Jessica Chastain and Ladies in Film
I wrote this a while ago and it's just been sitting in my Notes app on my phone. (What? You guys don't have a collection of feminist film critiques on your Notes app? That's what it's there for.) Anyway, the Cannes Film Festival just wrapped up the other day and this video of Jessica Chastain has been circulating where she rightfully calls out depictions of women in film. Watch the video. It's a minute of your life and it needed to be said.
So, in that spirit, I'm finally gonna upload what I wrote about two recent films I saw in theatres. If you want to talk about positive women representation in movies, GO SEE WONDER WOMAN. I haven't seen it yet because I don't have access to press screenings and, somehow, this blog and I, shockingly, are not considered press, but every single review has been utterly glowing. And, at 10:15 A.M. EST on Friday, ya girl's gonna be watching that masterpiece.
Without further ado:
Let’s just talk about it right off the bat; yes, it’s been a while. Let me remind you, though, I almost went full Van Gogh on both of my ears not that long ago, so I think my doctor’s note should excuse me.
Right, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about ladies in film. Specifically, the last two movies I watched; King Arthur and Lowriders. Since I am all about transparency; yes, the only reason I saw both of these movies was because of cute actresses (Katie McGrath and Melissa Benoist, respectively), but no, I did not let that cloud my judgement.
I saw King Arthur first during its opening weekend. Yeah, I contributed to that flop. Anyway, it’s basically just a retelling of the myth of King Arthur. Honestly, didn’t really feel new or anything. Just two hours of my life I’ll never get back. However, there was a trailer for Wonder Woman which was incredible.
The true injustice to this movie was the fact that Katie McGrath, the cute actress that I forked over the $6.50 for a movie ticket for, died within the first ten minutes. I sat there in the theatre as cutie pie died and genuinely thought to myself, should I just walk out? But, since I have never walked out on
anything in my life a movie, I stuck it out.
The second movie I saw was Lowriders. It was marginally better. I didn’t feel like I was watching paint dry in a dizzying Guy Ritchie way. It was also dope that the movie was an almost entirely Latino cast. What with the whitewashing of everything, I wouldn’t have put it past Hollywood to just stick some white dudes in there. In case you were wondering, the cute actress I saw this movie for lived through to the ending. Although, it was basically like she dies because she is such a worthless character. (No offense to you, Melissa. You didn’t write it.)
That’s what both of these movies have in common; they don’t know what to do with their female characters.
So, back to King Arthur. My girl Katie dies after making out with Jude Law. Props to her, though. Dying after making out Jude Law is a pretty solid way to go if you gotta go.
Oh, I forgot to say, there’s gonna be a bunch of spoilers. Sorry ‘bout it.
So Jude Law kills Katie because he’s gotta sacrifice someone he loves to get unlimited power or something. Like we don’t even know this girl’s name and she’s already dead! Her character's name is never said. All she is is Jude Law's wife. Zero agency of her own. Talk about men using women as nothing more than a plot point. As an audience member, unless you’re me who came here specifically to see that one actress, you don’t care about her. Watching her die elicits no response from the audience because we just heard her speak for the first and last time thirty seconds ago.
Her part could’ve been played by literally anything. Oh, to get mortality, Jude Law, go kill a chicken or a goat or a cow or throw an ornate chalice into the water. She’s reduced to an object. To make matters fucking worse, IT HAPPENS AGAIN.
Jude Law kills his daughter toward the end of the movie for some reason relating to unlimited power. Again, the audience feels almost nothing because this girl hasn’t even been in the majority of movie. At first, I was like am I supposed to know who this lady is or is she just a rando.
How are you going to reduce women to nothing more than plot points to move along a contrived story that we’ve heard thousands of times. Oh, a poor boy rises from rags to riches to ultimately have to fight a relative for the throne that is rightfully his. How original. It sounds nothing like The Lion King or Macbeth or ANY SUPERHERO MOVIE EVER MADE.
So, that brings us to Lowriders. It’s about this kid, Daniel, who wants to do graffiti art, but his dad is trying to force him into the lowrider culture of east L.A. Daniel's so misunderstood because he likes ~art~ why can’t people understand that?!
