One of the dozens of things I keep track of in mainstream movies is the language used in reference to female characters, both women and girls. 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. Gorillas in the Mist (1988), a biography of Dian Fossey based on her work and a story by Anna Hamilton Phelan and Harold T.P. Hayes (screenplay by Phelan), scores well for women’s presence and voice. The protagonist (Sigourney Weaver) is strong, independent and assertive.
One of the things I enjoyed most about Gorillas in the Mist was the assertive language used by the lead female, a zoologist working in Rwanda with mountain gorillas. The story spans the period of her life from 1966 to her murder in 1985. Sigourney Weaver is assertive and stands up for herself from her first scene right to the end. When she meets Dr. Louis Leakey (Iain Cuthbertson), who is unwilling to hire her she tells him, “Dr. Leakey, you need me, and I want this job. Give me this chance.” After she is forced out of the Congo she says, “This time I have a gun, and if any civil war comes my way it had better watch its ass.” She also confronts armed soldiers, poachers and an animal trader. Indeed, when soldiers ransack her cabin she says, “Stop it! What the hell are you doing? That’s mine! Get your hands off! That’s my property! That’s my work!” When they grab her she says, “Get your filthy hands off me!”, “Get off me!” and “Don’t touch me!” When she rescues an abducted baby gorilla from a box in a van she says to the animal trader who paid poachers for her capture, “Are you responsible for kidnapping this animal? […] If I ever see you or your meat wagon again you’ll be lucky if you don’t end up in a wooden box!” This type of assertive speech from female characters is something female viewers are still not getting enough of, thirty years later. 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
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