Good and Bad of Women in Film in 2015

woman in 2015

Spoiler warning for Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens below.

The other day my blogging friend Mark at Fast Film Reviews posted his Best Films of 2015.  What stood out to me most is that each of his 10 favorite films had a strong female presence in the film.  This is a remarkable feat that wouldn’t have been possible most years.  I’m not exaggerating when I say Meryl Streep has gotten as many nominations as she has not only because she is a great actresses but because literally some years there weren’t many strong female roles to pick from.  Even studios I love like Pixar have had few female roles.  Often you will have the token woman lead in a series dominated by male characters (Star Wars 1-6 definitely fit this camp).

I’m not saying I liked all of the female driven films of 2015.  Of course I didn’t.  Woman in Gold bored me silly and I hated Suffragette.  But I think it is a good thing we have good, bad, in-between movies about women, just like we have them about men!   If you will notice in my graphic all of the female performances were white women so that is something that could change but bravo to see half the human population represented in this storytelling device we call movies!  We’ve had female driven comedies, dramas, post-apocalyptic stories, classics, animation, teenage movies, science fiction and space opera (and I realized I forgot to include Hunger Games in the graphic!).

Unfortunately, the jury is still out as to whether this is an anomaly or a lasting trend.  2016 is very heavy in superhero movies (8 in one year!) and we will see how they do with Wonder Woman but not very optimistic on that front.  Of course, we have the female cast Ghostbusters which will be a very interesting to see how that plays out.  I am sure no matter how good it is there will be idiots who complain about the casting gimmick, but I just want to see the movie!

That’s where we get to the bad of this great year for women in film.  We unfortunately have gotten the complaining from corners who don’t want to see progression in characters and representation on screen.  Yes, if casting a female in a part is just to be politically correct than you have a point.  Part of the problem with Princess and the Frog is Disney was too concerned with both representing and placating an African American audience.  They made story changes, altered characters and ended up with kind of a muddled movie (not terrible but not as strong as it could have been).  Same thing when they tried to not offend the catholic church with Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Changing Frollo to a judge actually made the church look worse as the institution, not just a lone bishop, is enabling a mad man raise a child and not doing anything to stop the horrible behavior and manipulation.

So yes, Hollywood is a business and if they can follow a trend of female based movies, they will do it.  If it stops being the trend than they will stop doing it.  I repeat- it’s a business.  They want to make money! So of course after a big hit like Hunger Games we have seen many strong women in the movies.

Here’s the bad side of the trend, all the trolling and moronic comments that have resulted. This is particularly true with Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The complaints for both films really irritate me.

This photo provided by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Village Roadshow Pictures’ action adventure film, “Mad Max: Fury Road," a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

First of all, Max Max: Fury Road is criticized because Furiosa is basically the lead of the film rather than Mad Max.  I’m no expert on the Mad Max franchise but wasn’t Max always kind of secondary to the environment and world around him?  Is he really that much of a dynamic character? Isn’t he pretty much an excuse to have great action set pieces and a fun gritty story? So why does it matter that in this case the world around him is a strong woman?  And isn’t every scene Furiosa in Max also in except for the very beginning when she begins her drive?

To me it makes sense in a post-apocalyptic world that women would be both prized for their sex and fertility and also have to be incredibly tough to survive.  Furiosa’s character is not only that but she is angry and really a revolutionary with her stealing Joe’s wives.  Of course she is a tough woman.  She would be slaughtered in the first 15 minutes of the movie if she wasn’t!  There is also never a moment of traditional ‘girl power’ in the movie.  For instance, she just shoots the giant gun.  She doesn’t say something girl powery like ‘that’s how ladies get it done’.  She just does it, just like Max does it.

Neither Max or Furiosa have any dialogue so why her character annoys people more than his is beyond me?  They are both characters that are fighting a post-apocalyptic battle on cars.  It’s as simple as that.

It will be interesting to see where the story goes in the next movie but for the one we got, in the genre it was trying to be in, Furiosa was awesome.

rey2

Ok.  Let’s tackle Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  In the film we get a new lead character Rey played by Daisy Ridley.  She is a scavenger who is waiting for her family to come back after they left her on a desert planet named Jakku.  As a scavenger she learns about machines and she says she has experience as a pilot.  She identifies herself as a pilot from the beginning.  Poe Dameron also identifies himself as a pilot. Nobody has any problem with that…

So, Rey flies the Millennium Falcon and she is by no means perfect in the flight.  She bounces around a bit and is on the run most of the time.  Through some clever thinking, more than brilliant flying she evades the tie-fighters. When it is over Finn asks her ‘how did you do that?’.  She says something like “I don’t know.  We trained but never left the planet”.  She’s clearly a character that operates well on extreme adrenalin and she has force abilities that are awakened through the course of the movie.

