Tag Archives: feminism

I’m Not Surprised About Joss Whedon’s Leaked “Wonder Woman” Script (Updated)

Or “I’m Not Surprised People Are Flipping Out Over This Unearthed Hokey Wonder Woman Script Joss Whedon Wrote”. Nope, I’m not. If anything I’m smirking and saying “I told you sooooo!”

As women across the nation are rediscovering their love for Wonder Woman, word on the street is there’s a leaked script online of Joss Whedon’s rejected screeplay (dated August 7, 2006) for a proposed Wonder Woman movie. At the time people thought that a film about the First Lady of Comics made by the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a match made in heaven. So when the project was dropped, screams of outrage arose over DC’s “misunderstanding of women” (a sentiment echoed repeatedly throughout Tumblr). Now femgeeks have to eat their words as they read this ridiculous script. And you can read it here – if you dare.

I’ve only read the first four pages and it already reeks of stupidity. The story starts off from Steve’s – not Diana’s – point of view as he crashes his plane on Themyscira. Diana has no characterization – none of the Amazons have characterization, they have the personalities of fembots – but Whedon describes her/their physical beauty in detail. The dialogue is sloppy: characters say lines that make no sense and conversations are cut off and never finished. So much so that you have no clue why the characters say what they say or what their talking about.

So you may be asking: “how could Whedon, an avowed feminist, mess up such a feminist character? Especially when he’s famous for creating ‘strong female characters’?” I’ll let you in on a little secret:

Joss Whedon doesn’t respect Wonder Woman.

How do I know this? I have in my possession, from the November 26, 2010 issue of Entertainment Weekly, the Benjamin Svetkey penned article “What About Wonder Woman?” The article runs from page 42 to page 46 and talks about the difficulties of getting the heroine onto the silver screen. Throughout, Whedon gives his two cents about why this is the case and it’s not very flattering…

In Whedon’s own words on page 44:

“She has no city,” Whedon says, ticking off a list of problems he had with the character when hired to write and direct a Wonder Woman film five years ago. “She has no great rogues gallery. And she’s distant in a way that makes it hard to create identification. Spider-Man is a nerd. Batman is in pain. But Wonder Woman is from an era where superheroes were supposed to be like Greek gods. She’s above us and different from us. That makes it hard to make her emotionally relevant.”

Continuing on page 45

“Tone was an issue,” he says. “People still think of Wonder Woman as kind of silly. They have fond memories of the TV show but think of her as a kind of goofy lady.”

“I didn’t make it about how we view women. I never got hard-feminist with it. I didn’t need to. She’s a goddess. She’s stronger than Steve Trevor. We get it.

And finally, on page 46:

Even Whedon sounds like he’s souring on the old girl. “If someone else can come along and create a cool Wonder Woman movie and pull it off, that’s great,” he says. “But I don’t necessarily think we need a Wonder Woman movie per se. We need more female heroes. We need ‘wonder women’ movies. But Wonder Woman may not be the wonder woman we need.”

Make that of what you will, but reading this made me want to punch Whedon in the face with an iron glove. I just couldn’t believe he got away with saying such garbage. But then why should I be surprised? Whedon was never a feminist. Here’s some reasons why.

He’s Given Us An Unrealistic Portrayal of Women

The biggest issue I’ve always had with Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the casting of the 5’4″, doe-eyed, girly Sarah Michelle Gellar as a butt-kicking slayer. To me she looked more like a Seventeen cover girl than an action shero. Just the sight of her drives me nuts. Some of you will point out that as a slayer, she’s can fight because she’s superpowered, so height and weight shouldn’t matter. But so’s Wonder Woman, Big Barda and Supergirl and they’re still physically imposing. Anakin and Luke Skywalker were strong in the Force yet Mark Hamill and Hayden Christensen are 5’9″ and 6’0″ respectively. “But they’re men,” you may argue, “Of course they’ll be taller. Sarah’s a woman.” Yeah, and so is Sigourney Weaver (6’0″), Hayley Atwell (5’7″), Uma Thurman (6’0″), Lucy Lawless (5’10), Pam Grier (5’8″), Gal Gadot (5’10”), Lynda Carter (5’9″) and Charlize Theron (5’10”). Buffy looks like a pathetic weakling compared to their characters. Now if you’re a Star Warrior like me, you may be wondering how I can embrace short actresses like Natalie Portman (5’3″) and Carrie Fisher (5’1″) as action girls? Because they used firearms to help them fight. They were expert markswomen. When they had to use physical force, they really had to put some muscle into it. Leia had to pull with all her might to strangle Jabba and Padme had use her chain in any way possible to fight off that nexu. If Buffy used firearms instead of fists, I might let her off the hook.