He meets Melissa (and I feel like she had a really dumb name in this movie, but I don't remember) at a party who is a certified art hipster. I’ve talked so much shit in my life about girls and nose piercings and how I don’t particularly like them, but I ate every single one of my words during the course of the movie. Not sorry about it. She looked great. Sorry...where were we? Oh, right. Objectifying women. Basically, the guy and Melissa become a THING and eventually she calls him out and is like no one can like your art if you keep hiding it under bridges and shit.
Which, yeah, good point, girl, you tell him. She goes out of her way to introduce him to this guy who runs a gallery that likes to help graffiti artists get real traction in the art world. And, yeah, maybe she did make some assumptions about what his art was inspired by and he was in the right to be upset about that, but he focuses on his hatred for her attempts to get his art out there not the kind of shitty assumptions she made. He gets all butt hurt and is like my ~art~ tho it can’t be mainstream because that’s for sellouts. But he also wants people to look at his ~art~, so he needs to figure it out.
(Also, he paints a nude picture of her on the hood of his brother’s car for a massive lowrider competition which is a little weird and uncomfortable for everyone involved.)
That’s such an annoying trope for women in movies. That they’re only there to help the man-boy grow up and it is infuriating. All we know about Melissa in Lowriders is that she likes taking photographs. Like she doesn’t have a personality outside of Daniel and that’s just ridiculous. She’s there to make him a better person and the second she does that, her role in the film disappears. Literally disappears. He takes her words to heart, starts putting his stupid art out there, and ends up in Vanity Fair (like really??). He mails her a copy with a Post-It that says something like “You were right.” That’s it. They don’t have a break-up scene or anything. She’s just ignored until he needs her again. Boooooooooring.
And then Eva Longoria’s character! Talk about wildly underutilizing an actor! She was great, held her own against the father figure of the family, and knew a whole bunch about cars. Both times when the father needs to figure out a question related to his car, it’s Eva Longoria that has the answer. And then he has the audacity to tell her to not talk about dresses while she fixes his car. Uh, bro, she can talk about dresses and still fix your car better than you BECAUSE THE TWO AREN'T MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE, so let her talk about some damn dresses.
AND THEN THE FRIEND. I don’t even remember her name. She’s there in the beginning, waking up next to Daniel giving the clear implication they slept together. Then she leaves Daniel and his friend when they’re doing graffiti because she has a scholarship to Columbia and is not planning on getting arrested to mess that up. Good for you, girl, because those idiots end up getting arrested.
She basically disappears (save for a few scenes where she barely utters a word) only to reappear at the end of the movie to start dating the friend. SHE’S LITERALLY ONLY THERE TO BE SOMEONE’S BOYFRIEND OR FUCKBUDDY. How do people write this shit and not think, oh, maybe I should give this girl an actual personality? Nah, I’ll just have her be this token bang buddy who has nothing of substance to her.
I get that it was supposed to be a family drama focused on the father and the two sons. But, y’know who else is a part of the family? THE MOM AND THE SISTER. Honestly, the sister was barely there and really only got focus at the very end for a brief happy quinceanera montage. They could’ve cut her out of the movie and nothing would’ve changed.
Some people might say I’m reading too much into movies, but movies and tv and pop culture don’t exist in vacuums. What we see and what we’re exposed to forms our perceptions and realities. To think otherwise is naive. You mean to tell me that you think the pop culture we’re bombarded with constantly has no lasting impact on the way someone views the world? Come onnnnnn. Of course it does!
What does this tell young girls? The most you can possibly amount to is a plot piece in a boy’s life, but you’re not going to have a story of your own? That’s bullshit. Girls are going to save the world. It’s about damn time we start letting them have stories. And what does that say to boys about how to treat a girl? That no woman in his life is as interesting or important as him? Uh, think again, buddy. Ladies are your equals. Treat them as such.
The icing on this cake is that the movie that I thought would be bad and just another boring action flick that didn’t care much for its female characters was one of the best examples of representation I have seen this year. Power Rangers. Why am I bringing this up now? Because you fools slept on the movie and now I might not get my sequels, but everyone’s content with all the shitty female characters and whitewashing happening in theaters now. Power Rangers is so, so good and I will defend that movie until the end of my time. I’m even going to buy it. Me, purchasing an action movie. 2017 really is a wild, dark time, y’all.
But seriously, write real women.