Mad Max: Feminist Action Movie (Spoilers Ahead)

First let me say that I do not write reviews. I do not have any interest in reviews, generally speaking. But there has been a lot of talk in my circles about whether Mad Max: Fury Road is a feminist film or not, so I felt like I should try to tangle with that question for myself.

Let me address first the major issue I have with George Miller’s epic film: The inclusion (or lack thereof) of people of color. Despite the prominent inclusion of Zoë Kravitz, the whole film was seriously lacking in this regard. And that might have been because of the white body paint used on the War Boys, but I was not able to see more than one or two people of color, and those few that I saw were within the teeming mass of humans begging for water at the Citadel. This is endemic of a larger issue of inclusion that permeates Hollywood, and I stand with a number of other feminists in saying that this continued omission is unacceptable.

That said, that there was a notable presence of Maori actors including Courtney EatoniOTA, and Megan Gail. And it should not be overlooked in the conversation that these actors have a direct tie to the cultural heritage of the place where these movies were originally born. It is also worth noting that their apparent whiteness is a testament to the erasure of native features through centuries of rape and oppression. Overlooking these actors is a symptom of that erasure and should not be done lightly, or, you know, at all.

The rest of the movie was a feminist dystopian dream come true. The one-armed and brutal Impirator Furiosa leads society to freedom from the people who had oppressed them for their entire lives. I have heard people talk about how the only misogyny in the film was a sort of cartoon misogyny, and that is absolutely true. But I really don’t know where you would fit microaggressions into a film like this one. It is a pulse-pounding chase film. It is the best part of every action movie that you have ever seen smashed into one long opus. You aren’t going to have some guy standing at the water cooler leering at your boobs. It doesn’t fit. And I think people who call for that kind of nuance in a film like this are missing the point.

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They are, after all, likely the only “gently kept” women in existence.

I mean, even the camera work avoided being shitty and exploitative. The most sexual it got was in the moment when Max saw the brides for the first time as they washed off the dirt of travel. And he, dizzy with dehydration and having been tortured and locked away for who knows how long, was dumbstruck by their beauty. And who wouldn’t be? But honestly, there were two nipple shots in the entire thing and there was one naked woman, but she had an actual narrative significance and was probably the least sexualized nude female body I have ever seen.

Some talk has occurred regarding the violence in the film and whether violence is a feminist thing. The film even addresses it, with one of the brides questioning the Vulvani (best name ever) about their seeming delight in violence, stating that she thought they would be “above all that.” Personally, I do not think that violence is inherently anti-feminist. More specifically, I think that it is anti-feminist that we would call the violent reaction against an oppressive state “anti-feminist.” Considering the national conversation about riots in this country, I would think that point could not possibly be more clear. Nor come at a more appropriate time.

All in all, the film has been hailed as a feminist opus. And I think that it could fit easily into that niche for me were it not for the issues of representation mentioned above. But it has also been criticized for being a two hour pulse pounding film that is basically devoid of complicated plot. And I think that is somewhat misleading because of one very important development toward the end of the film.

When Furiosa and the brides reach the Vulvani and decide to make good their escape over the salt flats when their green utopia proves to be a long-dead lie, something important happens. Max chases after them and impresses upon Furiosa that the only world they can hope to take – the only world with any surety of sustainable life – is the one they left behind.

notthingsAnd that is where Fury Road goes from being a meaningless action film to something greater. From the furious scrawling of “WE ARE NOT THINGS” on the wall of the cell in which the brides were kept, the entire film centered around reaching some kind of glorious green place where the oppression of men no longer existed. The brides are hell-bent on the idea that their sons will not be warlords. But there is no guarantee of life beyond the edges of the known. And the only way that they can find their way to freedom is by freeing the world they left behind. By freeing the War Boys from the bounds of patriarchal oppression writ large in the body of Immortan Joe.

So they return. They fight their way through hoards of men who would enslave and constrain them. And when the time comes for Furiosa to be raised on high, who do we see disappearing into the crowd? Max. Max who does not need or want to take the attention and credit from the women he has assisted in their furious return. He knows that the way to a better world is not his way, but theirs. And he slips quietly into the crowd, making way for a society free from the stain of war mongering waged by men like him and Immortan Joe.

Feminist rating: 7 out of 10. Three points deducted for inclusion. An excellent, if problematic, film.

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