Buffy is not the only tough skinny gal in the Whedonverse. We also have River Tam, in J.F. Sargent’s words – “a badass kung fu killing machine”- played by “the pretty, wispy Summer Glau”. Thanks to Whedon, these women have become such a fixture in pop culture that its coined a new phrase: waif-fu, where a woman without musculature or fat on her frame can beat up (mostly male) trained soldiers twice her size. Some of you will accuse me of body-shaming but I believe that waif-fu is another way to water down feminism to make it appealing to men who are threatened by powerful, strong women. Case in point, an issue of the defunct Wizard magazine.

In the previous decade, I used to check out issues from the library all the time because I wanted to read about the latest in comics and action figures. But something was bothering me. While there were plenty of articles about Buffy, there were no issues about Xena – not even a nostalgic article about the Warrior Princess’ influence on popular culture (Starlog on the other hand, once had an interview with Lucy Lawless titled “Life After Xena”). If there were any listicles about “the hottest women in sci-fi and fantasy” or “women that had an strong influence on sci-fi and fantasy”, Buffy – and Sarah Michelle Gellar – were among the honorees. But not Xena or Lucy Lawless. So I wrote a letter asking why Xena was being ignored. I even said that she was far more feminist and groundbreaking than (my words) “that cutesy vampire slayer”. To my surprise my letter was published in one of their issues – and it spoke volumes.

The person to answer my question was a guy named thwack. I kid you not. Thwack said: “Thwack is deep inside a scared man-child who’s afraid of a tall, powerful woman with a phallic sword. And you said it, Buffy was cute.”

Talk about your castration fears. Xena is too tall, too physically imposing and too powerful to be respected. Buffy, despite her butt-kicking nature, gets more love because, at the end of the day, she’s not a threat to men. Maybe this explains why Whedon struggled with Wonder Woman – she’s too powerful and intimidating for him to handle.

Firefly and Prostitution

Firefly, ah Firefly. Fans are still mourning your early cancellation. Rupert Murdoch has become Satan incarnate for axeing the Greatest Story Ever Told since the Bible. I checked you out from the library once to see if you were worth all the fuss and what scene makes me sick to my stomach? Some soldier atop a woman, humping her till she reaches orgasm (complete with cries of “Oh God”. I thought you didn’t believe in God, Whedon.). The woman in question is Inara, a prostit- er, “companion” who’s main reason for existing is to be present on a spaceship for legal means. So in the future, prostitution, an institution that harms women’s bodies, will not only be legal it will be mandatory in order to rent a spaceship (According to the DVD commentary for Serenity, there was going to be a scene where Inara would teach archery to other girls but it was scrapped because “she appeared too much like Wonder Woman”). Let’s not forget the lingering closeups of her body as she bathes. I also have to mention the controversy regarding its plundering of Asian culture and language but no Asian actors among its cast. I have to say I’m glad Rupert Murdoch had the good sense to cancel this garbage.

He Blames Alien: Resurrection on the Actors

Did you know Whedon wrote the screenplay for Alien: Resurrection? Did you know it’s also considered among fans to be the one of the worst entries in the franchise? Here’s why the film failed according to Whedon:

“It wasn’t a question of doing everything differently, although they changed the ending; it was mostly a matter of doing everything wrong. They said the lines but they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They did everything wrong they could possibly do. That’s actually a fascinating lesson in filmmaking. Because everything they did reflects back to the script or looks like something from it. And people assume that if I hated it then they’d changed the script…but it wasn’t so much they changed it, they executed it in such a ghastly fashion they rendered it unwatchable.”

What makes this complaint so laughable? The fact that talented actors like Sigourney Weaver (again, a physically imposing woman), Winona Ryder and Ron Perlman were cast and he said “they cast it wrong”. Need I say more?

