Soon after the Kickstarter campaign for Veronica Mars sparked a ton of conversations and debates, another woman-led project took the crowdfunding site by storm, raising over $60,000 soon after it launched.
The team behind The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a YouTube-based adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, have already raised over $400,000 with three days to go by selling a DVD of the complete series. Funds from the sales will go toward a new Austen adaptation, Welcome to Sanditon, based on the author’s unfinished Sanditon.
Where did Lizzie Bennet come from? Out of view of the mainstream media, the web series has racked up an impressive 180,000 YouTube subscribers, enough so that, right before DECA came in to take part-ownership of the show, it was self-sustaining (revenue paid for production).
Of course, nothing could be more mainstream than Jane Austen. How did they do it? By telling a traditional story untraditionally. Like 2006’s lonelygirl15, Lizzie Bennet started slow, taking its time with key plot points . This built up anticipation for how the series would handle plot points Austen fans knew were coming, like keeping William Darcy offscreen until #darcyday and hyping their first encounter with aplomb. The writer, Bernie Su (Compulsions), also modernized some story lines, like making Collins ask Lizzie to join a startup, rather than his hand in marriage. The result is one of the most fan-driven web series since its predecessor in lonelygirl15.
The success of Lizzie Bennet signals the possible maturation of women’s programming in web video. Even as advertisers and networks continue to see online as a way to reach young male viewers, producers like Lizzie Bennet‘s Hank Green and Bernie Su have been proving how women, particularly young women, respond to web originals as well.
I decided it was time to assess the range of representations of women online. Most of these shows are as shockingly (or jarringly) groundbreaking as HBO’s Girls, which has already done a lot of expand televisual images of sex, including rape. Even broadcast TV, with shows like The Mindy Project and New Girl, has been trying out quirkier ways to reach young women.
Online stories about women are quite rich and have been for years. A year after lonelygirl15 rose to fame by giving geek boys their ultimate cam girl, Felicia Day’s The Guild delivered a counter-punch: a serious awkward, geek girl, a trend that persists today. Major networks put women at the center of genre stories, as NBC did with Gemini Division and MTV did with Valemont. Indie creators build out niches: Anyone But Me’s told the story of serious teen girls who were very seriously in love. Awkward Black Girl gave black women a complicated lead before Scandal, and with natural hair to boot.
I decided to take a look the range of representations of women (Latina and white, young and middle-aged, cis- and trans) are being produced by indie creators.