Amongst the Marvel Superhero epics and the Hollywood remakes, a marvelous, original, gem of a movie has risen from development hell to become hit. Edgar Wright’s BABY DRIVER may not be number one at the box office, but it’s critical acclaim and unique point of view (as well as a killer soundtrack) has cemented BABY DRIVER as the success it was meant to be. Sara and I thoroughly enjoyed our screening and I have no complaints at all.
Okay I have one complaint; let’s see if you can guess (it rhymes with schwomen).
The thing about BABY DRIVER is that, from start to finish it’s a fantastic movie. It’s a fairly original concept with a sharp point of view – in my opinion, this is what audiences are starving for. But despite this, all the women featured in the movie served mainly as motivations for the men and in many ways are two dimensional characters. Baby (Ansel Elgort) lost his mother when he was a young child (this is how he got great at driving and living a life of crime) and his love interest Debora (Lily James) seemingly has no motivations or hopes or dreams outside of escaping with Baby into the sunset. And the only other female character, a criminal named Darling (played by the amazing Eliza Gonzalaz), ends up playing second fiddle to her husband Buddy (John Hamm), in a way I can’t fully describe without giving away spoilers. Overall, the women in the movie were created and served to make all the Dude Plots stronger.
Now we’ve talked about this issue on the blog before, and it’s a fairly consistent criticism of Hollywood – we all know this. And I don’t want this to deter people from seeing the movie. In fact, BABY DRIVER does a better job than most movie in portraying women; these characters are fairly diverse and go against the mainstream ideas of what women should be.
But what’s honestly so tiring about seeing this over and over, is that the problem is just so easy to fix. We just need to start swapping all the genders in movie scripts. If we just switched Lily James’ and Ansel Elgort’s roles in the movie, (save a few minor changes to the script), I truly believe the end result would be the same. Instead of watching Baby as a young man, as he tries to find his way after getting in with the wrong crowd, making music in his bedroom and driving really fast, we could have watched Lily James do basically the exact same thing. I know this seems like a small change, but I think it’s revolutionary. When is the last time you saw a female character, that isn’t a superhero, occupy a space on screen that never once drew attention to the fact that she was a girl? And when has an action movie ever showcased such a morally complex character like Baby, who also happens to have a vagina?
Perhaps for many in Hollywood, it’s hard to imagine a girl occupying the same space they believe boys to occupy. But how many women out in the world have grown up watching their mother be abused, loving music, taking care of their foster parents, and learning everything they can about cars, inside and out? It’s not hard to believe that those women exist. And we do ourselves a disservice to not try and portray them.
Of course, there are great and important films out there that star women and make women look like real human beings – I’m not talking about those. And this isn’t a jab at movies like Wonder Women either, which opened the doors for all the future female-lead super hero movies I hope to see in the future (such as ATOMIC BLONDE, which looks GREAT). But not every movie has to be a revolutionary new look at women’s experiences in the world or a movie about how women can still kick your ass despite having boobs. Sometimes you just want to watch a bunch of people drive cars really fast, and it would be nice if more of those characters were women.
I am reminded of a scene in the recent Netflix original series GLOW. Allison Brie’s character, Ruth Wilder, is auditioning for a acting job – it’s an intense scene and she delivers it well but as she finishes, the casting woman points out that Ruth has read the wrong part, the part for the male character not the female character. Ruth apologizes, saying she was mistaken, but later after the audition, confides in her friends that she knew she was reading the part for the male character, not the female character. “It was the better part.” Ruth says.
This is, I believe, the crux of this issue. Men in Hollywood are consistently given better parts – roles that showcase a wide range of human emotion – that are wise and strong, or weak-willed and vulnerable. These roles are created without a second thought and, save any bad story telling, audiences usually accept these characters at face value and don’t really question whether their motivations are realistic. But audiences aren’t stupid; they know what’s believable and what’s not. We shouldn’t assume that because we’ve never shown a women in a particular space before, that means she can’t occupy it. If we believe only certain kinds of people in the world are worth showing on screen, we erase real people from these narratives.
People of color have been battling this a long time as well. When Donald Glover made a bid for Spider-Man (back before Andrew Garfield got the role), he received a lot of racial backlash. He says the most frustrating note he got was from someone who said that Peter Parker can’t be black because there are no black people who have grown up and act like Peter. Which is incredulous – “you think there aren’t any black kids in queens who like science and do photography?” Donald fired back.
I think what it comes down to is imagining people complexly. I don’t think we need to create entirely new spaces for women or for people of color that only they can occupy. Instead, I want us and them to occupy the spaces we always have; without the burden of being products or objects for men or for the plot. And more than that, I want stories that let women be women and let black people be black people without talking about whether or not these characters represent society’s idea of what a they should be.
And I would like more movies like Baby Driver on screen. I want a lot of things okay?
In the coming days, I will be finding scripts on the internet and swapping the genders to give actual examples of how easy my proposal would be. I also encourage you to follow this twitter, which showcases the various sexist ways women are introduced in scripts, to learn more.