The Feminist Pull of “Gravity”


*This review contains no spoilers.*

The recently released, Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, is visually stunning. Its amazing cinematography gives audience members the sense of being out there in space, detached from Earth.

Detachment is a key theme of the film (“Detached” is also the title of the teaser trailer released last summer). Related to this, the film has many visual images that evoke birth and gestation. Though pulsing with umbilical cord imagery, it is far from a typical exploration of the meaning of life, birth and death, particularly because it places a woman, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) front and center, and not as a woman but as a human.

Though the movie is about a shuttle mission, the matter of extreme importance at its center has nothing to do with space travel, the vastness of space nor the technological wizardry that makes space travel come alive for the audience. No, the matter of great importance at the center of the film is human survival.  As noted in this review, the film “gives a visceral charge to the metaphorical sense of being lost and alone in the universe.”

Bullock captures this existential exploration of life not only with great dignity, but in a way that captivates the audience, pulling them to the edge of their seats, tugging at their emotions and amping their adrenaline.

Why is this important for feminists?

Because all too often movies that make audiences’ hearts race or adrenaline rush feature only male leads and incorporate violence-packed action.

Gravity, however, proves that a woman can anchor an action-packed blockbuster that does not have to include violence, superheroes, weapons and/or huge death tolls.

Bullock is stupendous in the role. So good, in fact, that I have already added Speed, The Blind Side, The Proposal, Miss Congeniality, The Heat and, yes, even All About Steve to my “watch again” list. Thankfully, Alfonso Cuaron had the ovaries to defend his choice of casting a female lead. Which brings me to wonder why such a defense even remains necessary.  As this Women and Hollywood post notes, “We hear lots of anecdotal remarks from female directors about the scripts they pitch with female leads and how they are asked to change the gender, but hearing this come from an A-List director is pretty rare.”  As the post later queries,

… If Cuaron is getting shit for writing a woman, imagine what the rest of the people down the line are getting.

Indeed. The fact that a male A-list director has to fight for his choice to cast a female lead in 2013 is disheartening to say the least.

So, what can we as feminists do? Well, the least we can do is see the movie.

Hollywood listens to box-office numbers. We need to put our butts in seats and show there is a mass audience for female-led movies. We can also make sure that we get non-female butts in seats so that the spin about women-led movies only appealing to female audiences can die an overdue death.

Like Bullock, who shared her hope at Comic-Con that Cuaron’s casting of female leads would become the norm, I, too, hope that one day soon it will not be a matter of note that a big-budget, action-packed blockbuster has a female protagonist.

I hope that just as Ryan is released from the grip of earth’s gravitational pull, we can be released from Hollywood patriarchy and the limited films it offers us.

Here’s to many more films like Gravity conveying that women are human, and to the realization that our survival as women is profoundly shaped by the ways media and popular culture depict us (or fails to depict us).

Feel that, feminists? It’s the gravitational pull forcing you to look up showtimes in your area. Listen to that pull. It is an important one.

Photo courtesy of canburak via Creative Commons 2.0.





Natalie Wilson is a literature and women’s studies scholar, blogger, and author. She teaches at Cal State San Marcos and specializes in the areas of gender studies, feminism, feminist theory, girl studies, militarism, body studies, boy culture and masculinity, contemporary literature, and popular culture. She is author of the blogs Professor, what if…? and Seduced by Twilight. She also writes the guest columns Monstrous Musings for the Womanist Musings blog and Pop Goes Feminism at Girl with Pen. She is currently writing a book examining the contemporary vampire craze from a feminist perspective. Dr. Wilson is also part of the collaborative research group that publishes United States Military Violence Against Women and is currently working on an investigative piece on militarized sexual violence perpetuated against civilians. She is a proud feminist parent of two feminist kids and is an admitted pop-culture junkie. Her favorite food is chocolate. Visit her online at NatalieWilsonPhd.