The Cost of a Good Cry: A Meditative Reflection on Femininity and Power
By Sam Doll | 13.11.2017
Although I’d like to think of myself as a sophisticated film buff with a pallet for nuanced themes and enriched storylines, I’m really not. Unsurprisingly, my favourite genre of movie is action, or action horror, depending on what kind of temporary thrill I’m looking for that day. I wish I could say I was more cultured, more intelligent, more willing to “dive in!” as they say, but I’m just not. I use movies the way I imagine a man, worn out by the Depression during the Sound Era might have: to escape the tragic realities of everyday life…But I digress! My absolute favourite genre, within the seemingly vapid genre that is action, is the superhero movie. Because really, how much do you need to think about a superhero movie? Not that much, is the answer I offer you. Although I enjoy a good superhero film from start to finish, my favourite part is obviously, the reveal: when you know that you’re about to see some supernatural (or natural, if we’re talking Batman) power in action. Like in the original X-Men, when you just know Logan is about to sewer his opponent at the underground Albertan boxing match, or in the 2002 Spiderman (with my favourite actor of all time, Toby McGuire…), when he first starts climbing the wall with his sticky little spider fingers…God, what a rush! The whole culture behind the superhero movie has clearly gone bananas, with the re-branding of Marvel over the last five or so years. The colliding of worlds, the superheroes you know so well, with the celebrities that basically rule the Western world, is a juicy development that gets better with every casting.
“Joseph Gordon Levitt is going to play Robin!”
“Oh my god, I love him.”
“James McAvoy is playing young Professor X!”
“Ben Affleck is going to be Batman.”
“Yeah, I can’t see myself getting behind that…”
These pairings are made, followed by the comical flak delivered by comic-junkies across the world, debating if the studio made the best decision to do these characters justice, as if this is their ONE SHOT to deliver the perfect Batman. As if Batman hasn’t been remade 78,439,274 times. I’m only throwing shade at these nerds because I am one myself, and I have joined nearly every conversation about every casting development that has taken place in both the Marvel and DC realms. To this day the most excited I’ve been was when I found out Anne Hathaway was going to be playing Catwoman in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.
Let me tell you something. Seeing a male superhero is cool, but seeing a female superhero is WILD. It’s kind of like the systemic sexism that takes place in your brain when your pilot on a transatlantic (or really just any) flight, is a woman. The idea of seeing a girl with substantial power is more exciting, because (unfortunately) it is still out of place.
My obsession with powerful female characters does not stop at comic book superheroes, obviously… that would be weird. I like all boss-ass female characters, and so do most viewers, but not for the reasons you would think. With the much debated third wave of feminism (Is it happening? And if so, why? Do you guys still burn your bras?), both the big and small screens have made a drastic effort to increase the number of characters embodying a new “powerful female” trope. Audiences respond well to this new trope, as shown with the success of characters like Alicia Florrick (The Good Wife), Olivia Pope (Scandal) and — my personal favourite — Cookie (Empire). These actresses are well received and well paid. It was recently revealed that Scarlett Johansson has broken the record for highest paid female actress for her role as Black Widow in the Avengers franchise.
Although I’m as overjoyed as anyone to see more diversity in female roles, these long awaited castings are problematic. The fact that this still seems to be a novel concept is a problem I see diminishing over time, just based on the progress that has been made with female characters already. There was a time when empowered women characters were way fewer and farther between, however in recent years, female characters have been acknowledged and expected, even if diversity within these roles is not. In order to fully dissolve the issue, there needs to be a better balance in developing these characters so that their power is not synonymous with masculinity. Unfortunately, mainstream media often presents female characters that must compromise their womanhood in order to be powerful — which is a balancing act I’ll discuss in a few paragraphs.
In 2015, I released my first short film, titled CRYHARD. My boyfriend of two years brutally cheated on me, and to cope with the pain I thought would surely never end (**SPOILER**: it did), I made a movie about attempting to kill him with an axe. Since — as previously mentioned — I don’t necessarily put that much thought into art, I just kind of made the film thinking it was a dumb (but funny) portrayal of a woman destroyed by a slimy little man. My “dumb” movie ended up getting into a few film festivals. Most recently, I flew to Los Angeles to watch it at the Broad Humour Film Festival. After the screening there was a Q&A discussion where I was extremely surprised to hear that my film brought up a topic I definitely did not think about during production.
I was basically asleep on the podium when one of the girls in the audience said “I have a question for Sam about CRYHARD.”
What? I perked up and she said, “I really liked how the protagonist was a strong female character, while still remaining completely vulnerable. How did you achieve that balance?”
To put this in perspective, the main character in CRYHARD finds out her boyfriend is cheating on her, then cries really hard for like a week, cuts bangs, and then in a seemingly mentally unstable move, decides to stalk her ex with an axe. Basically, I just wrote what I felt like doing in real life, but obviously didn’t do because that would be insane. And as women, we have to be aware of anything that can make us seem insane, even if it is completely 100% justified, because it can and will be used against us, and fused to our reputation for the rest of our psychotic, period bearing lives.
The founder of the festival chimed in, “I agree. I think it’s very rare to see a female character with self agency, who you know, for lack of better words, could ‘fuck you up’ without compromising her female identity. She was still upset, she was still crying, but there was a power that came with her feminine vulnerability. Great job.”
I had nothing to add, short of, “Thank you! Of course, this was a completely intentional artistic choice, a microcosm if you will, for the harsh dichotomy females must face in this great world: To embrace the power of man, and thus, cut loose from our sacred femininity? Or…the dignified but seemingly stagnant choices, to clutch to our feminine roots and forgo the vast opportunities male characters have the privilege of grasping on a regular basis. As you can imagine the decision was QUITE a tough one that I spent years deliberating, kind of like how J. K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter for 5 years on napkins before she actually started writing the book. So to answer your question Linda, YES, I am a genius.”
Instead, I just nodded in agreement and said nothing at all.
When I got home, however, I started thinking more about it. There is a balance I accidentally achieved that is kind of rare to see. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow has undergone a female circumcision. She literally had her girlhood taken from her, and that’s why she was able to become the most powerful and cutthroat Russian assassin. Alicia Florrick in The Good Wife, cries for the first time in Season 2 and it is treated like a massive breakthrough in the show. “She’s CRYING? That’s crazy because this character never cries.” Now, back to my biased opinion that Cookie from Empire is the best character ever. With Cookie you have a woman who embraces her motherhood, loves her babies, is easily hurt, cries sometimes, but is still a powerhouse at the company, and does whatever is best for her. Like THAT is what I’m talking about! Everyone close this journal and go watch Empire.
As I said, I’m not like a brilliant film savant! But, you only need two eyes and a heart to know that women need to start being portrayed as they are on television and in film, instead of being divided into these brutal stereotypes: girly girls, bitchy girls, lesbian workaholics that wear power suits and don’t get laid, butches, tomboys, fat girls who are funny but not sexy, dumb airhead girls with nice racks that get killed first in horror movies, or powerful girls who have no emotion and sometimes no vagina hole, but DAMN can they get shit done. As a female, I can tell you that there are times when I’m a dumb airhead who gets shit done while crying in a power suit. Embrace me America!
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