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Guardians of the Galaxy is poised to be one of the biggest movies of 2014. Through a string of fun and energizing trailers, it has scored an avalanche of fan enthusiasm online. Its cast is insanely charismatic, and Guardians of the Galaxy is gaining major praise, being called (by some) the greatest science-fiction movie since Star Wars.
And yet it almost didn't happen this way at all.
In a profile piece for Time, Guardians of the Galaxy screenwriter Nicole Perlman revealed why. But to understand how Guardians of the Galaxy came to be a cinematic force to reckoned with it is, you first need to know about Perlman.
Enamored by rocket science and science fiction from an early age, Nicole Perlman wrote her first spec script about physicist Richard Feynman, and it won her a spot on Variety's coveted Writers To Watch list of 2006. She garnered buzz penning a pair of other biopics. But when she began pitching sci-fi action movies, Perlman was met with an unexpected opposition. "There was a little bit of an attitude of, ‘Well, you’re a woman, you’re not writing romantic comedies, we’ll give you the Marie Curie biopic," she recalls. Again and again, she was met with an attitude that women don't write science-fiction, even recounting a time when she was flat-out told that as a woman she couldn't handle writing an action movie that she herself had pitched.
Then in 2009, Perlman earned the opportunity to finally work on projects her little nerd heart deeply desired. Marvel picked Nicole Perlman for a newly minted writer's program, offering her a selection of lesser-known Marvel titles for screenplay inspiration. This was an assignment ripe for risk-taking, yet her bosses were surprised when Perlman picked Guardians of the Galaxy.
She notes, "I can’t tell you what the other titles were that they were offering up on the table, but I can tell you that one of them was a little bit more appropriate for me, just based on gender. I think they were a little taken aback when I chose Guardians, because there were ones that would make a lot more sense if you were a romantic-comedy writer or something like that."
Not that Perlman was a rom-com writer. But being a woman, she fit the profile.
Prejudices aside, Perlman penned a script that had Marvel Entertainment convinced Guardians of the Galaxy would make a great movie. From there, Perlman's job was done, and the project moved on to be further developed by helmer James Gunn. But her love of science fiction and her celebrated scriptwriting laid the groundwork for a movie that is already being claimed as a classic.
Notably, Perlman is the only woman who has a writing credit on the Marvel Cinematic Universe at this point. That’s kind of shocking when you think about it. But her story speaks elegantly to why: comic book movies are still by-and-large considered boy things. It's a similar, outdated and sexist assumption that gave rise to the absurd "fake geek girl" meme. No matter her enthusiasm for comics or science fiction, there were people who looked at Nicole Perlman--and based solely on her gender--thought she couldn't hack writing action, or that she'd prefer to tackle a romantic plot line. So many saw her gender, not her character.
This is a kind of sexism that is often overlooked as harmless stereotyping. But that locked-in concept of gender expectation was a roadblock for Perlman again and again, until Marvel trusted in her passion and talent, so overlooked any preconceived notions based on her sex. To Marvel Entertainment's credit, their filmmakers overcame institutional sexism biases to trust in the writer over her gender identity. And because they did, we--all of us--get a movie that by nearly all accounts is astounding and a hell of a good time.
Perlman's success story is a telling example about how opening up the world of filmmaking and comics--how diversity--can benefit us all. Just imagine how exciting and fun the movies of the future would be if more producers trusted in creators instead of getting tangled up in institutional prejudices. It's a brave new world, with Rocket Raccoons, interstellar assassins, and out-of-this-world adventures to be had. And when creativity and craft is given more credence than stereotypes and prejudice, it's a better world for us all. We're not there yet. But Perlman's success shows progress.
Guardians of the Galaxy opens Friday.