By Emma Frank and Feronia Ding
Feminism in film is a grey area. Often it is hard to separate hyper-aware satire from work bombarded with the male gaze and stereotyping. We are here with our takes (opinion, not fact) on some films that stir controversy as to whether they are feminist works or not.
Majority Spoiler Free.
Superbad (2007, dir. Greg Mottola) follows a group of students over the course of 24 hours as their highschool experience is coming to a close. Their goal is to attend a huge end of year party where they plan on supplying alcohol to impress the girls they like. The entire movie is concerned with the two main characters attaining girlfriends before they head to university, however, the female characters are ungrounded, constantly objectified and a large portion of the film's humour relies on these women. Some may argue this film is a satire of these male archetypes - critiquing this obsessive and objectifying behaviour, as the main characters are not glorified. I would argue that the core of this movie was never a critique on the treatment of women as the heart of Superbad is its depiction of male friendship; the two best friends must come to terms with attending separate colleges. The sexism is largely for humour, not commentary; feminism was likely an afterthought. Superbad, although its impact is debated, is definitely still a great movie with a lot of heart, and a fun watch.
Kill Bill (Vol. 1 and 2) focus on the main character, The Bride, exacting revenge on a list of people who had wronged her. She travels across the world and kills the candidates in an epic, fast-paced, gratuitously violent tale of justice. However, a large critique of these movies is that it is “just women fighting each other violently”, alongside critiques of using tropes like “the Japanese School Girl”, using sexual violence as a character-building tool and gender-based violence during production. It should be noted that Uma Thurman, the actor who portrays The Bride, is credited for co-creating this character and is a large reason as to why the film is regarded as feminist today. Through depicting the story of a woman who is wronged by a man and will do anything to fight for the family she’s lost, Kill Bill comes to the conclusion that although The Bride is a killer, she still holds her humanity. However, it’s hard to decide whether or not this film is truly feminist when we consider that Tarantino likely did not want to push a feminist agenda, simply focused on the theatrics of women in combat. Meanwhile today, this film is often viewed as feminist, as its core is centred around the Coming of Age and journey of The Bride.
Hustlers (dir. Lorene Scafaria) was one of my favourite movies of 2019. It centres on the 2007 financial crisis. A group of once renowned strippers, under the influence of a mentor figure, take to drugging Wall Street men, allowing the women to use their bank details and thus cause them to overspend at their club. This film poetically depicts a fall from grace and often what the working class would have to do to support their family during economic hardship. Hustlers is largely a film about female relationships, and the men are an afterthought. The women face consequences for their actions, and rightfully so. However I can’t lie, it is satisfying to see these, majority POC (people of colour), women reclaim some of their power from these Wall Street men who are white, sexist, wealthy and inherent oppressors. Hustlers, although critiqued for depicting women poorly, tells a tale of solidarity among women and family, as well as coming to realise you have to let go of those you idolise.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Directed by Eliza Hittman, Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020) centres on two girls (cousins), who must travel from Pennsylvania to New York in order for Autumn, the older girl, to receive an abortion. It focuses on the supportive relationship between the two girls, exhibited in Skylar’s immediate rush to assist Autumn in obtaining the money for the abortion - even stealing from the local supermarket where the two work low-income jobs - and her insistence on accompanying Autumn on her journey. The director has stated that her intention with the film was to focus on the barriers that people with uteruses experience in acquiring abortion care in areas that aren’t big cities like New York. Skylar even says wistfully to Autumn, “Don’t you ever just wish you were a dude?”, depicting the struggle women often face when fighting for bodily autonomy and through rejecting objectification of their bodies. Ultimately, the girls run out of money and Skylar must accept the advances of a boy, whom she has no interest in, to loan enough money for the tickets. This gives way to a tender moment, where Autumn discovers Skylar kissing the boy and discreetly reaches out to hold her hand, comforting her in a time of unease.