FUBU Feminism: 'Veronica Mars' Could Change Hollywood's Gender Status Quo
If Don Draper has taught television viewers anything, it’s that nostalgia is an extremely powerful emotion. But that feeling pales in comparison with the emotion experienced when what you're longing for actually and unexpectedly comes back to life.
That is what Veronica Mars fans everywhere were experiencing when the Kickstarter-funded Veronica Mars movie hit theaters (and the iTunes store) Friday. Characters that have been on the shelf since the cult favorite was canceled in 2007 reunite onscreen in their class-divided hometown for a movie that picks up nine years after the last episode. At last, VMars fans are getting a dose of the kick-ass teenage sleuth in her film reincarnation.
The reunion came early for the lucky L.A.-based superfans who attended the opening-night panel of the “PaleyFest 2014” television festival at the Dolby Theatre. At the event, cast members and show creator Rob Thomas reunited and treated fans to a surprise screening of a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the Veronica Mars movie, as well as a panel discussion about all things VMars.
“Her brain is her armor, she uses it against the bad guy…and the dumb guy,” said lead actor Kristen Bell, explaining why her character, Veronica, resonates with viewers. “She’s never malicious, she is very fair, and she is steered by justice.”
But devotees have wondered whether Veronica would be the same "hard on the outside, sensitive on the inside" young woman in a film version of the story. Veronica Mars is as brash as she is delightfully clever—and she makes no apologies for any side of her personality. Would Kristen Bell be able to portray the same beloved but complex character on film that she played on TV?
After all, many films initially feature a Veronica Mars “type” as the lead, but the rom-com plot too often becomes one of “taming the shrew,” removing the hard shell of the strong, independent woman to get to the gooey inside.
This year, only 15 percent of all protagonists on film were women, and only 8 percent of those women were portrayed in positions of leadership. In Hollywood, the representation of women onscreen is still far from anything resembling gender equality.
Fortunately, and without spoilers, the Veronica Mars movie does not subscribe to any part of the Shakespearean shrew paradigm. Though the film is not without its clichés (let’s just say, there is no small amount of “being true to oneself”), Veronica Mars still kicks ass, takes names, and kisses and makes up.
So can Veronica’s ascension to the big screen be seen as a bellwether for similarly strong and complex female protagonists in film? Maybe, but maybe not. The Veronica Mars movie and character is an unusual case. Veronica developed into the compelling character that she is over three seasons. Viewers saw her change from the hardened, bitter loner of the pilot to the strong yet more restrained, compassionate, and loving college freshman of the finale. So when the Veronica Mars movie came around, Veronica’s character had the advantage of emerging on the screen fully formed. This character about whom fans care so passionately did not get lost in translation from television to film, but perhaps her film character is singular in that her development was not contained to a two-hour narrative.
Just because it is harder to write a non-stereotypical (or non-sexist), complex character in film than on a seasons-long TV show does not mean balanced female characters cannot exist in film.
Fans have recently responded to atypical female leads in positions of power, making The Hunger Games: Catching Fire the highest-grossing film of 2013. Additionally, the Veronica Mars movie is fan mandated. After Warner Bros. kept the project stuck in development for years, creator Rob Thomas brought it to Kickstarter, reaching its $2 million funding goal in 11 hours. Fans cared so much about Veronica Mars that they bankrolled the film themselves when the studios wouldn’t. This undoubtedly has gotten the attention of Warner Bros., which seems to have fully jumped on board the project.
Veronica Mars emerged during a time of strong female characters on television, with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Jennifer Garner in Alias as her forebearers. Rob Thomas has said that in the post-Buffy era, he wanted to create a show about a strong female lead with a different kind of superpower; Veronica’s power was not caring about what other people thought. Unfortunately, timing just wasn't right for the show—The CW canceled Veronica Mars at a time when too-perfect tweens, not crime-fighting high schoolers, captivated audiences. Now that Veronica is back, at the explicit request of her fans, and compelling female leads are continuing to prove their worth at the box office, the Veronica Mars movie could be the push that Hollywood needs to change the status quo for the better.