Doctor Who Female Recast Is Part of a Broader Shift in the Contemporary Media Entertainment Landscape as Formerly Male-Dominated Projects Are Reimagined with Female Casts, Redlands Professor Says


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    Dr. Kathy Feeley, professor of history, University of Redlands

 

 

Dr. Kathy Feeley, University of Redlands professor of history, says the new season of Doctor Who has been anticipated with considerable hoopla and now faces intense scrutiny as Broadchurch star Jodie Whittaker embraces the role of the first female Doctor in the show's history. Feeley is available for comment on this and all pop culture topics.

"Since 1963, 12 exclusively white, male regenerations of the Doctor have formed the intellectual, moral, and narrative core/center around which an increasingly diverse supporting cast has revolved. That patriarchal model has been destabilized by Whittaker’s casting; early critical reviews are positive though it remains to be seen how Whovians collectively will receive this paradigm shift. Reframing the Doctor as a female character in this lucrative, highly popular, critically lauded global brand and production is both a risky and a brilliant move. For some, a female recast is a heretical transgression of the status quo. For others, the show’s central premise of the Doctor as a regenerating alien Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey (which Who showrunner Steven Moffat conceded in 2014 was a gender fluid world) makes the homogeneity of the Doctor’s previous regenerations both absurd and troubling.

"This recast is also part of a broader shift (that both anticipated and has gained momentum from the #Metoo movement) in the contemporary media entertainment landscape as formerly male-dominated projects are reimagined with female casts. 2016’s Ghostbusters and 2018’s Ocean’s 8 rebooted these franchises with female headliners; notably, women of color remain in supporting roles in these revamps/reworkings and work remains to be done. The newest and final (at least for now) Star Wars/Skywalker trilogy is centered around Rey, a female scavenger turned Jedi resistance fighter. A female James Bond remains only an internet dream; a brown or black male James Bond—Idris Elba’s name comes up frequently—seems more feasible in the near future. CBS’s Elementary features Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson. But such gender fluidity is not new and was, in fact, central to popular live theater a century ago. See, for example, America’s first Sweetheart Mary Pickford’s theatrical career in the first decade of the 20th century in which she “wore the breeches” and played male characters as well as female characters that flouted traditional gender roles. Representation mattered and matters: our pop culture icons need to reflect our diverse bodies, lives, and experiences." 

Feeley has written widely on celebrity gossip and the Hollywood film industry and its key figures including Mary Pickford, Irving Thalberg, Louella Parsons, and Hedda Hopper.  Most recently, a forthcoming chapter “‘The Great and Important Thing in Her Life’: Depicting Female Labor and Ambition in the 1920s and 1930s U.S. Movie Magazines,” in Mapping Movie Magazines, ed. Daniel Biltereyst and Liesbeth Van deVijver (forthcoming in 2018 from Palgrave/MacMillan) examines the professional and personal relationships amongst Joan Crawford and the female writers and editors of an emerging Hollywood press corps and the complex and contested discourse they produced in the pages of movie magazines around issues of work, harassment, ambition, and likeability in the 1920s and 1930s America.

She earned her Ph.D., U.S. History and Women's Studies Certificate, Department of History, The Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York (GSUC/CUNY), February 2004. and her B.A., magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, History and Women's Studies, Colgate University, Hamilton, N.Y., May 1990

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