Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

by Mary Haines

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Starring Taron Egerton, Julianne Moore and Colin Firth, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is rated R for sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material. It’s directed by Matthew Vaughn who helmed the first Kingsman movie and is known for quirky action films.
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Let’s get a few things out of the way first. I loved Kingsman: Secret Service. I’ve seen it 5 or 6 times. I love Colin Firth, and I love fun action movies. I did not love this movie. There are more reasons why than we will go into in this column because that’s not what we’re here for. What we’re here for is to talk about how Kingsman deals with female characters.

ROXYKingsman writers don’t seem to be able to handle more than one female agent at a time, but when they write them, they do it well, I’ll give them that.  Roxy was one of my favorite characters from the first movie. She was strong, she was sensible, she was sure of herself and her abilities. She was also highly skilled and extremely competent.  This makes it all the more disappointing that she was barely in The Golden Circle.
GINGER: Probably the reason that Roxy was written out of the sequel, Halle Berry plays American tech support (Merlin’s counterpart), Ginger Ale. At first, she comes off as a bit of a shy nerd stereotype, but over the course of the movie, you realize that she’s intelligent, competent, and very confident with who she is.  She knows what she wants and keeps going after it, even in the face of unwarranted opposition. I just wish that the writing team could handle more than one female agent at a time because when they do them, they do them well.
TILDE: One of the most controversial parts of the original Kingsman came in the form of an anal sex joke at the end of the movie. I’m not going to pretend to be impartial, I thought it was tacky and tasteless and was “off” from the tone of the rest of the movie. It felt like an instance of using a female character solely as a sex object and that disappointed me.  I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, when Princess Tilde showed up in the sequel as what promised to be a fully formed character. And she was …. for a while.  Then she took a hard right turn into “girlfriend who wants a proposal out of nowhere” that flowed into “girlfriend who leaves boyfriend without a word over one semi-fight.”  Which, naturally, then dwindled into a damsel in distress and she spent the rest of the movie needing to be rescued — again.

CLARA: Speaking of using a female character solely as a sex object … I present Clara. She exists to be a bad guy’s girlfriend, a prop for the main character’s relationship problems, and the personification of this edition’s sleazy sex joke. She was usable, disposable, and entirely expendable.

POPPY: Julianne Moore as Harvard businesswoman/domestic goddess/drug queenpin was probably the best thing about The Golden Circle and is responsible for one full star added onto this movie’s score.  Kingsman had a cool female henchwoman in the first movie. You couldn’t call Gazelle a fully developed character, but she definitely had style.  Poppy has style and substance. She built her own little world and commands it with a sinister charm and absolute authority.  Julianne Moore plays her with a scenery-chewing sense of fun that really brings the character alive and makes her outrageously memorable. That said, it’s interesting to note that none of Poppy’s guards or gang are women — thus cementing the theory that the Kingsman writers and/or producers can only handle one female character of any particular type per movie.

The Golden Circle is certainly not in the category of worst movies I’ve ever seen, but you can’t come close to beating the Bechdel test when none of your female characters ever interact with each other. If you have twenty front-line characters and only three of them are female, you have an issue. The Kingsman movies really do a wonderful job at depicting deep freindships and loving relationships between men — now they just need to extend that range to the other fifty percent of the human population and they might be getting somewhere.
It

