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Book Excerpt- The Tattooed Girl: The Enigma of Stieg Larsson

by Melissa Silverstein
May 2, 2011 2:30 AM
2 Comments
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I have a piece in the upcoming anthology The Tattooed Girl: The Enigma of Stieg Larsson and the Secrets Behind the Most Compelling Thrillers of Our Time by Dan Burstein, Arne de Keijzer, John-Henri Holmberg

The book includes some reprints as well as some original piece. Authors of pieces include: Christopher Hitchens, Laura Miller, Jenny McPhee, and Lizzie Skurnick among others. I have been given permission to publish my piece Lisbeth Salander, Hollywood and Feminism. The book will be released next week. You can order it here. Good news is that it is paperback so it will only set you back $10 bucks. Order the book here.

Lisbeth Salander, Hollywood and Feminism
by Melissa Silverstein

The powerful Swedish film adaptations of the three Millennium novels have won critical and box office success in Europe and the US. They are likely to be best remembered for the way Noomi Rapace became Lisbeth Salander personified. The actress seems to have walked right out of the novels, grabbed hold of the Lisbeth character, and never let go.

Nevertheless, Hollywood is already bragging it can do better. Director David Fincher served notice that while it “may be sacrilege to some,” the script has been improved over the book and the ending changed entirely. Fincher's comment seems to be at odds with the one from Sony chief Amy Pascal quoted in this article, but we'll all just have to wait to see the movie in order to judge.

Melissa Silverstein, writer, blogger, marketing consultant and expert in the area of social media regarding women and Hollywood, previews the new film from a feminist perspective. Silverstein is the founder and editor of Women and Hollywood as well as the producer and co-founder of the Athena Film Festival, a celebration of women and leadership.

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On December 21, 2011, Sony Pictures Entertainment will release The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the first of three films based on Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. Two elements of the release signal an exciting moment for Hollywood feminism. First, by conferring a Christmas release on the film, Sony is saying this is an important picture, and one they see as having significant commercial appeal. The team assembled to make the film —director David Fincher, writer Steven Zaillian and producer Scott Rudin —has an impressive awards pedigree, suggesting this film could also be an awards contender. Second, the fact that Sony Pictures announced the film as the first in a “three-picture adaptation” means they believe in the franchise, are in this for the long haul, and are going to invest significant amounts of money to make these pictures a success. Sony chief Amy Pascal —who incidentally is the only woman running a major studio —said in an interview with The Wrap last summer that the films are a “big tentpole franchise” and that she wants to get all three of them out as quickly as possible.

When a studio chief calls a movie like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo a “big tentpole franchise,” it’s a moment of celebration for anyone who spends her time watching how Hollywood treats women. Franchises are pretty much reserved for guys. Most of the franchises of late are based on comic book characters or video games targeted at men and boys. The Millennium Trilogy franchise is interesting to watch because it is a franchise led by a female and, yes, feminist character —a rare feat in Hollywood today. The only other films that come to mind that are led by women include the Angelina Jolie Lara Croft Tomb Raider films, the Sex and the City films, and the Twilight saga. Whether or not any of them would qualify as a feminist franchise is a debate for another day.

For those movie fans who have been enthralled by the Stieg Larsson books, a Hollywood adaptation might seem like a no-brainer. But not so for this film, and not just because the lead is a woman. She is a woman unlike any Hollywood has seen before. She kicks ass (literally), barely speaks, barely smiles, is rude, has a ton of tattoos and piercings, and is a socially introverted bi-sexual hacker. To say that she is outside the typical Hollywood female role would be a grand understatement.

And the fact that she is so “un-Hollywood” is something that worries Lisbeth's large fan base. People are musing about what Hollywood will do to the story as well as to Lisbeth. Will it be toned down? Will she be less of a bad ass? Will she be less of a feminist? Will she be made more palatable to bring in men who might otherwise see her as too strong a female character for their tastes? Though none of these questions will be answered until the film opens in December, they’re worthwhile considering.

A couple of clues about Hollywood’s take on Lisbeth have emerged. One clue we have is from Amy Pascal of Sony herself in the interview with The Wrap about preserving the authenticity of the story. She stated: “We’re doing the book…we’re going to really do this, in all their glory. Otherwise why do it? They’re very R-rated movies. It’s the shock of what’s really going on underneath the surface of society. If you don’t actually make good on that, you haven’t told the story.”

