Book Review: The Real Z

The Real Z
By Jen Calonita

As I mentioned in a previous post, even as an adult, I love to play with toys! I get super excited when I see new toys released that I would've loved as a kid. Usually, I get them anyway. Back in 2015, I was SUPER excited when I saw Film Director Barbie at Target! As most of you know (because I don't shut up about it), encouraging women in film is SO IMPORTANT! Telling stories from diverse perspectives helps us understand each other better, and influences our overall culture toward equality.

You may also remember that last year, I was really disgruntled with the company American Girl, mostly because it seemed like their modern dolls were moving away from capturing the pop culture and social issues of their time periods, and instead having simple, overdone conflicts about dancing or horses or friendship or whatever. I got so annoyed that I made a blog called American Girls of the Future where I explained future dolls that could deal with actual issues of the time.

Then, of course, American Girl had to go and make that whole blog obsolete when they released Z. (That's a good thing, by the way.)

Z has a YouTube channel where she makes her own stop-motion videos. It's super meta, because the videos themselves are stop-motion (since Z is a doll), and it features her making stop-motion videos of her own, smaller dolls. I actually love it. 

I also love it because Z's videos teach young girls about filmmaking, including things like editing and three-point lighting. Obviously, I was SO excited when Z came out this summer!

Tyler bought me Z for my 25th birthday, because that is a totally normal 25th birthday gift. I've been having so much fun with her. Lately, I've had her sitting on my desk next to me while I edit my vlog. She inspires me.

I finally finished reading the book that came with the doll, The Real Z, the other day. It was a short, quick read, and pretty enjoyable overall.

I was actually a little shocked at how much I was able to relate to this thirteen-year-old main character, who was struggling with her work-life balance. But to be fair, I worked too much at 13, and I still work too much now. If Z continues down her current path, she's in for a crazy life.

In the book, Z enjoys making videos with her friends, and she's accepted to a festival in Seattle for young filmmakers. To compete in the festival, she has to make some sort of Seattle documentary. While making the movie, Z struggles to collaborate with her friends, and balance getting her homework done. It's probably the most realistic book I've ever read, and for that I highly commend it.

The only thing I didn't like was how much emphasis the author placed on Z as a director. Clearly, Z is the main character. But filmmaking is ALWAYS a collaborative effort. Even in the book, Z's friends help her by starring in the movie with her, performing music for the movie, etc. Z's friend Lauren often helps her with editing, and her friend Mari plays music and designs costumes. 

However, at the end, the movie is clearly "Z's" entry in the festival. When she is at the movie premiere, she gets her photo taken on the red carpet as "the" creator of the movie. When I've competed in film festivals, we've ALWAYS entered under a group name. We create a name for our production group, and yes, someone directs. But it is never solely THEIR movie. It is the group's movie. I wish Z, her friends, and the book at large had treated filmmaking more like a team effort. It's ironic, because one of the book's main themes is that Z needs to learn to collaborate better with her friends, and through listening to their ideas and working together, the movie improves a lot. So why does the book still treat the end product like HER sole accomplishment?!

This weekend, I was watching Lord of the Rings. Everyone knows that Peter Jackson made a beautiful work of art with these movies. But why does no one ever talk about Andrew Lesnie, the director of photography? Honestly, his shots were brilliant, and all I could think of while I watched the movie was how long each shot must've taken to plan and execute. The only people I ever hear talking about him are other DPs/cinematographers that I know.

Basically, I think this is a social problem overall--that we treat movies as a director's product, rather than a group accomplishment. Maybe that has to do with the Hollywood studio system. I don't know. But I really thought by the end, Z would have come to the realization that the movie isn't just hers, and that they should enter it under a team name or something.

Anyway, those are my feelings on this book. It's excellent, and if you're looking to buy a new book/doll for your kids (or yourself, since I clearly got this just for me), I highly recommend Z. 

Hope everyone is having a great week!

Happy Tuesday!



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