It

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Starring Bill Skarsgard, Finn Wolfhard, and a cast of talented newcomersIt is rated R for violence/horror, bloody images,
and for language. Based on the novel by Steven King.  
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It is a classic horror movie.  It has murders and severed body parts, haunted houses, dark sewers, forbidding woods and monsters that come from the depths of our nightmares. It has a scary clown. A very scary clown. Perhaps the scariest clown in collective movie memory.  Bill Skarsgard’s portrayal of “It” is truly terrifying. He drools, he taunts, he tempts, and he kills. He jumps out from hidden corners and bends his body to scuttle up a flight of stairs after you. “It” turns itself into the image of your deepest, darkest fear and chases you down with purpose. If you are a fan of the horror genre, there’s simply no reason for you not to see and enjoy this movie.
*
Having said all of that, It delivers on deeper levels, as well.  If you’re a fan of King, you already know his propensity for telling coming of age stories with a sinister twist.  At its core, It is a movie about growing up. A group of seven misfits, aged 13, come together over the course of a summer and form an unbreakable bond. It is this enduring bond of friendship that ultimately allows them to defeat the monster that has killed classmates, friends, even relatives in the case of leading man, Bill Denbrough.
*
Bill forms one corner of a teenaged love triangle with new-kid-in-town Ben, and Bev, the Losers Club only female member.  Rounding out the 7, you have class clown Richie, smothered son Eddie, Rabbi’s kid Stan and homeschooled Mike.  Stan is often ostracized for his religion, and Mike because of his race. Together, they help each other survive the monster trying to kill them, coming to understand that it is their unity that makes them so powerful.
*
It’s not a stretch from there to understand that It works as a metaphor for the all-too-real perils of adolescence. Your friends, the community you build with each other, is all important. Particularly when you have a bad home life. Unsurprisingly, at least 6 of the Losers Club would rather be in the sewers than at home. (Richie‘s family situation goes unaddressed in the movie.) Bill‘s parents are so wrapped up in their own grief they have nothing left for his. Bill‘s status as de-facto leader of the Losers Club is unquestioned, and it is the loss of his younger brother that drives the whole quest forward.
*
Mike lost his parents to a gruesome fire and is kept isolated by his relatives on their sheep farm, made to participate in the gruesome work. Ben is not only new but fat. A condition that guarantees ridicule and abuse from his peers. Stan can’t live up to his father’s expectations and is chafing against the trappings of his family’s religion. Eddie is the victim of a classic smothering mother. Much more than the proverbial helicopter, she keeps her only son as close as she can, using him as an outlet for her own hypochondria.  As the only adult woman in the movie, Eddie‘s mother is a construct, built out of all the worst traits of motherhood, both real and imagined.
*
And then we have Bev. Lone female member of the Losers Club, Bev has arguably the worst home life of them all. Being raised solely by her father, Bev lives terrified and abused in her own home. When “It” manifests itself as Bev‘s worst nightmare, It doesn’t have to look far, just needing to don the face and form of her only parent. At 13, all of the kids are exploring their emerging sexuality, but Bev is the only one who is sexualized. Painting a perfect picture of the different ways boys and girls are treated, Bev‘s physical development has subjected her to sexual harassment from her classmates and the slimy smear of abuse that’s painted over her relationship with her father. When Bev is struggling to escape an attempted rape by her father, it’s not clear if he’s possessed by “It” or not. And that makes the scene all that more terrifying — the knowledge that there are fathers (and others) out there who do this to their children without the need of possession by an external monster is what should keep us all up at night.
*
Bev is also the fulcrum of a love triangle in the Losers Club, but it is a gentle, soft-edged triangle; no sharp points to draw blood. Ben has all of the longings of unrequited love but quietly accepts that Bev‘s feelings are for Bill.  He accepts this without anger towards either of his friends; he never expected that he had a right to Bev‘s love just because of his for her and there is no whining about being friend-zoned. For her part, although Bev chooses Bill for the short term, she chooses herself in the end and that’s a healthy message for thirteen-year-old girls. (Although, I don’t think many of them should be seeing It.)
*
It is a 4-star horror movie. It is a 4-star coming of age movie. It leaves us with the knowledge that while terrifying killer monster clowns are scary, what’s sometimes really frightening is the reality of being a young teenager. It shows us true horror through the eyes of 13-year-old kids.  To them, the killer monster clown is something that they can fight together.  What they can’t always defeat are the realities of their day to day life; not having control of their own destinies, under the power of adults who can’t or won’t enter into their world or their concerns, relentless bullying unchecked by teachers or parents, living in an abusive home.  The terror that should follow us home and into our nightmares isn’t Pennywise – it’s Mike‘s Uncle, it’s Henry Bowers, it’s Bev‘s father.  True fright comes from being powerless, and who’s more powerless in our world than children?
mother!

mother!

