Why ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ Is A Feminist Film

Originally published by Role Reboot

Mad Max: Fury Road is not a feminist film simply because it has a female protagonist or because it passes the Bechdel test. It is a feminist film because it was consciously constructed to expose grave injustices in Hollywood and the broader culture by making non-traditional choices that resulted in feminist acts.


Overall, Mad Max: Fury Road is a giant fuck you to Hollywood from the soldiers on the front lines. There is no denying that Hollywood is a dark and twisted place where women struggle to exist within a web of gender norms and cultural myths: the myth of youth, the myth of beauty, and the myth of power. In Hollywood and throughout the world, the battle to both destroy and maintain those myths is enacted on women’s bodies. Fury Road takes down all of these myths starting with the misnomer that stories about women aren’t interesting or worthwhile.

Read the full article here


That’ll Never Be Me: Four of My Favorite Unsung Films About Girls

A fun piece to write for the Chicago Literati Film Issue! Full article here.

What is most revolutionary about Stick It is how the girls became their own agents for change through camaraderie and collective organization. Together they are able to take a stand against a harsh system built on holding them to an impossible standard, and by doing so, they are able to perform for themselves and their peers in a way that satisfies a personal, rather than systematic, goal.

Why ‘Maleficent’ is important for #YesAllWomen

Originally published by The Daily Dot.


Angelina Jolie is talking about rape.

Last week the Academy Award-winning actress all but took over the Internet when she joined Foreign Secretary William Hague in leading the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. The summit came just days after the opening of Jolie’s current film, Maleficent, which opened at no. 1 at the box office and has since grossed over $150 million worldwide. The Disney production is a retelling of the 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty from the villain’s point of view, one that has received mixed reviews among critics but garnered significant attention in feminist circles for its provocative storyline.

As Jezebel’s Dodai Stewart describes:

The moment that transforms Maleficentfrom a fun-loving, quirky woodland fairy into cruel, pissed-off sorceress is an act of violence. The man she thought was her friend drugs her, and while she is unconscious, he saws off her wings. She wakes up bleeding, in pain, a part of her destroyed. Sobbing. It feels like a sexual assault.

Yes, it does, and according to Jolie (who also serves as the film’s executive producer), it was meant to. During aninterview on the BBC Woman’s Hour, Jolie was explicit that the integral scene was intentionally written as a metaphor for rape.

This is no small feat in a feature film by one of America’s most prominent and beloved studios, known for its portrayal of women as lovesick, house-arrested, eye-candy. Jolie’s participation in lobbying for legislative change on a global front is inspiring, though it may be Maleficent that is challenging the most insidious of oppressors—the Hollywood feature film. As the L.A. Times’ Betsy Sharkey points out, “It’s one thing to speak in front of global dignitaries about the need to combat rape; it’s quite another to slip that message into a global blockbuster.”

It is no secret that there is tremendous gender disparity in Hollywood—where the stories of men are told in the words of men, through the lenses of men, and about the desires of men. In 2013, the MPAA reported that 52 percent of movie going audiences were women, yet of the year’s top 500 grossing films, women comprised only 30 percent of speaking roles, only half of which were protagonists.  When women are present (as characters who are predominantly written by men), they are often regulated to the usual roles of ingénue, mother, or wicked witch/queen/stepmother.

This is a pattern so consistent that The Atlantic‘s Raina Lipstiz argued Thelma & Louise was the last great movie about women. That was 23 years ago.

Combating this is one of the ways Maleficent creates real change, as making a truly progressive film for women means more than just passing the Bechdel TestMaleficenthas two female protagonists, and the majority of the film focuses on the relationship they develop with each other. It was written by a woman, Disney veteran Linda Woolverton,who credits the film with one of the most emotional moments of her career, the kiss scene between Maleficent and Aurora/Sleeping Beauty.

You have to rewrite these things 100 times, and every single time I wrote it I could barely get through it. I did Homeward Bound, you know that dog movie? Every single time I wrote the moment over the hill when everyone comes back at the end, I would cry into my hand over the keyboard. The kiss scene was like that for me.

Woolverton’s emotional attachment and her assertion that 20 years ago she couldn’t have written “as complex a lead character” is a reflection of the rampant sexism in Hollywood, echoing the growing frustration of female moviegoers who yearn to see characters in their likeness and stories that mirror their own experiences.

