Suffragette Cinema

a feminist look at films and the media surrounding them


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Checking off The To Do List

The To Do List came out in July 2013 and follows recent high school graduate, Brandy Klark (Aubrey Plaza), during the summer before her freshman year in college. Brandy, with the assistance of her two sexually experienced friends, creates a ‘to do list’ of sexual acts she wants to perform before the summer ends and she begins college.

The To Do List is funny, sarcastic, and raunchy and it is unique in that it follows a teenage girl in her sexual awakening- something that is not seen often in the movie industry today. I have separated a few of my favorite themes through the movie in the segments below.

The 1990s theme
The movie includes scrunchies, big hair, overalls, and other 90’s inspired comedic effects, while, simultaneously, hinting at nostalgia for the past in terms of feminist movements. For instance, Brandy’s hero is Hilary Clinton, she mentions her throughout the film, has a photo of her in her bedroom, and in a scene where she is practicing masturbation (after finding out that women are 40% more likely to orgasm if they masturbate Brandy adds this to her infamous ‘To Do List’) wearing a Pro- Choice/Pro- Clinton T- shirt. Clinton was a huge part of the 90s Pop Feminism movement which, according to the Village Voice,  “would soon blossom and cross- pollinate via Lilith Fair, Alanis Morisette, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Vagina Monologues, Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, hell even the Spice  Girls.”

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Sex Positivity
I think my favorite component of The To Do List is the fact that it is so sex positive. Throughout the movie, the female lead characters including Brandy’s mother, sister, and two best friends, are all known to be sexually active and to have been since they were in high school- and those facts are either unquestioned or when questioned, are shut down. Brandy is never shamed for creating her list or for when she completes a sexual act. In fact, it is praised. The film additionally creates a safe zone for the awkwardness that comes with sex and adds in a twist of humor, for instance Cameron (Johnny Simmons) struggling to get into Brandy’s underclothes, asking “are these shorts or a skirt?” or Brandy substituting butter at the movie theater for lube. The To Do List normalizes sex and sends out the message that it is mean to be explored, it is meant to be enjoyed by females, and there is no shame in engaging in it so long as it is consensual. In one scene, for instance, as a going away present, Mrs. Klark (Connie Britton) gives her daughter, Brandy, a bottle of lube and tells her to make sure she uses a lot of it.

 

Gender Roles
The To Do List is unique in that it flips traditional gender roles and examines a sex comedy not through the male gaze as we typically see in movies, but through that of a woman. It is a coming of age story and as Connie Britton, who plays the mother of Brandy, states, “Really, in a way, this is actually a very feminist movie. The idea that it’s a sexual awakening of a young girl- we’ve seen coming-of-age stories told from the perspective of the young boy, but we don’t get to see the point-of-view of the young girl.” In the movie, we get to see Brandy take control of her own sex life and as stated in one movie blog, Pop- Culture- Pundit, “Brandy is not a woman upon whom sex is thrust, but who thrusts herself upon sex.”

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Overall, I believe The To Do List is a light-hearted film that matches up with the raunchiness found in American Pie with a delicious feminist flavoring.


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A Recipe for a Feminist Film

I’m going to take a break from reviewing a specific movie this week, and instead want to talk about some of the various “feminist” tests that are popular when viewing movies and seeing how well it represents certain identities.

Perhaps the most well-known of these tests is the Bechdel test, which derives from Alison Benchdel’s comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, in 1985. In the strip, a character states that she will only watch a movie if it fulfills three requirements;

  1.   Has at least two women in it,
  2. Who talk to each other,
  3. About something besides a man.

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While I believe that this is an interesting test and points out the lack of gender representation within a film, there have been many critiques of the Bechdel tests worthiness. For instance, Melissa Silverstein states, “The Bechdel Test is not a feminist test. It is a gender test…. The Bechdel Test doesn’t check for quality, it doesn’t check for violence, it doesn’t check to see how women are treated. It just asks a simple question—are women visible?”

I believe that the Bechdel Test works in that it points out the lack of gender diversity that exists within our pop culture. Our media is dominated by male characters and voices within all genres. For instance, within children’s media, only 17 percent of characters are female.

