Review: Why Men Are Wrong About "Birds of Prey"

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Illustration by Gabrielle Oullette, Graphic Design by Raven Yamamoto

Review: Why Men are Wrong About "Birds of Prey"

By Clara Gil

If there were three words to describe exactly the type of film I'd avoid seeing, it'd be these: girl power superhero movie. Action movies that revel in senseless violence punctuated with dry one-liners bore me - and movies centered around girl power literally aren't written with girls like me in mind. I'm not the type of girl that those movies root for. I've never worn high-heels, and wearing a skin-tight dress literally sounds like torture. The idea of seducing a man to manipulate him, a plot point those movies weirdly love, is a situation I'd never willingly put myself into. Most surprising of all to the writers of these films, I don't really see myself as separate from men in the first place. The idea of uplifting other women by saying, "Come on girls! Let's use our femininity to our advantage! We can do anything guys can do!" doesn't appeal to me because A. I would rather avoid being  'feminine', if that's ok, B. I already know I can do anything a guy could do, so C. I don't need you to tell me, thanks. 

I came into the movie theater to watch "Birds of Prey" with zero expectations and only mild curiosity. At the very least, I had hoped that it would be rewarding the way those Halo-Top ice-cream pints are; satisfying without having to feel too guilty about it afterward. 
Cut to: the lights coming on as the credits are rolling. There I am, dancing in my seat, singing along to Normani and Megan Thee Stallion, feeling not just satisfied, but entertained and incredibly empowered all at once. How? Why?

"Birds of Prey" had one of the most accurate portrayals of female friendships I'd ever seen, with a diverse cast of female characters that each had their own distinct personalities, values, motivations, and goals. They didn't all immediately like each other out of solidarity, with lines like, "Us gals have to stick together, huh!" Instead, it was more like, "I want this, and if we're gonna have a problem if you stand in my way." These opposing goals are the initial reason they don't get along - but they slowly warm up as they learn to rely on each other in the pursuit of a larger purpose. It was not only done well but also in a way that was incredibly realistic even in the moments it was exaggerated for comedic purposes. 

In fact, this film's commitment to exaggeration and taking each scene as far as it can go is what sets it apart from all of the other superhero movies coming out these days. Would Marvel commit to the grandeur of an overly-dramatized bit about an egg sandwich? No, it wouldn't, and that's a shame. 

There were so many moments like this that were brilliant in the way that they were real. Like Harley and her sandwich, I honestly can't promise that I wouldn't lose it if anyone got between me and my lemon-poppy seed muffin from the Lion's Den after a stressful week. Like Harley, I, too, had tried too hard to be a part of a friend group only to be left out of conversations. I'd been hesitant to have friendships with other girls for fear that I wouldn't fit in. I've had my heart broken, and I've been kicked while I was down, and I've had insecurities grow deep inside of me because of things men have said, insecurities that I'm still struggling to get over to this day. The depiction of those issues, more than fighting in high heels or shallow lines about 'girl power', truly exemplified the experience of being a woman in this world for me. After watching this movie, I felt seen. I felt heard. And for once, I saw these flawed female protagonists that were like me not only survive but thrive. 

After so many failed attempts at a movie like this (i.e., the reboot of Ghostbusters [2016] or Charlie's Angels [original or reboot]),  I thought that this film would be drowning in praise. But it isn't. In actuality, "Birds of Prey" has been getting curiously inconsistent reviews. At the time of writing this article, it has a 78% on Rotten Tomatoes, 6.6 on IMDB, and 60% on Metacritic.  If you're not familiar (or couldn't care less) about ratings systems, these numbers tell us that the reception of "Birds of Prey" by critics has been, at the very least, mixed. Take a guess as to who didn't care for it.

If you said, "male critics", you were right.

It's not to say that "Birds of Prey" is a film without faults, or that just because it's directed by a woman and is about a woman that it should be immune to criticism. It's that the majority of the criticism of this film is rooted in not-so-subtle condescension. Richard Brody, for example, could have commented on how the weaker points of the film are a result of the industry without describing the women who made it as helpless girls, trapped in a system with no agency. But instead, he writes, "Both Robbie and Yan are hemmed in by a system of production, endemic to franchise movies, that reduces the role of a director to that of a glorified functionary and closes off the margins for exploration. Both are capable of more."

Or how about this critic, who seemed to take it to heart that "Birds of Prey" didn't put much time into developing male characters, commenting, "There is not one redeemable male in the whole film; they are work bullies or psychotic abusers." He follows this up with a sarcastic, "Maybe that's the point?" I mean, I don't know about him but I personally found great delight in the fact that "Birds of Prey" managed to cast Jon Hamm, only to have him in for the thirty seconds it takes him to call Margot Robbie, “a slut” and get his legs broken. Who gives a fuck about male characters? The media is saturated with them. I'm sick of gruff anti-heroes who make complex moral decisions without a crack in their smoldering expressions. For once, let them be two-dimensional background characters who fade away as our female protagonists shine. 

While these comments may seem harmless, it's all too easy for these critics to slip from condescension to outright mean spirited misogyny. I found this most obvious in a glowing review you have to pay 5$ to read from another Rotten Tomatoes topic critic. In it, Kevin Maher writes, "I’m guessing that it has metaphorical meaning, too, and that it’s a scream on behalf of all of the women who have been denied their voices by Hollywood. It says that women will not be silenced anymore. They will be heard. Because they have the right, just like all the men who have gone before them, to make vulgar, turgid crap. And they have."
People read headlines and glance at ratings just to say, "Oh, I heard it wasn't very good." They rarely take a closer look at who is saying that and why. 

I am here to tell you that this is who they are and this is what they're writing.

They want to control what you choose to watch because the single most direct way you can support a message in Hollywood is to back it up with your money. If they prevent you from seeing it in theaters, they block the movie from making money, and all of a sudden, they have evidence that movies made by women for women don't 'sell'. Don't give them that power. Do your research, come to your own conclusions. That's what I did, and here's what I've decided upon:


This is the opinion of Clara Gil, a sophomore film and television production major from São Paulo, Brazil.

Post a Comment