Despite Leading the Box Office in 2017, Women Made Up Less Than a Quarter of Lead Film Roles, Down From 2016

Laurie Metcalf, Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan, lady bird, female directors, female characters study women in film

2017 was, in many ways, a standout year for women in film. Female protagonists dominated the box office and they did so in movies marketed specifically towards women, with films like Beauty and the Beast, Wonder Woman, and Girls TripThere were also plenty of critical and awards-season successes starring women, like Lady Bird and I, Tonya. But overall, the number of female leads in films last year was lower than in 2016, with women making up only 24% of sole protagonists (as opposed to an ensemble).

Every year, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University analyzes the onscreen portrayal of women in the top 100 films of the year. (They have a separate study for women’s roles behind the scenes.) They categorize characters as protagonists, major characters, speaking characters, and all characters.  2016 saw a pretty substantial uptick in the number of female protagonists, up from 22% to 29%. That fell in 2017, though, back down to only 24%. Women made up 34% of all speaking roles (up from 32% in 2016).

“Overall,” the study finds, “audiences were almost twice as likely to see male characters as female characters in 2017.”

And as you might expect, those numbers become even bleaker when we’re talking specifically about women of color onscreen. In 2017, 68% of all female characters were white. While that’s down from 76% in 2016, it still doesn’t leave much room for representation for WOC. In 2017, 68% of all female characters with speaking roles were white, 16% were black, 7% were Latinx, 7% were Asian, and 2% were other ethnicities.

So of the already low 34% of speaking roles afforded to women, 16% of those went to black women. That means that in total, barely 5% of total speaking roles (whether that be a single line or more) were played by black women. 2% were Latinx or Asian women. Those numbers decrease when looking at “major” characters and, presumably, protagonists, although the study didn’t even include those numbers. That’s abysmal. 2016’s dip in representation notwithstanding, the number of female protagonists have increased dramatically over the last few years. But that can’t just be representation for white women. Representation, like feminism at large, must be intersectional or it is meaningless.

There are other troubling statistics in the study, like the age demographics of female characters (the majority were in their 20s, while male characters were mostly in their 30s), or their lack of professional occupations (44% of female characters were seen in work-related roles, compared to 65% of men). But there was one point of analysis that seemed encouraging: what happens to onscreen representation when there is a woman behind the scenes in some way.

The study finds that “In films with at least one woman director and/or writer, females comprised 45% of protagonists. In films with exclusively male directors and/or writers, females accounted for 20% of protagonists.” It’s even more disappointing, then, that women only made up 11% of film directors last year (up from 7% the year before that), and 11% of writers (down from 13%).

This is why representation among directors and writers is so important. Sure, men can make movies about women, but look at how much changes when just one woman is involved. Women are not just much more likely to make a movie about a woman, but when there is no female protagonist, the gender disparity increases exponentially, trickling down into a lack of supporting and speaking roles. For example, only 32% of films featured 10 or more women with speaking roles. Compare that to 79% of films featuring 10 or more speaking males. I would assume those numbers are similar to films with directors and writers of color.

Given the success of 2017’s women-led movies, not to mention the spotlight on Hollywood’s #MeToo and #TimesUp efforts highlighting the systemic devaluing of women, I’m eager to see what these numbers look like this time next year. In the meantime, this is a good reminder for all of us that is we want to see more female- and POC-led films, we have to support them at the box office. So go out there and see some movies.

(image: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

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Ryan Coogler, Michael B. Jordan, & Ta-Nehisi Coates Are Already Planning Their Next Movie Together

ryan coogler michael b jordan ta-nehisi coates wrong answer new movie (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan have a history of collaboration that goes far beyond Wakanda, having worked together on Fruitvale Station and Creed. Now they’ve announced a new film, titled Wrong Answer, about the 2006 Atlanta public school scandal regarding teachers cheating on standardized tests.

The film will be written by the brilliant Ta-Nehisi Coates. And even though Coates wasn’t directly involved in the Black Panther film, his run on the comic book series was a major influence on the movie. So I think we can consider this a roundabout Wakandan reunion.

In 2014, Rachel Aviv wrote a New Yorker article about the cheating, which will reportedly serve as the source material for the film. I remember reading it when it came out, but revisiting it now, years later, is no less upsetting. Not upsetting because of what the teachers did, but because of the system in which they were operating.

This was after No Child Left Behind was passed, which required students to meet certain levels on standardized tests or risk being shut down. In theory, yes, students should pass tests to prove they’re learning. But the act was heavily criticized for creating a national standard with no consideration for varying circumstances and no rewards for genuine but slow improvement. The middle school teachers at the center of this particular story described receiving incoming students from an elementary school that allegedly inflated their scores. These teachers, then, had to choose between inflating their own or being shut down.

