After learning that the R-rated Netflix drama Roma (2018), directed by Alfonso Cuaron, was a contender for the Oscar for Best Picture I decided I would analyse it—not for my book, just for this blog. In a strange coincidence the last movie I analysed was also directed by Cuaron: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004). One of these two films was very entertaining. It was not Roma.
The story had lots of potential: "A year in the life of a middle-class family’s maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s" (IMDb). The problem isn’t the absence of women. It scores well for women’s presence and voice and passes the Bechdel Test (a test that serves as an indicator of the active presence of women in movies). The story revolves around one woman, the maid (played by Yalitza Aparicio), and to a lesser extent two others, the family’s cook and the lady of the house (Nancy Garcia Garcia and Marina de Tavira). Unfortunately, Roma is one of the slowest moving movies I have ever seen, and life is just too short for movies in which we are shown water being splashed on a tile floor for the entire length of the opening credits. It isn’t that I dislike slow-moving movies generally. I prefer movies and BBC series based on Jane Austen novels to action movies. And I speak Spanish, so I could follow along without the subtitles. However, Cuaron takes things so far in Roma that shots and scenes become tedious. If the pace had been faster it would have made for a more enjoyable film.
Roma includes things we see in most movies: women crying, lying in bed, undressing, exercising and doing housework. A focus on their looks occurs throughout: de Tavira says of her daughter to Aparicio, the maid, “Not for Sofi, she’ll get fat”; Sofi’s brother reluctantly shares food with her saying, “Here. Get fatter”; one of her brothers say to her “Because you do stink, fatty”; a woman says to a girl, “You look great, Lola”; and a man says to de Tavira, “You’re not even that hot, comadre.” Moreover, a character makes light of violence against women: during a shooting party when a man says to another about his wife’s abilities, “She’s going to expropriate your hacienda” he replies, “Nah, I’ll whack her first.” Finally, threatening language is used on a woman: when Aparicio goes to find the father of her baby and tells him she is pregnant he says, “What’s it to me?” When she tells him the baby is his he replies, “No f*cking way. And if you don’t want me to beat the shit out of you and your ‘little one’ don’t ever say it again and don’t ever come looking for me again. F*cking servant!”
Roma includes some congeniality between women, and it was nice to hear a little girl in a hospital looking through the glass at the newborns tell her grandmother about her new sister, "I'm glad she's a girl." It is also devoid of physical violence against women. However, with the exception of the setting--Mexico, as opposed to the United States—it's really more of the same that female viewers get in most movies. I won't be watching Roma again, but I will likely watch Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban next October—ideal time because of its Halloween feel. Considering all the interesting movies that have come out in recent years owing to women's increased presence behind the camera it is strange that Roma is a contender for the Oscar for Best Picture. Mind you, that historically homogeneous group of old white men (AMPAS) and I have rarely seen eye to eye on what makes for quality entertainment.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
Green Book (2018) is an interesting biographical movie set in 1962, inspired by a true story about a pianist and his driver. It isn’t hard to see why it is a contender for the Best Picture award at the Oscars. Unfortunately, it lacks something, and that something is women. It scores poorly for women’s presence and voice and fails the Bechdel test (a test that serves as an indicator of the active presence of women in movies). It boasts only one named female character (Dolores, played by Linda Cardellini), and I doubt she appears on screen for ten minutes even though the movie runs over two hours. She plays a supportive role: the wife of Viggo Mortensen, one of the two lead males. Mostly she appears in her kitchen. She makes meals, does dishes, clears the table and serves Mortensen supper. She also has time to appear in her bed in a nightgown. In one scene she reads part of a letter Mortensen sent her to two other women and talks to them very briefly about it, but they seem to be nameless. If they were named it was quick and quickly forgotten. The names of the two lead males on the other hand are mentioned many, many times throughout the film. Mortensen and Mahershala Ali (he plays pianist Dr. Don Shirley) even have a conversation about Mortensen’s name and Ali’s name appears on a banner hung from the front of a building. Mortensen and Ali are not the only two named male characters. There are also the two other musicians in Ali’s trio, his assistant, Mortensen’s friends, co-workers and family members, as well as some men who may be mobsters. A few other women with lines do grace the screen very briefly (e.g. Copa Coat Check Girl and Orange Bird Bartender, who serves the lead males a drink). For the most part though, women are simply part of the background like the cigarette girl in the opening scene.