He Makes Asinine Tweets

I will end this post with a link to one of the worst tweets in the history of Twitter.

Go away Joss. Go away and hand the Batgirl movie over to Kathryn Bigelow, Sofia Coppela, Amy Heckerling, Niki Caro or Penelope Spheeris.

Go away and never return.

Update: Now we’ve learned that his ex-wife Kai Cole has written a tell-all essay about how miserable he made her during their 15 years of marriage. The mask is REALLY starting to slip…

 

 

 

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Forgotten Women of Comics #1: Moon Girl

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Ask any average person on the street to name a woman superhero or female comic book character and most people will choose Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Catwoman, Lois Lane or Betty and Veronica. Many have argued about the lack of prominent supersheroes in comics and point out that Wonder Woman is the only supershero that wasn’t a sidekick, relative, love interest or spinoff of a male superhero.

But that wasn’t the case nearly 80 years ago. Wonder Woman was just one of the many heroic female characters that excited readers – both male and female – back when America was trudging through the Great Depression, coping with the harsh realities of war and struggling with putting the country back together afterwards. Possibly inspired by the jobs women were taking up to help the war effort, publishing companies that specialized in comics came out with titles chronicling the adventures of lady heroes like The Lady in Red, Miss Fury, the Spider Widow, Pat Patriot, Miss Victory, et al; women who donned costumes to fight crime and corruption when needed. Some of those women had superpowers. Wonder Woman was among them and so was Moon Girl.

In 1947 publisher Max Gaines of EC Comics created a character that was similar to Princess Diana in many ways. She was the daughter of the queen of the fictional city of Samarkand, a matriarchy not unlike Wonder Woman’s Themyscira. However, unlike Themyscira, men were allowed to visit Samarkand and one man in particular, Prince Mengu, falls in love with Moon Girl. At first Moon Girl wants nothing to do with the prince but her mother tells her: “It is decreed that the man who takes you for his wife must first prove his superior strength!” Nevertheless the Queen gives her a necklace made of moonstone. “Once you wear the moonstone, no man will be your master!”

With the moonstone around her neck, Moon Girl easily beats Prince Mengu in a contest and the defeated prince leaves. Realizing that she actually loves him, she leaves Samarkand in search of him only to find that he’s moved to America and is working as a college coach. By now you can guess what happens next. In America, Moon Girl beats the prince in a shotputting match (thanks to the moonstone) and he realizes who she really is. But instead of getting married and living happily ever after, the couple decides to stay in the United States to fight crime. Moon Girl adopts the identity of Clair Lune and becomes a teacher.

Moon Girl and the Prince (its real title) lasted for 12 issues. Sadly, the writers didn’t know what to do with the character and the series evolved from a superhero genre to a romance comic (A Moon, A Girl…Romance) to disappearing entirely.

Until now.

Whilst browsing in a local comic book shop, I came upon a reprint of Moon Girl #3 and bought it. The comic was reprinted by Canton Street Press under their Flashback Replica Series, which are:

…exact reproductions of historically significant or key comic books from the 1940s and 1950s. Each page is fully restored with careful attention to line, work and colors. All editorial and ad pages are included. Collect the entire series!

The series includes Moon Girl #1-7. No. 3 has four stories: “Rockets For Riches”, “Sky Sabotage”, “The Spirit of Kokama” and “Moon Girl…Wanted for Murder”. The first story pits Moon Girl against the evil, emerald clad she-devil Satana, who is launching rockets at cities. The second story involves Moon Girl salvaging a pilot’s reputation. The third story brings Moon Girl back to her hometown of Samarkand to rescue her mother from the clutches of the traitorous Ka-zhan and the fourth story speaks for itself. I enjoyed reading these stories and look forward to collecting the other MG titles in CSP’s Flashback Replica Series. If your interested in buying and reading the adventures of Moon Girl, here’s Canton Street Press’s official site.

For more information about Moon Girl, see The Great Women Superheroes, written by Trina Robbins. Sadly out of print but still available to buy from Amazon! Stayed tuned for the next entry in my Forgotten Women of Comics. Who will it be???

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To Honor Carrie Fisher, Here Are Some of Leia’s Greatest Moments

“Star Wars” legend Carrie Fisher has died at the age of 60.  To honor a woman that has shaped and influenced so many lives, let’s look at some of the most memorable moments of Leia Organa of Alderaan, a character she embodied to the end.

