Superheros, Stereotypes, and Women with Agency

maxresdefault.jpgWith the recent resurgence of comic-book culture and the plague of superhero screen adaptions that have taken over both TV and cinema screens, all I can say is thank god for Jessica Jones. It’s not that I don’t like superhero movies, I do, it’s just that I’m sick to death of seeing women typecast into the roles of either the damsel in distress (Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man), the love interest (Pepper Potts in Iron Man), or the underrepresented, underdeveloped side character (Black Widow in The Avengers). However, after so many years of male dominated stories, Marvel have finally paired up with Netflix to bring to life the TV series Jessica Jones, starring Krysten Ritter as the titular character, only the second ever solo female-led property in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, after Agent Carter which was released earlier in the same year. It’s about time we get to see a woman take center stage, as a superhero in her own right, and Marvel does a fantastic job – constructing a well-written, beautifully shot series whose main character breaks free from and destroys the previously constructed mould of female representation in the superhero genre.

The series follows Jessica Jones, a private investigator who also possesses superhuman abilities, as she slinks through a dark and grimy New York, exposing cheating spouses and investigating missing persons. As soon as Jessica is introduced she is immediately distinguishable from the limited other female characters to grace the genre. Not only does she have a voice, but it is her voice and perspective that the story is told through, via the use of voice over narration, and the way in which the plot is revolved almost entirely around her and her interactions. She is also presented in dark jeans, boots and a baggy hooded jumper – a far cry from the skin-tight costumes often used to objectify and sexualise women of the superhero genre.

Jessica Jones is instead a strong female character, who is both intelligent, sarcastic, emotional, tough and vulnerable – offering a complex representation of femininity that has been missing from the genre for so many years. She is a rough around the edges, quick witted, sarcastic young woman who says what she likes whenever she likes. In the story she also suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after being psychologically, emotionally and physically abused by a man named Killgrave who possesses the power of mind control. The flashbacks that still haunt her reveal her to be a very vulnerable and damaged individual who often resorts to alcohol to make it through the day. However, they also prove how strong and unbelievably brave she is, as even when she is flooded with these traumatic visions, she casts aside her own fear and distress in order to save another girl who is being held captive by Killgrave’s power. She is flawed and vulnerable yet at the same time incredibly strong and heroic – an expertly written, multidimensional female character.

On top of this, the show is also laden with smart, independent, well-developed secondary female characters. Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), Jessica’s best friend, is a self-sufficient woman who runs her own talk show. She is vary caring and compassionate, but don’t let that fool you into thinking she’s vulnerable – taking up intense self defense training means she doesn’t need a man or even Jessica to protect her! Jessica’s boss, Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), is also a powerful female character who works as a lawyer for her company ‘Hogarth, Chao and Benowitz’ in a role that was originally written as male in the comic books. She is also the first queer character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, signifying an important step towards greater diversity in the representation of sexuality and gender within this genre.

Aside from being an entertaining, well-crafted work of television, Jessica Jones also marks a considerable milestone in the representation of women in the superhero genre. The show is filled with progressive representations of femininity which showcases well-rounded, complex female characters with agency and autonomy. I hope that Marvel, and the other comic-book giants such as DC, can continue to deliver these developed female characters that offer more than just a pretty face to the television screen.

 

 

References
Clarkson, S.J. (Director), and Rosenberg, Melissa (Creator). (2015). Jessica Jones: Episode One – AKA Ladies Night [Television Series]. USA: Tall Girls Productions, ABC Studios, Marvel Studios, and Netflix.
Hogan, Heather. (2015). ‘Jessica Jones’ Is An Awesomely, Aggressively Feminist Superhero Series. Retrieved from http://www.autostraddle.com/jessica-jones-is-a-queer-feminist-mindfck-of-superhero-tv-318123/
 Lackey, Emily. (2015). ‘Jessica Jones’ Is the Female Antihero We Need, Because Complicated Characters Are Real Characters. Retrieved from http://www.bustle.com/articles/125354-jessica-jones-is-the-female-antihero-we-need-because-complicated-characters-are-real-characters
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‘Entourage’, Male Privilege, and Blatant Sexism

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I’ve never seen an episode of the TV series Entourage, and if this new movie adaption is anything to go by I don’t believe I ever will. I don’t think I have one positive thing to say about the representation of women in the film Entourage – a highly disappointing and depressing fact. So lets just get straight into it, shall we?