The principal at that school described the district as “increasingly ‘corporate,’ with every school focussed on the ‘bottom line.’”

Math teacher Damany Lewis is the central figure in the article. He and others are said to have “complained that the legislators who wrote No Child Left Behind must never have been near a school like Parks.” Aviv goes on to say “He felt as if he and his colleagues were part of a nationwide ‘biological experiment’ in which the variables—the fact that so many children were hungry and transient, and witnessing violence—hadn’t been controlled.

Another educator said, “The people who say poverty is no excuse for low performance are now using teacher accountability as an excuse for doing nothing about poverty.”

Lewis was 29 at the time, and likely the character Jordan will be playing. The article paints a picture of a man who cares about his students to an astounding degree, as well as a man who plainly great at his job.

The article, which is an important, if painful, read, illustrates the connection between kids’ low test scores and growing despondency. Lewis decided to steal a test to see if he’d been prepping his students with the right material. “Flipping through its pages,” Aviv writes, “he felt proud of how much material he had covered that year.

“Without even reading the question, I could tell you just by the shape of the graph, ‘Oh, my kids know that,’ ” he told me. He put the test in his fireplace once he’d confirmed that he had taught the necessary concepts. But he worried that his students would struggle with questions that were delivered in paragraph form. Some of his seventh-grade students were still reading by sounding out the letters. It seemed unfair that the concepts were “buried in words.” Lewis felt that he had pushed them to work harder than they ever had in their lives. “I’m not going to let the state slap them in the face and say they’re failures,” he told me. “I’m going to do everything I can to prevent the why-try spirit.”

So he went beyond stealing a test, to actually changing some of his students’ answers.

At the end of the testing week, Lewis went back to the testing office with Crystal Draper, a language-arts teacher. For about an hour, they erased wrong answers and bubbled in the right ones. They exchanged no words. Lewis couldn’t even look at her. “I couldn’t believe what we’d been reduced to,” he said. He tried to stay focussed on the mechanics of the work: he took care to change, at most, one or two answers for every ten questions. “I had a minor in statistics, and it’s not that hard to figure out windows of probability,” he told me. Many students were on the cusp of passing, and he gave them a little nudge, so that they would pass by one or two points.

A month later, when the scores came back, Waller told the students to gather in the hallway outside the cafeteria, where there was a spread of ice cream, pizza, and hot wings. A teacher announced, “You did it! You finally made it!” For the first time since the passage of No Child Left Behind, Parks had met its annual goals: the percentage of eighth graders who passed rose thirty-one points in reading and sixty-two points in math. “Everyone was jumping up and down,” Neekisia Jackson, a student, said. “It was like our World Series, our Olympics.” She went on, “We had heard what everyone was saying: Y’all aren’t good enough. Now we could finally go to school with our heads held high.”

I can’t wait to see Coogler, Jordan, and Coates take on this story. It’s a dark, complicated point in our country’s history, and they’re exactly the minds to take it on. My only hope is that while these three names are getting the spotlight now, that Coogler include as many women as possible in the process, both in front of the camera and behind. (Especially since elementary and middle school teacher is reportedly the most common occupation among American women. Let’s not let them be left out of this important story.) Though, given Coogler’s incredible dedication to women’s representation in Black Panther, we have confidence that that won’t be an issue.

(via Variety, image: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

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So, About That Live-Action Fullmetal Alchemist Movie on Netflix

full metal alchemist

[Spoilers for the live-action Fullmetal Alchemist]

The long-running saga of Fullmetal Alchemist, told in manga and anime, is one of the best-known properties of its kind, with ardent fans who have loved it for whole decades. It was always going to be difficult to condense such a vast and complicated world into two hours, not to mention the nearly 100% failure rate of anime-to-live movie adaptations. Can this movie please the faithful and newcomers alike?

Fullmetal Alchemist frequently tops polls as the most popular anime(s) of all time, so it’s fair to say director Fumihiko Sori had quite the project to undertake in bringing it to the big screen. I watched the movie last night and enjoyed it—but I’m very far from a Fullmetal Alchemist purist (more of a dabbler), and the mix of opinion where the movie’s concerned is already stark.

There are only 5 critic reviews at current on Rotten Tomatoes, and they aren’t promising on their own. The movie has a 20% rating from that handful of critics. However, the fan rating from 210 people is a solid 72%. There’s clearly a disparity between what critics and viewers see when they take a look at Fullmetal Alchemist.

