From Sansa to Furisoa (Hollywood's Burgeoning Feminism)

Feminism by Julie Jordan Scott

I’m a writer. Which means I love to read. Which also means, (surprising to some) I love to watch. I watch people at malls, in their cars, around airports, to get the rhythm of speech, pattern of movement, smell of love exactly right in my books.

I also watch other people’s versions of what humans are like, on television and in the movies, to learn from visual approaches to storytelling.

And last week was a double header of a lesson. (If you watch Game of Thrones and haven’t seen Season 5, Episode 6, SPOILER ALERT, avert your eyes).

Last week, a few writers showed us exactly what it means to be a woman in a world where you need a father or brother to protect you. In Game of Thrones, the producers and writers departed from the storyline in the novels — nothing that surprising there. Film or television versions often do this to the determent of the story. In the case of the Sansa Stark character, however, they did viewers a favor. We have been watching Sansa, bereft of parents and siblings, stumble through the world alone. She is a girl of a well respected family; she is a virgin. Sansa is a danger to herself. First, at the hands of her cruel fiance, Joffrey, who also beheaded her father, then the power hungry Littlefinger, who marries her off  to another cruel fiance. In the world of the novels, the character of the second fiance marries a minor character and presumably tortures her (as did Sansa’s first fiance). Joffrey’s killing of a prostitute was a closing shot in the episode it happened. Her lampooned body is a warning of his depravity. That no one notices her death exemplifies the disposable nature of women of her class. What’s different in this season is that a main female character is subject to violence and a major male character has to watch, suffering alongside her.

Even if Eddard Stark, Sansa’s father, had been alive, he wouldn’t have been allowed into the marital chamber where Sansa was being attacked by her husband. In many countries of the world, there still remain no words (or legal terms) for martial rape. A wife always consents. Or, as in Sansa’s case, her consent is of little consequence.

Over the weekend we went to see Mad Max: Fury Road. The Internet is full of praise – and rightly so – for Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. She has none of the gasping, screechy panic of leading women in action films. Furiosa is exactly as her name implies: she rages at a power structure that abuses women to provide an unending supply of human, male sentinels for corrupt warlord.

Critics have been calling this her movie, suggesting that she upstaged the titular character, Max. For me, the two characters suggest a new approach to storytelling. One is not there to rescue the other. However uneasy, theirs is a partnership.

“What do I call you?” She says as they drive into a hostile enemy canyon. “When I call you, you’ll need to drive.”

Max is silent.

“Fool!” She yells a few minutes later.

Max jumps behind the wheel and drives them the heck out of dodge.

This is not a movie with a lot of dialogue. They probably say about 150 words the entire film. All the more important for Furiosa to drive a nitro-boosted War Machine; to catch Max before he falls to his death; to protect other women rather than allow their abuse to continue.

Even the cast of four wives, on the run from being literal baby factories, are gorgeous, as expected, but no damsels in distress here. They shoot guns, they crawl on rigs, they save lives even as their own are in danger. We are not things is their mantra.

Amen. I would live in any of George Miller’s worlds. The subplot of a failed human sentinel finding his humanity is unlikely when there are so many explosions and car crashes — yet his transformation is completely believable and adds depth to the hordes of the white chested, skull gang that is chasing our heroes.

Take note Hollywood. Viewers care what happens to female characters as much as what happens to men.

The male backlash against the film would be laughable if it weren’t so serious:

[…] men in America and around the world are going to be duped by explosions, fire tornadoes, and desert raiders into seeing what is guaranteed to be nothing more than feminist propaganda, while at the same time being insulted AND tricked into viewing a piece of American culture ruined and rewritten right in front of their very eyes.

The feminist criticism of the film is understandable but also ignores that industries don’t change overnight.

Yes, it’s strange that the human sentinel army is all white. And yes,the whole movie is one long car chase. Sure they used supermodels to play the warlord’s harem.

We have come a long way from Princess Leia, writhing against Jabba the Hut’s flesh, waiting to be rescued.

Haven’t we?