Entourage (2015), written, directed and co-produced by Doug Ellin, follows the story of Vince (Adrian Grenier), his buddies commonly known as Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and E (Kevin Connolly), and his brother Johnny (Kevin Dillon), as Vince takes on a new venture to star in, and direct his first feature film – with the help of his friends of course. However, part way through the film’s production they run out of money, so the boys must tell their former agent and now studio head, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), and help him convince the film financer, and most importantly, his son Travis, to allow them some extra money. Overall, the film is about these five guys and the relationships they have, both with each other, and with the number of women who grace the film, however fleetingly.

The opening sequence of the film sees the guys travelling to a boat party to celebrate Vince’s would-be-honeymoon after he separated from his wife after only nine days of marriage. Upon approaching the enormous boat and seeing that it is overflowing with gorgeous women, dressed only in bikinis, Johnny states, “I may have to jerk it before we even get there”. Crude sentiments and attitudes such as this continue throughout the film, and reflect the gross, dehumanising way women are both viewed within the context of the film, and represented in contemporary society.

The film is filled with nameless girls either in skimpy clothes, bikinis, or nothing at all. Close-ups and lingering shots make the objectification of these women’s bodies so blatant and obvious I’m left wondering how they got away with it. The male gaze is in full force, reducing these women to their physical body parts, and rendering them objects, namely sex objects. As Johnny says, “Fun is when you forget a girl’s name while your fucking her”. Har Har Har. In case you can’t tell, that’s a sarcastic laugh – the laugh of someone whose dying inside at the thought that people could actually find that funny in today’s day and age. I find it equally saddening, worrying and disgusting that the men in this film only seem to be able to relate to each other through discussions of female conquest, and in my opinion the attitudes expressed towards women in this film are revolting and reflect nothing more than diluted, casual misogyny.

There are a few female characters that actually get speaking lines though! Hurray! One of these characters is Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui), who was once engaged to E and is now pregnant with his child. However, she is effectively just a baby-maker, and in the end randomly gets over her issues with E and decides to recommit to their relationship. We never get to hear her explain her reasoning though – we only hear that the to are getting back together through E. The other female we hear a bit from is Emily Ratajkowski, playing herself, but she only talks about herself and her job, has no actual character arc, and is only really in the film as a cameo appearance to look good, draw in viewers and boost ratings.

Overall, Entourage is a disappointing watch that does nothing but objectify and dehumanise women into sex objects, through a film that showcases male privilege, and at the same time reduces men to shallow, materialistic, sexist characters.

 

 

References
Ellin, Doug (Director and Writer). (2015). Entourage [Motion Picture]. USA: Warner Bros, HBO and RatPac Entertainment.
 Lawler, Kelly. (2015). The best critic slams of the ‘Entourage’ movie. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/entertainthis/2015/06/06/the-best-critic-slams-of-the-entourage-movie/77513284/
 Riske, Adam. (2015). Review: Entourage. Retrieved from http://www.fthismovie.net/2015/06/review-entourage.html
 Sahagian, Sarah. (2015). We Need to Talk About Objectification of Women in the Entourage Movie. Retrieved from http://www.gender-focus.com/2015/06/10/we-need-to-talk-about-objectification-of-women-in-the-entourage-movie/

Austen, Zombies, and Warrior Women Wielding Katana Swords

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I have to confess – I’ve never actually read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but I’ve heard the basic story told time and time again, in adaptions such as Joe Wright’s 2005 film of the same name (starring Kiera Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen), and other films based around it, such as The Jane Austen Book Club (2007) directed by Robin Swicord. However, I never expected to see it done quite like I did in the film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Taking all the romance, class rivalry and relationship drama from the original, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies captures Austen’s story and infuses it with the imminent threat of a zombie apocalypse! The story is transformed into a fast-paced hybrid of drama, comedy and horror, which poses the perfect opportunity for the Bennett sisters to evolve into much more than just daughters and wives.

