The other day when I mentioned to someone that The Meg (2018) has more to offer female viewers than any other shark movie I have seen the response I got was, “But Jaws is a classic!” That may be, but that does not mean it has anything to offer female viewers. I am not saying that I did not find Jaws entertaining and enjoyable. I did. However, Jaws only has one named female character that appears throughout—Lorraine Gary as Ellen Brody—and no two named female characters ever speak. Moreover, women get less than five minutes of speaking time in this two-hour movie, and two women are sexualized. So it scores poorly for women’s presence and voice. The Shallows (2016) scores better, but that is not saying much. Again, there is only one named female character that appears throughout—Blake Lively as Nancy. In fact, she is the only character that appears throughout. However, other characters make brief appearances: six men and one woman, not including a dead mother who appears for a few seconds. Here, too, two women are sexualized. Also, the lead female is relentlessly hunted by a shark. At least in Jaws the scene about a shark killing a woman was short. For its part, The Meg boasts several named female characters that appear throughout, congenial relationships between women, an affectionate mother/daughter relationship, assertive females, women in STEM, praise for female characters and a woman who gets to be heroic. Furthermore, there is next to no sexualization of women. Female viewers interested in a shark vs. humans movie should go with The Meg; it has more to offer.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
I took another look at Casablanca (1942), a movie I analysed a couple of years ago. As a teenager I watched it several times, so I know it well. The witty exchanges, interesting plot and Ingrid Bergman’s modest outfits (and flat shoes!) were a welcome change after the 21st century movies I have been analysing lately. Their coarse and moronic dialogue, insignificant plots and scantily clad women have been getting to me. Casablanca’s main drawback, to my way of thinking, is the absence of interactions between women. There are four named female characters but they never speak to each other and three of them only have bit parts. Unlike Humphrey Bogart, who has a few male friends, Bergman (Ilsa) is without any female companions. This is also the case for Madeleine Lebeau, who plays Yvonne, the woman Bogart manhandles and treats carelessly at the beginning. A few or even a couple of relationships between women would have made for a richer film. The poster clearly shows that the distribution of roles is uneven: six men and only one woman—the beauty admired by all. Still, I cannot help wondering what Ilsa and Yvonne’s exchanges would have looked like, had they been given the opportunity to speak to each other.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
One of the dozens of things I keep track of in mainstream movies—and I have analysed over 500 movies now—is the language used in reference to female characters, both women and girls. American Beauty (1999), a drama written by Alan Ball, contains four named female characters that appear throughout (two high school girls and two women). None of these females fare well, and they are called the following names: b*tch, slut, c*nt, a disgusting pig, a prostitute, a little brat and a bloodless, money grubbing freak. Moreover, Kevin Spacey says to Thora Birch, one of the teenage girls, “You better watch yourself Janie or you’re going to turn into a real b*tch, just like your mother!” I am looking forward to sharing my findings about the language used in mainstream movies.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
For an animated movie marketed to children Incredibles 2 (2018) contains some strange inclusions, namely thigh high boots on the two lead females—a mom and a teenage girl—and several scenes in which women drink alcohol. I do not remember there being any alcohol in the kids' movies I watched growing up. Female characters' alcohol consumption is something I have been keeping track of, and I have noted that there is significantly more of it now than there was twenty years ago. The black boots are another story. They immediately called to my mind Julia Roberts' boots in Pretty Woman (1990), in which she plays a prostitute. It is curious that the filmmakers chose these boots for Elastigirl—who is a woman, not a girl—and her teenage daughter. Why not have them wear boots similar to those the husband and boy wear? These are two of the many, many issues discussed in my book.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
After analysing all eight movies of the Harry Potter franchise I have found that the one that scores best for females' presence and voice is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007). All eight pass the Bechdel Test (a test that serves as an indicator of the active presence of women in movies) but some just barely pass. In order to pass this test the movie must include two female characters (preferably named) that speak to each other about something besides a male. These movies from the franchise just barely pass this test: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001), a named female character says three words to a girl we do not hear from again in the series and Maggie Smith and Emma Watson have an exchange that lasts less than a minute; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Pam Ferris compliments Fiona Shaw on the supper she made and Emma Watson and Emma Thompson exchange five sentences; and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), Watson says to Bonnie Wright, “Ginny, look!” to which there is no reply and later Watson says to Tiana Benjamin, who is practically outside the frame, about other students, “They’re not too happy about that one,” to which there is no reply. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, on the other hand, includes 11 occasions in which named women and girls speak about something besides males. Moreover, no woman or girl is told to shut up in Order of the Phoenix, as is the case in Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire.
In terms of women and girls' presence, too, Order of the Phoenix scores better than the other instalments. Although Emma Watson plays one of the three lead roles (Hermione) in all the movies she is practically without female co-stars. Many women and girls populate these films but they appear only briefly and interact very little. This is not the case for Order of the Phoenix, which boasts the significant presence of two other clever girls: Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood and Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley. It also includes assertive moments for Natalia Tena (Tonks) and instances of girls showing initiative, not to mention congeniality between female characters (e.g. when Maggie Smith comforts Emma Thompson). We are also shown a woman protecting girls, female characters being praised for something besides their looks, a male standing up for a woman who has been insulted, a boy showing kindness to a girl and a sexist boy bested by a clever girl.
Among the 500 movies I have analysed for my upcoming book on the sexualization of women in media I have my favourites. Like millions of viewers I particularly enjoy the Harry Potter franchise, for many reasons including, in my case, the fact that women and girls are rarely sexualized in these movies. Of the eight instalments Order of the Phoenix is the only one for which the screenplay was not written by Steve Kloves. Michael Goldenberg wrote the screenplay for the adaptation of J.K. Rowling's bestselling novel of the same name. I am not in a position to say whether this was significant, but it is undeniable: Order of the Phoenix has more to offer female viewers.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
#HarryPotter #OrderofthePhoenix #JKRowling #DavidYates #MichaelGoldenberg
Our choices are illuminating. This is true on a personal level, as well as collectively. Since the height of the #MeToo movement some are under the impression that things are changing in Hollywood. Last night’s big Oscar winners are more evidence that very little has changed in Movieland.
The Oscar for Best Picture went to Green Book, a story about two men, in which women, for the most part, are simply part of the background. This was not the first time the Academy chose a story about two men (e.g. The King’s Speech, Rain Man, Midnight Cowboy)—or stories practically devoid of women (e.g. The Hurt Locker, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Platoon, Patton, Lawrence of Arabia).
The Oscar for Best Actor was awarded to a man who plays a superstar, while the Oscar for Best Actress was awarded to a woman who appears in a very unflattering light. Indeed, Olivia Colman is humiliated and demeaned throughout The Favourite. Her character is dim and self-absorbed. She eats 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. She even falls out of bed. This is hardly a flattering portrait of a world leader. Rami Malek, on the other hand, is portrayed as a creative genius and is adored and applauded by huge crowds.
The Oscars awarded are telling of what the Academy likes to see, the type of stories its members are interested in, as well as the way they like to see women and men. Like I said, very little has changed in Movieland.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
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