Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the most creative, entertaining and memorable films I have seen in the past few years, if not ever. The acting, writing and of course, the action and visuals were all amazing. The title character, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), has few lines and in many ways isn’t even the main character. I didn’t find this jarring or bothersome since this was similar to Mad Max 2, where the plot revolved around one of the communities Max came across in the apocalyptic landscape. Like Fury Road, Mad Max 2 also focused more on the community and the villain.
However, this fact appears to have been lost on some people. Fury Road has received widespread acclaim and was even nominated for best picture at the golden globes and the Oscars: a huge achievement for an action film that is basically a two hour car chase (albeit a beautifully crafted one). Then again, the loudest voices can often stand out best, even if they are the fewest.
When discussing the film online it seems that praise for Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is closely followed by criticism of “feminist propaganda” or a “feminist agenda”. Searching “Mad Max Fury Road Feminism” brings up numerous articles from outlets such as The Guardian and The New York Post. The presence of strong female characters is hard to ignore, but I think it is a problem when we view strong female characters as indicative of an agenda.
Any discussion of ideological messages in films is often derailed by those who proclaim “It’s just a movie”. Yet as I’ve indicated many times before in blog posts and YouTube videos, this logic does not apply when the ruling class in Hollywood (white men) is affected. We are so used to seeing strong male characters, that seeing a strong female one comes across as “forced”, or “politically correct”.
I was interested in seeing Batman: Bad Blood, one of DC’s animated films. Before I looked into it I thought I would go to IMDB and see what other users thought of the film. One conversation in particular caught my interest:
Unfortunately the text came out blurred but I figured it would be good to have proof of this conversation. I know people always like to say that people who express discriminatory ideas online are just trolls, but I think that simplifies things far too much. There are definitely people who get amusement from inflammatory comments, but I don’t think that explains every single discriminatory comment online. The internet is an arena where people can express their true feelings anonymously or with a pseudonym.
The person who started this post seems genuinely upset at being called a troll, his words are his “honest thoughts and opinions.” Perhaps the honest opinion he would not reveal in class or at work?
Bad Blood focuses on batman’s sidekicks and their efforts to fight crime in Gotham after his disappearance. While Nightwing and Robin are in the story, Batwoman is too. According to the person who started this conversation, the film would have been better without Batwoman since her sections felt “forced” and her homosexuality felt “heavy handed” (the newest Batwoman is Lesbian) . As another poster points out, this heavy handed homosexuality plays out with one scene of Batwoman flirting with a woman at a bar.
Some people reading this may agree with the original poster, but that brings up the issue I am trying to tackle. If one scene of a woman flirting with another is a heavy-handed depiction of homosexuality, would the scenes of Nightwing flirting with another woman also be heavy-handed heterosexuality? For decades, Hollywood has fed the world a steady diet of entertainment. Most of these characters fit a certain mold: white, male and straight. Years of seeing most heroes fit this mold can then lead to this becoming normalized (Dyer, White, 1997). When whiteness and masculinity becomes normalized in film, it is then easier for women and people of colour to be viewed as subversive. People who are outright bigots can also disguise their prejudice and aversion to seeing minorities and homosexuality on screen by saying that they simply don’t like it if it’s “heavy handed”. As the example above demonstrates, it does not take much for these elements to be viewed as heavy-handed.
A recent example of this which I have discussed before is the reaction to Rey in Star Wars: Episode VII. Rey has been relentlessly criticized for being a Mary Stu, a female character who is often overly skilled and is often viewed as the worst example of “feminist influence”. While it is reasonable to look at Rey’s progression in the film as being highly unrealistic, I just wonder if fans nitpick her progression as much as they nitpick Luke’s in Star Wars: Episode V or any male character’s in pretty much any movie. Can we all say that we have never seen a film where a male character ends up being a prodigy at whatever is important to the plot? Can we honestly say that we tore that characterization apart because it seemed too unrealistic, or did we embrace it and rejoice in how badass the character is?
With all of the bitterness and anger directed towards women on screen it seems that any female character who is on screen to do more than hook up with someone or be a damsel in distress is now viewed as unnatural and unwelcome. The same logic applies to minorities of any kind. If a black character is portrayed as heroic, intelligent and articulate, the movie is too politically correct. If a religious minority is represented as a fleshed out, sympathetic character then it is “propaganda”. Even better, the film is “pushing an agenda”. God forbid, if the film actually discusses discrimination of any kind openly, whether it is racism, sexism or homophobia . As another poster on IMDB said, he hopes The Revenant can win best picture since it is the movie that is a “non-agenda” movie.
Note: This post barely scratches the surfaces of all the things I want to say on this topic, so I will probably revisit the topic and get in the habit of blogging about other examples of this trend.
Dyer, R. (1997). White. London, UK: Routledge.