The Mad Max franchise is known to be one of the most influential post-apocalyptic franchises. It began in 1979 when Mel Gibson starred as Max Rockatansky.
The latest installment, titled Mad Max: Fury Road, is full of explosions, bike gangs, and excitement.
The post-apocalyptic movie follows Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) as she saves the brides (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoe Kravitz, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton) from their captor, the tyrant Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Along the way to freedom, Furiosa and company bump into Max, who joins their party, and team up with a motorcycle gang called the Vulvani.
The underlining message: People are not things, so don’t enslave them. Simple enough, but the internet has been debating the feminist themes in the film. Particularly, men’s rights activists are upset, but one misogynist blog claims to be for a “small but vocal collection of men in America today who believe men should be masculine and women should be feminine,” has caused a massive argument over the internet.
Aaron Clarey of Return of Kings, wrote an article last week about how Mad Max: Fury Road is “feminist propaganda,” and how Hollywood is “pushing a feminist agenda.” This was in response to Furiosa “barking” orders at Rockatansky, and Furiosa having too much screen time talking (despite Clarey not actually seeing the film).
Director George Miller has spoken previously, telling Hollywood Reporter, “Initially, there wasn’t a feminist agenda… I needed a warrior, but it couldn’t be a man taking five wives from another man. That’s an entirely different story. So everything grew out of that.”
Miller’s representation of women is a step forward compared to the majority of films made in Hollywood. In the film industry, women only make up 12% of the protagonists, and make up only 30% of speaking characters. There’s usually a ratio of 2.25:1 of men to women in films. Considering women make up roughly half the population, it’s a troubling statistic. But if Clarey and his supporters want to see a film with weak women, he has a lot of options.
For years women have been – and still are – misrepresented in action films. They’re usually reduced to eye candy or damsels in distress, among other worn out stereotypes. With director George Miller’s other films in mind, Furiosa’s role as a strong woman shouldn’t come as a surprise. Take Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome for example. Tina Turner’s character Aunt Entity wasn’t a love interest, she was a sovereign with an iron fist. Miller has written well shaped characters before, and even took consideration when writing the brides by consulted Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues to properly portray a woman who’s been through serious trauma.
The women in the film are better portrayals of women compared to the other 85% of films. All the women have different personalities skills, and different motivations to drive them forward and contributing to the movie. One bride uses herself and her unborn child to keep Joe from shooting Furiosa, knowing that Joe couldn’t kill them. There’s another bride who regrets leaving Joe and wants to return, which is what happens in many cases of sexual abuse. Even Furiosa herself was once a bride but was sent into the wilderness because she was infertile. She also has an amputation, and fights using her head, not shooting up everything in sight.
Mad Max: Fury Road proves that there is a need for more three-dimensional female characters in action films. The themes of humans as humans and not objects, escaping from sexual abuse (without any sex scenes), and that women can be strong no matter what they look like are important, especially with the lack of these themes in other films.
It even passed the Bechdel Test, with two or more women with names having a conversation about something other than a man in order to show how women are represented in movies. While 57% of the 5902 movies have passed the test, most of these films have been released between 2000 and 2013.
It’s only been five months into 2015, which leaves lots of time for improvement on female representation in films. Mad Max is a step forward to having more gender equality in films. If one action movie about a post-apocalyptic world can do it, why can’t any other film do it?