In response to some of the shortcomings of the Bechdel Test, who passes movies including The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, The Little Mermaid (as well as many Disney princess films), and The Savages– none of which I would consider especially feminist films, has come the Mako Mori Test.

The Mako Mori Test comes from film Pacific Rim where the main character, Mako Mori, is simple, a badass. She is strong (mentally and physically), brave, witty, and a leader. She has her own story arc and she excels. And, she fails the Bechdel Test.

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From this, the Mako Mori Test has been created, stating to pass a movie has to

  1. Have at least one female character,
  2. Who gets her own narrative arc,
  3. That is not about supporting a man’s story

 

Arguably, it is possible for a film to not pass the Mako Mori Test and be feminist or for it to pass the test and still be sexist or gendered. I like the Mako Mori Test, however, because I think that it approaches movies from a different angle.

Neither of these tests is really meant to test whether a film is feminist or not, but to measure the exposure of gender within film today.

Another test, the Vito Russo Test, has also recently come onto the scene as well. Inspired by the Benchdel Test, the Vito Russo Test examines the exposure of characters from the LGBTQ+ community and evaluates movies based on

  1. If the film contains a character that identities as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or  transgender,
  2. The character cannot solely or predominantly be defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity,
  3. The LGBTQ+ character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect

All of these tests help to measure different elements of film and to recognize who is and is not being noticed or represented in film. None of these tests are meant to be an absolute for defining what is or is not feminist. They help to create increased understanding on the issues that exist and ultimately, if we continue to create these types of tests and have discussions about them, the more likely it will be for change to occur.


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Frozen in Time

This is a long one, but stick with me.

In January, I caved and decided to watch Frozen with my best friend at home… And I still do not know how I feel about it. This post may end up being a conglomeration of random thoughts and points about the movie, but that pretty much represents how I feel about it.

One moment I’ll be humming ‘Let it Go’ and pretending to shoot ice crystals from my hands and the next I’ll want nothing to do with the entire thing and find myself complaining about yet another typical Disney princess movie.

So here goes.

Elsa’s Power

Something I thought was really great was that when it came time for Elsa’s coronation, nothing was questioned. She did not have the expectation to be married, as we saw with Merida in Brave. The idea of her need to have a husband was never mentioned or explored.

This was continued through the story, with Elsa never finding love- and from there, many parodies featuring Elsa have popped up across the internet, including one of her singing to a few other princesses from other classic Disney tales.

However, I also want to examine Elsa’s character in Frozen. Despite what many have stated, Frozen did not have two female protagonists. It had  Anna, the protagonist, and Elsa, the antagonist. In the end, the film follows Anna whose goal is to thwart Elsa’s storm. In Disney, the antagonist doesn’t end up with a man- they don’t find love. Think Ursula from The Littler Mermaid, Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, Ratcliffe from Pocahontas, Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, and now Elsa from Frozen– they are left alone while the protagonist, in this case Anna, finds love.

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Racial Representation

This time around, Disney made its main characters… white Europeans! Oh wait…

Frozen is the third all-white Disney princess movie to come out in a row, preceded by Tangled in 2010 and Brave in 2012.  It will make it so that there are nine princesses out of thirteen that identify as white. As explained by one Tumblr user, raptorforic;

In the eyes of Disney, there’s a Princess for Black little girls to look up to, a Princess for Native little girls to look up to, a Princess for Arab little girls to look up to, a Princess for Asian little girls to look up to, and nine princesses for all little girls to look up to. It’s no coincidence that in almost all promotional art featuring the “Princess Lineup,” Jasmine, Tiana, Mulan, and Pocahontas are all standing in the back, usually obscured by other white Princesses’ dresses, while the blonde lady brigade stands in the front.

Even before the movie came out, once it was announced that their would be an all-white cast, many internet users created racial variations of the main characters with the captions, “This could have been Frozen.

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LGBTQ+

There has been a lot of discussion about the possible prominence of queer characters within Frozen. For one, some believe that Elsa’s song, ‘Let it Go,’ is her partial way of coming out. This belief is strengthened by the fact that she did not end up with a male character at the end of the story, somehow meant to signify her identity as a queer woman.

