Green Book (2018)
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. 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. It is a shame this is not the case for Green Book’s female characters.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
Ocean’s Eight (2018) makes for a fun viewing experience for women, and it's easy to see why. For once, the lead characters are, without exception, women. So it scores well for women’s presence and voice. Also, and this is significant, it contains no violence against women (VAW). Additionally, antagonism between women is minimal and somewhat comical. Although the focus on looks is significant this is partly counterbalanced by fact that the lead females are shown eating in seven scenes. Ocean’s Eight also offers some things Hollywood movies rarely include, 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 involves a woman getting back at a man who wronged her. Moreover, it is full of 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 feature films 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, it 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 likable 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 in reference to female characters is telling and merits examination: Nicholas Hoult calls Weisz a “c*nt; he says to 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 (VAW) 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 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 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, The Favourite has a shot of winning the Oscar for best picture.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
Black Panther (2018)
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 (VAW) 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. I look forward to sharing my findings about mainstream movies of the 20th and 21st centuries in my upcoming film guide for women.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
One of the dozens of things I keep track of in feature films is the language used in reference to female characters. Part of the reason for this is that language is very revealing about filmmakers. It tells us a lot about how well or poorly they think of women. 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 look forward to sharing my findings about the language used in mainstream movies of the 20th and 21st centuries in my upcoming film guide for women.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
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 (VAW) 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 Julie Andrews was. 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. I look forward to sharing my findings about the inclusions/exclusions of mainstream movies of the 20th and 21st centuries in my upcoming film guide for women.
© 2019 Alline Cormier
The Jurassic Park franchise
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. True, there are only two significant named female characters, and they are vastly outnumbered by males. Also, they barely interact. However, 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. Furthermore, there is a focus on environmentalism and conservationism, neither of which make it into many movies. I go into the details in my upcoming film guide for women. As just one example, Julianne Moore calls Jeff Goldblum a predator--and that was 20 years ago!
© 2019 Alline Cormier