Chandler Levack: Feminist Live Reads
Chandler Levack is a writer and filmmaker from Toronto. On October 27th, she hosted a feminist live reading of Reservoir Dogs at Innis Town Hall in partnership with CINSSU (Cinema Studies Student Union of U of T).
Since this month's theme is Difference, I thought it'd be great to talk to someone who is challenging the accustomed route of male-dominated films by having an all-women cast read the androcentric script of Reservoir Dogs.
Reservoir Dogs is one of my favourite black comedy thriller films. As a feminist and fan of Quentin Tarantino, I thought what Chandler did was bold and empowering.
How did you come up with the idea of having a feminist live reading for Reservoir Dogs?
CHANDLER: I guess the original idea came up in June when I did the first Feminist Live Read of the pilot episode of "Entourage." I had been reading a lot of articles about the Entourage movie coming out and I was on Twitter late at night. I just tweeted blindly "can I organize an all-female live read of the encourage pilot" and it got a positive response online. It got me thinking, "oh, I should just do this." The first event sold out in 5 hours and it started building momentum. There was a community in Toronto that was excited about this idea of an all-female ensemble of actresses reading scripts for an audience originally designed for men, and I wanted to keep doing these readings. "Reservoir Dogs" seemed like a great script to do because it was an all-male ensemble, an iconic script and tons of great roles. It's a script that also unpacks masculinity in a really interesting way... And the cast that signed on was awesome!
What are your thoughts on women and people of colour in film?
CHANDLER: A lot of times, women in film are reduced to an empty stereotype and do not play an active role in the script. They are agents to the male character, whether being supportive girlfriends, or hotties to be earned or a disposable assistant or bartering chip. They do not guide the action, they supplement it with their boobs.
I think the need to see yourself represented onscreen is huge. And the demand for it is also immense. I've watched hundreds and thousands of films (I studied film in university) and many times, I have to read myself into the main protagonist, who is usually a white male. I think if you're a woman and you want to see yourself represented in film, you often have to make your own work, and write your own roles. Because the industry isn't going to do it for you. When it comes to people of colour (which I can't really speak to because I am caucasian), I think the representation of those roles is even more crucial. You can point to the success of "Orange Is The New Black," an all-female ensemble of women of all different cultures and ethnicities and ages (also crucial) and see how much of demand there was for those parts. And how exciting it is when women get to play them. Women don't have to be reduced to a stereotype, there's an incredible spectrum of roles for them to play. So the goal of Feminist Live Reads is to illustrate that by having them play the best material possible, which is often roles originally written for men.
With the media being obsessed with asking actresses if they consider themselves a feminist or not, how do you feel about feminism being a topic in pop culture?
CHANDLER: I think it's definitely a talking point these days. And obviously men aren't being asked if they're a feminist in interviews. But I think it's great. Feminism should be talked about and it's great when actresses embrace the label. Having someone like Jennifer Lawrence say she's a feminist in an interview is really, really awesome. Having Beyonce stand by a wind machine with the word "feminist" in bright lights behind her is the coolest thing imaginable. I think for so long, it was thought of as having a stigma to it. People thought if you were a feminist you had to hate men or it came with a lot of virulent cultural baggage about burning your bra. Obviously we need to honour those movements and the contribution they gave our generation. But luckily today, feminism has an ease to it, it's easier to embrace it and own the label. However, when you look at the statistics of sexual assault and rape, violence against women, the disparity in pay wages and opportunities, how women in Aboriginal communities in Canada are treated by the government - I think we still have a long way to go. If actresses can also shed light on these issues, I think that would be the best practice imaginable. So maybe something like Feminist Live Reads is a way to engage in social activism in a fun, pop culture-centric way, but with the ideal of bringing forth these issues and also contributing to causes that help women in our community. Ultimately, I think feminism is about believing in the women around you and cultivating a community to bring each other up. And in the film/entertainment industry, this is incredibly important.
Who should young girls look up to especially if they're just starting to discover the world of feminism?
CHANDLER: Oh boy, that's a tough one! Ideally, they should talk to women in their lives, like their teachers and moms and grandmas and friends... But there are so many cool female writers and podcasters and comedians and filmmakers and artists and people on Twitter that this is tough for me. Okay, a small list:
- Rookie Magazine and everything Tavi Gevinson does is the most inspiring thing, if I was a young girl who was interested in learning more about feminism, you can't go wrong...
- Lena Dunham is both an intriguing filmmaker and young millenial model for the feminist movement. Subscribe to her newsletter Lenny and her podcast Women Of The Hour!
- Roxanne Gay writes about feminism in a very cool non-dogmatic way in her book "Bad Feminist." I like her essay on "The Hunger Games" a lot!
- Everything that Amy Poehler and Abbi Jacobson and Illana Glazer do is the best. So young women should watch "Broad City" and check out Amy Poehler's site "Smart Girls At The Party."
Here is also a list of work by female filmmakers and showrunners that I like a lot:
- Love That Boy by Andrea Dorfman
- Me, You and Everyone We Know by Miranda July
- Girls by Lena Dunham
- Orange Is The New Black by Jenji Kohan
- Transparent by Jil Soloway
- All the films by Nicole Holofcener
- Fish Tank by Andrea Arnold
- Everything Nora Efron does
They should also read a lot of books like:
- Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
- How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti
- All the short stories by Lorrie Moore and Mary Gaitskill
- The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
As for smart women on Twitter I follow:
- Monica Heisey
- New Yorker TV writer Emily Nussbaum
- Molly Lambert
- Emma Healey
- Emily Gould
- Alex Molotkow
- Naomi Skwarna
- Haley Mlotek
- Isabel Slone
- Anne T. Donahue
If you can give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
CHANDLER: Any time you're feeling self-conscious or freaking out, just remember that most people are only thinking about themselves. Most people are just as self-conscious as you are, and living in their own heads. So honestly, do whatever you want as long as it doesn't hurt anyone. Because no one cares! And if they do, they won't remember it in two weeks.
What's next after the Reservoir Dogs live reading?
CHANDLER: I would love to stage more Feminist Live Reads in the future! As many as I can. I'd also like to open up the casting to more non-actors and women of color and people in the LGBTQ community. I'd like to stage a romantic comedy next and figure out how to tackle female roles for our purposes, since I've only cast all-women before. I love romantic comedies.