I’m super excited to begin writing movie reviews for you from a feminist point of view. I’m doubly excited because the first assignment happens to be my favorite movie so far of 2017! 
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Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, mother! is rated R for strong disturbing violent content, some sexuality, nudity, and language. It’s directed by Darren Aronofsky of Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream fame.  
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There will be think pieces piled on top of think pieces picking over the obvious religious topics that this movie delves into. I will leave those topics to those who are more qualified than I. At a basic level, Mother! Is the story of the Bible presented in a very fresh, new way.

*

Lawrence is Mother Earth (although never actually given that name). Bardem is called “the poet” throughout but is obviously a physical manifestation of a creator or God. The movie is a heartbreaking look at how humans have raped and pillaged Mother Earth over the millennia. You are forced by the direction of the movie to focus solely on Lawrence and her confusion, heartbreak, and fury as the events unfold around her. After watching, you will think twice before you fail to recycle or fill up your SUV.

*

But, if we take 3 steps back and simply look at this movie on its face, it’s every single married woman who is being neglected by her partner. Lawrence is firing on all cylinders here with a raw emotion that will feel familiar to every woman in the audience. She rotates between begging for her needs to be met and raging at being ignored by everyone around her. For this alone, I was moved to tears more than once. Mother is also never physically safe; her fear is familiar and therefore terrifying in its realness.

*

This movie is going to polarize audiences. There will be very few people who leave the theater without feeling strongly one way or the other. I am hoping that Aronofsky’s unique exploration of Biblical themes doesn’t turn off viewers and make them miss this masterpiece of a film.
*
I was completely swept away into Aronofsky’s world. I simultaneously wanted to hide my face and not miss a single second. I give my very first review score of a solid 5 out of 5 stars. I cannot wait to hear what each of you think of this movie in the comments!
 
Rosebud

Rosebud

One day in September, All-American Jane reached out to her tribe to express the pain and sadness of her day.  She was working with a student, a young woman, and had noticed that this student — let’s call her Rosebud — had been wearing the same clothes for many days in a row.  Unsurprisingly, she was also having difficulty with her hygiene.  Jane remembered her own high school experience of having the brains to go to the “good” school, but not the money to fit in.

Without even being asked, Jane’s tribe of women immediately jumped in, wanting to help in some practical way.  Many of them shared their own stories of growing up without enough to eat, without access to running water and the basics so many of us take for granted. High School is hard enough, particularly on girls. Luckily, Jane accepted the needs of her tribe to contribute to making Rosebud’s life better and set about finding a way to make it happen, while still preserving her student’s privacy and dignity.

Within an hour of Jane posting her action plan, she had passed her fundraising goal of $600 and women were still clamoring to contribute.  And do you know why? Because it makes us feel good when we can help someone!  It’s good for the heart, it’s good for the soul, and it’s good for the person who gets the help that they need.  And, it can sometimes help heal a part of our past.

Rosebud became our first Starfish. With the money raised and a discount shared by a generous tribe member, Jane was able to help Rosebud shop for new clothes. Rosebud was “sitting in [Jane’s] office online picking out new clothes from Lane Bryant…she can NOT stop smiling and saying “REALLY”?”

All-American Jane is a valued member of our family at She the People, and we agreed that the Starfish Club should be formed to continue to help girls and women who might be overlooked, who might need a tribe to help them access the basic necessities of life, as well as the little extras to give them a hand up.

Rosebud was our first Starfish, but she won’t be our last.  Stay tuned, and maybe you can help the next flower in our garden!

#ONEGIRLREVOLUTION

UNDERSTANDING PRIVILEGE

UNDERSTANDING PRIVILEGE

by The Lady Eve

The definition of “feminism” is actually simple and straightforward. Dictionary.com lists the following:

  1. The doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men
  2. (Sometimes initial capital letter) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women

And yet only a cursory search of the world-wide-web would demonstrate the many facets of the Feminist Movement. Given the various nuances and the ever-evolving nature of the movement, it’s easy to understand the misconceptions that I’ve heard expressed by people who I expected would know better.