Fullmetal Alchemist behaves less like cinema than cosplay on a cinema budget,” sniffs the Daily Telegraph, while Screen International says, more reasonably, “There’s plenty to work with, but it rushes between emotional speeches and showdowns.” (It’s true that the film has more than its fair amount of exposition, and tangled plot points that left me saying, “What?” out loud.) IGN concludes, succinctly, “Fullmetal Alchemist has some good things going for it, but needs to fix the leaks and sputtering in the narrative’s engine.”

fullmetal alchemist anime

If you’re new to FullMetal Alchemist, the central plot is set up in the movie’s first few minutes. In a fictional European country where alchemy is an advanced form of science, brothers Edward (Ryosuke Yamada) and Alphonse (Atom Mizuishi) learn the art in an attempt to bring their mother back from the dead, but their plan goes awry (to put it mildly).

Years later, as we meet a grown-up Ed, now an advanced and highly skilled alchemist, the results from that catastrophic attempt at human transmutation are seen: Ed lost an arm and a leg, replaced with metal limbs, and Al lost his entire body. Ed managed to save his brother’s soul by binding it to a massive suit of armor, a feat of special effects that the movie pulls off well. Now Ed is on a quest for the fabled Philosopher’s stone in his ceaseless pursuit to restore Al’s proper body.

Not only does Al’s armored body look every inch like the animated Al, but the effects are good enough that there were several times that I forgot we were dealing with CGI and really looked at that suit of armor as the wounded and disembodied Al. Many other essential characters are here, looking picture-perfect in their actorly incarnations—Winry, Roy Mustang, Maes Hughes, Maria Ross, the Homunculi, Tucker and more. (Yes, Nina and Alexander, too. And yes, the movie goes there.)

fullmetal alchemist

But these characters aren’t embodied without significant problems that need to be called out. As IGN highlights:

It doesn’t bode well for feminists that Winry Rockbell (played by Tsubasa Honda) – the brothers’ childhood friend and ace metalsmith – is reduced to that of typical helpmate instead of the fierce individual in the original manga. And Yasuko Matsuyuki as Lust is pretty much a stereotypical evil hottie with extending claws and CG-enhanced cleavage.

Yuppppp. Not only are these choices for the female characters hugely disappointing, but the casting, particularly for Ed, who has to carry a lot of this movie on his shoulders, doesn’t exactly feel award-winning. (Although Dean Fujioka as Roy Mustang wins every award from me.)

fullmetal alchemist

Where this version really won me over is with its compelling effects and worldbuilding. It’s hard to translate the madcap randomness and outrageousness of anime action into, well, real life, but Sori gives it a spirited go. Pillars crash through the walls from nowhere and walls rise up from the ground, Colonel Mustang can snap and set a lot of things on fire with ease, and even when the effects are a little silly rather than scary—a certain scene of army-building towards the end—it’s still fun to watch. Everything is appropriately over-the-top.

After the disastrous recent efforts to translate popular anime to the big screen like Avatar and Ghost in the ShellFullmetal Alchemist is very far from a disaster, but it’s a bit too confusing to be brilliant. It can, however, be not-boring and touching and an engaging way to pass an evening. The scenes of Ed at the Gate of Truth alone were enough to earn this movie another .5 of a metallic brother from me.

Crucially, Fullmetal Alchemist solves the problem of whitewashing anime when it hits the big screen easily and smoothly, showing just how unnecessary whitewashed casting has been in the past. The actors are Japanese, the language is Japanese, and the setting in the backdrop can still be a fantasy Europe. When a character is blond—like Ed—they simply have blond hair. No muss, no fuss.

I think it’s possible that people entirely new to Fullmetal Alchemist might enjoy the live-action take more than longtime fans. It’s hard not to dwell on everything that’s being left out or condensed in the plot when you know how long and multilayered the history is, but those approaching with fresh eyes will find a world full of magic, strange creatures, and a military conspiracy to be untangled.

Existing fans should still be tickled to see this world and its inhabitants come to life so vividly, even if they’re just going to go online to tear each scene apart and argue what the filmmakers got right or wrong here. The debate is already raging, and since the movie very much leaves open the option for a sequel, we might be talking about this for a long time.

Have you seen the movie yet? What did you think?

(images: Netflix)

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One of the Best-Acted Scenes in Black Panther Didn’t Make the Final Cut

Cropped poster of Danai Gurira as Okoye in Marvel's

It’s hard to believe that Black Panther could be any more a perfect nugget of a film than it already is, but apparently one of the best-acted scenes in the film, an absolute favorite of director Ryan Coogler’s, nonetheless had to be cut from the movie. **SPOILERS FOR BLACK PANTHER**

The romantic relationship between Okoye (played by The Walking Dead‘s goddess-queen Danai Gurira), a member of the Dora Milaje, and W’Kabi (played by Get Out‘s awesome Daniel Kaluuya) of the Border Tribe was an important element in Black Panther. Both characters were fiercely loyal to T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) at the beginning of the film, with Okoye being one of his sworn protectors, and W’Kabi being one of his best friends.