I  never saw the original Star Wars trilogy in theaters because I wasn’t born until 1984 and I wasn’t a fan when the Special Editions came out (although after seeing A New Hope on video I took my Pocahontas doll and styled her hair into two cinnamon buns). However I will never forget the time when I sat in a theater watching Revenge of the Sith and heard the audience’s gasps and “ahhs” when Padme (Natalie Portman) gave birth to twins and with dying breath, says “Luke” and “Leia”. Then the scene where Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) hands baby Leia to his wife and we see her looking up at her new parents as John Williams plays her memorable theme. Such is the magic of good filmmaking.

One of the things about Star Wars that impressed me when it first came out was the way it broke away from gender norms by having not only a woman who was brave, smart and politically savvy but male heroes who weren’t muscular, hypermasculine and callously violent. Leia reflected on the big screen what many women were fighting against in the 70s and 80s: an unequal, patrifocal society not all that different from the Galactic Empire, while Luke and Obi-Wan were a far cry from their macho, cynical, anti-hero contemporaries (i.e. The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, Rocky, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, etc.). Even the much more traditionally masculine Han Solo and Lando Calrissian had to learn to soften up a bit.

I point this out because in all honesty, Leia was never my favorite character in the Original Trilogy. My favorite character was Luke Skywalker because he got the lightsaber, got to fight Darth Vader, got his own starship and the trilogy was focused on his hero’s journey. Leia, on the other hand, has no female rebel officers to converse with onscreen, the introductory scroll to TESB credits Luke as leader of the Rebel Alliance instead of her and Han is the one chosen to lead the Endor Strike Force even though she’d been with the Rebellion a lot longer and was among its top leadership.

But despite these setbacks, there are moments when Leia shines as a shero. To honor Carrie Fisher, here are 18 moments from Star Wars films, books and comics where Leia Organa, senator, princess, rebel, wife, mother and daughter proved that she was the #1 female icon of Star Wars.

1. Leia Lets Darth Vader Know Who She Is

A New Hope

For all the hemming and hawing against the prequels “focus” on politics, people forget that the original trilogy also touched on politics at times and it occurs immediately after C-3PO and R2-D2 escape from the Tantive IV. Leia, surrounded by stormtroopers tells Vader “the Imperial Senate will not sit still for this!” “I’m a member of the Imperial Senate on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan”. Right away, she lets us know who she is. She sees herself as a senator and diplomat first and foremost. Never for once does she tell anyone that she’s a princess.

2. Leia Tells Han to Knock It Off

A New Hope

Han at this point is selfish and haughty and not making it easy for Luke and Leia. Leia has had it. “Listen! I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but from now on, you do as I say, OK?” Leia gets bonus points for demanding, “will somebody get this big, walking carpet out of my way?”

3. Leia Comforts Luke

A New Hope

Not after Obi-Wan dies but after Han walks away from the Yavin IV mission. Luke is feeling down and tells Leia about his disappointment. I love Leia’s response because it’s something we should all remember when we don’t agree with someone’s choices: “he’s got to choose his own path, no one can choose it for him.”

4. Leia Gives Orders to the Troops

The Empire Strikes Back

Another scene that shows Leia’s leadership skills is before the Battle of Hoth where she stands in the midst of a group of rebel pilots and briefs them on how to fight Vader’s troops. Notice how no one questions her experience, or her sex.

5. Leia Rescues Luke

The Empire Strikes Back

The earliest hint that Luke and Leia are twins. Defeated, crippled and desperate, Luke is hanging on for dear life (literally). He calls out for Obi-Wan, then, through the Force, reaches out for Leia. The camera pans over Leia’s blank expression when she realizes that Luke needs her. She orders Chewie and Lando to go back and rescue him.

6. Leia Kills Jabba

Return of the Jedi

You’ll notice that ROTJ has the most entries of the three movies. That’s because I believe, as character, Leia shines the most in episode 6 (she also stops wearing white all the time). After fooling everyone with her bounty hunter disguise, she’s captured by Jabba and forced into a “dancing girl” outfit as his prisoner. This famous bikini has come under a lot of scrutiny in recent years as a sexist example of the male gaze. Even Fisher has admitted she didn’t like wearing it when she was filming Jedi. However she also had some choice words for a dad who criticized the outfit as a bad example for little girls:

“Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it. And then I took it off. Backstage.

