Don’t Fear Darling and Blonde: Feminist Movie Debate with Nina Menkes

“Brainwashed” documentarian Nina Menkes unpacks the botched messages behind this 12 months’s “feminist” movies with IndieWire.

[Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers for both “Don’t Worry Darling” and “Blonde.”]

It’s been 5 years because the begin of #MeToo, and mainstream Hollywood nonetheless doesn’t know what a very feminist movie appears like.

The releases of the extremely debated, female-directed “Don’t Fear Darling” and the would-be awards darling that reimagines Marilyn Monroe’s trauma, “Blonde,” proved a good deeper situation when debating the gender politics of movies: “Feminism” has been co-opted to the purpose of changing into meaningless. 2022 marked the Supreme Court docket overturn of Roe v. Wade… and likewise #MeToo movie advertising leaping the shark.

Olivia Wilde’s off-the-rails press tour for “Don’t Fear Darling” began with the “Booksmart” helmer praising the movie for being a beacon of feminine pleasure (spoiler: lead star Florence Pugh’s character is repeatedly raped looking back and can’t consent since she is chained to a mattress and held captive unconscious). In a splashy pre-release cowl story, Wilde made what appeared to be a sex-positive assertion to Selection: “Males don’t come on this movie. … Solely ladies right here!”

Positive, however is a coerced orgasm in a simulated VR sequence actually the climax of the feminist motion?

In the meantime, “Blonde” author/director Andrew Dominik has categorized any criticisms of his movie being anti-choice as merely a stylish take within the wake of the Supreme Court docket resolution. “Blonde” writer Joyce Carol Oates tweeted that the movie miraculously lacks a male gaze —all whereas nonetheless together with a number of sequences that happen contained in the embattled Hollywood icon’s vagina.

The current-day dialogue on what’s deemed a feminist function has gone the way in which of the strategy appearing debate: What are we even speaking about anymore? A “feminist” movie has develop into a token buzzword rendered meaningless in a time when it ought to be most significant. Neglect in regards to the “Female Mystique”: Fashionable advertising is all in regards to the feminist façade.

“Brainwashed”

Sundance

“I observed that individuals who learn movie idea and individuals who go to movie faculty to make movie are inclined to by no means meet or by no means know something about one another,” “Brainwashed: Intercourse-Digital camera-Energy” director Nina Menkes advised IndieWire, citing the significance of her documentary on feminist movie idea and the overwhelming quantity of analysis findings linking pervasive sexist imagery and onscreen violence to sexual assault. “Brainwashed” premieres October 21 with a mission to dissect the male gaze, one thing which isn’t in any respect tied to the gender of the director however slightly the common language of cinema.

So, permit Menkes to outline feminist movie idea: “Feminist movie criticism illuminates the way in which gender is constructed in cinema and the political that means of these constructions,” Menkes stated. “The definition of feminist is that women and men have equal rights. Women and men are each full-on human topics. It’s not like one will get to be a topic (the person) and one will get to be an object (the girl).”

She added, “I believe there may be a variety of disagreement and confusion, so folks can say a movie like ‘Blonde’ has a girl protagonist and she or he’s the primary particular person within the movie so clearly it’s a feminist movie as a result of it reveals that she suffered by the hands of males: ‘It’s like a #MeToo film!’ That’s their argument.”

Menkes continued, “However then as many individuals have stated, ‘Yeah, however the way in which you shot it and the way in which the POV was constructed in that movie, takes away her company.’ Leaving out the script points, that are many, however the way in which it was shot and the way in which the POV was constructed created a scenario the place the viewer is aligned with the POV of the oppressor.”

“Don’t Fear Darling” has been compelled upon the zeitgeist as a female-branded movie, starring a #StrongFemaleLead reverse the delicate gender non-performing former boy bander turned androgynous pop star, and directed by a #TheFutureIsFemale director. It’s Part 5 of the Third Wave Feminist Cinematic Universe, one which emphasizes clickbait “movie films” like “Don’t Fear Darling” slightly than transferring works like Sarah Polley’s “Ladies Speaking” or Maria Schrader’s #MeToo origin story “She Mentioned.”

“Don’t Fear Darling” tells the story of a Nineteen Fifties housewife whose life’s aim is to be the right spouse to her excellent husband (Harry Types), all whereas having excellent intercourse on the kitchen counter as Types’ head slips under Pugh’s apron. The steamy cunnilingus scene all however broke the web; that, and the unending gossip of how Types, Pugh, Wilde, and co-star Chris Pine performed themselves on set.

“Don’t Fear Darling”

Warner Bros.