However, that all changes with the arrival of Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) to challenge the throne. At first, Okoye and W’Kabi seem to be on the same side, with both supporting Killmonger’s ascent to the throne through Wakanda’s challenge ritual. Okoye, as a Dora Milaje, is honor-bound to protect whoever sits on the throne of Wakanda. W’Kabi, on the other hand, was disillusioned by his friend when T’Challa failed to kill Ulysses Klaue, who among other things killed W’Kabi’s parents, but Killmonger brought Klaue to Wakanda in a body bag, doing what neither T’Challa nor his father could do.

However, when T’Challa, who’s presumed dead, returns, invalidating the results of the challenge, Okoye recognizes him as the still-current king and fights for him gratefully (despite her duty, she was not happy about this Killmonger dude). Her feelings for T’Challa are about more than her honor as a Dora Milaje. It’s about recognizing him as their true king for the qualities he possesses, his potential for true wisdom, his ease in dealing with others in a compassionate way.

And there’s a brilliant, if brief moment toward the end of the film where Okoye has to confront W’Kabi, and reveals just how far she will go to defend Wakanda and its king. It’s powerful precisely because they love each other so much. But Okoye isn’t about her own pride. She loves Wakanda more.

In an interview with Empire Magazine’s podcast, Black Panther executive producer Nate Moore talked about some of the things that didn’t make the cut of the film. Moore talked about one scene in particular, between Okoye and W’Kabi, that he and Coogler fought to keep in the film until the very last second, when test screenings revealed that despite its brilliance on its own, the scene slowed the pacing of the movie down.

He says:

“So in the film it is more than hinted at that they’re a couple, but there is a scene directly after Killmonger takes the throne where you hear both characters articulate their point of view as to why they should or shouldn’t follow this man and it’s one of the most well-acted scenes I’ve ever been a part of.

Unfortunately it occurred at a point in the movie where audiences just wanted to get to the resolution and so it slowed down a part of the movie and we were afraid audiences were checking out. We were also afraid if we took it out we’re going to ruin this movie—‘guys we’re going to ruin this movie; let’s not take it out.’ We didn’t take it out for three or four screenings and we finally took it out and I think Ryan and I were probably the last men on that beach saying don’t take it out.”

I have no doubt that Gurira and Kaluuya brought their “A” acting games to every frame they were in. While I’m sorry that I didn’t get to see this exchange in the film, this is what things like Blu-ray extras are for!

(via Jezebel, image: Marvel)

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Mom Is a Futurist Engineer in the Trailer for Netflix’s Lost In Space

Netflix has dropped the new trailer for Lost In Space, their upcoming adaptation of the 1960s science fiction series. While the original has been remembered for its bright colors, fantasy-inspired plots, and alliterative insults for robots, this new series looks like it’ll take itself rather seriously.

“Humankind evolves,” Molly Parker’s character, Maureen Robinson, says in the trailer. “It’s how we survive. Through ice ages, plagues, wars, disasters from above. We adapt our skills, our languages, our very bodies, in order to live. Earth is our home, but only so long as it keeps us safe. When this world can no longer serve that purpose, another planet, another colony, another chance. The rest of human history begins now.”

As the trailer comes to a close, young Will Robinson takes one last, mournful look at Earth as the spaceship door closes. Then, in the last few seconds of the trailer, it all goes awry.

I’m curious to see what the tone of this series will be. Based on this trailer, it seems to take itself relatively seriously, but whether that seriousness will be used to promote futurism—look at all the amazing things this family sees!—or instead, to warn against technological adventurism—we never should have gotten on this spaceship!—I can’t quite tell at the moment. The Hollywood Reporter hypothesizes that it will have a “lighter” feel and “an optimistic tone,” but they haven’t seen the episodes either.

I do appreciate that it looks like Parker will get to play the “Reed Richards role in the family. While Toby Stephens’ John Robinson is still described as the “expedition commander,” Parker’s Maureen Robinson is described as the “fearless and brilliant aerospace engineer who makes the decision to bring her family to space for a chance at a new life on a better world.” Her monologue in this trailer, delivered with a satisfied smile, seems to confirm her characterization as the optimistic futurist. (Who accidentally leads her family into chaos, but hey!) It’s nice to see mothers given this sort of ambition, vision, and fallibility in our TV series.

Lost in Space arrives on Netflix on April 13, 2018.

