I went to see The Revenant last week, and as a massive Leo fan (you can have Titanic, give me What’s Eating Gilbert Grape!), I was giddy with excitement to see him in the role that is supposed to finally win him best actor.
I hated it. And I hate that I hated it because I wanted to love it. The cinematography is phenomenal. Iñárritu captures the raw vulgarity of America's terrain in a way that leaves you feeling vulnerable and microscopic.
But the plot line is weak, and at times, offensive.
I concede that it would be historically inaccurate to cast females in the hunting party, and so a complete absence of women in this film would be acceptable. But alas, NOPE! There is one role for a woman in this film: the part of a raped Native American daughter who Leo rescues, giving him a “Get out of death free!” card which he later employs in the film.
It’s obnoxious enough that women can’t be cast as leads in the majority of historical films because of our secondary roles in society, but it’s infuriating when women are cast in films solely to play the role of sexual abuse victims.
There is a line between an artistic, honest portrayal of rape and the glorification of it. Even Mad Max, a film with strong feminist undertones, casts a clan of women (i.e., supermodels) as “The Wives,” who exist solely to be raped and bear children.
As I panned across the nominees for The Academy Awards’ Best Picture category this year, I couldn’t help but notice the overwhelming presence of sexual abuse. In fact, 50% of the films nominated for Best Picture include rape as a central theme. Room, starring Brie Larson, is based on the story of a woman who is abducted and raped continuously. Spotlight tells the true story of how The Boston Globe uncovered the systemic sexual abuse in the Catholic church.
Rape is a tragic component of human life and a story that should be told through artistic lenses to shed light on its darkness. However, in television and film, it’s becoming far too common to include it as a shock-and-awe bandaid for weak plot lines and poor character development (e.g., Sansa Stark, Anna Bates).
Similar to the outrage our African American friends feel over the lack of diversity across the nominees this year, I would urge my feminist friends - both male and female - to speak up when we see women being relegated to the role of rape victim and nothing more. Surely women provide more value, both in reality and in film, than that.
And for God’s sake, can someone make an action film starring Susan B Anthony already?