Monday, 22 February 2016

The Role of Women In Deadpool


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Before we begin, let me introduce bell hooks - or rather let her introduce herself – through her Twitter bio: “Author, Feminist, Teacher and Scholar-bell hooks”. In her blog, bell hooks states she advocates feminist politics (I know, obviously), a term she defines as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” Also, she is a bad-ass who speaks her mind and is infinitely quotable. She and Emma Watson interviewed each other about feminism, and though I initially thought Watson would be present with her usual type of feminism – that of not wanting to offend anyone so much that her points get watered down and lost in the discussion – I was pleasantly surprised and it’s a pretty good read. I introduce these two feminists really so that I can use a quote of bell hook’s to introduce my analysis of Deadpool and its treatment of women. Well, and also because they are legends in their own rights and everyone needs to know about them. But bell hooks said something I thought was incredibly insightful and true. Here’s the quote:

“That's a pretty big stereotype about feminists, that we're not fun, that we don't have a sense of humor and that everything is so serious and politically correct. Humor is essential to working with difficult subjects: race, gender, class, sexuality. If you can't laugh at yourself and be with others in laughter, you really cannot create meaningful social change.”

I’m using this because I guess for this post I’m reinforcing that stereotype. I want to dissect Deadpool’s treatment of women because Hollywood is still MASSIVELY sexist and it pisses me off. The humour part of the quote especially relates to Deadpool, because humour is the biggest thing in it. Guess how many of the laughs are because of the female characters in the film? Probably, at most, 10% - and that’s being generous. Most of the humour involving women is aimed AT them, mocking their appearance or their personality, it’s not an inclusive thing. Just think about the amount of “sullen teenager girl”/Sinead O’Connor quips are thrown at Negasonic Teenage Warhead (admittedly very funny), or “butch female” jokes are flung at Angel Dust.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Of the 13 main characters in the film, there are 9 males and 4 females. Which isn’t actually as bad as most superhero films, so props to them for that. But if we looked in terms of the actual screen time it wouldn’t be quite as optimistic. If we looked at the script and how much males/females talked, I’m sure females the world over would just question why the women were even put in the film... for about three milliseconds, until they remember women have bodies. Then it all makes sense. Let’s think about each female character individually and their part within the film. It won’t take long, because there is only one female that says more than about three lines during the whole film anyway.

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Vanessa Carlysle: Said female that speaks more than about three lines during the whole film. Her character is still, however, just “Deadpool’s Girlfriend”. Vanessa, easily likeable and played magnetically by Morena Baccarin, is definitely the honoured female, given full sentences that are believable and not completely stereotyped. Her story progression is pretty impressive; she manages to stay within the sex industry for the full 1 hour 48 minutes of the film! She starts off a prostitute that comes across Deadpool/Wade Wilson in a bar, who chivalrously pays for her time that doesn’t involve sex. She says for the amount of money he has he can do absolutely anything he wants to her for something like 48 minutes. Way to make herself into a glorified sex doll, and feed into the idealistic view of women being passive, sexual objects to be looked and at used for the pleasure of men. Anyway it ends up with them having sex anyway, so I feel like Deadpool really did well with his money management skills there. Then, by the end of the film, she has made the progression into a stripper and her lingerie work uniform is the one she wears until the credits roll.

Her relationship with Deadpool begins quite positively. She calls the shots for how long he sees her (even if he’s paying and chooses what they do). And we all saw the “Happy Women’s Day” scene, right?! I mean if we want to get really deep (heh) into this, we could say that scene is problematic because to celebrate women’s day, and to assert her dominance, she must wear a symbolic male phallus in order to do so. Still, I feel it’s something not really shown in cinemas, so I appreciated it regardless. BUT then of course she can’t be seen as equal to Deadpool. At his cancer diagnosis she is the strong one, working out what to do. Because he is a manchild, all he can do is stare at her face in denial. Which is quite touching, but damnit, Deadpool, try and act like she is something a bit more than just your “hot girlfriend”! After that when he’s like, “I don’t want you to see me die, I’m off” and sneaks out in the middle of the night, he thinks something that is obviously supposed to be really selfless and touching but when I heard it all I could think was “WTF?” I literally cannot find the quote ANYWHERE but it goes something like “I realised if I let myself die, I’d be killing her too” or some shit. Hello? Why? Her life does not depend on yours, I’m sure she’d be heartbroken as anyone would be but she has her own life... Or does she? If she’s not moodily prowling the streets for some food or working, she has no life outside of Deadpool/Wade. No friends, no family.  Just Deadpool.