(via The Hollywood Reporter; image: screengrab)

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Jennifer Lawrence’s Comments About Dress Backlash Remind Us That Feminism Isn’t Just About Individual Choice

'Red Sparrow' - Photocall JLAw

Jennifer Lawrence is annoyed at people who are making an issue about her wearing a dress for her London photocall premiere, while her male co-stars were all in coats, boots, and other “weather appropriate” wear.

As someone who does their best to wear crop-tops all year round (thank you high waisted pants) I understand wanting to wear something that makes you look good regardless of weather. However, the larger issue that is raised with Lawrence post is the “feminism”  vs. choice issue.

Just because something is your choice doesn’t make it feminist. And that’s okay. Not everything a woman does needs to be rooted in feminism, but we also need to recognize that just because we make choices doesn’t mean there aren’t issues with those choices that are outside of our control.

While we say things like “all women should be feminists” and that is totally true, feminism is not always easy or comfortable, especially when we go beyond things black and white issues like equal pay and sexual autonomy into the much less tangible issue of internalized patriarchy and how even the most enlightened of us still fall into traps. Having autonomy doesn’t mean you can’t sometimes do subconsciously sexist things that have been normalized.

I’m not saying this to say that JLaw or women are “brainwashed” but part of feminism, at least in the academic sphere, is learning about how we don’t make choices in a vacuum. We don’t burst into the world fully formed, we take in expectations. I didn’t feel insecure about my gap tooth, my kinky hair, and my blemishes until I saw everyone around me finding ways to change it. Unless you have real dental needs for it, what is really the point of getting braces or veneers if not so that you have “perfect” teeth? It is about beauty standards, and just because it makes you feel good, doesn’t mean that the origin goes away.

It’s not easy to be told that things we do, even things we find empowering or love doing like wearing makeup, heels, really boss-looking Versace gowns are not inherently “feminist.” Yet, I still spend a good chunk of my check on Fenty Beauty because good foundation makes me feel good. Do I do it intentionally to attract someone? No. Is the purpose of makeup to make yourself more attractive and therefore more aligned with beauty standards? Yes. That, of course, doesn’t mean we should attack women who feel empowered by makeup, but not everything that empowers us is intrinsically feminist. And again that’s okay. The important thing is to be aware.

Ariana Damavandi puts in well in her article in FEM magazine:

So sure, a woman may choose to wear make-up and that can be a feminist method of self-expression, but often times the “choice” women make to wear it is rooted in the desire to conform to patriarchal beauty standards. The same goes for shaving and most other beauty rituals, which all serve to reinforce the same narrow and oppressive idea of femininity.

If rejecting a social norm that’s rooted in misogyny results in social ousting and shaming, the choice of opting out becomes more difficult or even impossible. The word “choice” then becomes a misnomer, because for those in a given society, most options are narrow and predefined by their respective power structure. This is especially true for oppressed groups, whose decision-making is rooted in minimizing cost and surviving, rather than simple toss-ups between wearing a skirt or pants to the office.

So, does Jennifer Lawrence looks amazing in that gown? 100 percent, and she should wear whatever she wants. However, it is not sexist to point out that she is wearing a gown and heels in cold weather, while all her male co-stars are wearing comfortable clothes. It is not about Jennifer Lawrence, is the pressure that women feel to dress up and look good in heels and dresses to events, only to walk in seeing their male co-workers in sneakers, jeans, Converse and sometimes even basketball shorts.

Embed from Getty Images

I understand the defensive nature of Lawrence’s post. No one likes being told that the choices they make are not their own and I even understand being confused as to how discussing her dress is a “feminist” issue,  but that’s the thing about feminism it is not just about any individual woman. It is about a collective and while choice feminism is, in a way, allowing more women to be comfortable with the label of feminist without feeling stifled, the truth is that feminism is supposed to challenge you. It is a process of always learning and always growing and most importantly, looking beyond any one individual’s choice.

(via Mic, image: John Phillips/John Phillips/Getty Images)

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Let’s Celebrate Thor: Ragnarok‘s Digital Release With Some Movie Gags

thor ragnarok

You can finally watch Thor: Ragnarok in the comfort of your own home, and the digital edition comes chockful of bloopers, shorts, and deleted scenes—including one with … Yondu?

Marvel put out a new promo for the movie’s digital release today, which shows some new bloopers and gags and highlights Ragnarok‘s delightful, bizarre comic sensibility.

I never knew how much I needed to see Cate Blanchett in a motion capture suit dragging Chris Hemsworth across the floor, or Chris Hemsworth in full Thor gladiator gear playing air guitar, but there we go.