If you think about it she makes a poor decision under less adrenalin when changing the fuses in the scenes with the rathgars.   Also for someone who has only been trained on blasters Finn adapts to the Tie-Fighter and Falcon pretty easily.  He also knows where to go to turn off the shields and is able to make his way to Captain Phasma and capture her without disturbing anyone else on the ship.  For a guy in sanitation that was simple for him? Yet I don’t see anyone complaining about his character or that he is a Gary Stu?

She is also different than Luke because Luke was a doubter.  It took him forever to believe in the force and its power and be confident in using it.  Really not until Return of the Jedi is he confident.  Yoda tells him “that is why you fail” because his lack of faith in the force and his own abilities are his biggest problem.  I mean if you really think about it Luke had never really piloted much before and yet he does a darn good job in those missions at the end of New Hope.  Nobody complains about that.  If Luke hadn’t been bogged down by self-doubt than he probably would have been able to do everything that Rey does.  People accept things at different rates.  Rey is a believer and therefore she uses the force more quickly than Luke did.

Now there is one moment in the film where Rey changes a stormtrooper’s mind and this idea comes to her seemingly out of nowhere.  Although humorous, this could have been handled better, but to call into question the entire character and claim she is a Mary Sue because of it, is just ridiculous.

The final battle between her and Kylo is also a point of contention.  In this scene Kylo is injured, and injured so badly a significant amount of blood has come through his clothing to drip onto the ground.  That’s no small injury.  He also shows at the beginning that he can throw her against the tree.

But then her confidence grows as the fight continues.  She’s just seen Finn hurt, possibly dead, Han is dead,  and she fights with a ferocity we don’t often see in Star Wars.  But she is still on the defense for most of the fight.  Then we get to the point where he has her on the edge of a ravine and she hears the words of Maz Kanata about the force.  This gives her the strength to tackle an INJURED Kylo Renn.

the-princess-bride-the-princess-bride-4546832-1280-720If you think about action scenes in other classic movies things are far easier for the male heroes than they are for Rey in Force Awakens, and yet I don’t hear complaints of Mary Sue or Gary Stu.  The Princess  Bride for instance- a movie I love by the way.  Yes, Wesley is a pirate but does it make sense he would be smarter than a deep thinker, stronger than a giant and a better swordsman than a man who trained all his life to avenge his father’s death?  No.  Of course it doesn’t but it’s a live action fairytale with a sense of humor to it.  I want in my Princess Bride movie for the hero to dominate and have quippy dialogue.  (Another movie with the token woman and almost all the rest men).

You can make a similar argument about Indiana Jones finding clues in  minutes scores of people are researching and digging for.  I have never heard anyone claim he is a bad character.  Even if they hate the last movie they still like the character.  What about the Goonies?  People love that movie but it is about kids finding treasure underneath a major city (all the goonies by the way are nearly all boys!). You going to tell me it makes sense that generations of people weren’t able to find those caverns and treasure when a couple of kids are able too?  Indiana Jones and Goonies are great movies because they work within the genres they are given and have good scripts.

Star Wars movies are meant to be exciting, fun, space operas.  They aren’t supposed to be gritty depictions of realistic warfare.  The character arcs are pretty simple but we love it for that very reason.  The problem with the prequels is the characters got muddled and made poor decisions (with dopey dialogue too).  The fact is Rey is a character with confidence who acts well under adversity. For the life of me I don’t know what’s wrong with that?

Mad Max is a kinetic crazy battle film.  Furiosa is a strong character who is in nearly every scene with Max and they fight the bad guys.  It’s as simple as that.

So, to those complaining about Star Wars and Mad Max, I can see having issues with individual scenes in the film, as do I, but to fault the movie for Furiosa and Rey I do not get.  Those are terrific characters that fit within the genre of movie they are in.  I’m sorry if their presence annoys you but again grow up!  If you don’t like the movies.  Fine.  But stop with the Mary Sue and the feminists are taking over our movies nonsense.

That’s what I have to say about that!  Let’s just hope that Wonder Woman is 1/10th the character Furiosa and Rey were.  A girl can dream right?