Even though women are virtually absent from the movie men still talk about them, and the language used is revealing. Women are referred to as “sweetheart” (Copa Coat Check Girl), a “piece of ass,” “that pretty little wife of yours” and “my lovely wife.” Twice Mortensen talks about Pittsburgh being called ‘Titsburgh.’ When a woman at Dolores’ house says something about Mortensen’s letter to a man (her husband?) he replies, “Yeah, as soon as you make a meal.” My ears pricked up when Mortensen mentioned Aretha Franklin, but it was just a flash in the pan that went nowhere. Ali and Mortensen’s characters are interesting and developed. They are not one-dimensional. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Green Book’s women.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
Ocean’s Eight (2018) makes for a fun viewing experience for women, and it doesn’t take a neurosurgeon to figure out the reason for this. Firstly, the lead characters are, without exception, women. This makes for a welcome change. Secondly, it scores well for women’s presence and voice. Thirdly, and rather significantly, it contains no violence against women. Moreover, antagonism between women is minimal and somewhat comical. Although the focus on looks is important this is partly counterbalanced by fact that the lead females are shown eating in seven scenes. Ocean’s Eight also offers things we are rarely given in Hollywood movies, namely women over thirty (two are over forty and two are over fifty), praise for females (Rihanna calls her little sister a genius, and an insurance fraud investigator describes Sandra Bullock’s heist as brilliant), congeniality between women (e.g. Helena Bonham Carter says to her accomplices, “Love you. Love you. Love you.”) and a plot that includes a woman getting back at a man who wronged her. To top it off there are nice touches like Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots are Made for Walkin’ and humorous lines like Bullock’s pep talk to her accomplices before their big diamond heist: “Somewhere out there is an eight-year-old girl lying in bed dreaming of being a criminal. Let’s do this for her.” Ocean’s Eight sexualizes women less than most movies released in the second decade of the 21st century—in spite of showing the leads looking like streetwalkers on the movie poster. Forget Bad Moms (2016). Ocean’s Eight is the ticket for a girls’ night in.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
Last night I analysed The Favourite, and I will admit I was expecting something better. It was announced that the biographical drama is a contender for the best picture award at the Oscars, which is a strike against it, but given that the trailer makes it clear that the lead roles are held by three women I was hopeful. The Favourite scores well for women’s voice but poorly for women’s presence. The main characters, Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, often speak of things besides men and it passes the Bechdel test in the first scene. The costumes and sets are beautiful. Those are the movie’s strengths. Unfortunately, it has significant drawbacks. Firstly, the movie revolves around the antagonistic relationship between Weisz and Stone. In fact all the women, including secondary characters, treat each other badly. Even Coleman and Weisz, who are supposed to be close friends, treat each other terribly. Secondly, the filmmakers portray powerful women—both Coleman (Anne, queen of England) and Weisz (a lady who governs England for the sickly Anne)—in an unflattering light. Indeed, none of the lead females are likeable characters (e.g. Stone flattens a rabbit under her heel and is rude to the house staff) and they are often humiliated and demeaned.
The language used is telling: Nicholas Hoult calls Rachel Weisz a “c*nt; he says to Emma Stone, “And I should have you stripped and whipped” and asks her “Do you want to get punched?”; Weisz calls Stone a c*nt and "a disloyal little b*tch” and tells Coleman that Stone is a liar, a thief and a viper; Coleman says to Stone about Weisz, “If she’s not dead I will cut her throat”; Weisz begins letters to Coleman “You c*nt” and “I dreamt I stabbed you in the eye”; and a prostitute tells Weisz, who is convalescing in a brothel, “You can suck for your supper.” When Weisz is lost in the forest and Hoult, who hates her, says of her, “I hope we find her and she’s not dead in a ditch” it is clear that that is precisely how he hopes she will be found.
The violence against women is also telling: Hoult pushes Stone down a hill; he pushes her indoors; Weisz throws Olivia Coleman on the floor of her room, throws books at Stone and shoots her gun at her; and when Weisz falls off her horse after being poisoned by Stone she is dragged through the forest and disfigured. In addition there is the self-inflicted harm: Stone’s hand is burned by lye when her female co-worker intentionally neglects to tell her to put on gloves before plunging her hands in a pail containing the harmful substance. Stone also smacks herself in the head with a book several times, giving herself a bloody nose.