In the film, the sisters are re-envisioned as Shaolin warriors, exhibiting exceptional fighting skills, as time after time they save the day, crushing zombie skulls and dismembering the undead with prowess – all while still dressed in traditional Victorian dress. On top of providing a wonderful viewing spectacle, this development of the Bennett sisters does wonders for the progressive representation of women in the film – especially given the restrictions imposed by the Victorian time period. These women step outside the norms of Regency England; their fighting abilities empowering them and providing them at least one environment of equality: the battlefield. Most importantly, they maintain their femininity. Instead of being written as masculinised fighting figures, these women are complex characters, displaying both traditionally masculine and feminine traits and characteristics simultaneously, which works to disrupt traditional and contemporary gendered stereotypes. A superb example of this is when sisters Elizabeth (Lily James) and Jane (Bella Heathcote) engage in a playful and excited discussion about their potential suitors, all the while engaged in a physically violent and fierce training fight in which they kick and throw each other across the room. They are multidimensional female characters who are concerned about love and relationships, are well-presented and poised, and are also simultaneously strong, spirited, and preoccupied with saving themselves and their loved ones from the zombie apocalypse. Through the Bennett sisters the stereotype of the fickle, dependent woman is destroyed by a warrior woman wielding a katana sword!

Lily James;Bella Heathcote

In the film, Elizabeth Bennett, the lead protagonist, is written in her most feminist form to date. Following Austen’s plot line, Mrs. Bennett pushes for her daughter to get married based on perceived necessity and financial security, however, Elizabeth refuses to marry for anything other than love. She is an independent woman, perfectly content and capable of defending herself without any man by her side. Steadfast in her ideals and lifestyle she states, “I will never relinquish my sword for a ring…the right man wouldn’t ask me too”, affirming that she will not give up who she is just for the purpose of becoming a wife. It is through this sentiment that the film reinforces a narrative based on individual female empowerment and choice.

In keeping with Austen’s story, Elizabeth finally falls for Mr. Darcy, played by Sam Riley, and the film ends with the scene of their marriage. Although it may appear that in entering this marriage Elizabeth submits to the wishes of her mother, relinquishing her independence and following the prescribed social order, in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies this is not the case. Elizabeth does not marry Mr. Darcy out of necessity – she does so because she falls in love with him, and most importantly, their marriage is one of equality. In comparison to Elizabeth’s previous suitor Mr. Collins (Matt Smith) who expects her to submit to him, and give up being a warrior upon marriage, Mr. Darcy has a great respect for Elizabeth’s skills and considers them a necessity. In one of the last scenes of the film, Elizabeth actually saves Mr. Darcy from a zombie attack and carries him to safety of her horse, establishing a equality in their relationship – as Mr. Darcy has protected Elizabeth from zombies in the past – and most importantly a mutual respect, not just on the battlefield, but in their relationship as well.

Even though Pride and Prejudice and Zombies might not receive the critical acclaim that Austen’s original received, and it certainly isn’t Oscar worthy by any stretch of the imagination, it still remains an entertaining film in which we see girls kick some serious zombie ass!

 

References
Roberts, Amy. (2015). Why ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ Is The Perfect (Feminist) Date Movie. Retrieved from http://www.bustle.com/articles/118922-why-pride-and-prejudice-and-zombies-is-the-perfect-feminist-date-movie
Rogers, Alondra. (2010). Brides of Death, or How Zombies Brought Feminism to Pre-Victorian Women in Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Unpublished Research Paper). Fort Hays State University, United States.
 Steers, Burr (Director and Writer). (2016). Pride and Prejudice and Zombies [Motion Picture]. USA & UK: Cross Creek Pictures, MadRiver Pictures and QC Entertainment.
Swicord, Robin (Director and Writer). (2007). The Jane Austen Book Club [Motion Picture]. USA: Mockingbird Pictures.
 Wright, Joe (Director), and Moggach, Deborah (Writer). (2005). Pride & Prejudice [Motion Picture]. France, UK and USA: Focus Features.

‘Trainwreck’, Feminism, and the Cult of Domesticity and Monogamy

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The hugely anticipated new film by Judd Apatow has just been released, however his new film Trainwreck sees him sharing his responsibilities and handing over the film’s writing to comedian Amy Schumer – who also stars as the leading lady of the film. Schumer has made a name for herself through her Emmy-winning show Inside Amy Schumer which first aired in 2013 and is now into its fourth season. The show includes stand-up comedy, sketches, and interviews, which feature Amy’s witty social commentary regarding sex, relationships and what in means to be a woman in today’s day and age. Heralded as somewhat of an upcoming feminist icon due to her treatment of these topics and her fearlessness in exploring other often untouched subjects such as menstruation, body image and female reproductive health, Amy’s debut on the movie screen had many fans hoping for a chick-flick the would revolutionise the romantic-comedy genre.