She’s a prisoner of a giant testicle who has a lot of saliva going on and she does not want to wear that thing and it’s ultimately that chain, which you’re now indicating is some sort of accessory to S&M, that is used to kill the giant saliva testicle. That’s asinine.”

Exactly. Part of the reason this outfit has stayed popular with female fans over the years is because they see it as a symbol of empowerment. A woman forced into a “sexual” situation she had no control over, who turns the tables on her captor and indirectly avenges another captive’s (Oola the Twi’lek) pointless death. What woman wouldn’t identify with that?

7. Leia Befriends Wicket

Return of the Jedi

Some stuck up fans would rather blast an Ewok into the stratosphere. Not our princess. She strikes up a friendship with one of them, Wicket (behind the scenes Carrie Fisher gave Wicket’s actor, Warwick Davis, cookies and chocolate milk. Yum). She goes back with him to his village and even wears a dress they made for her. Thanks to her diplomatic skills, she gets the Ewoks to help the rebels and we get two made-for-television Ewok movies, comics and a cartoon series. Take that snobby fans!

8. Leia Learns About Her Heritage

Return of the Jedi

The most poignant scene in the Original Trilogy. Luke asks Leia about their biological mother, the fact that Leia has gotten visions of Padme proves she’s Force sensitive. Then Luke tells her that Vader is his father. Shock #1. Next he tells her that he’s her brother. Shock #2. Next he tells her he’s turning himself in for the sake of the rebellion. Shock #3. Is it any wonder she collapses from grief into Han’s arms?

And speaking of Han…

9. “I Love You”, “I Know”

Return of the Jedi

Are you surprised I didn’t list that immortal exchange from TESB? Ha! I never understood why people swoon over that scene. After constant pestering from Han about her feelings, she finally admits that she loves him. But Han never tells her how he feels about her. We had to wait until the next movie. During a shootout at a shields base on Endor, Leia gets shot but is able to shoot a trooper, prompting Han to say “I love you” and Leia to respond, “I know”. I wish more his and her merchandise had this exchange instead of the other one.

10. Leia Reassures Han About Their Relationship

Return of the Jedi

Yet despite Han professing his love, he’s still not sure if Leia still loves him. He thinks she loves Luke. But unlike the Han from ANH, the new Han proves his true manhood by not slut-shaming Leia and promising that when Luke comes back, he won’t get in the way. Fortunately for him, Leia reveals that her love for Luke is familial and her love for Han is romantic.

11. Leia Reveals The New Symbol of the Rebel Alliance

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The Force Unleashed

A 2008 multimedia project that includes a video game, a comic, a novel and an action figure line, TFU bridges the gap between episodes 3 and 4 and tells the story of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, Galen Marek, who is assigned to hunt down any remaining jedi but instead sacrifices his life for the Rebellion. To honor his memory, Leia and Bail Organa open a sheet found in his childhood home decorated with the Marek family crest. Leia announces that this symbol will now stand for the Rebel Alliance. You’ve seen it on lots of Star Wars merchandise.

12. Leia Stands Up For a Caamasi

Star Wars Tales #15: First Impressions

An anti-speciesist story. Leia is visiting Coruscant for the first time with her father and observes a Caamasi get arrested for buying a drink. She loudly protests this injustice to no avail and nearly gets arrested herself. She tells Bail that she will complain about the matter to Palpatine but doesn’t out of (justifiable) fear. Bail teaches her that sometimes change has to happen subtly. He then reveals that he’s arranged a release for the Caamasi and that Leia can go to meet him. His name is Eg’ros Akala.

13. Leia Rebuffs Xizor

xizor_and_leia

Shadows of the Empire

Falleen prince, leader of Black Sun and really gets around thanks to his pheromones. He likes to seduce a female (of any species), bed her and then dispose of her when he gets bored. So it should come as no surprise that between plotting against Vader and plotting against Skywalker, Xizor becomes infatuated with Leia. He nearly succeeds in seducing her but she knees him in the groin.

