The Year of Heroine Worship

Posted by M ws On Monday, December 10, 2012 0 comments

The following article written by A.O. Scott was first published HERE in NYT.


Ordinarily, the unemployment of a film critic would be the very definition of a dog-bites-man story, but the circumstances that separated Michael Calleri from his job at The Niagara Falls Reporter, a small weekly newspaper in upstate New York, were sufficiently peculiar — and also sufficiently resonant — to go a bit viral, stirring up a minor storm on the Internet and attracting the attention of a network morning-news show. This was a man-bites-man story that also turned out to be a man-freaks-out-about-women story. In a long narrative uploaded in November by Roger Ebert on The Chicago Sun-Times’s Web site, Calleri quoted an e-mail from his boss, Frank Parlato (curiously unnamed in the article), who had recently taken over as editor and publisher of The Reporter. Parlato was not, to put it mildly, a fan of Calleri’s movie reviews, but his real problem was with the movies themselves. “I don’t want to publish reviews of films where women are alpha and men are beta,” he wrote. “Where women are heroes and villains and men are just lesser versions or shadows of females.”

The specific movie that set the editor off was “Snow White and the Huntsman,” a retelling of the Grimm fairy tale starring Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron as the disinherited princess and her vengeful stepmother. The picture’s apparent reversal of gender norms — this Snow White wears armor, wields a sword and leads an army into battle — struck Parlato (who does not seem to have seen it) as emblematic of “a Hollywood agenda of glorifying degenerate power women and promoting as natural the weakling, hyena-like men, cum eunuchs.”

A Hollywood agenda of glorifying powerful women — now that is news! Granting that Parlato’s rant seemed to emanate from the same zone of the culture-war id that undid a few Republican Senate candidacies this year, you might still be inclined to wonder if, in sensing a shift in the portrayal of women, he was onto something — or for that matter to hope that he might have been. After all, the contrary complaint — that Hollywood is a swamp of testosterone, turning out entertainment that marginalizes or condescends to women when it does not ignore them entirely — has been around much longer, and has, to say the least, a much stronger grounding in reality. Have things really changed that much?

There is a smattering of evidence to support the impression that they have, because 2012 was, all in all, a pretty good year for movies and also a pretty good year for female heroism. In addition to “Snow White and the Huntsman,” there was “Brave,” whose flame-haired heroine, Merida, combined Disney-princess pluck with Pixar’s visual ingenuity; “The Hunger Games,” which drew on young-adult literature to find, in the resourceful person of Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence), a new archetype of survivalist girl power; and perhaps best of all, “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” in which a scrappy child of the Louisiana bayou named Hushpuppy (the amazing Quvenzhan√© Wallis) faced down hurricanes, monsters and the power of the state. And we should not forget the culmination of the “Twilight” saga, speaking of Kristen Stewart, whose Bella Swan, grown from a sulky, indecisive teenager into a fiercely protective vampire mother, fought alongside her in-laws against the supernatural forces of evil. Forget about Team Jacob and Team Edward: it was Team Renesmee that triumphed in the end.

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