The second half of Grindhouse, Death Proof, is an action/slasher movie with the heroes a group of female friends. And a good half of the movie was women just spending time together, talking, gossiping, laughing. The film was very much female-centered; we were not, as in most slasher movies, meant to empathize or identify with the male killer.
I can't even express how strongly that affected me.
There's this set of criteria I use to evaluate movies, called the Mo Movie Measure, after the character in Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For that it came from (by way of Ampersand). The criteria are as follows:
1) There is more than one named female character, and
2) they talk to each other at some point in the movie...
3) ...about something other than a man.
It's shocking how few movies meet these criteria. A lot of movies will meet the first one, or even the first two, but it's rare that they meet all three. Neither of the two Pirates of the Caribbean movies, for instance, met even the first one (if I recall correctly). The Lord of the Rings movies met the first one, but not the second. (Sidenote: did you know The Hobbit doesn't have a single female character?) After Hours, a Scorcese movie I watched with a friend Saturday night, met the first two, but not the third.
But Death Proof met all three. Easily. Which surprised and delighted me. (The first half of Grindhouse, Planet Terror, met all three as well, but just barely.)
Anyway, I say it's shocking how few movies meet these criteria. But not everyone thinks so. I was discussing this with a male friend of mine on Saturday, and he expressed disbelief that I would use these criteria to evaluate a movie. "That's like saying every movie should have ponies in it," he said.
I didn't even know where to start with that one. Eventually I got myself together enough to say, "Okay, replace 'female' with 'male' and 'man' with 'woman', and think of a single movie that DOESN'T fit the criteria." Once I put it that way, he understood that well-developed female characters are not analogous to ponies.
But seriously. What the fuck?
On a related note, Ragnell recently wrote a great post about this cover:
Ragnell writes of her reaction to this cover:
So a picture of the traditional version, where the man is standing and radiating power while the woman is on her knees clinging to his leg can be offputting because at first glance my mind wants to identify with the female position. But the male character is the stronger in such a picture. He's the one we're meant to empathize with while the girl is the throwaway. So there's a little bit of distancing that has to happen. I have to ignore the gender difference to identify with the stronger character. Something is lost, and I see the art through a filter. I've seen tons of poses like this, with the woman wrapped around the man's leg, and they've never struck me as a good pose.
But looking at this cover the power hit me right away. There was no distance, there was no filter between me as a viewer and the stronger character. I got the full effect of the picture.
Its hard to describe, but when I saw it my heart felt a little lighter in my chest, my cheeks felt warmer and the corners of my mouth turned up in a smile. I think I may have stood a little taller in the store.
This is exactly how I feel when watching a movie where woman are central and centered, like Death Proof. No, it wasn't perfect, particularly from a feminist standpoint. And I wouldn't really call Quentin Tarantino a feminist, either. But that feeling is so rare that I value it highly when it arises.
I mentioned another conversation I had with a male friend, this one about both Death Proof and that cover. He expressed distaste for both, saying they were cheesy because they drew too much attention to "female empowerment", and thus undermined the cause of female equality by making it seem like something unusual.
I was really pissed off. Of course they seem unusual. They're unusual because of male dominance. And they won't be normal until we end male dominance, part of which means creating stronger images of women in the media.
It just sounded to me like the typical male "concerns" about feminism, how we're "hurting our cause" by rocking the boat too much. How we should be nice, and subtle, and just wait around for men to decide to give us what we want. No system of oppression was ever overthrown that way; their advice isn't to help us, it's to make themselves more comfortable.
Truth be told, though, a lot of my anger came from the fact that he will never understand the feeling I get when I see Pietro clutching Crystal's leg, or a trio of women kicking the shit out of a misogynist murderer. And instead of trying to understand the joy I get from these things, he was just cutting them down.
Fuck that, too.
Seriously, though. Ponies!??!?!!