Super 8’s ‘Super Pussy’

“Did you notice that everyone in that film was, like, a ‘super pussy’?”

Thus joked my 14-year-old son on our drive home from the theater after seeing Super 8. If he notices the problematic use of the word throughout the new filmabout a group of young boys filming a zombie movie whose super 8 camera happens to record a colossal train crashsurely filmmakers Stephen Spielberg and J.J. Abrams might also?

This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the film. I did. Great monster movie. Great special effects. Strong characters.

And admittedly, the word “pussy” is used in the film in a knowing way to nod towards the past, as in, “Now we know better than to use that word.” In one scene, for example, Joe’s (Joel Courtney) best friend Charlie (Riley Griffiths) uses the word and then realizes Alice (Elle Fanning) is in the room, looks sheepishly at her, and apologizes as if he has just come to the realization that the word is an insult to her as a woman (which indeed it is).

Spoiler alert–the following reveals the movie’s ending.

But using the sexism of the past to try and position the present as somehow better doesn’t really fly in a film that has only one lead female character, Alice. True, this can sadly be said of most big movies. To its credit, at least Super 8 framed the death of Joe’s mother as catastrophic and depicted Alice as wise, brave, independent–and an excellent get-away driver to boot.

Super 8 managed to nod towards race relations as well, via the mysterious Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman) and his statement that, “I will do everything in my power to set him [the creature released in the train crash] free.” But I don’t know why everyone in the movie assumes this highly intelligent and technological creature is a “he.” (Oh yeah, because “he” is intelligent and technological.)

Would it have been better if the creature had been framed as female? Not necessarily. But it would be better if “he” was not the default pronoun, not the default casting choice and not the default savior–as when Joe has to save Alice from the creature’s subterranean den and ultimately saves the town (and, by extention, the planet) by telling the creature, “I know bad things happen…but you can still live.”

At least Super 8 gives us one great heroine via Alice. But the smattering of the use of the term “pussy” to indicate cowardly behavior throughout the film still rankles. I mean, come on, Mr. Abrams, women are important creatures, too.

Comments

  1. It’s funny how a movie focused around a group of young boys would fail to have more female lead characters. This reminds me of the time I got all peeved after watching All Dogs Go to Heaven because it didn’t have any cats it it.

  2. Paula,
    I have never seen All Dogs Go to Heaven, but your comment reminds me of the feminist utopian novel Herland, in which Charlotte Perkins Gilman characterizes dogs as male and cats as female in a very astute, intriguing way!

    And, yes, it’s disheartening that so many movies still have predominantly all male casts. Yet, when it’s the other way around, movies are tagged as “chick flicks” or as “a woman’s film.”

  3. Michèle says:

    @Paula — the movie is only “focused around a group of young boys” *because* there aren’t more female lead characters. If there were, then it would be focused around a group of young *people*.

    • Yes, and I just noticed that in the poster used in this post, out of six faces, only one is female, and she is positioned between (and below) males! Holds true to the stat that only one in three, and more often one in five, characters are female… Grrrr!

  4. It all goes back to the formula for monetary success, which totally sucks!

    As Jennifer Kesler says about movie production, “the audience only wanted white, straight, male leads.” (http://thehathorlegacy.com/why-film-schools-teach-screenwriters-not-to-pass-the-bechdel-test/) This notion speaks volumes about our society, and that’s very sad.

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