Ciro Nieli and Female Characters in TMNT Open Thread

So this happened.

Long story short: the people behind the “Shellshocked” TMNT Podcast recently interviewed Ciro Nieli, executive producer of Nick’s TMNT.  Eventually, he was asked about the possibility of seeing new female characters in season 2 of the show, which he answered in the manner transcribed here by fan Tea.

Some highlights:

“I HAVE talked about other girls showing up, with me and the writing staff. How often they’re in it and how much they will replay, I don’t know – definitely not as much as April or Karai, but you know, here’s the thing about these action shows in general is that – and this happens ALL THE TIME – and it’s basically… any time a girl’s on the show, they’re usually too powerful. And it’s just the nature of a girl for some reason, I don’t know what it is, I mean, this happened on Teen Titans, we had trouble kinda limiting Starfire and Raven’s powers; it happens with Wonder Woman, it happened on my Super Robot Monkey show, with this character named Jinmei, it’s just like, and I’m afraid— I’ve been fighting it with April, with where we’re going with her, is to not, you know, not let her get too powerful. And it’s hard, sometimes guys are a lot cooler and easier to deal with within these cartoons”

[…]

“So, the fact that we have a good girl and a bad girl already, I think we’re kinda maxed out a little there. That being said, Cipes bugs me on a daily basis to get him a girlfriend on the show.”

Friend of the blog Darth Empress wrote a post about the interview on her Tumblr expressing her disappointment at the news, sparking several conversations within the Tumblr-verse, which included people like TMNT artist and all-around awesome gal Sophie Campbell.

Talk about the interview, Ciro Nieli, and / or sexism in TMNT and Western Animation here.

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11 Responses to Ciro Nieli and Female Characters in TMNT Open Thread

  1. Ian says:

    To start with, a reblog of my original post on the subject.

    One of my pipe dreams since this show started has been to interview Ciro Nieli so I could ask him about everything that has baffled me about the show from a production standpoint. If that can’t happen, at least I got an answer to one of my more important questions. And what a response it is, more or less confirming anything the show’s treatment of its female characters seemed to indicate about him.

    He has it precisely backwards, though. It’s not that there’s few women because they’re hard to write: they’re “hard to write” because there’s so few of them.

  2. Ian says:

    Also for anyone considering posting here for the first time: whether you agree or disagree with people’s criticisms of Nieli, please make sure to read or re-read the handy-dandy comment policy before you post. I want this to be the best space possible for constructive conversation.

  3. Pterobat says:

    That’s just…wrong.

    Literally wrong.

    These are fictional characters in a fictional setting: the creators determine who is powerful and who is not. There’s no natural law that female characters must be more powerful, or that you need to have a certain number or not…you choose to write ’em that way.

    I think Nieli is tapdancing around expressing the incorrect belief that female characters should be perfect, or people will get mad at you for writing bad female characters. Some people do believe this (there was an anecdote by one of the Harvey Birdman creators that women would ask them who the “redeemable female character” was to go with the manipulative, promiscuous Gigi), but it’s not a hard truth, and it’s a damaging belief.

    Frankly, it is NOT flattering to women to make female characters the strongest and most perfect of all your cast members. It’s just another way of making female characters less “human”, since they must be put on pedestals. And they get so perfect and dull that no one wants to write them.

    It’s self-defeating: believe female characters should be perfect because that’s the way to make people like your work, and then the female characters are less interesting, so the writers think they’re harder to work with, and don’t even WANT to bother working with female characters. Because after all, they’ve done their duty by adding in a few female characters and making them flawless.

  4. Scott says:

    The irony of this all is that apparently Irma is debuting sometime this season, which is another female character. I wonder why they don’t bring Angel from the 4kids series into the show, especially since IDW is using her. Angel is a Purple Dragon and can be connected to Casey…it would make a lot of sense to use her. She’s be aged down like April/Casey were…but then again 4kids Angel was only like 14 or 15 anyway.

  5. DarthEmpress says:

    I’m sad that a lot of fans are ignoring what Ciro said because of some extremists making bad choices and threatening him. Ciro is a talented artist and a good guy; I don’t think he really knew what he was talking about, but therein lies the problem–he doesn’t know. He should use this as a chance to learn instead of shutting himself off.