The digital edition’s extras feature a very out-of-left-field cameo: everyone’s favorite Ravager/dad figure Yondu in an unlikely appearance. has the details:

The scene in question comes in the middle of a public execution on Asgard. Skurge (Karl Urban) is about to kill an Asgardian woman for opposing Hela (Cate Blanchett), when all of a sudden someone from the crowd yells for him to stop.

In front of a blue screen, Yondu pushes through the crowd, wearing his sunglasses and Ravager jacket. He stops the execution to ask where Kevin and Lou’s offices are. Once he’s pointed in the right direction, he tells Skurge to proceed with what he’s doing, and the extras standing behind him begin to laugh.

yondu in thor ragnarok

(screengrab via Studios)

Since Yondu is dead as of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (no, I didn’t watch it again the other night and cry about him a lot, why do you ask?) this was clearly set up as a fun gag from the start. Still, for Michael Rooker to get into full costume just for an extended Marvel in-joke—that’s dedication.

I can’t wait until the full gag reel officially makes its way to the Internets, but in case your appetite for Ragnarok is whetted, please watch this other gag reel released a little while ago and hosted by the ringmaster of the wonderful, colorful Thor 3 circus, Taika Waititi. Seriously, even just his voiceover during the opening Marvel credits alone is worth your click.

And if you missed it, here’s the new “Team Darryl” short starring Jeff Goldblum:

You can buy the movie right now: Thor: Ragnarok (With Bonus Content) or, if you’re more of a hold-it-in-your-hands type, the DVD/Blu-ray will be out March 6th, which is right around the corner.

I haven’t been shy about this being one of my absolute favorite movies of the year (and possibly ever) so if you didn’t make it to the theater for Ragnarok, trust me in that it will make for a worthy night at home. If the madcap humor isn’t your cup of tea, it helps that the movie as a whole is just stunning to look at. Plus you’ve got family melodrama, badass women, friends from work, and Jeff Goldblum playing Jeff Goldblum ruling a dissolute planet in outer space.

See you on Sakaar!

(via, image: Marvel Studios)

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What Feminist Ideas Can We Explore in … 10 Cloverfield Lane? Part Two.

image: Paramount John Goodman Mary Elizabeth Winstead John Gallagher Jr. 10 Cloverfield Lane

So, when I said “tomorrow” at the end of my first Cloverfield article, what I really meant was when I damn well feel like it. So, let’s strap in, kids! Let’s talk feminist ideas in 10 Cloverfield Lane, the crown jewel (so far!) of the Cloverfield series/franchise/whatever-the-hell-it-is. And let’s also talk about Michelle, played by the fantastic Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who has become one of my all-time favorite genre film heroines. **SPOILERS FOR 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE**

image: Paramount Mary Elizabeth Winstead 10 Cloverfield Lane

Part 2: 10 Cloverfield Lane, or On Abuse, Escape, and Nuanced Women

I mentioned in my last piece that I couldn’t help but notice that the writers and directors of all three Cloverfield films so far have been male. The fourth, too, now that we know that Overlord, the zombie WWII movie Bad Robot’s had in the works for a while is a Cloverfield film (Julius Avery directs, and it’s written by Billy Ray).

So, it would take some conscious effort on the part of all these gentlemen to at the very least, if they must deliver a male POV, give us nuanced female characters. Thankfully, writers Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and La La Land writer/director Damien Chazelle have given us a wonderful one in Michelle, with director Dan Trachtenberg skillfully showcasing some of a woman’s worst fears.

Michelle, the Escape Artist

We meet Michelle as she’s quickly packing her things in a panic, constantly looking out the window and finally hurrying out the door, getting into her car, and driving away as fast as she can. We know from her phone that she’s dodging someone with a man’s name. Someone who wants her back home immediately. Her fleeing has all the earmarks of a woman leaving an abusive relationship, and this is conveyed purely through the actions in the scene and Winstead’s finely-etched performance. There’s no lingering shots of a black eye, no looking in a mirror at a fat lip. You just get the vibe of what’s going on.

Interesting then that she escapes one abusive situation only to find herself another.

After a truck hits a car and sends her flying, she wakes up chained to a mattress on the floor in a locked room, connected to an IV drip. Turns out, a dude named Howard “found” her out on the road after her accident and “saved” her. Nice, right? Well sure … if she weren’t chained to a bed and locked in a room. To compound matters, when she asks to leave, Howard says she can’t leave. Not because he doesn’t want to let her, mind you, but because there’s been an “attack” while she was unconscious, and the air is now unbreathable/radioactive/something-something.

Thankfully, she doesn’t have to spend time in this underground bunker alone with Howard. However, she’s the only woman down there. There’s another dude named Emmett, a neighbor who claims to have seen the attack happen and actually fought his way into the bunker, because he saw that Howard was prepared.

