If you were one of the lucky people who contributed to the $94-million weekend premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy, just know that this broke writer is very jealous of you. The film, starring Chris Pratt of Parks and Recreation fame, set records this past weekend, becoming the biggest August opening of all time and the third highest opening of 2014 (behind Transformers: Age of Extinction and Captain America: The Winter Soldier).
Guardians of the Galaxy brought in way more money than was expected, and made critics and audiences very happy. The movie received an A grade from audience polling firm Cinemascore and a more than 90% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a film review website.
What makes Guardians of the Galaxy even more spectacular is that it is Marvel’s first movie written by a woman that actually gave credit to that woman. Take that dudes wearing fedoras who ask any and every woman wearing a superhero t-shirt if we even read the comics.
Screenwriter Nicole Perlman is so much more than her IMDb profile lets on. So far, she has only been officially credited for her work on Guardians of the Galaxy and has been announced as a writer for the upcoming Marvel movie, Black Widow. She’s been with Marvel since 2009, working on such projects as Thor (uncredited, but she still wrote “all of Natalie Portman’s scenes”), but her interest in science fiction began when she was growing up in Boulder, Colorado. In an interview with Time, she recalls what piqued her interest: the science fiction book club her father would host, many members of which were employees of the aeronautics companies based in the area.
Variety picked up on Perlman’s talent early on, including her in their 2006 list of writers to watch after catching wind of the script she wrote in college called Challenger, written about Richard Feynman, an American theoretical physicist known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium and particle physics. Unfortunately, the script never became a movie (neither did any of her other early projects, including a Neil Armstrong biopic and a Wright Brothers project). The trouble, she says, was dealing with feeling as though she was being pigeon-holed into the biopic space while really wanting to work in sci-fi.
“[Science fiction movies] are the kinds of movies I enjoy watching, much as I really enjoy history and science,” Perlman says in her interview with Time, “but I was noticing that I was having trouble convincing people, when I was pitching on projects, that I would be capable of doing this. 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.’”
Perlman met the problem of the science fiction “boys’ club” at just about every turn. She’d pitch a project, was met with appreciation by the powers that be, but was ultimately told that they were unsure of her ability to write action-heavy parts. She stated, “They kept saying, ‘This is a guy’s movie, you know, it’s really a guy’s movie.’ I didn’t want to say, ‘Are you saying a woman can’t write a guy’s movie?’” Arguably, women are more apt to write about men than men are apt to write about women, but that’s a topic for another article.
Then, in 2009, Perlman joined Marvel. The company was launching a writer’s program in which several writers would sign on for a period of two years to work full-time on Marvel properties and see what happened. Perlman applied, deciding that, ultimately, this was her chance to show the world that she could and would write science-fiction at a company where risks could be taken. Out of several lesser-known Marvel properties, she chose Guardians to focus on, defying expectations within the Marvel community.
Perlman learned the Guardians universe inside and out – a more complicated feat than she anticipated, given the sprawling world of the series. She spent two years working on writing a draft for the project. “I was definitely the only woman screenwriter that I’m aware of,” she said in her interview with Time, “but they never made me feel disenfranchised for being a woman, which I really appreciated because I definitely have felt that at other studios.” Three years and two drafts later, James Gunn came on board to work on the script and direct Guardians, which was already on its way to being the first Marvel writers’ program script to make it to production.
It is important to note that it’s not uncommon in the screenwriting industry for a movie project like Guardians to have several rounds of writers, many of whom typically go uncredited (credits are determined by complicated guild regulations). As Perlman worked on Thor without credit, it’s just as possible that other female screenwriters before her time worked on Marvel projects without the writing credits.
Much as I’d like to see Perlman on the circuit promoting Guardians of the Galaxy, she simply doesn’t have the time. She’s currently working on a feature film project with Cirque du Soleil, a TV project, a sci-fi adaptation of the book The Fire Sermon for DreamWorks, and several other “passion projects.” She’s also on the steering committee of the Science & Entertainment Exchange, a National Academy of Sciences effort to encourage writers and other creative people to connect with real scientists for science-inspired projects.
Nicole Perlman is paving the way for female screenwriters in typically “unfeminine” genres. But, for her, that’s not enough. Perlman is ready to drop the “woman” off of “woman writer,” calling for writers to remain ungendered when being identified. With comic-book Thor’s upcoming female incarnation and the new Miss Marvel (written by a friend of Perlman’s, G. Willow Wilson), “Perlman says she sees why it’s important to pay attention to women making inroads in the comic-book world…But she hopes that attention is soon paid for other reasons.”
“I do still feel like it’s a bit like, ‘Wow, it’s so crazy that a woman is doing this!’” she says. “I look forward to the time when it won’t be that crazy.”
Happily, Nicole Perlman was featured on an all-female Comic-Con panel about science-fiction in Hollywood, but the gender of the its participants wasn’t mentioned in its title. “I thought that was so great,” she said, “because that’s the obvious hook: like, put these women in a box and let’s all look at them! It’s just like these are real people who are working and they all have stories to tell and they happen to be women. I think we’re not there yet, but that’s where it’s headed.”
The future is happening now, and it’s looking brighter for [women] writers each and every day.