I am among the first people to wave the feminist flag. I believe in female empowerment, the right to choose, and even our right to choose and make mistakes. The simple definition. I pay my tab. But I’m uncertain whether it’s a step forward to hail the futuristic sci-fi film Mad Max: Fury Road, which I reviewed here, as a feminist film. I agree with the Guardian’s Jessica Valenti to a point. And she made many good ones Including this:
The movie, as has been said by others, is glorious: beautifully shot, fun, fast-paced and, yes, feminist. And if the popularity of the film is any indication (global cumulative box office is already $227m) this iteration of Mad Max shows that movie audiences are thrilled by its female action heroes, a plot that shows the necessity of dismantling patriarchies and its “leading” man who supports the real hero – the leading lady.
What I would like to argue, both with and against my colleague Valenti, is that the film has taken a step toward normalizing the images of women we see on the screen. That isn’t just feminist, it’s humanist. (Oh, and good business, too.) Charlize Theron, who plays the female heroine Furiosa opposite Tom Hardy’s burly Max, has a three-dimensional role with a past, present and hopefully a future. That she has one arm suggests a story that remains largely untold here, a past hinted at and shaping the character she reflects in those steely blue eyes beneath the damn-it-all buzz cut.
It is like we have become so starved for strong, full female characters in the desert of Hollywood mainstream movies that we jump on Furiosa as feminist. And, of course, she is and kudos to (male) director George Miller and screenwriters Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris for normalizing their stories. I embrace this, although we live in a ridiculous pop cultural amnesia zone that forgets that Hollywood gave us the great Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire, or Claudette Colbert in The Palm Beach Story or Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind or Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz or Joan Crawford and Bette Davis and ….
And we don’t want to overlook the fact that while there is a small posse of crones (those invisible women over 45) that supports Furiorosa in her battle against, well, ok, the Patriarchy (or just the yukky bad guys), there is also a harem of bulimic, bee-stung lipped supermodels to satisfy the core audience. Lord knows where these chicks got all that conditioner in that futuristic wasteland but I’ll accept that lack of continuity. But remember how Miller introduces the breeders in a male fantasy display as these stunners of many colors wash their long, skinny limbs (and, for some, sensually bulbous pregnant bellies). The dystopic wet-T-shirt scene reminded me of the supermodel gas station frolic in Zoolander.
So, yes, Jessica Valenti and the many more women including my sisters at the feministmadmax Tunblr who stride up to call Mad Max a feminist film. For me, it’s another step toward normalizing the images of women on screen to reflect the badass beings that we are — from the time we are young fillies to our wise crone-ship.