But does Trainwreck live up to its feminist potential? I’m not so sure…

In many ways it does do a wonderful job of revamping the rom-com genre. Instead of the typical philandering male who moves from woman to woman like they’re going out of season, we alternatively see Amy, (playing a character with the same name), take on the role of the sexually free and liberated women. Amy has sex with whoever she chooses, whenever she chooses, and has a no-sleepover policy – a progressive representation from the innocent, virginal woman that has plagued the silver screen for so long.

The movie then goes even further with its reversal of gender stereotypes as Amy also takes on the role of the drinking, pot-smoking, career-focused alpha, whilst the men in the film are the sexually reserved, emotional ones, prone to over-analyzing their relationships (which we would normally see the women do right?).

It’s so refreshing to see this kind of representation on the big screen – especially in terms of the main character Amy. She’s pretty, but not beautiful, she’s an average weight, and she likes to drink and have sex – finally a representation that actually resembles a majority of modern day women! The only problem with this is that she is labeled a “trainwreck” because of it! But I’m sure that’s just in reference to her drinking right?!

The combination of having a female writer who is simultaneously the lead character also means we finally get comedy that is written for women! One of the funniest parts of the film occurs when Amy explains to her sister that she’s scared of falling for Aaron because, in her experience, something always goes wrong:

“What if I, like, forget to flush the toilet? And there’s like, a tampon in there. And not like a cute, like, ooh, it’s the last day, like a real tampon. I’m talking like a crime scene tampon, like, the Red Wedding, Game of Thrones, like a Quentin Tarantino Django, like a real motherfucker of a tampon.”

Although not usually a fan of comedies, this scene had me laughing out loud, whilst my boyfriend’s face creased into what can only be described as a mixture of confusion, concern, and perhaps trauma. For this is what Trainwreck does so well – deliver hard-hitting comedy for women about topics relevant to women. A perfect example that not only exposes the workings and functions of women’s bodies – which have for so long been withheld from representations that seek only to objectify and maintain the male gaze – but in fact shoves them right in the viewer’s face, with descriptions by Amy that are so comically accurate I couldn’t contain my laughter.

But then we get to the end half of the film which seems to undermine all the work done in the first half. After meeting Aaron (played by Bill Hader) and falling in love – something that Amy herself can’t believe and constantly jokes about – things start to change. Following the honeymoon period of the rom-com we arrive at the films conflict in which the now couple have a huge fight after Amy misses Aaron’s acceptance speech for a prestigious award to take a call from her boss who is threatening to fire her. They have a big fight and suddenly it’s revealed that Aaron isn’t so keen on Amy’s choice of vices, and consequently they decide to break up.

Amy finds herself alone and distraught, crying to her sister “I’m broken”, in reference to her sexually liberated lifestyle and her inability to maintain her relationship with Aaron. She then decides to quit drinking, drugs and her previous sexual lifestyle, in a move that can only been seen as her transformation into “proper” girlfriend/wife material, to become the girl of Aaron’s dreams. After Amy’s conversion from ‘the dark side’, the two get back together and live happily ever after in true romantic-comedy fashion.

Bleurgh! How disappointing!

This conclusion ultimately undoes everything the film sought to establish in the beginning – subverting its original depiction of Amy as strong-willed and independent, and converting her into a dependent, domesticated women. In this, the film seems to reinforce a monogamous lifestyle, as Amy is only redeemed and is only happy once she is back again with Aaron and has given up her sexual freedom. Ultimately, the film resorts back to a cult of monogamous, heteronormative, domesticated femininity that is all too common to the rom-com genre. Therefore, I think the resolution of the film leaves much to be desired, but for what its worth it was an entertaining and amusing female-led comedy.

 

 

References
Apatow, Judd (Director), and Schumer, Amy (Writer). (2015). Trainwreck [Motion Picture]. Japan and USA: Apatow Productions and Dentsu.
Flint, Hanna. (2015). Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck is funny…but is it feminist? Retrieved from http://metro.co.uk/2015/08/17/amy-schumers-trainwreck-is-funny-but-is-it-feminist-5313357/
Villarreal, Alexandra. (2015). Amy Schumer’s ‘Trainwreck’ is far from a feminist triumph. Retrieved from http://nypost.com/2015/07/23/amy-schumers-trainwreck-is-far-from-a-feminist-triumph/