Anna May Wong's Certificate of Identity, August 18, 1924, National Archives at San Francisco.
She was born Wong Liu Tsong in 1905 in Los Angeles to a Cantonese-American family that had lived in America since at least 1855. However, being an American didn’t matter in a time when people of Chinese descent were being heavily legislated against. Beginning in 1909, any people of Chinese descent entering or residing in the US, regardless of the country of their birth, had to carry a Certificate of Identity with them at all times. Even at the peak of her fame, Wong still had to carry papers like the one above to prove she was allowed to be here. Read the rest of the article.
An Unmarried Woman, 1978 (dir. Paul Mazursky)
Elizabeth Taylor holding the Best Actress Award for her performance in Butterfield 8 at the 1961 Academy Awards.
How to Marry a Millionaire may not be a good movie but I have an extreme fondness for it.
© Richard Avedon; Elizabeth Taylor for the Look magazine, 1956.
I was very excited to be invited by Candice Frederick of Real Talk Online, to discuss my own writing process for a blog tour involving a lot of other talented writers. Just to be on the level, writing about writing (especially my own) can be an uncomfortable process especially since I am in an interesting transitory phase. I am pushing my own boundaries, revamping my usual writing process, and examining a lot of things both personal and creative in my life. Without further ado…
What am I working on?
Currently, I am writing a feature titled Medusa Untangled and developing a pilot that I plan to write next. I am also writing a long form essay tentatively titled, Lilith and her Heirs: Thoughts on the Post-Studio System Femme Fatale.
How does my work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
My voice and perspective as a writer.
Why do you write what you do?
Because there is no version of my life, present or future, without writing. I would feel incomplete. When I tell people that screenwriting (and film in general) saved my life I am not being hyperbolic. My obsession with film came just as I was dealing with the some of the worse days of my illness. Screenwriting in its own odd way brings a sense of order to my mind. I love writing essays almost as much as I love screenwriting. They bring a sense of joy and wonder into my life. They also help me make sense of myself and the world around me.
How does your writing process work?
I currently have been revamping my writing process. Since I have a regular job I tend to write late in the evening for a few hours except for my days off when I can dedicate more time to writing. I tend to outline quite a bit, gather research and inspiration which I consider the pre-writing phase of my work. I usually write first drafts by hand or on my typewriter. This helps me to focus on my actual work and stop self-editing. From there I complete all of my next drafts in Scrivener. My writing process is also very physical. I tend to act out scenes, pace a lot. But this does often change a bit depending on the project. I have an idea I am trying to decide if it should be written as a feature or a novel and the pre-writing has been going on for a while. I even have an extra large Moleskine dedicated to the project. I try not to create too many hard and fast rules. Each project is its own animal.
Thanks again to Candice for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour!
There is an article from The Dissolve going around that breaks down the issues with the “Strong Female Character” and makes a case for what writers/directors should in fact be focusing on when writing women. It is a good article even if it’s saying things that have already been said before and the people sharing it and discussing it, already believe what the article is preaching. I’m going to be honest one of the reasons I decided to take a break from Madwomen & Muses besides a desire to focus solely on my screenwriting, was the feeling that writing straight film criticism on this blog was pointless. How many feminist (or feminist leaning) blogs and articles have we read that make the same point that The Dissolve makes? Yes, these articles are important but in the grand scheme of things they don’t help the same way actually having more women involved in the filmmaking process behind the camera would and they are very surface level critiques that only the completely myopic or women hating would deny their validity. It isn’t just about how are stories are being told but who is telling them.
I realized during my break from Madwomen & Muses that I love nonfiction almost as much as I love screenwriting. I am at my best with film criticism (and my other non-fiction pursuits) when I couch it in my personal experience. Which is why I had to write briefly about a comment I noticed on The Dissolve article, screencaptured below.
The comment is a micro example of the myopic understanding of film history that angers me. It is no secret that I am rather obsessed with and frequently defend the femme fatale. I got into a heated conversation about the nature of the archetype after my Bright Wall/Dark Room essay about True Detective came out. Some people believe the femme fatale is, in essence, a dark mirror for the neuroses of the male lead. That her sexuality isn’t rooted in autonomy but in the weird desires of the male writers in creating a sexual woman and then punishing her for being sexually realized.