Xizor: You’re refusing me?

Leia: You got that right.

14. Trioculus “Woos” Leia

trioculus_leia

Zorba the Hutt’s Revenge

Another lousy suitor, another lousy prince. Except this one thinks he’s the son of Palpatine and wants to be his successor. Since every king needs a queen, he believes Leia is the pick of the litter. After capturing her, he professes his love for her and proposes. She responds with a slap.

15. “I Would Be Pleased If You Would Join Me”

Sean Cooke, artist who’s done a few Star Wars covers for Dark Horse

I once came across this hard to find picture online and posted it on my Tumblog. I will never forget the way it captures a tender moment between an icon of evil and an innocent little girl. I’ll let the caption speak for itself:

She pulled the comb out of her hair and tucked it in her sash, then went to watch the rest of the sunset from the Great Hall, through the arch.

Lord Vader was already there, standing at the center of the door, a black mountain against the vivid red of the sky. He was aware of her presence, though she wasn’t sure how, or how she knew it.

Well, she wasn’t going to miss the sunset just because he was in her favorite spot. She wasn’t afraid of Lord Vader and it wasn’t bravado, like Father thought.

“Good evening, Your Highness,” he said, “I would be pleased if you would join me.”

You can view the picture here.

16. Prince Isolder Wants to Marry Leia

The Courtship of Princess Leia

Another romantic rival for Han but this time, he’s a good guy. Set four years after ROTJ, Leia, wanting to add more star systems to the fledgling New Republic, opens talks with the Hapes Consortium. However there’s a catch: the Queen Mother wants Leia to marry her son, the dashing Prince Isolder. At a royal dinner Han asks Isolder why would the Queen want Leia for a daughter-in-law when she has no planet or royal house to hail from. Prince Isolder shocks everyone in the room: marrying Leia was his idea. Why? Because he was so impressed with her diplomatic skills.

17. Girls’ Night Out

Vector Prime

The first novel in The New Jedi Order series. Leia is riding in a starship with her daughter Jaina and sister-in-law Mara Jade. Jaina is training under Mara and at first she’s a little jealous of their rapport but also realizes that her sixteen year old daughter is becoming a young woman. She later confesses her feelings to Mara, who in turn confesses her yearning for a child. It’s heartwarming to see some female bonding in the Galaxy Far, Far Away.

18. Leia Trains With Yoda

Star Wars Infinities: The Empire Strikes Back

What if Luke Skywalker never survived that blizzard on Hoth? With dying breath, Luke tells Han about Yoda and Dagobah. Han relays the message to Leia, who decides to visit this “Yoda” character – and ends up training as a jedi instead.

I will conclude this tribute with a quote from Tricia Barr who wrote a recent article about the Alderaanian princess in Star Wars Insider issue 144:

“Princess Leia has never quite been embraced by the feminist movement in the same way Wonder Woman has, perhaps because of the perception that Star Wars was a boys’ franchise rather than a pro-feminism vehicle.”

Ah, but how many little girls became avowed feminists after viewing Star Wars for the first time? The intergalactic saga definitely made me a feminist and I believe that George Lucas, in his own way, has contributed to women’s rights as much as William Moulton Marston has. And Lucas could never have done it without the wit and talent of Carrie Frances Fisher.

Goodbye and God bless, Ms. Fisher (and you too Ms. Reynolds). And May the Force Be With You.

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Now, it’s your turn. What Leia Organa, Carrie Fisher or Debbie Reynolds memories would you like to share? Sound off in the comments!

 

 

 

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You Must See “Advantageous”

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Watch out – spoilers about.

“The Best Sci-Fi Film of 2015 is Here – And It’s Not ‘Mad Max'” read the headline of a Business Insider article one summer day.

Whaaaat?!  You mean to tell me that MM:FR wasn’t the only SF film released this year that dealt with feminist themes? That another filmmaker, a woman named Jennifer Phang, also wrote (along with actress Jaqueline Kim) and directed a movie about a woman’s struggle against an unfair society (note: this is not to say Mad Max: Fury Road is a bad film. I enjoyed it very much. But it shouldn’t be the only sf film to address feminist issues. We need more films like this and Mad Max)?