A supply revealed to IndieWire that the extremely controversial set was with out an intimacy coordinator on the request of director Wilde, all whereas off-set she emphasised simply how horny and Adrian Lyne-y the intercourse scenes between Pugh and Types have been on her year-long press tour. “Why isn’t there any good intercourse in movie anymore?” Wilde infamously requested, promising that “Don’t Fear Darling” would rectify that.

“I believe the concept simply because you have got a feminine lead character, that immediately makes the movie feminist, is a bit naïve. bell hooks stated it greatest. She stated, ‘Patriarchy has no gender,’” Menkes stated. “As ladies, we now have internalized a variety of these ideas on a really, very deep degree to the purpose that they’re simply reproduced. When ladies administrators reproduce these tropes, you marvel how a lot is simply automated. I ask the identical query of ladies that I ask of males: How do you assume that reproducing the identical shit is meant to be revolutionary or commenting on it? As a result of we now have had 120 years of the male gaze on our backs, as a result of we now have had 96 p.c of movies directed by males that objectify ladies all all through historical past. It’s so ingrained, it’s so deep.”

Whereas Menkes credited Wilde for using a feminist shot design and use of visible language, particularly when filming lead star Pugh’s nudity, Menkes famous that on a script degree, “Don’t Fear Darling” is decidedly anti-feminist. Why?

Nicely, primarily as a result of none of that scorching intercourse Wilde boasted about is consensual. Spoiler alert: The ending of “Don’t Fear Darling” is that Pugh’s character is definitely being held hostage by her abusive incel companion (Types) and actually chained to a mattress as they stay out their “excellent” lives in a digital actuality simulation known as Victory. Pugh finally escapes, however there isn’t any redemption. It’s a rape fantasy with out the rape-revenge.

“If Olivia Wilde is saying this can be a celebration of feminine pleasure, it undoubtedly fails on that time, as a result of all of the pleasure we see is in that framework,” Menkes defined. “Pugh’s character is coerced, and she or he’s truly all dressed up and able to go at night time after she’s been cooking and cleansing all day, so how is {that a} liberation of feminine pleasure? The good majority of the movie, for those who take a look at the quantity of minutes onscreen, is within the ‘Stepford Wives’ zone. She appears like she’s having enjoyable however it’s all inside the zone of her being tricked and Stockholm syndrome. It’s exhausting to learn that as straight-up feminine energy or feminine pleasure, in that view.”

Blonde, Ana de Armas

“Blonde”

screenshot/Netflix

Menkes in contrast “Don’t Fear Darling” to falling wanting “A Girl Underneath the Affect” or “Gaslight,” two movies which are directed by males, however what Menkes known as “sensible cinematic masterpieces which are truly actually feminist.”

The plot of “Don’t Fear Darling” is hardly feminist when examined extra intently, however behind-the-scenes points are troubling as properly: A supply advised IndieWire that greater than half of the manufacturing assistants weren’t included within the movie’s credit, regardless of being listed on IMDb. The manufacturing assistants disregarded, together with COVID compliance officers, are all ladies. (IndieWire has reached out to representatives for the “Don’t Fear Darling” manufacturing for remark.)

However the advertising marketing campaign has advised us that “Don’t Fear Darling” is a feminist movie. And equally, we’ve been advised that “Blonde” is using the male gaze to show it on its head and shine a light-weight on the “Hollywood meat-grinder” that America’s intercourse image Monroe endured, as author/director Dominik has acknowledged and writer Joyce Carol Oates has defended.

“There are ladies who would possibly take a look at ‘Blonde’ and say, ‘It talked to my expertise of being abused,’” Menkes stated. “There’s simply opinions. My private opinion is that persevering with to objectify ladies onscreen even when there may be some kind of angle to ‘make it OK’ is de facto problematic.”

“Blonde” star Ana de Armas is lit in very mushy “2D lighting,” based on Menkes, with overly sexualized slo-mo capturing Monroe’s “Seven Yr Itch” upskirt second. However Dominik is emphasizing the predatory digital camera to deconstruct the male gaze and name consideration to the horrors of Hollywood with meta cinematography, proper?

Menkes thinks that’s a leap: “In my private opinion, that’s double-speak for objectifying a girl onscreen. We heard the identical factor from ‘Blade Runner 2049’: ‘I used to be making some extent about objectification.’ If you wish to soar again to ‘Contempt’ by Godard: ‘I’m making some extent about feminine objectification.’”

She added, “Nicely, for those who make some extent about feminine objectification by objectifying ladies onscreen precisely the way in which they’ve been objectified for 123 years in lots of of 1000’s of movies, I don’t assume you are able to do it. You’re truly simply reinforcing the established order, you’re perpetuating it whereas pretending to be cool. These male administrators who’re recreating and reproducing these photos are usually not a part of the revolution.”

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