The sexualization of women is the third element indicating that this movie has little to offer women: water is splashed unceremoniously over Stone and three other women standing naked, bathing; a man screws a prostitute against a tree; a man screws a prostitute from behind in the room Weisz is convalescing in; a man in a carriage masturbates while looking at Stone; Stone masturbates a man and in another scene, a woman; Stone sits on a man’s lap; the three lead females appear in their nightclothes; prostitutes expose their bare bottoms and breasts; and Stone casually speaks to Hoult about f*cking her. Moreover, the scenes of a sexual nature between women are filmed in a way that shows they are meant for men's viewing pleasure, not women's. The filmmakers even make light of rape (when a man enters Stone's bedroom uninvited, as she lies in bed, she asks him, “Have you come to seduce me or rape me?” before spreading her legs).
As for the filmmakers' portrayals of the lead females, they do nothing to improve its case. Anne, portrayed as dim and self-absorbed, is shown eating cake immediately after throwing up the cake she has just eaten; she has tantrums and lies on the floor crying; she falls on her face in parliament; and she falls out of her bed. This is hardly a flattering portrait of a world leader. For her part Stone, portrayed as self-serving and manipulative, falls face down in the mud. Weisz, portrayed as controlling and cruel, has her face splattered with blood when Stone shoots a bird. In another scene her face is bloodied and cut after she is dragged by her horse through a forest. Anne, although very powerful, is clearly inept as the leader of a country and is easily manipulated by the ambitious women who counsel her (Weisz and Stone), as well as by some men. Stone, clever but relatively powerless, tells Nicholas Hoult, “I’m on my side, always.”
Portraying a powerful woman as unsuitable for her job is practically the norm in movies, so The Favourite’s filmmakers are only contributing to the existing body of sexist portrayals conveying the message that governing should be left to men. Moreover, there have been countless examples in cinematic history of two women fighting over a man; the only novelty here is that the women fight over a woman. In short, I will not be the least bit surprised if The Favourite wins the Oscar for best picture.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
Black Panther (2018), a contender for the Oscar for Best Picture this year, scores well for women’s presence and voice. Women are heroic, confident and assertive. It passes the Bechdel test (a test that serves as an indicator of the active presence of women in movies) early on. Other strengths include showing a woman working at her job (Letitia Wright is an engineer), being praised and even besting men in battle. It also contains some very uncommon inclusions: men crying, a woman shushing a man, a vegetarian man, a woman being thanked and women held in high esteem—for something other than their good looks. It even includes a man submitting to a woman (Daniel Kaluuya kneels before Danai Gurira in battle). There is a nice touch during a coronation ceremony when Wright criticizes restrictive women’s fashions by saying, “This corset is really uncomfortable, so could we all just wrap it up and go home?” Black Panther contains much less sexism than the majority of action/adventure movies. Unfortunately, it includes more violence against women than a lot of movies: a woman is poisoned by a man and a woman; Andy Serkis holds a gun to a woman’s head; a man shoots his girlfriend; a man grabs a woman by the throat and lifts her off the ground before dropping her; a man slits a woman’s throat with a sword; a woman is kicked in the face by a man; an armed rhinoceros throws two women in the air; women are thrown through the air by a force wielded by a man; a woman is thrown through the air by a man before hitting the ground hard many metres away; and a man tries to stab a woman. Murder, attempted murder and assault is a lot of violence for a PG-13 movie but well within the norm for Hollywood.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
One of the dozens of things I keep track of in mainstream movies—and I’ve analysed roughly 470 movies so far—is the language used in reference to female characters, both women and girls. In Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), a romantic comedy produced by Miramax (Harvey Weinstein’s company), women are called the following names: fat-assed old bag, dirty b*tch, slut, ham-fisted cunt, daft cow, crazy girl and old girl (said to a 32-year-old woman). Keep in mind that this is a movie marketed to a female audience. I’m looking forward to sharing my findings about movies that are clearly intended for a male audience.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
Last night I saw Mary Poppins Returns (2018) at the theatre. It was released nearly a month ago in the U.S. and so far has made over US$259 million at the worldwide box office. In terms of women's presence and voice it scores well. It passes the Bechdel test (a test that serves as an indicator of the active presence of women in movies) early on and boasts seven named female characters, six of whom appear in more than one scene, as well as the Balloon Lady, played by Angela Lansbury, who has several lines. This is more female characters than most movies have. It is also devoid of violence against women and the silencing of women, as far as I can remember—for once I was not taking notes. Moreover, I don't remember any intergenerational hostility, which is common enough nowadays. However, the new Mary Poppins, Emily Blunt, was more sexualized than I remember Julie Andrews being sexualized. Still, I wouldn't hesitate to let my six-year-old girl watch this if I had a six-year-old girl. Mary Poppins Returns is the least sexualized movie I've analysed in a while.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