9 thoughts on “Good and Bad of Women in Film in 2015

  1. I think no term is as misused as the word “Mary Sue”…it never was about the abilities of the character, though they can be a warning sign. The question is always how other characters react to the character in question. For example, if she is beloved by everyone and everyone who doesn’t like her is automatically the villain. If weird Deus-ex-machine moments happen and the plot seems to bow to her will. Bella Swan is the Prime example of a Mary Sue…as is Tarzan by the way (the book version, the movies do better with his character). I actually think that Rey verges really close to one, not because of her talent, but because everyone seems to immediately trust her and is impressed with her. She is a virtual stranger, why does nobody ever really questions her motives? That’s what kind of bothers me about the character.

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    1. Everyone is very impressed with Poe. Finn and him are strangers and yet bond instantly and yet that doesn’t seem to bother people?
      I actually reject Bella as one because it is part of the genre of that kind of romantic movie. She is a damsel in distress and she is annoying but her basic character fits within that type of romantic story. I just read Dracula and the women in that book are actually much worse than Bella. It’s just part of the genre.
      People trust Rey but is there really time in most of the scenes for that to not be the case? There is no reason for them to not trust her. She’s sacrificing everything to help BB8 and the resistance. Of course they trust her. People trust John McClane or Jack Bauer because there is a crisis and it needs to be solved. They are usually strangers. Of course, they are impressed with Rey. She is a confident, strong woman who has force abilities.
      I didn’t hear many complaining about the Rock’s character in San Andreas. Sure some didn’t like the movie but most liked the character. Why? Because it’s a disaster movie. That’s the genre and for that kind of movie the character works. Same with the Chris Pratt character in Jurassic World. The movie has problems but most people loved that character. He’s a confident, brash character in a monster movie. That’s what you want!
      To me it is nonsense to criticize Rey or Furiosa for the same thing male characters are doing in countless other films. It works for the genre of the movies they are in. Don’t like the films or the genres? Fine but the critiques on the characters ring false for me and I think they can be kind of sexist.

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      1. I disagree. I think the story especially after book 2 isnt well written but the character fits within that kind of story and genre. Again look at the women in the original Dracula. They are nearly identical to Bella especially Lucy. Anyway agree to disagree. I stand by my essay as I was addressing most of the complaints I’ve heard about women in film this year with Mad Max and Star Wars being my main examples.

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    2. And I’ve read a lot of scholarly and professional articles on the whole Mary Sue thing and nobody talks about it the way you do, which is fine. But my response is more to the general public’s definition and their criticisms

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  2. I’ve never cared for the “Mary Sue” label. Reducing a character as such is basically lazy shorthand by a critic for a character he simply doesn’t like.

    Great article. A lot of thoughtful analysis here.

    P.S. Thanks for the shoutout to my Top 10 list. 🙂

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    1. I completely agree or the idiots claiming ‘feminists are ruining our Mad Max or Star Wars movie’. Grrrr…gets me fired up! Thanks for reading my piece and glad to give you the shout-out. It will be very interesting to see where 2016 takes us in film. Hopefully there will be some cool female characters. Fingers crossed!

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  3. It’s always interesting to read your point of view although I do have to disagree with you for the most part on Rey. I love a good, strong female character, but I don’t like it when they seem flawless. I don’t quite remember your one example with the fuses so I will have to watch for that when I see it again. Finn could do things that were unbelievable, sure, but he also messed up a lot of times and by the very nature of his character he is flawed. I didn’t like Poe very much either because I didn’t think we saw enough of him to know about him so I won’t address that. I’m giving Rey the benefit of the doubt that we will see more character growth in future movies. I would be okay with her being able to fly the Millennium Falcon and win a lightsaber battle when she’s never used one before (and just chalk it all up to the force) if there was something else to really balance it out. Like Finn’s deceit in saying he knew about stuff to help the resistance when it was really just an effort to rescue Rey. That to me is a good character “flaw” because it is not necessarily the honorable thing to do but it has good intention behind it. I would love to see Rey develop more in that way, make a few mistakes or actual bad choices, or just show a personality flaw of some sort. But I have hope that that will come in the future movies.

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    1. I can see that perspective. I just think the Mary Sue label takes it too far. People are totally discounting the character when I feel she is just a hair too much which I think we will get more nuance on when we see the entire series. In the original Luke’s character isn’t really fleshed out till Empire either. To me Rey seemed like a classic hero for this type of genre and I enjoyed her. I do think most of her abilities are being remembered from past training she has forgotten and are the result of adrenalin and confidence. It worked for me. Thanks for reading my ramblings and commenting!

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