A More Nutritious Netflix Queue

Thanks to Kate Torgivnick and the TED editors for the kind endorsement at TED.com. My audience more than doubled in 24 hours! The community seems to be  enjoying my talk and I appreciate all of the sharing and commenting you're doing.

I even appreciate the YouTube trolls who helpfully reveal their misogyny (behind the cover of a username, of course)--thus proving my point. These guys (?) feel so threatened by female equality that they puff up their chests and denounce it in any public forum. Evidently they feel their status in their circles will be enhanced by ridiculing and insulting ideas that critique their assumptions.

You've seen what happens next, right? Foolhardy defenders attempt to engage in dialogue with the name-callers. But they're just feeding the fire; bullies aren't interested in persuasion, only in dominance. They are like Darth Vader in the face of calm Princess Leia--interrupting her with a booming voice and a wagging finger, telling her who he believes her to be and sending her off.

Anyway, for the TED blog, Kate gave me the fun assignment of thinking of a few more movies to compare along the lines of The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars. I thought of three common formulas that have been treated in typical ways in high-quality movies, and offered films that I encourage parents and filmmakers to promote because of the unusual way they include teamwork and respect:
Movie formula: The Quest
  • Typical Version: A boy’s world is threatened by an evil male force. He must train and mobilize other boys to defeat the enemy in a violent conflict. There is essentially one female, who is granted to the hero as a prize. Examples: Star Wars, The Hobbit, The Lion King
  • Enlightened version: A boy or girl (or team) seeks to heal an injustice in the world. They must make friends who share their goal to change the culture of an older generation, by modeling a better way. Examples: The Wizard of Oz, The Muppet Movie, The Dark Crystal, Castle in the Sky (Japan), Spy Kids 1 & 2, , Tangled
Movie formula: Finding a Purpose
  • Typical Version: A boy finds his place among men through mastery of a skill, understanding of competition and teamwork, and/or moving up in the male hierarchy. There is essentially one female, who is granted to the hero as a prize. Examples: A Bug’s Life, Cars, Ratatouille
  • Enlightened Version: A boy or girl finds his or her place in a diverse society through self-knowledge and the application of skills to communal goals. Examples: Kiki’s Delivery Service (Japan), Babe, Stuart Little 1 & 2
Movie formula: The Secret Alien
  • Typical Version: A young boy comes into contact with a being seen as dangerous by the adult male world, and moves up in the male hierarchy by using the being against shared enemies. Examples: Iron Giant, How To Train Your Dragon
  • Enlightened Version: A boy or girl comes into contact with a being seen as dangerous by diverse adult world, and re-orders the world’s assumptions in the act of stewarding it to safety. Examples: E.T., Lilo & Stitch, Monsters Inc., Secret World of Arrietty (Japan)
One additional plug: A number of you have jumped up and down to spread the word about the children's films of Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki, sometimes called Japan's Disney. He and the studio he co-founded, Studio Ghibli, demonstrate in film after film that adventure and magic and spectacle do not require male-dominated, violence-driven heroism.

Every film he's made is worth seeing; most are classics. The littlest kids can go for My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Ponyo, and The Secret World of Arrietty. When they're a little older, Spirited Away and Castle in the Sky will transport them. The Hunger Games set will devour Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke. The thinking parent will be challenged by them all as well.

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Okay, what did I miss? Are there other films you think work as great stories without resorting to excluding girls or holding up violence as the best means to resolution?


  1. A friend of mine posted your Ted Talk onto a Facebook page of mine yesterday. I finally got around to watching it this evening . . . as a result, I finally wrote my first blog! Here is the link http://rosalindjturner.co.uk/#/blog/4569654266

    Scroll down to the first entry . . . For 'God-dess' sake lets change the story, thanks for the inspiration and keep up the good work!

  2. I'm happy to have been the one who finally pushed you into it. Good luck with it! This is my first blog too.

  3. Nim's Island is an excellent movie with not one but two main female leads. Indeed it is the man who is awarded to the woman as a trophy as reward for overcoming her fears and doing the right thing.

  4. I watched your TED talk in my english class the other day, it was an eye opening experience. I never realized or made the connection of how a majority of movies are male dominated. I never critically analyzed the roles of each of the characters and how they fit into the bigger picture. When you were listing off the enlightened version I started to have flash backs from my own child hood. I agree with what you said in your TED talk about we need to teach boys and men on how to treat women and that it is perfectly fine to be lead by them and that they make even better teammates than boys.

  5. I think it is interesting that I like every movie example in the typical version and I have only seen 3 of the movies in the enlightened version.

  6. I also watched your video in my English class. It truly is amazing how the the roles of characters in movies has drastically changed over the years. I never really thought about how most movies are male dominant with one female involved how is usually the prize for the male for defeating some evil person or persons in a violent showdown. I read your typical and enlightened versions, it really opened my eyes and brought me back into my own childhood and the movies I used to watch. I think you are very right; Movies nowadays give the wrong idea and don't teach boys how to be gentlemen.

  7. I think there should be strong female protagonist roles as long as there are strong females in the world. Popular culture in movies is male dominated and always has been, but I think as we head further into the 21st century that is starting to change. I can't remember the name of the movie but it's a re-vision of Red Dawn done in Australia and stars a female protagonist as the leader of a group of boys and girls. It's on Netflix and is very well done.

  8. I continuously keep on coming to your site again just in case you have posted new contents.us netflix in canada

  9. I liked the examples you gave about the typical and enlightened versions. The "Japan's Disney" movie Spirited Away I saw and actually really liked- so I agree that his films are worth watching!

  10. OMG I love Hayao Miyazaki. The movies he made are amazing. The story are not too bland and are not too typical. You can't expect what is gonna happen unlike many other movies like Star Wars and.

  11. You should make a Bechdel test style website devoted to this "solo reward quest vs. teamwork" idea (if I can grossly oversimplify it like that). A wiki input style database of maybe not even just kids movies, with a rubric set of rules and ratings. I think it would provide an interesting set of statistics and a study on what sort of stories we are indeed absorbing as a culture.

  12. Narnia - although it has its share of gendered patriarchal stuff, Lucy is the bravest person in the movie and the moral centre.


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