When I was in college, I recall learning about two types of feminism: liberal and radical. Liberal feminists were defined as those who wanted to work within the system to create change, such as Susan B. Anthony or Gloria Steinem. These are the suffragettes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These were the women who fought tirelessly for the Equal Rights Amendment, the ultimate display of working within the system to bring change. As the name implies, radical feminists believed that change could not come from within the system, because the system itself is the problem. These were the feminists who didn’t just oppose the idea of a patriarchy but also opposed the numerous systems that they identified as contributing to the patriarchy, such as capitalism, religion, or pornography. While I initially thought of myself as a liberal feminist, I found that over time my views became more aligned with concepts originally attributed to radical feminism. This became apparent to me when I was writing my senior thesis on witchcraft. That was the first time I could understand what my professors meant by the system itself needing to be dismantled.

However, since that time, a seemingly new dichotomy has emerged in the discussion of feminism. This is the distinction between traditional (white) feminism and intersectional feminism. At its core, intersectional feminism is based on the belief that all systems of oppression are interconnected, and it is impossible to eliminate any one single system in isolation of the others. In simpler terms, sexism cannot be fully abolished without also addressing racism, homophobia, etc. Understanding the need for an intersectional approach to feminism can definitely be a challenge. I know because I’ve been there.

I have a confession to make: when I turned 18 and registered to vote, I registered as a Republican. I spent four years as a proud member of the College Republicans. Even as I learned to embrace the feminist label, my views were still extremely narrow and, I hate to admit, extremely self-centered. It wasn’t from any lacking in my Women’s Studies classes, just my own inability to fully process the information until years later. Although I don’t recall hearing the term “intersectional” in college, the coursework definitely fit that description.

One of the requirements for my major was a class called Feminisms in an International Context. Without question, this class was one of my least favorite. In retrospect, I see that much of my dislike was based on the way that it challenged my views. I didn’t feel like the class was relevant to me or to my own life. Spoiler alert: this is the epitome of what white feminism looks like. As I began to understand intersectionality better, I was able to reflect on how much this class contributed to that understanding.

One of my sharpest memories from this class was a discussion over an article in the previous day’s Daily Orange (our school paper). It was about an email that the Student Government Speaker sent to a number of his friends. It was supposed to be one of those jokes that everyone sent to everyone they knew. Only this was about Ebonics. The guy who sent the email happened to be a personal friend of mine, and I felt defensive as the discussion centered on why what he did was wrong. I even stayed after class to debate it further with my professor because I just knew that my friend didn’t send it out of malice. It was my very first experience with impact vs. intent. It was years before I was able to really understand why my professor kept saying that it didn’t matter if it was meant to be a joke.

I wish I could point to the exact moment it finally clicked, or cite the article that put everything into perspective. I can say that it hinged on my understanding of the term “privilege.” So what exactly is privilege, and why does it seem to make so many people feel defensive? Privilege is the idea that certain traits (often based on genetic luck of the draw) give some people a leg up on others. I’ve most commonly seen this used in relation to skin color, i.e. “white privilege,” a term that seems to send many white people into a mini-rant about how hard they worked for everything they have.

But privilege is about more than skin color. There are a number of areas where someone can be more or less privileged than others. For example, if you happen to be heterosexual, you have a level of privilege. How so? Well, you probably wouldn’t have to worry about a bakery turning you away if you asked for a wedding cake, just for starters. Socioeconomic class is also a type of privilege. If you happened to be born into an upper-middle-class family, you also experience a type of privilege. This could include things like private schools, vacations abroad, or being able to attend college without the need for student loans. In 2015, Buzzfeed released a video on privilege. They had 10 staffers stand in line and then asked them a series of 35 questions. Each question involved either taking a step forward or a step back. The end result demonstrated how all of the different forms of privilege intersect and impact each of us to varying degrees.

Once you can fully appreciate the impact of privilege, it becomes easy to see why an intersectional approach is so necessary for the Feminist Movement. When privilege exists on so many different planes, it requires addressing multiple areas in order to even attempt to level the playing field. It also points us in the right direction to truly come together as one united movement. At its core, intersectional feminism is about shifting the focus off of the white woman’s experience and looking at the broader landscape. It means learning to become allies to other marginalized groups (I realize allyship can be a full essay in and of itself, and encourage you to do some additional research if the term is unfamiliar to you). In the broadest sense, intersectional feminism hinges on empathy, which is something I will be further examining in my next post.