Recently I analysed the first four movies from the Jurassic Park franchise: Jurassic Park (1993), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), Jurassic Park III (2001) and Jurassic World (2015). The two that came out in the 1990s made US$643 million and US$618 million at the worldwide box office (not adjusted for inflation) and the last two grossed US$365 million and US$1.648 billion at the worldwide box office—so they are worth examining closely. Only the first two were directed by Steven Spielberg. Although Jurassic Park (1993) was fairly progressive, even compared to movies coming out now, it is The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) that is the most progressive and the one I would choose if I were in the mood to watch a dinosaur movie. True, it only really contains two named female characters who are vastly outnumbered by males and who have next to no interactions but they are both assertive and hold men accountable for their actions. It passes the Bechdel test (a test that serves as an indicator of the active presence of women in movies). Moreover, the little girl gets to be heroic. Then there is inclusion of environmentalism and conservationism, neither of which seem to make it into current movies except on the rarest of occasions. I go into the details in my upcoming book. As just one example, Julianne Moore calls Jeff Goldblum a predator--and that was 20 years ago!
© 2019 Alline Cormier
I am not sorry to see 2018 draw to a close. It was a rough year—personally, politically, cinematically. So many ultra-violent movies came out this year (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Venom, The First Purge, Halloween, The Nun, etc.) and Hollywood’s portrayals of women are still very damaging (i.e. predominantly objectified and sexualized). The majority of top grossing movies still portray men as heroes and women as eye candy for men—in spite of the #MeToo movement (and everything else). Female characters still appear less clothed than men, are routinely silenced and are still being abducted, murdered, disrespected, demeaned and humiliated. Movies that did not show women being continually sexualized and harmed tended to belong to the family genre (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Peter Rabbit, A Wrinkle in Time, Mary Poppins Returns, Paddington 2).
Our slowly evolving societies have not had much effect on cinema. Moreover, although many men recognize that there is a problem they do not seem interested in discussing it and changing things. Indeed, the impression I have had is that men feel threatened and seem fine with maintaining the status quo. I thought the movie Suffragette (2015), even though it is set in 1912, accurately reflects men and women’s attitudes towards women’s place in society (i.e. women are oppressed and desire equality and men are unwilling to treat women as their equals).
Due to illness I did not make it to the theatre as much as I would have liked. Besides, assessing what came out this year was not really a priority because I will be including few movies from 2018 in my upcoming book. Accessing the occasional new release through Netflix or my amazing cable plan was enough to provide a sample of what filmmakers produced this year.
I have high hopes for 2019. As our societies evolve and more women filmmakers take their place behind the camera we should see better things on the big screen. On this New Year's Eve I am hopeful... and especially excited to share my new book this year. Wishing everyone peace and love (and great movies) in 2019!
© 2018 Alline Cormier
The action movie Die Hard (1988, US$139 million at the worldwide box office) appears in many favourite Christmas movie lists—not mine. True, it is set at Christmas, but it is hardly in the same class as A Christmas Carol (any version) or It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). For one thing, there is swearing throughout (e.g. Bruce Willis says mother*cker at least three times) and it includes a hostage situation, explosions and many people being killed (mainly shot, including in the head). The best thing I can say about Die Hard is that it passes the Bechdel test in the first few minutes—this is a test that serves as an indicator of the active presence of women in movies—and Willis admits he was a jerk (as a husband) and wasn’t supportive enough of his wife. Both of those things are actually pretty rare, even now. What is most curious about this 'Christmas movie' is that it sexualizes women: a bare-breasted woman lying on a desk in her workplace so that she can have sex with a male co-worker is manhandled by armed men; and a wall is decorated with pictures of topless women. Willis walks past them three times, so there is no chance of missing them. Because of this sexualization (and all the violence), and in spite of the sets' Christmas decorations and the Christmassy soundtrack, I don't include Die Hard in my holiday relaxation plans. A movie doesn't need to end with a child talking about everyone being blessed by god or angels getting their wings to be classified as a Christmas movie but is it too much to ask that it be devoid of topless women and pictures of topless women?
© 2018 Alline Cormier