then… more violence. So the costumes will suit these character requirements. In doing so there may be some skin on show, or some curves… am I borderline paranoid?
I can’t help but be aware of these issues. Being a retired mixed heritage actor (Irish, English, Jamaican) of 25 years myself, I am aware of the BS when it comes to casting opportunities and the limitations of how some writer’s write. The portrayal of ethnicity and gender has been ever imperfect in cinema, and as a writer director I remember things like Sir Patrick Stewarts awareness protests about violence against women when ‘Kill Bill’ was released, or the continued protests of the ‘Fetishising’ of women in sci-fi or action films, or even the recent protests of women wearing tight clothes in public like leggings or yoga pants, and here I am as a male writer director who's about to tell a slick sci-fi story about a tactically dressed women who ends up fighting another woman who has very sexy styling. This is 2015, (finally!) the time of intolerance against ignorance, prejudice and at the same time political correctness… so is my short film a mistake?
Well… not at all. I remind myself I am telling a story, I know the themes, I know the audience, I know the characters. This isn’t about the exploitation of attractive actresses to make my film successful to a male audience (I won’t knowingly do that); this film is about the possible exploitation of us all.
‘MC7-1’ is set in a near future where London has become an independent country and only caters to the super-rich. Anyone who can no longer afford to live there has been economically forced to leave. The over automation of financial technology means the Government knows the moment you are unemployed and when you have no money. Having lost her savings, ‘Valda’ is about to be deported from London unless she can build up her money reserves within 4 weeks, this means returning to freelance Task Handling working off a secure internet job server called ‘MC7-1’. Tasks advertised on this server are offered by the super-rich. Some tasks are legal, some are not, but the earnings are very high and the police often look the other way.
This is a very emotive topic, already many Londoners already have had to leave London due to the city economy and lack of housing regulation. We are already worried of what will happen to artists and fringe entrepreneurs. Some families – like my own – may need to move to the outskirts of Greater London where it is cheaper to live (for the time being…).
As for England and its lack of housing regulation, getting on the ‘housing ladder’ in places like London has become near impossible for many. House prices are astronomical, rents have risen to ridiculous levels, estate agents have moved into rental property management increasing rents further and then extra charges are placed on tenants for little things like contract renewal, check-ins and checkouts.
I could go on…
So if this trend continues, in a worse-case scenario, with people calling for London to become ‘independent’, how could this affect us as a society and as individuals?
Earning money via non-conventional means has been a truth long in history. Today we are faced with modern slavery just as abundant as other times in history, only more hidden. Some believe they themselves don't have any genuine choice... I think of an old western where a character exclaims ‘Where we grew up you either became a preacher or a bandit, you chose your way and I chose mine…’. Is there a level of truth to this fictional characters exclamation where the environment conditions you to believe you have little to no choice?
I also think about a Comic Relief special where in a shanti town Angela Rippon ( a woman is can only be described as a great British Institution) has taken on the task of living with a female native of the town who offers domestic work to rich people so she can pay her rent (a place that’s barely a hut in squalid conditions with no sanitation facilities). One day there is no work, Angela asks the women ‘how will they earn money’ this day, the woman replies ‘hawk this’ pointing at her own crotch, trying to persuade Angela Rippon to understand she must now offer herself in prostitution, it must be done, there is no other way…
Historically, when desperate for money, both men and women first offer/turn to hard labour. When then pushed to desperate extreme’s most men offer or turn to violence to earn money, some offer sexual services. Women in this position offer or turn to sex work mainly due to the amount of potential customers. Some women, like men, turn to crime/violence.
Both sex and violence are an intimate use of the body and can create not only bodily but psychological harm for those who cannot cope with the reality of their chosen paths. This has always been present in history because there are those in society whom are always ready to exploit desperate people. So what happens when the social economic environment is geared towards this type of exploitation? Not just on the fringes, but the everyday ‘catch the bus/tube to work’ way of life.
A life where you may have a job but don’t earn enough money to eat or heat your home. When you have a degree but don’t earn more than minimum wage? Where you are self-employed but have no contracts... When life itself becomes so expensive that living becomes a daily challenge because you have to spend nearly all your earnings on heating, travel to work and rent?
When you have no money in an environment where you can’t live unless you have a lot, what would we choose to do to get that money?
In ‘MC7-1’ (and the subsequent feature film ‘4T48’) I am addressing these issues. In the story, London will have shanti towns called ‘affordable dwellings’, with much better living conditions than those noted above. The story will also have a culture of underground workers and fringe operators who though controversial in the media are acceptable in the mainstream.
These ‘Task Handlers’ won't have to offer strip or lap dances, web-cam entertainment nor prostitution - be they male or female. Though such things still exits, in the gang-tamed world of near-future London, Task Handling is the new entrepreneurial underground economy. Wealthy families and business colleagues are the new organised job providers/crimelords. Everyone works for them in one way or another.
In the name of the economy, self-exploitation is completely acceptable and the ‘norm’ – it is after all a free society we live in (..?). How else can we deliver the vision of the world’s first super-rich city of perfection? Even if turning to freelance ‘Task Handling’ to ‘earn your way free’ strengthens the system people try to free themselves from.
So what about the humanity?
These are not bad people but everyday citizens hoping for a better life, like ‘Valda,’ who simply wants the dignity to live in a city she calls home, in a place of her very own, free to decide if she wants to be single, married, raise a family, become an artist... to live a normal life.
This entire subject and theme will inform every camera angle, costume and performance - the whole production.
Context, themes, characters and STORY! That’s why I feel I can tell this story, not about strong independent women, but of real, rounded, affected, aspirational, conditioned people in these circumstances, who just happen to be women. I’ve written these characters as naturally as anyone else would write about a strong cast of men in any other film, because I feel my film naturally works this way. This is the normalisation of having women lead a film, not the promotion of it (though indeed promotion may be an unavoidable eventuality – fine by me).
There will still be people who will dismiss this short as a simple sci-fi actioner with attractive women (even though science fiction contains some great women characters like Lt. Ellen Ripley, Captain Kathryn Janeway, Lt. Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace and Padawan Ahsoka Tano) . The execution will be nothing of the like. I will be concentrating on telling the story honestly, showing characters authentically and providing the action with consequence. I want the audience to feel ‘Valda’s journey and her choices, to relate the dilemmas she faces and route for her in her goals. I don’t have to remind myself why I hired Melissa Clements to play ‘Valda’. As an actor she’s precise, cool and strong, and she has an emotional quality anyone can connect to. Nina Hatchwell playing ‘Eartha’, the antagonist of the short film, is already passionate and intelligent as a person. She’s also a fiery but earthed powerhouse of emotion – completely right for the role. So I’m about to go shoot this (anamorphically by the way) and I couldn’t be more excited to do it.
I’m about to explore a modern issue of our possible financial slavery to the state. If people find my character’s charming, sexy or even fetishised in the processes, though it’s not my aim, so be it.