Of course, the film has it’s flaws and allows ample opportunity for feminist critique. It is, in fact, a fairy tale created in the same old storybook of kingdoms and hierarchies and colonization, one so lackluster in creativity that blogger Lindy West asks, “You could have built any world you wanted to—why choose one ruled by the same regressive, white-washed mid-century morality as every other ‘modern’ fairy tale? Aren’t thou bored?”

West goes on to note the glaring acceptance of gender normativity by the female characters who exist as “moldy feminine tropes—the sullied innocent, the abandoned lover lost without her man, the evil ex-girlfriend, the overreacting harpy, the broken woman redeemed by motherhood.”

It’s true. West’s analyses evoke Audre Lorde’s assertion that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. But focusing on the ways Maleficent reinforces stereotypical images of women distracts from the vital moments when it does not, most notably the conscious choice by the writer and executive producer to create a national dialogue about rape and sexual assault, in a country where it largely goes unspoken. Fairy tale or not, Maleficent is reflective of the experiences of #YesAllWomen.

“The Longest War” is what writer Rebecca Solnit calls America’s cultural relationship between sexual violence and gender:

At the heart of the struggle of feminism to give rape, date rape, marital rape, domestic violence, and workplace sexual harassment legal standing as crimes has been the necessity of making women credible and audible.

The feminist lessons in Maleficent may not have the same magnitude as those taught in college classrooms or published in scholarly journals, but they are reflective of a common experience among American women and girls. These women, though they may not live in a categorical warzone, live in a country where one in four experience teen dating violence, one in four are abused by a partner in their lifetime, and one of six are survivors of rape or attempted rape.

These are the women who cheered when Aurora saves Maleficent by rescuing her wings, the same way that a generation of women before erupted in bursts of support when Louise shoots Thelma’s rapist. It more than just a climactic plot twist, more than just character redemption, and way more than revenge. This is a chance for real women to access and feel their right to a self-determined life. Through these characters, a silenced majority is given a voice that is resonating beyond the silver screen.

After all, the Global Summit to End Violence During Conflict didn’t take place in Fairy Tale Land.


Love Lessons from Edward Scissorhands

It’s that time of year again. The holiday season is upon us – a brief moment of time known to most of us in western culture as the season of giving. With the current economic crisis, and a heightened awareness of conservation due to our struggling environment, many Americans are preoccupied with the challenge of gifting those we love. What is often overlooked during this consumer fueled holiday is the most precious and valuable gift of all – Love. It is this gift that is the motivating force behind Tim Burton’s unexpected and unconventional holiday classic, Edward Scissorhands. So this holiday season why not take a cue from Burton’s unique protagonist? Stay away from the stores and, instead, give someone the gift of yourself. If you’re unsure of how to do that, as most of us are, take a deep breath, smile and try the following:

1. Start with the heart: Although I have seen this movie at least ten times, this time around I was struck by a single moment – the moment we learn of Edwards’ creation. In a brief yet poignant flashback we see Edward in his original form, a nearly faceless robot preparing for the holidays in a room full of robotic concoctions. From across the room the Inventor approaches, in his hand a heart shaped sugar cookie which he holds up to Edwards’ chest. It is precisely this choice that motivates the entire subtext of the movie. The Inventor was inspired to bring Edward to life by giving him a heart. Not a thinking mind, not a perfect body but the ability to feel.  In our constantly chaotic, success driven society the importance of feeling, or loving, is often neglected, but in truth it is the one thing we all have in common. So while many articles have commented on Edward’s difference – a loner, a misunderstood artist – I’d like to suggest that it is not the differences that endears us to Edward, and eventually turns the townspeople against him, but rather how we see orselves in him.

2. Share yourself: Humans, at least Americans, spend most of their lives hiding our vulnerabilities and guarding ourselves from being hurt. Our protection isn’t as obvious as a fistful of knives, but is often just as harmful. With Edward Scissorhands director Tim Burton provides a physical metaphor for vulnerability. And while his hands do not have the tangible ability to feel, Edward touches people none the less. Front yards are transformed into botanical works of art and every woman in town lines up to receive a distinctive hairstyle. Everything as far as the eye can see is marked by Edward’s unique talents.