    There was a great talk by video game writer David Gaider entitled “Sex in Video Games” that focused on Bioware’s decision to branch out and embrace diversity. Instead of limiting themselves to the idea that their fanbase was primarily young adult males, they decided to include homosexual characters and more varied options for female players. Just because the fanbase of gay and female players wasn’t as huge as the male fanbase didn’t mean they needed to be ignored. I think a lot of Mr. Gaider’s statements are tantamount to what’s going on in the TMNT community, especially when I hear the same tired, old rhetoric that the target audience is young boys therefore women’s viewpoints shouldn’t be considered.

    “Privilege is when you think that something’s not a problem because it’s not a problem for you personally. If you’re part of a group that’s being catered to, you believe that’s the way it should be. ‘It’s always been that way, why would that be a problem for anyone?'” – David Gaider

  6. Ian says:

    I think Nieli is tapdancing around expressing the incorrect belief that female characters should be perfect, or people will get mad at you for writing bad female characters. Some people do believe this (there was an anecdote by one of the Harvey Birdman creators that women would ask them who the “redeemable female character” was to go with the manipulative, promiscuous Gigi), but it’s not a hard truth, and it’s a damaging belief.

    This is what I initially thought of as well, and if this is what he meant, it’s frustrating to hear him try and make it it to argue that writing women is hard, because the solution to that particular problem, unless one is a very bad writer indeed, is precisely to do what he’s reluctant to do, and just add more female characters! I mean, it’s not like not being powerful makes a female character easier to write–it’s not like being having no notable areas of competency made Fred Wolf April any better a character. If my choice for sole female character in a work boils down to her and Sonic the Hedgehog‘s Sally Acorn, I’ll choose Sally Acorn in a second.

    Yet, in this context, his mention of Teen Titans makes little sense. Yes, Raven and Starfire were arguably the most powerful Titans–more on this in a moment–and fit more easily into the “straight man” role, but you can’t really call them generic or hard to write.

    Frankly, it is NOT flattering to women to make female characters the strongest and most perfect of all your cast members. It’s just another way of making female characters less “human”, since they must be put on pedestals. And they get so perfect and dull that no one wants to write them.

    Maybe it’s how this paragraph is structured that is making it hard for me to parse what you’re saying with precision–I don’t find tying strength and perfection together helpful, for example–but I’m not sure I agree.

    If you’re saying that it’s problematic when all the female characters in a work are essentially Superman (often held as the standard for characters who is both super-powerful and “perfect”)then I agree–there’s a world-building problem at hand. That said, a lot of people don’t appear to have a problem with worlds where men for no storytelling reason overwhelmingly dominate the top tier of the power ranking system, as happens in more anime than I care to mention. Or when Batman is essentially made into god.

    However if we’re talking about one woman taking the role of a work’s most powerful and/or capable character, then I see no reason why that can’t be the case, or why that would be a negative thing. And yet, how many times does that actually happen? How many times does it happen without that character being labelled a Mary Sue, an epithet that is rarely used to describe Batman or Superman or The Doctor*?

  7. Ian says:

    The irony of this all is that apparently Irma is debuting sometime this season, which is another female character. I wonder why they don’t bring Angel from the 4kids series into the show, especially since IDW is using her. Angel is a Purple Dragon and can be connected to Casey…it would make a lot of sense to use her. She’s be aged down like April/Casey were…but then again 4kids Angel was only like 14 or 15 anyway.

    Given how Nieli reacted to the question, I’d be very surprised if Irma’s appearance turns out to be any more substantial than the equally-hyped Rahzar and Tokka’s appearance in Turtles Forever turned out to be.