Another clue is the casting of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth. Mara, before this year, was a virtual unknown, and now she is the star of one of the most highly anticipated films of 2011. Her biggest part to date was as one of the only women of note in the film The Social Network which also happens to be directed by her Dragon Tattoo director David Fincher. In the first scene of that film, she hits it out of the park in a brutal evisceration of and break up with her boyfriend, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg). If Mara can channel that anger and amp it up a few thousand notches then she could be a great Lisbeth. Other positive news is that early stills from the set, and a recent spread in W Magazine, show Mara as Lisbeth with piercings, ripped leggings and wearing heavy duty, thigh high, tie-up boots made for kicking ass.

One challenge facing Rooney and the American version of the film is Swedish actress Noomi Rapace’s iconic portrayal of Lisbeth in the European Millennium films. Rapace, who previously spent most of her career working in Europe has become the new “It” girl here in Hollywood. Let's not lose the irony in this. A woman who is known in the US for playing a role in Swedish films based on Swedish books (albeit incredibly successful Swedish books) has become the toast of the town. Hollywood was so enthralled by her performance, as well as the character, that she was able to secure meetings with high profile directors, and win a part in the Sherlock Holmes sequel alongside Robert Downey Jr. In an interview given while promoting The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Rapace revealed that people are often surprised that she is so different from her character. She said “…it surprises me over and over when people say, ‘Oh you are not like her at all.’ No, it was a role.” It's kind of funny that not only does the character of Lisbeth defy expectations, but the woman who played her also shatters other stereotypes of how a woman who plays a strong character on screen should look and be off camera.

Another remarkable thing to note is that all three Swedish films were released in a single calendar year in the US. The Harry Potter films have been with us for over a decade, and the Twilight saga will probably end up lasting about five years. But since The Millennium Trilogy films had already been released in Europe to huge success -- according to boxofficemojo.com, the three films have grossed overseas a total of $188 million -- the decision was made to release the full trilogy in the US in 2010 as the obsession with the books and Lisbeth was cresting.

The fascination with Lisbeth crosses genders, which is one reason why the film can be a commercial success. Specifically, though, the character has become a kind of women's obsession, especially for feminists who either reject or embrace her. Many people, myself included, believe that Lisbeth is a feminist character (interestingly created by a man, clearly sprinkled with a little fairy dust by his partner of thirty years, Eva Gabrielsson, as she revealed in her recent interviews). Lisbeth is like an avenging angel for all women who have been wronged by society. How can a feminist not fall in love with a guy who has the guts to create a character that has been so screwed by the system yet retains the strength to come back and get revenge on the people who have done her wrong? On the other side of the argument are others who are adamant that a man could never have created Lisbeth and her story because they are both too feminist. Still others also believe that Lisbeth is a victim, and are very angry and disturbed by the violence depicted against women—particularly in the first novel and film (titled Men Who Hate Women in their native Sweden). True, the violence is disturbing and hard to watch. But it doesn't mean that it isn't feminist.

The debate about Lisbeth, the book, the films, and their relationship to feminism is one of the most exciting things about the upcoming film. 2010 might go down as the year when America -- both men and women -- became obsessed with books with a new feminist icon, but 2011 could go down as the year when Hollywood somehow releases a feminist film that becomes a big mainstream hit. Bring it on.

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2 Comments

  • American Man | July 6, 2011 4:49 AMReply

    What I fear is that Rooney Mara will make Lizbeth into a T&A character meant to titillate teenage boys. That is the problem with women in Hollywood they are too willing to titillate for the men who pay them to be in a movie. To those who have read the trilogy changing the ending is wrong.

  • Ambre | May 2, 2011 6:28 AMReply

    Lt. Ellen Ripley franchise, to note.

    Also, I find it intriguing that some people believe that a man could never write the story of Lisbeth Sander as it's too feminist. That's a terribly sexist idea.
    If a woman wrote a story that had a male lead portrayed with understanding and empowering sensibilities, would people openly discredit her ability to write the material based on her gender? I'd hope not.

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