Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Dawn of the Dead - Fran, the Original Strong Female Protagonist in the Zombie Genre

Me and Gaylen Ross
I recently met Gaylen Ross at Texas Frightmare and it was a huge geek girl moment for me. I adore her completely and find her very inspirational.  In fact, Gaylen Ross had a big impact on the creation of Jenni and Katie in several ways.

A year or so ago, I was asked a question during a podcast that I had never been asked before.  It was amazingly easy to answer, too, but my response shocked the interviewer. He did not expect the answer I gave.

The question was:

"Who was the stronger female protagonist?  Fran from Dawn of the Dead, or Anna from the remake?"

My immediate answer: "Fran."

My reasoning is as follows. Fran was living in the very sexist time period of the 70's.  Women were still demanding equal rights and struggling to be respected in the work force and in society as a whole.  Even in the Dawn of the Dead movie, you can see the men's treatment of Fran is rather chauvinistic in the beginning. 

When they leave to explore the mall, they don't even hand her a weapon. This results in her nearly dying when a zombie discovers her hiding place. She immediately stands up for herself, demands a weapon, lessons on how to shoot it, and flying lessons for the helicopter. Afterward, she is an active part of the taking of the mall.  I really liked it when Fran refused to be "den mother" to the men.  That was such a great moment.

In the remake, Anna is a woman of the 2000's. She has a career, is married, has a nice home, and is obviously a strong woman.  She is an active part of the group from the very beginning and never has to really prove herself.  If anything, from the very beginning of the movie, it is apparent that Anna is a very capable and strong woman.

Fran did have to assert herself.  She had to prove herself. Not only did she have to deal with zombies, she had to deal with the expectations of the men around her.  They expected her to let them do all the planning, fighting, and tough stuff, while she stayed hidden and cooking and cleaning for them.  She had to take a stand.

While visiting the Monroeville Mall a few years ago, I sat in the Dawn of the Dead museum and watched part of a documentary on the filming of the movie.  I had signed the deal with Tor and had just received the revision letter on THE FIRST DAYS.  From speaking with my editor, I knew that a major strength of the books was the female protagonists.  

But I didn't expect to be reduced to tears when I saw the portion of the documentary where they spoke about Gaylen Ross refusing to have her character run, fall down, or cry. She wanted her character to fight. Romero was surprised, but did as she requested.  I was so immensely proud of her for standing up for herself and the character.  But also extremely grateful because Fran, unlike Barbara in Night of the Living Dead, was a role model for me as not only a woman, but a writer in the zombie genre.

When I spoke to Gaylen Ross, I told her all of the above. She started to roll her eyes when I told her about the question I was asked, but widened her eyes when I told her how she answered.  She was thrilled by it and grinned.  I also told her about Nerit (Gaylen is Jewish). Gaylen joked she should play Nerit as her comeback. Seriously, I would freakin' love that!

It was such an amazing moment for me meeting her though. Even though I also met the super-sexy Norman Reedus  aka Daryl Dixon of The Walking Dead and the super-sweet IronE Singleton aka T-Dog, meeting Gaylen was the highlight of the entire weekend for me.  

If not for Gaylen Ross standing up for herself and Fran back in the 70's, I don't know if Jenni, Katie, and Nerit would have been born in my imagination.  I give her a lot of credit.

And that is why I say that Fran from Dawn of the Dead was the original strong female protagonist of the zombie genre.

Make sure to check out Zombie Craze!  There are awesome giveaways happening throughout the month of May including the entire 

 The bookish brunette

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