Yes, Advantageous, starring Jaqueline Kim and Ken Jeong, is about a future where the economy is in decline, jobs are hard to find, a good education is achieved by the lottery instead of enrollment, a majority of the homeless population is female and infertility is at an all-time high. But unlike Mad Max, which shows us a desolate post apocalyptic wasteland, this unnamed futuristic city by all appearances is pleasing to look at. One of its citizens is Gwen Koh (Jaqueline Kim), a Korean-American woman who works at the lucrative Center For Advanced Health And Living as a spokesperson. All she wants in life is to give her only daughter (Samantha Kim) a bright future. She will stop at nothing to make sure Jules gets into the most prestigious school in the country…

But there’s one problem: she’s about to lose her job because the company wants a new spokeswoman who’s younger and more “racially ambiguous”. The only employment she can get at her age is that of an egg donor. This is laughable because Gwen is only in her forties and is a very beautiful and intelligent woman.

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There’s only one other solution for Gwen. Try out this new experiment where she can transfer her consciousness into another body. However, for a year she will have to deal with constant pain and take shots to help her keep breathing. There’s also a more serious side effect that’s not revealed until later in the film.

Before undergoing the procedure, Gwen visits her estranged cousin, Lily, (Jennifer Ikeda) and her husband, Han (Ken Jeong) for help. It’s at this moment in the film we learn of Gwen’s dark secret: she and Han had an affair years ago and he is Jules father. Gwen has been able to stay out of their lives since then, but now she needs them more than ever but Lily refuses because she and Han have children of their own.

After their last Christmas together, Gwen and Jules pick out a body and Gwen undergoes the procedure. Due to the success of Gwen 2.0 (Freya Adams), customer demands for the procedure have skyrocketed.

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But not all is successful for Gwen’s and Jules’ relationship as mother and daughter. Gwen 2.0 can’t seem to rekindle that emotional bond with Jules she had before the transfer. Her memories are slowly fading away as Gwen’s original consciousness ceased to exist during the procedure. There’s no way for them to continuously transfer her old memories into her new body. To all extents and purposes, Gwen Koh is dead.

But not all is lost. Lily and Han have seen footage of the new Gwen, had a change of heart and decided that they will help her and Jules after all. They decide to meet at the park for a picnic where Jules will meet her “new”, extended family for the first time.

In an age of genre films where big budget special effects, explosions, violence and fast paced storytelling have become the norm, Advantageous feels like a breath of much-needed fresh air. It doesn’t have any action sequences (The only action scene in the entire movie is where a flying “car” crashes into a building as an act of terrorism. The only reaction is one of weariness from the characters because terrorism has become too commonplace). It’s not loud and boisterous. It’s quiet and reflective. It takes its time. You also have to really pay attention to “clues” as to how this society works. One scene has Gwen sitting in the park talking to her mother on the phone. She notices a teenage girl in the distance wearing a strange mask. Behind a tree she changes her clothes. She takes off the mask with a different identity. Is this a mask sold by the Center For Advanced Health And Living? Is changing one’s appearance the norm?

In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, the story would’ve devolved into some “conspiracy thriller” where Gwen would’ve confronted the company she works for, demanded her old body back, possibly at gunpoint, transferred back into Gwen 1.0 and lived happily ever after. You won’t find that here because it would undermine the message of the story. There’s no sex and very little profanity. Most importantly, it uses the future to warn us about the present. After all isn’t that what science fiction is all about?

Another refreshing aspect of the film is its diversity in its cast. There’re only four men with speaking roles and most of the cast is made up of women of different ethnic backgrounds. Unlike others who’ve done nothing but criticize Hollywood for lack of inclusion in genre films, Phang and Kim, took the initiative and made their own sci-fi movie where the protagonist wasn’t a white male. Most of the main cast is of Asian descent, yet their problems are not related to a specific cultural identity. But most importantly the film uses science fiction to address  current issues relating to women’s rights which is why it’s just as good as Mad Max.

Maybe even better.

Winner of the 2015 Sundance Special Jury Award for Collaborative Vision and only available on Netflix. 

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Gwen (Jaqueline Kim) and her daughter (Samantha Kim) enjoy a quiet moment.

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Jennifer Ehle plays Isa Cryer, the head of the Center For Advanced Health And Living.

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Filed under female characters, feminism