I recently analysed the latest screen adaptation of Stephen King's novel It. I had previously seen parts of the TV mini-series from 1990, so I had some idea of what to expect even though I have not read the novel. I knew it was a deranged story about an evil force that goes around killing a town’s children—an evil force that often appears as a clown. In this version women and girls play a very small part. There is only one significant female character: a 15-year-old who hangs out with a group of six boys. These seven kids are the lead characters. Women play secondary characters: stay-at-home moms and a librarian. Other notable characters are the aforementioned clown, played by a man, three male teenage thugs and a couple of fathers. The girl is typically surrounded by males. In the only scene she appears in with other girls her age they have hostile, antagonistic exchanges. A girl calls her trash and a slut. Another girl dumps the contents of a garbage bag over her head in a girls’ lavatory. This is not the only verbal abuse hurled her way. A woman calls her a "dirty girl" and a teenage boy says to her, "F*ck you, b*tch." She is also the victim of physical violence: a man grabs her by the neck (twice); her father sexually abuses her (alluded to, not shown); an evil force pulls her head into her bathroom sink before projecting a stream of blood in her face; and she is abducted, assaulted and an attempt is made on her life (in at least two scenes). So females are barely present, and the one who gets the most screen time is continually disparaged or harmed.
Sexualization of women and girls is also an issue. The teenage girl, a victim of incest, is the only character to appear in a bath—a Hollywood staple usually reserved for women. She also strips down to her bra and panties in front of a group of boys and then sunbathes before them while they sit around watching her. Apparently in the book they all have sex with her in one scene. Thankfully this was left out of the film adaptation. Even a female character who is barely present, one of the moms, is sexualized: a boy says to another about an activity he wants to engage in over the summer, “Beats spending it inside your mother.” Also, a boy asks another, “Do you use the same bathroom as your mother? […] Then you probably have crabs.”
Stephen King is hailed as the 'master of horror' and that may be fitting but what he also excels at is slighting women and girls and having men harm and terrorize them. A few years ago the United Nations declared a pandemic of violence against women (VAW). Instead of bringing King's deranged stories to the screen filmmakers would do well to make movies in which women and girls are respected and cherished.
© 2018 Alline Cormier