3. Make it snow:  Just as it began, the movie draws to a close with a simple, beautiful act – Kim dancing in the snow. In this brief moment we realize Kim’s love for Edward as she turns circles in the snow flakes created by his sculpting, literally enveloped in his love. Edward has no social understanding of how to participate in the life he has been brought into. He knows only how to be – that’s it, just be. And it is in this expression of who he is that Edward liberates Kim and she learns how to love without fear. For years Tim Burton has been “making it snow” in Hollywood by sharing his vision with an audience through innovative films like Beetlejuice and The Corpse Bride. It is the gift of truth – our talents, our love, ourselves – that is most worth giving. So this holiday season, when you’re thinking presents, think of yourself. Maybe it’s a mixtape of your favorite songs, or the chance to see a classic film on the big screen. Let us give to each other the passion in our souls and the love in our hearts. And by all means touch someone, because you can.

Revisiting Ridgemont

It wasn’t until 10 years after its original release that I first saw Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I was twelve years old in my neighbor’s basement as I sat with my friends, the group of us enthralled by what was happening on the screen. It wouldn’t be until years later, after beginning my own sexual explorations and viewing countless films where women’s libidos are irrelevant; their sexuality defined only in response to that of the male characters, that I would realize the how powerful the images in this film are. I am thinking specifically of the inclusion of female sexuality and the candid, hilarious way the characters participate in this. In seventh grade it was as simple as mocking Phoebe Cates lunchroom tutorial, innocently handling carrots as if we knew something about male anatomy. But it was the image of Jennifer Jason Leigh, lying exposed on the couch post-intercourse that has remained embedded in my mind. Stacy’s unglamorous, and practically unemotional, sexual encounters transcend the typical teen romp and offer instead a real and raw interpretation of teen sexuality. The most fascinating aspect of this “reality” is the choice by director Amy Heckerling and screenwriter Cameron Crowe to include a character that chooses to have an abortion. I am so tired of seeing pregnancy in films and television – saving the day and making everything as it should be, giving female characters a sense of purpose. Ugh. Leaving abortion to be dealt with the way it often is by the news media, a life-altering, guilt-inducing decision that women should be ashamed of, most filmmakers play it “safe” tiptoeing around an issue that is highly relevant in women’s lives. And for fear of making a controversial political statement instead audiences are reminded, however subversively, that giving birth is the right thing to do. Motherhood is, after all, the primary role of women.

In 2008’s Smart People, Sarah Jessica Parker portrays a successful young doctor who falls for her former college professor, played by a gut carrying, over gown Dennis Quaid. Quaid’s character is an egomaniacal cynic whose bouts with grief have left him emotionally disconnected and unavailable. Frustrated with his lack of commitment to their relationship Parker breaks up with him only to discover that she is pregnant, which leads her to “realize” she is in love with him. The film ends with the couple re-united by the miracle of an unplanned (and possibly unwanted) pregnancy. Sex and the City was revered for the candid ways its characters participated in and spoke about sex, and an entire episode was devoted to broaching the abortion issue, including a conversation where two of the characters admitted to having had one. However, when the single, career driven Miranda discovers she is pregnant she opts to have the baby pondering to her friends, “What if this is it? What if this is my baby?” Even the Left-minded and Oscar winning Juno followed teen pregnancy down the more socially acceptable path – adoption. Where were the cries of outrage at the sugar coated representation of adoption? Titular character, Juno,  plucks a perfect couple out of the classified section, they pay her medical bills and when all is said and done, she’s back to being a teen. Hmm – I wonder what the sequel will look like.

And while unexpected pregnancy is frequent on film (Juno, Nine Months, Parenthood), the possibility of having an abortion is presented less as a viable option and more as something to choose against. In the rare cases where it is included it is highly shameful and unsafe (Dirty Dancing, If These Walls Could Talk), and the woman is irrevocably “changed” (read: depressed or dead). It’s a baffling message considering the reality of women’s response to abortion in this country. Nearly half of pregnancies among American women are unintended, and 4 in 10 of those are terminated by an abortion. Contrary to what movies would have you believe research states: “While some women may experience sensations of regret, sadness or guilt after an abortion, the overwhelming responses are relief and happiness.” The beauty of Fast Times is that it leaves the shame out sex and sexual related choices. Well, maybe not completely out but each character is in one way or another shamed sexually – who could forget the mortification of Brad getting caught masturbating by the same girl he was fantasizing about? Perhaps it is the way Stacy becomes impregnated, a quick one two thrust from an older guy in her parents pool house, that makes her choice to have an abortion easier for the audience to deal with. I mean honestly would you have had Damone’s baby? Heckerling and Crowe, the first time for both in their given role, should be commended for not only including abortion and but for doing so in a way that many women experience it – an uncomfortable reality, yet a smart choice. For the freedom of filmmaking, the pride of women and the validity of a movement, this was and remains still, a revolutionary act.