Won­der­ful women

Men and women get dif­fer­ent things from the re­cent Won­der Woman film – and that’s no bad thing.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Opinion - star2@thes­tar.com.my Dzof Azmi

IS THE new Won­der Woman movie bet­ter than Frozen? It seems so, ac­cord­ing to a kinder­gart­ner who saw both. This was re­vealed in a tweet sent out by Won­der Woman di­rec­tor Patty Jenkins.

She is now the It di­rec­tor with the It ac­tion movie star­ring the very It Gal Gadot. To date, the move has made nearly US$450mil (RM1.9bil) at the box of­fice world­wide, and it won’t be sur­pris­ing if it ends up as No.1 come the end of the year (and we’re talk­ing about a year that in­cludes the long-awaited Cars 3, an­other Transformers se­quel and Star Wars Episode VIII).

So by all ac­counts it’s a great and suc­cess­ful film. Yet what has been puz­zling me is that the head­lines all seem to fo­cus on one key theme: It is a great film about a woman, by a woman.

Why does it have to be like this? Why can’t we just ac­cept a good movie as it is, without draw­ing bound­aries and say­ing it’s good for a woman’s film? (To em­pha­sise the point, I be­lieve it’s a good movie, re­gard­less of the gen­ders of the cre­ator and star.)

It’s the same when I look at chess. Why are there sep­a­rate women’s cham­pi­onship and women’s tour­na­ments?

Ad­mit­tedly, women are al­lowed to play in open tour­na­ments, but they mostly choose not to. Un­til re­cently, Hun­gar­ian chess grand­mas­ter Ju­dit Pol­gar was the only woman to do so reg­u­larly (in fact, she didn’t even bother chal­leng­ing for the women’s world ti­tle).

She’s said that “My par­ents raised me and my sis­ters (to be­lieve) that women are able to reach the same re­sult as our male com­peti­tors if they get the right and the same pos­si­bil­i­ties”.

You go, girl.

Which is pretty much the same thing or­gan­is­ers of a chess tour­na­ment in Malaysia told a 12-year-old girl last month for an un­usual rea­son: the dress she wore was above the knee or be­low it, de­pend­ing on whether you be­lieve the tour­na­ment di­rec­tor or the girl’s mother. Threats of law­suits have been made, and none of any of the above should be used to de­ter­mine whether or not a girl can ac­tu­ally play chess.

So the chal­lenges faced by women do seem to be dif­fer­ent than what men ex­pe­ri­ence. I am re­minded of this when a friend of mine men­tions that she’s whis­tled at when she walks down the streets of Kuala Lumpur. I re­ply that I had never no­ticed that. That’s be­cause they don’t do it when you’re around, says she.

I guess there’s a lot I don’t see or get re­gard­ing women’s is­sues sim­ply be­cause I don’t have their per­spec­tive. This is an im­por­tant point.

From what I see in the Malaysian film in­dus­try, I would say women are quite well rep­re­sented in many fields, from writ­ing and di­rect­ing to pro­duc­ing. But if that’s the case, why do fe­male char­ac­ter­i­sa­tions in lo­cal pro­duc­tions draw so much crit­i­cism? Truth be told, some­times it feels that lo­cal ac­tresses get more credit for hav­ing a “fresh” face or lots of fol­low­ers on Twit­ter than for their act­ing abil­i­ties.

And if you look more care­fully at the sta­tis­tics, only two of the 10 high­est-gross­ing Malaysian films last year were di­rected by women. Not com­pletely hor­ri­ble, but not great ei­ther. Worse, out of 57 di­rec­tors in­volved in 52 Malaysian films in 2016, only eight were fe­male.

If any­thing, it’s worse in Hol­ly­wood, where be­tween 3% and 9% of the an­nual top 100 films be­tween 2007 and 2015 were di­rected by women. So if cer­tain sto­ries re­quire a fe­male per­spec­tive, 3% to 9% seems aw­fully low.

But this doesn’t ap­ply for a movie like Won­der Woman .It’sa su­per­hero movie, with the univer­sal themes of do­ing the right thing and bat­tling those who are on the side of wrong. I felt that I was watch­ing a movie where the hero hap­pened to be fe­male, rather than some state­ment about how women could be he­roes too.

Then I read a few re­views that talked about the scene where (spoiler alert!) Won­der Woman steps out of a World War I trench and strides con­fi­dently across No Man’s Land to van­quish the en­emy. It is a scene that the stu­dio heads felt could be cut but the di­rec­tor in­sisted on keep­ing it in.

To me it was the scene where we see Won­der Woman re­ally us­ing her pow­ers in a fun and ex­cit­ing way. But some film crit­ics had a more vis­ceral re­ac­tions – even cry­ing through the scene.

I can read what they wrote about it, but I can’t say I fully un­der­stand: “Wit­ness­ing a woman hold the field, and the cam­era, for that long blew open an ar­guably mo­not­o­nous genre”; “the tears that welled while watch­ing Won­der Woman flip a tank were an emo­tional re­lease for years of frus­tra­tion”; “(it) ac­knowl­edges that its hero is dif­fer­ent from the ones we might be used to without pre­tend­ing that should be a dis­trac­tion from her right­eous mis­sion”.

This movie, that I felt was fun and en­ter­tain­ing, is im­por­tant for some women who feel they so rarely see them­selves do­ing the things that men take for granted. The point isn’t that I know women are as ca­pa­ble as men; it’s that women feel, too of­ten, that their abil­ity is de­fined by what a man can do in the same cir­cum­stance.

I have long held the be­lief that his­tor­i­cal dra­mas say more about our present than the pe­ri­ods they por­tray. Per­haps our su­per­hero fa­bles do some­thing sim­i­lar, and if so, I have no prob­lem with a fiveyear-old learn­ing that apart from us­ing great power to make a princess gown out of ice, you could also wield it to save in­no­cent lives.

Logic is the an­tithe­sis of emo­tion but math­e­ma­ti­cian-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s the­ory is that peo­ple need both to make sense of life’s va­garies and con­tra­dic­tions.

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