    Angel I’d like to see, and is probably the easiest female character to adapt to the show as it stands. Heck, it would have cost the creators nothing to include her as one of the existing three Purple Dragons–and (assuming that they want to keep the group racially homogeneous) it would have given the writers an opportunity to feature an African American / Chinese character. And yet somehow, that would be tantamount to shoehorning her in, according to some people. [/bitter]

  8. Pterobat says:

    Quite honestly, I wasn’t thinking about superpowers or a systemic authority regarding the terms “perfect” and “strong”, I was looking at everything here in terms of the idea that female characters in lazy narratives generally are more moral, orderly, and have everything in their lives together. These are virtues that we are told to idolize, but at the same time, they aren’t traits which tend to drive plots or make for interesting characters. What supposedly makes female characters look good ends up crippling them.

    (Not that a female character serving these functions can’t be a good character, but we have to think in general terms here.)

    If Neili was literally viewing female characters in terms of their superpowers, and that was his excuse, then I really don’t know what to say, because it’s not a particular trend for female characters with superpowers to be stronger than their male counterparts. I still think he sounds like he’s struggling instead to describe the bind that he’s bought into, that female characters have to be “perfect” because viewers will supposedly be offended if they are not, and so it might be better not to even try to be inclusive.

    Nicktoons April doesn’t even go that far: she’s just largely bland, mostly a plot device and an extra pair of hands, which is frustrating because the potential is there.

    I’d love a female character who heads a narrative in the way that those iconic, evergreen male heroes do, and I can’t think of anything except cultural norms that are stopping it.

  9. Ian says:

    I’m sad that a lot of fans are ignoring what Ciro said because of some extremists making bad choices and threatening him. Ciro is a talented artist and a good guy; I don’t think he really knew what he was talking about, but therein lies the problem–he doesn’t know. He should use this as a chance to learn instead of shutting himself off.

    You know, while I’m sure some fans are, in fact, ignoring the larger issue because of the alleged threats, I can’t help but be skeptical. I mean, it’s not the first time these issues have been brought up, and yet the same people keep making the same arguments for the status quo.

    Similarly, at some point it becomes impossible to say that Nieli’s prejudices are a result of incidental ignorance. I mean, I get that he would think that women are harder to write–given the fucked up way our sexist popular continuously paints them as an inscrutable other, it’s not at all surprising for him to pick up problematic ideas. However, it’s not like it’s hard for one to educate oneself if one wants to, and he’s been at this for a good long while. If he knows he has an issue and isn’t working to fix it, then it’s not incidental ignorance but intentional.

    Which isn’t to say that threats, if they are happening, are okay, because they’re not. That said, I’m actually okay with people calling or petitioning for his dismissal; I can understand why people who enjoy the show despite its issues would see that as a step too far, but as someone who thinks the show is flawed on several fundamental levels, I’d be ecstatic if he were dismissed and replaced with someone better.

    (Not that that last bit is ever guaranteed. It’s perfectly possible for him to be replaced by someone worse.)

  10. Isaac says:

    Here’s my take.

    It’s a lot easier to write realistic women and girls if you have women writing some of the episodes. I did a quick check to make sure. There are no women writers working on this show. Not one.

    This isn’t anything unique to television, by the way. Movies have this problem. Theatre (even new plays) has this problem. It’s just that it’s particularly bad in television, considering you can have many writers working on the same show. If Neili got one female writer to help out, she might actually be able to write the girls well, and help him introduce new female characters.

    Of course it would be nice if he could just add more female character because he wanted to. Heck, a quick check reveals that the 4kids toon didn’t have any female writers either. But they still managed the occasional recurring female character. But female writers could use the work anyway, and the shows they’d be working on would be better off for it.

  11. Ian says:

    Actually, that’s not entirely true about 4Kids’ TMNT: Fast Forward, at least, had three episodes written by one Julia Lewald. I, too, thought that was the case, though, until earlier this week, when I happened to spot her name while taking a peek at the show’s (quite horrid, by the way) Spanish-language dub.

    That said, she’s only one in a group that comprised more something like two dozen writers, and who ended up writing less than 2% of the episodes, so her inclusion is nothing to really be proud of. Like with the amount of female characters, it only really looks impressive in comparison.

    In any case, your larger point that the show would be well served by adding female writers to the staff is, I think, very correct. It’s not a silver bullet–especially since I’m not sure how much latitude individual writers have in creating new characters–but a different and more experienced perspective can only help.

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