And so, right in the set-up of this thriller/horror/monster movie that the most frightening, tense, and unsafe situation for a woman to be in is trapped with men. Because let’s remember how we first met Michelle. She was escaping from an abusive man, but she had a way out. Here, she doesn’t.

But just because she doesn’t have a way out doesn’t mean she doesn’t try to find one. From the moment she wakes up chained to her mattress, she makes attempts at escape. One gets a sense of how long she may have planned the escape she eventually took in the beginning of the film: waiting to save enough money to be able to run, waiting for the right time when the man in her life wasn’t home, waiting to have a safe destination on the other end of her escape.

Down in this bunker, even at her most calm and complacent, she is constantly casing the joint, testing limits, making breaks for it when she can. She never fully accepts that this is the way it’s going to be for her, and that is the key to her ultimate survival. Thinking back on viewing the film for the first time, I realize that I never really thought she was in danger. I obviously was on the edge of my seat for much of it, but I don’t think it ever occurred to me that she wouldn’t end up leaving the bunker. She’d escaped before, she could escape again. It’d only be a matter of time.

A Non-Sexual Male Gaze

Usually, when we talk about the male gaze, we talk about it in terms of objectifying or sexualizing women. One of the things that I think is the most feminist about 10 Cloverfield Lane is that I never felt like the filmmaker was getting his jollies. Yes, Michelle sometimes wore a tank top, but that was the extent of skin we saw. There were no lingering shots of her body, no gratuitous shower scenes, and no gratuitous love interest subplot between Michelle and Emmett.

There’s even a moment when Michelle asks to go to the bathroom (watch it in the video above), and Howard escorts her to the one she’s allowed to use. It’s in his bedroom, and it doesn’t have a door, but it does have a curtain. She’s understandably unnerved to have to go to the bathroom with him standing only a few feet away, but from his perspective, he’s doing that for his own safety, because he can’t trust that she won’t “burn the place down.”

His insistence then culminates with an exasperated, “I’m not some pervert. Just go.” And he rolls his eyes as if her being worried about something like that is the most ludicrous thing in the world. More ludicrous than preparing for doomsday, for example.

Moments like this show that you can have a female character in peril in a film without exploiting her, or exploiting the actress playing her, sexually. Watching 10 Cloverfield Lane made me think about how many other movies of this type would rely on tired tropes like villain leering or rape/assault-as-subplot. But Michelle never faces anything like that from either Howard or Emmett.

Emmett is entirely on her side the whole time, supports her in her escape efforts (paying the ultimate price for it, and dying to further her story in a reversal of the Women in Refrigerators trope), and most importantly, believes her when she says something is wrong. Not once does he try anything sexual with her. It’s just not a thing this film concerns itself with.

As for Howard …

image: Paramount 10 Cloverfield Lane Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Examining the Infantilization of Women

Howard’s interest in Michelle isn’t in any way sexual, but that doesn’t mean it’s not gendered, and it certainly isn’t any less gross. Seemingly trying to replace his daughter Megan, who was taken away by his ex-wife (who didn’t seem to appreciate his obsession with preparing for the end of the world), Howard has the bad habit of capturing women and forcing them to live in a very particular version of a “wholesome” family home.

One of the first things I noticed as I watched the film (other than Mary Elizabeth’s Winstead’s badassery and John Goodman’s brilliant creepiness) was the fact that Michelle was always subtly in pink, or pink light, whereas Emmett was always in blue. Michelle in “girly” colors and Emmett in “boy” colors, hinting at Howard’s simplistic view of gender, and his desire to have a young daughter to protect.

This is a film that features a woman with her skin burning off, a dude in a vat of acid, and aliens being exploded from the inside (in one of the most bananas film endings ever), and yet the most chilling moment to me in the film was a scene in which the three characters are sitting around playing a game where they take turns getting each other to guess a word before a timer goes off.

When Emmett’s turn comes around to have to make Howard guess, Emmett points to Michelle and says “Michelle is a ….” waiting for Howard to fill in the blank. Howard’s responses? Girl. Little lady. Princess. Girl. 

He cannot bring himself to say the correct answer: “Woman.”

That’s when I lost my shit, because it’s in that moment that I knew how far gone Howard actually is. He looks at Michelle and only sees his pseudo-daughter. He only sees a girl. And he’s determined to keep her a girl for the entire film, going to great, horrific lengths to do so.

Kinda symbolic, huh? That, in order to treat women a certain way, in order for a man to be capable of doing what Howard does to her in this movie, he has to take away her agency by making her not an adult. This grown woman needs to be thought of as a child, because it’s okay to tell children what to do, and as long as he doesn’t think of her as an adult, all of this is okay and justified.

