Op-Ed: No More Stupid Girls in Movies—A Call to Action

The artists and producers of JANE (a narrative feature film in development) believe that movies can change lives. We are part of a global conversation to bring girls into the media as whole, equal people. While Americans often let the developing world take the heat for women still being treated as less-than, all it takes is a look at a few popular films in America to see how far we still have to go. Even pictures that feature strong, complex female characters, such as Black Swan and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, rely on girls making terrible decisions for pivotal, climactic plot points.

We need strong girl characters who grow into strong women. The girls I know are not obsessed only with boys, makeup and bullying. They are young people creating their own inner lives. JANE reflects this kind of young person. She is funny and alive. She gets hurt. She loses. She creates community and learns to fight back. She holds on to herself. I was raped at 15. Now I am fighting for her, for myself, and a movie that can change a life.

JANE gives its audience a chance to root for a very young girl who goes through an unfortunately common, ugly traumatic event (sexual assault) and finds her way back to “standing even.” As our poster says, “There is a spark in each of us that nothing can destroy.”

MORE: Quick Study: For Victims of Sexual Assault, Symptoms May Be Overlooked

For a high-school student, and especially for girls, sex in a real, powerfully honest conversation remains surprisingly hidden and taboo. At the same time, younger and younger girls are feeling sexualized and objectified, forcing them to wear a mask of sexual understanding that isn’t real.

Teenage boys, at the same time, are flooded with one of the most powerful hormones in the world (testosterone) right at the time that they are breaking away from potential mentoring from their parents.

Mere girls are trained by much of the media to think of their sexual allure as a potentially successful agent in their empowerment. The conversation about sexual predators seems impersonal and far away. And yet (according to the U.S. Department of Justice), somewhere in America a woman is raped every two minutes, and almost 40 percent of all girls between ages of 14 to 17 are sexually abused. Most tell no one.

Teenage boys, at the same time, are flooded with one of the most powerful hormones in the world (testosterone) right at the time that they are breaking away from potential mentoring from their parents. They need other young men and older men to help them sort out how to harness this huge potentially creative source of energy. They often keep the secret of assault because there is no safe place for the conversation and no steppingstones on how to create a healthy future.

Our challenge as artists is to open up this conversation for young people in a way they can hear it and become stronger for having paid attention—instead of being so overwhelmed, embarrassed or frightened that they tune out. Movies can change lives. JANE will not only be a narrative feature film; we are also partnering with schools and centers around the world to give JANE a second life in classrooms, living rooms and clinical settings.

What JANE learns (and the story we are asking your help to tell):

There are good adults to turn to for help. It is okay to have your full range of feelings and a safe way to express them (including the difficult ones like hate, rage and frozenness). It is imperative to learn when and how to get out of potentially threatening situations. It is more than okay to learn how to fight back (Jane has partnered with www.IMPACTBayArea.org) Your own inner life, your creative spark, can help you return to a sense of wholeness, no matter what the trauma. The experience doesn’t go away—you get bigger around it.

If you think the story of JANE contains important messages for girls as they become women, you can help that story be told. Visit the JANE Indiegogo campaign and join the smart girl team.

Who are your favorite smart female characters in movies or television? Sound the roll call in COMMENTS.

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Screenwriter Deborah Allen’s artistic collaborations include directing with the National Endowment for the Arts with the Bear Republic Theater and Teatro Campesino and artist in residence at the National Theatre of Uganda, directing an award winning production of August Wilson’s FENCES. Her writing has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, Callboard Magazine, American Theater Magazine, Tikkun, and African Farmer. She has worked for the past 20 years as an educator and counselor in the United States, Japan, and Europe. Email Deborah | @JANE’s Indiegogo Campaign