During the final scenes she had a few sassy words with Ajax, and had her defining moment in the form of stabbing Ajax and saving Deadpool. She wasn’t stingey with letting Deadpool know how annoyed she was, but she forgave him pretty soon after, which after two years of no word and assuming he’s dead, was pretty generous of her. After researching the film I found out she’s supposed to be a mutant in her own right, called Copycat, a shape shifter. There is literally no mention of this, except for the white streaks in her hair, or even that she could have the potential to be a superhero. Except grabbing that one guy’s balls when she first meets Deadpool, I suppose. Hopefully her character will be greatly improved in the sequel.
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Now moving onto the amazingly named Negasonic Teenage Warhead played by Brianna Hildebrand. If she wasn’t such a stereotype she really had potential. She didn’t care what anyone said, she did her own thing, she was moody and sullen and rebellious. She wasn’t sexualised at all, and with her shaven head, dark makeup and being fully covered in her X Men suit or leather jackets and leggings most of the time, she was not a societally accepted version of “feminine”. But, she was a bit useless. If not for her letting Ajax go in the beginning scenes none of the big catastrophes would have occurred. She had one funny moment in the whole film that didn’t involve slating her appearance/demeanour, the texting gag, but otherwise didn’t really speak much. She was quite 2D and probably had a total of around 30 words to say, maximum. Her superpower was probably the most useful and powerful, being able to blow up as an explosion (I mean her name pretty much gives that away) but it’s used in really poor ways. She assists Colossus in his battle with Angel Dust and saves his life. She blasts Deadpool up to the top of the ship to face Ajax. She’s a walking, barely talking elevator. I did appreciate the fact she wasn’t a size 0 actress too, and thought she looked great even if her dialogue needed massive improvements.

Now let’s talk about Angel Dust; an ironic name for such a strong, powerful character. She manages to say even less than Negasonic Teenage Warhead, totalling probably around 10 words throughout the film. She settles on intense gazes and nods. She could be characterised as Ajax’s bitch. Angel Dust is an interesting character but we get no back story or referential information about her that isn’t within the framework of actually being about Ajax. She, like all the females in the film, messes up at a crucial moment, because women are just so silly like that! One of her matches is used in Deadpool’s escape. But she has some mean sewing skills when she needs to play as nurse to care for Ajax. She does what she’s told by him, like an obedient schoolgirl. And, gah, she is sexualised. Most of the time she’s wearing alright clothes but the final scenes her boobs are out, saying hi, and during a fight it’s a gag that she’s accidentally come out of her bustier. Saying that, I do like that a female is playing the strong henchwoman for a change, even if it wasn’t planned. It was only because of budgeting reasons that Marvel characters Garrison Kane, Wyre and Cannonball were removed and replaced with Angel Dust. So, though you were sloppy seconds, we salute you.

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Blind Al’s time to shine now. She is the old lady who lives with Deadpool. She is constantly ridiculed, ordered around. Her one funny moment is lamenting cocaine in the laundrette, and her constant bickering with Deadpool about what IKEA furniture they will have. Even though it is her house she has no authority or power. She is kind of a bad ass with her guns and drug use and active sex life, and she has some banter with Deadpool that’s pretty amusing. But again another character who needs improving. Especially because she is the only woman of colour in the film with a speaking role. For men of colour there is the hugely stereotyped Dopinder, played by Karan Soni, complete with heavy accent and taxi career. LBGTQ representations are basically non-existent in the Deadpool universe, it’s a hetero world where strip clubs and prostitutes and biker clubs are surprisingly prevalent. 

So while representations of anything other than straight white males are lacking, the film itself is actually hilarious and crude. The storyline is a bit disjointed but overall enjoyable. Pass the Bechdel test, Deadpool does not. But let’s keep our fingers crossed for the sequel learning from its predecessor’s flaws.