Howard isn’t a pedophile, but he is something pretty terrible: he’s a misogynist who feels entitlement over a woman’s body. What’s fascinating about how this is presented in this film is precisely the fact that it’s not sexual. We’ve seen that before. This film shows that there are many ways in which men claim ownership of women, and they don’t all have to do with sex.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a fascinating look at the ways in which sexism impacts women’s lives … with a monster movie tacked on. (Seriously, though, the ending is bananas. And never underestimate the importance of DIY fashion, y’all!) It proves that making women the leads of genre films doesn’t have to involve them running around half-naked, screaming, or with any body parts jiggling. These films can be smart and substantive, even while being hella fun, and can deliver female characters that feel like people.

Feminist Lesson from 10 Cloverfield Lane: Men can be sexist and threatening even without bringing sex into the equation. 

Up next time: The Cloverfield Paradox.

If you want to check out my #CloverfieldNewbie Cloverfield Marathon, where I watched all three films in this unique franchise for the first time, you can check out the play-by-play of my reactions over at my Instagram, where there are short video reviews and a highlighted story called Cloverfield Noob.

(image: Paramount)

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Things We Saw Today: The Alt-Right Loves Black Panther so Much They Want to Make It About Trump

image: Film Frame ©Marvel Studios 2018 Marvel Studios' BLACK PANTHER..T'Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)

Denial. It is vast and deep, especially for the people at Breitbart who, in their write up of Black Panther called it a “pro-Trump extravaganza.” Now I don’t know how you can call a movie in which the ruler of a world power decided it important to open his borders and share his resources with poor brown people a “pro-Trump extravaganza?” But I guess that is what happens when even people who dislike black people and “shit-hole” countries see a movie that is so badass featuring people they would hate in any other circumstances.

Black Panther is so good, that it makes racists endorse it. You can’t buy that kind of praise.

  • Looks like I’m going to have to eat my hat and watch the 8th season of Charmed because they just cast a Latina as one of the sisters. This is already more than I could have expected from the reboot. Just keep Julie Plec away from this. We’ve seen how she’s treated POC witches in the past. #Justice4Bonnie (via Variety)
  • During a cold London day, the cast of Red Sparrow did a photocall with Jennifer Lawrence dressed in deep v-cut and thigh-slit black dress while her male co-stars all had coats, black boots, and multiple layers.

  • Black Panther is not only winning at the box office, but it is also giving people prime engagement opportunities! (via HuffPo)
  • Penguin Books will be launching a Like a Woman bookstore, will be a pop-up that runs March 5 to 9 in Shoreditch, London. It will only be selling books written by women. This is being done to mark 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, which gave women in England the right to vote. (via Jezebel)
  • The Last Jedi was already a very long movie and apparently, the Blu-ray release will include 14 deleted scenes. Hopefully, it isn’t more Reylo forceskype chats. (via Slashfilm)

Have you ever tried to force a movie to fit your political agenda even though it is clearly advocating the opposite?

(image: Marvel/Disney Studios)

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Wait, Did Chris Evans Confirm That a Black Widow Movie Is Coming?

Marvel keeps a tight lid on its secrets, but it seems like Captain America himself may have just let one slip. In a recent interview, Chris Evans was discussing the unstoppable nature of the Marvel machine in relation to Black Panther’s success and future projects, and “Black Widow” was one of the names he casually rattled off.

Speaking to ET Canada over the weekend about Black Panther’s incredible weekend at the box office—which has only grown since we first started talking about it—Evans said, “There’s nothing they can’t do, man. And I’m sure it’s gonna have the exact same effect when Captain Marvel comes out, and then the Black Widow movie comes out … Marvel just has the winning recipe.”

But did he really mean it? It’s hard to tell, because he’s been a proponent of Marvel making that movie happen in the past, so it could be that he’s just speaking hypothetically—especially when a tentative Black Widow movie has been talked about by others within Marvel for years. However, Variety recently reported that a writer had been hired for the project, although it still hasn’t officially gotten the full green light from the studio.

Evans more than likely knows about that news and maybe other behind-the-scenes developments that we’re not aware of yet, and even if the movie still isn’t a sure thing at this point, it could already be in his mind. Or maybe he’s just trying to push Marvel into it by acting like everyone already knows it’s coming, which would be about the 18 millionth thing for us to love about him, and we very much support that strategy. Or he really does know what the plan is and slipped up here because he’s just that excited for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow to finally get the movie she deserves.

Whatever the case, these rumblings have us thinking about just what we would want to see in a Black Widow movie, and we’re interested in what everyone else is hoping for, too—even if Avangers: Infinity War stands to completely toss all our ideas out the window this summer anyway.

(via Inverse, image: screengrab)

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