“There’s speculation Southey only did it as a kind of meta-joke…not to be inclusive, the way we talk about it now, but just to make a puzzle. One no one could work out the answer to. The few times his publisher issued any communication from him…I say he…”
Trevor looked at Giarma and shrugged.
“Anyway, it was pretty clear he hates Hollywood. He wouldn’t take money…not any amount…to work on a script. Not,” Trevor added, “that we’re talking about a lot. Five figures…it was 1974. So if the creator wouldn’t fix the character one way or the other, no one else had the guts to.”
“But how is it anyone’s got the rights, if Southey doesn’t want them making a movie?”
“Oh, well…you have to take that as a joke, too. It’s sort of legendary he sold the option to Sterling Brodrich.”
He waited. Giarma shook her head.
“Did a mish-mash of TV projects…you know, those days…like a variety special with Dolores del Rio that never got aired, some comedy thing that was a knock-off of Laugh-In…and really, profoundly, not funny. Brodrich was sort of successful with his one cop show…they were gonna slot it into the Mystery Movies, but it was too much like McCloud, so he took it over to ABC.”
Val moved his shoulders, his face an apologetic flinch. It crossed Trevor’s mind to say, “Hey, bud, you’re among friends,” but the mannerism was prelude to a remark:
“I never heard of any of that.”
“Never heard of it?”
“I don’t watch TV.”
“The show’s called Sutter. They got some bad vids on YouTube. Doesn’t matter. It’s just I pick up little facts doing my research, and then I gotta check em out…I write about these things. Anyway, serious people were after Totem. Southey let Brodrich have it for three-hundred fourteen dollars. Pi in your eye, right? He knew the movie couldn’t happen, or if Brodrich got it backed, it would end up a cheesy piece of crap. But things changed, you know, by the time your generation came along.”
“What are you, Trevor, like forty?”
Trevor took a beat, and smiled. “Thirty-five.”
“No,” said Val, flushing. “I mean…I meant it the other way. You said my generation.”
“To be fair…”
His glance again took in Giarma.
“It goes back farther than a couple decades. It was a feminist idea, I guess, that the Totem-Maker ought to be a woman.”
“I’m not in charge of feminism,” she told him.
He looked at her with something like pride. Confusing.
He said, to both of them:
“Things have got polarized, don’t you think? Guys who hate the idea of making female versions of male superheroes, for instance…I mean, you say next movie Spiderman’ll be played by a woman—you get death threats. These days. And then, the last time anyone actually got the project started, there was boycott talk right off…from feminists…”
“People split hairs like crazy,” Val said.
Trevor nodded him on, and Giarma discovered in her brother an unexpected conversance with Totem-World. “Like,” he said, “how could the character challenge her enemy to combat…if she was a woman…and not have Mumas refuse, or at least say something?”
“But Southey was careful about all that. I mean, yeah…there are contrivances, ways the story skirts the issue.” Deadpan, he said aside to Giarma, “Ha ha.”
Then: “But, you have Burda the priest—not priestess, right?—and you have Lady Nyma, who sits in the high seat of judgment in that part of Monsecchers. You have the free-lance fighter who gives the rules in the hearing scene. So the culture doesn’t seem to always make distinctions. Male role, female role. Now, there’s a good article I have in the archives…I’m not gonna tell you who wrote it…
“The experience of the person who holds the low place in society is not exclusively male or female, she says…when you’re powerless, you have to weigh everything in terms of how much will you be punished, whether you can risk standing up for yourself. At times you have a chance to obtain something material, or someone will give you a little responsibility, a little respect…”
“And it turns out you’re good at even the crap work…uh huh. They don’t want it back, but they still hate you.”
Yes, Giarma thought, towards her brother, who’d dodged his head…I am going to talk about my job.
(2018, Stephanie Foster)