The thing is film hasn’t evolved in a straight line. It is a convenient and neat lie to say that as women progressed in real life, they progressed on screen. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the women’s picture was dying around the 1960s and finally died in the 1970s (with a few exceptions). I don’t think it is a coincidence that we rarely see female characters of an unlikeable sort whose unlikeability isn’t rooted in fantastical badasses or women who don’t wield guns with abandon. I yearn to watch (and write) women with barred teeth and sharp claws who skirt the edges of acceptable morality. Women who are layered and further the cinematic depictions of actresses like Barbara Stanwyck.
To say, "I’m not saying in anyway it is enough, but I do think evolution is spinning in the positive direction. Contrast that to the murderous, calculating she-devils of the 1940’s to early 1970’s film noir/film noir lite and it is significant", like the first commenter on The Dissolve article did is to ignore the fact that those femme fatales do something most female characters (even the supposedly strongly written ones) aren’t allowed to do in modern times: advance the plot. The noir films, both cherished and obscure, couldn’t exist without their femme fatales. She is the main engine for the plot, she advances the story sometimes far more than the male lead. And to compare the post-studio system femme fatale to her 1940s ancestor shows how many ways film regressed as women gained more power in their personal lives because of feminism. These modern femme fatales aren’t challenging the subtext and politics in the genre. They aren’t better written, more autonomous or even more interesting (for the most part). Rather like many supposedly Strong Female Characters these post-studio system femme fatales reveal a flaw in mainstream feminist thinking and desires of the audience to watch women commit acts we consider reprehensible when done by men. They are cold automatons of desire, grit and violence. Is this the best fellow screenwriters can do? Is this all we are willing to receive as audiences?
Ultimately no matter how well-written or true articles like this one on The Dissolve are a part of me is bored of having these same conversations over and over again. I’m tired of talking about and reading about the issues with women on screen and how to make them better without anything really happening or without creating more challenging, layered critiques. How many people do these articles reach who change their minds for the better? I’m not saying I don’t enjoy these articles or think they are wholly pointless, but personally I have decided writing them is not for me or Madwomen & Muses.
Bette Davis in Satan Met a Lady (1936). Interestingly enough, this footage wasn’t used in the film; another angle was edited in when Davis says this line. The shot comes from the trailer, which is why the quality is, alas, not as good as one might hope.
[photograph by my boss friend arabella]
When I look at photographs of abandoned buildings I think of the small, one story home that defines my childhood growing up in Miami. It still stands, although with major remodeling since my mother lost it during my college years. There are people living in my childhood home. But in my mind it is abandoned because the home that once was no longer is. I imagined our trinkets and books and treasured, glimmering things in various stages of rot. Cobwebs blur the smiling faces in the pictures that color the home. Even in all that disrepair it would be easy to stitch together the family narrative as if the walls could talk.
In this home I first heard voices from the mouths of people who were not there. In this home, I was a mess of voluptuous sadness. I was (am) a girl stitched together by anger and fed by creative energy.
When I look at the photographs of abandoned homes I think of the ghosts of my past. All those should haves, could haves, all those avenues never meant to be traveled. I think of the first time I realized my mother actually cried. The door of the bathroom between us as she softly sobbed. I think of my anger and the way it adjusted the architecture of the home—-split walls, crumbling dry wood. The way the volatile emotions of my family seemed to make the home fall a part. During hurricanes rain water would pour down the walls in heavy rivulets because the foundation had shifted.
During this time I felt like I was a time bomb. A vicious, explosive mix of misdirected fury, unrealized creative potential, and yearning. Tick tick tick. Years have passed. I write like a motherfucker. I have grown beyond my boundaries (and created some new ones). I have learned to channel my emotions into my writing and other healthier venues. I’m more comfortable in my own body than before. Yet sometimes (dark times) if I listen closely I can still hear that ticking go by.