I am not amused by this belief. While I like Elsa as a character, she’s a pretty average Disney female I feel, if she is actually meant to be a queer character, she is not the representation the community deserves. I do not want a queer character whose sexual identity is subtly hinted at, I want it to be boldly presented and normalized.

Personally, I do not see Elsa as a gay icon and I do not believe that was what her character was intended to be. It bothers me that many have stated that she may be queer- mainly because she ends up single at the end of the film. It brings across the idea that if a woman does not end up with a man or does not show interest in the opposite sex, the only thing that makes sense is that she is gay. Because those are the only two options- to be betrothed to a man or be a lesbian- right…?

The second discussion I’ve heard is about Oaken, the owner of the trading post, and the family that he says hello to briefly. In the image, there is discussion about whether there is one man and four boys, suggesting that Oaken may be gay. However, the character on the top right could just as easily be  woman. The possibilities could be endless. And I stick with my belief above, I do not want to have to guess a character is gay… if Disney is going to take that step (which they have not commented on) then I don’t want to have to question it.

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True Love

Part way through the film, after visiting Elsa and pleading with her to come home, Anna is struck by one of Elsa’s icicles and progressively gets weaker. Anna is finally told that “an act of true love can melt a frozen heart.”

From there, Anna and Kristoff believe that the only way to save her is to return to Arrendale, Anna’s home, and find her fiancé, Hans. However, in a twist of fate, the act of true love is performed by Anna as she saves her sister, Elsa, from being stabbed and killed. In this act, she breaks her own spell and remains alive. Anna not only manages to break her own spell, without the need of a male figure or lover, but does it in an act to save another female character.

Finally, Disney breaks the idea of “true loves kiss” and gives Anna the power to not only break her own spell, but to save another female in the process.

Consent

Something that was amazingly wonderful that floored me was the simple fact that Kristoff, in one of the final scenes, asks Anna’s permission to kiss her, waits for her to respond, and then kisses her. Consent is so rarely modeled in the media, and much less in Disney movies, that this tiny step is something that made me literally squeal in the middle of the theater. I especially like how this progress can be tracked when looking at Disney’s 1989 film, The Little Mermaid, where in the song ‘Kiss the Girl’ lines state:

Yes, you want her
Look at her, you know you do
Possible she wants you too
There is one way to ask her
It don’t take a word
Not a single word
Go on and kiss the girl

This transition, from saying silence is okay to having a character ask for explicit verbal consent (which is what the norm ought to be) is huge.

Anna’s Relationships

Disney almost did something really cool when they had Kristoff call Anna out for getting engaged to a guy she had just met a few hours earlier, stating “you got engaged to someone you just met that day… hang on, you mean to tell me you got engaged to someone you just met that day… didn’t your parents ever warn you about strangers?”

Finally, I was thinking, Disney is acknowledging the stupidity and unrealistic nature of falling in love at first sight and is mocking the idea that you can have “true love” with someone you’ve only known for less than a day.

Aaaand then, after spending about a day together, most of which Anna remains engaged to Hans, Kristoff and Anna get together.

Disney, I guess you tried, but certainly not hard enough.

Conclusion

I think that Frozen had a lot of potential to be really amazing. The first half of the movie set it up to be progressive and then something happened. Maybe it was Disney’s version of cold feet?

I do think that there were some great elements included in the movie, however, despite the catchy music, I want more. And I don’t think that’s a lot to ask for.


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Lupita Nyong’o Takes Best Supporting Actress

Tonight at the 86th annual installment of the Oscars, actress Lupita Nyong’o from 12 Years a Slave won best supporting actress. Nyong’o was up against actresses Sally Hawkins, Jennifer Lawrence, Julia Roberts, and June Squibb. Nyong’o played Patsey in 12 Years a Slave, and was the closest friend main character, Solomon Northup, had when in slavery. Her most memorable scene was one where she receives a brutal flogging from her plantation owner after traveling to another plantation so she could get soap, which she had been denied access to.

In her speech, Nyong’o stated, “It doesn’t escape me that so much joy in my life has come from so much pain in someone else’s,” and when addressing her co-stars and director, Steve McQueen, “Thank you for putting me in this position; it has been the joy of my life… I’m certain the dead are standing around you and saluting you.”

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/oscars/closest-academy-awards-years-kicks-article-1.1708372