Stand by Me is an R-rated adventure drama that runs one and a half hours. The screenplay, written by Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans, is based on a Stephen King novel. The film was directed by Rob Reiner and tells the story of four teenage boys who go looking for the body of a dead boy who went missing in Oregon earlier that summer. The boys are played by Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell. Stand by Me made over US$52 million at the worldwide box office (keep in mind that this figure is in unadjusted dollars. It is a very respectable sum). It was a very popular movie and is still well-known. Unfortunately, it has very little to offer female viewers. It scores poorly for women’s presence and voice. There are no significant female characters. Women get very few lines and no two women ever speak so it fails the Bechdel test—a test that serves as an indicator of the active presence of women in movies.
The aspect of the film I’m going to shine a spotlight on today is the language used in reference to women and girls. This is one of the dozens of things I keep track of in feature films. 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. The language in Stand by Me is coarse, sexist, sexualized and degrades women and girls. It demonstrates a lack of regard for women in girls that merits attention. Let’s examine the evidence. River Phoenix refers to his female teacher as a b*tch. To insult each other the boys call each other “girls” and “pussy.” A boy calls another boy a “son of a whore.” Wil Wheaton says, “Mayor Grundy barfed on his wife’s tits.” He says to his friends about vomit, “And then your mother goes around the corner and she licks it up.” He says to Kiefer Sutherland, “Why don’t you go home and f*ck your mother some more?” Teenage boys also say: “I think Annette’s tits are getting bigger”; and “[…] what a blimp. No shit. She looks like a Thanksgiving turkey […].” (The latter comment is made about the boy’s cousin.) Also, a boy says, “I’ve been seeing her for over a month now, and all she’ll let me do is feel her tits,” to which Sutherland replies, “You wanna get laid you gotta get yourself a protestant.”
This type of language in reference to women and girls is common in mainstream movies and can be heard in many movies based on Stephen King novels. It does nothing to increase people’s regard for women and girls. Indeed, it normalizes disregard for women and girls. Moreover, it is worth noting that none of the female characters have a first name. Frances Lee McCain, who plays Wheaton’s mother, is credited as Mrs. Lachance. The other women are credited as: Waitress, Mayor’s Wife and Fat Lady.
I look forward to sharing my findings about mainstream movies of the 20th and 21st centuries and what they have to offer female viewers in my upcoming film guide for women, which contains 500 feature film reviews.
Copyright © 2020 Alline Cormier