‘World’ un­der fire over sex­ism claims

Crit­ics are tak­ing is­sue with the dino-ac­tion film and what they see as ret­ro­grade scenes.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Mered­ith Wo­erner mered­ith.wo­erner@latimes.com

“Juras­sic World” may have had a record-set­ting box of­fice open­ing, but claims of sex­ism are chas­ing af­ter this movie like a gi­ant T. rex. For a film that in­ten­tion­ally sur­rounds it­self with scads of glo­ri­ous fe­male di­nosaurs, many ac­cuse di­rec­tor Colin Trevor­row’s “Juras­sic” of hav­ing sur­pris­ingly lit­tle idea what to do with a hu­man woman.

A lot of the fin­gers point at the film’s de­pic­tion of lead­ing lady Claire (Bryce Dal­las Howard), the no-non­sense cor­po­rate head and man­ager of the movie’s tit­u­lar di­nosaur park. Even though she’s a woman in charge of a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar com­pany, film crit­ics, cul­ture writ­ers and even ma­jor movie di­rec­tors seem frus­trated with how “Juras­sic World” han­dles her in­com­pe­tence, her child­less­ness and her high heels.

Di­rec­tor Joss Whe­don struck the first blow be­fore “Juras­sic World’s” pre­miere, com­ment­ing on Twit­ter that the first, di­a­logue-heavy clip be­tween Claire and In­di­ana Jones-es­que rap­tor wran­gler Owen (Pratt) was “70’s era sex­ist.” (Whe­don later told Va­ri­ety he re­gret­ted the state­ment and deleted his Twit­ter ac­count, though not over this mat­ter.)

We asked Trevor­row what he thought of Whe­don’s com­ments, and the di­rec­tor re­sponded that the retro feel was ex­actly what he was at­tempt­ing to chan­nel, but for fu­ture char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment.

“He was see­ing the be­gin­ning of a slow de­con­struc­tion of those archetypes,” Trevor­row said. “All I could feel was, ‘Look, yes, it’s de­signed to be this way.’ I don’t feel that we need to sur­ren­der a woman’s fem­i­nin­ity in or­der for her to be a badass ac­tion hero. That was some­thing I was in­ter­ested in. I feel like I’ve seen a lot of women who are made to look very mas­cu­line and tough — and that’s awe­some too. But this felt like some­place I could go that might ac­tu­ally be new in how retro it is. So we em­braced it.”

But not ev­ery­one em­braced this idea. The Daily Beast’s Mar­low Stern wrote that “Juras­sic World” was “about a woman’s ‘evo­lu­tion’ from an icy-cold, self­ish cor­po­rate shill into a con­sid­er­ate wife and mother.” Vul­ture’s Jada Yuan said, “There is no fem­i­nism to be found in the ‘Juras­sic World’s’ ge­netic code.” And Kelly Lawler from USA To­day la­beled the movie “ag­gres­sively sex­ist” and dubbed Claire one of the main (though likely un­in­ten­tional) vil­lains in the film.

Should “Juras­sic World” be more aware of the pres­sures women are held to in so­ci­ety? Is that re­ally some­thing di­rec­tors such as Trevor­row need to con­sider, es­pe­cially when their mo­tive is an ad­mit­ted at­tempt to hi­jack the very stereo­types peo­ple are com­plain­ing about? We broke down the big­gest con­cerns and sur­veyed var­i­ous crit­ics. Here’s what we found. (Warn­ing, spoil­ers ahead.)

For a boss at a huge cor­po­ra­tion, Claire com­mands re­mark­ably lit­tle re­spect. Other char­ac­ters are pretty keen to tell Claire to lighten up, cor­rect her, or just make her look like a joy­less drone. Claire’s an icy con­trast to Si­mon Mas­rani (Ir­rfan Khan), the play­ful bil­lion­aire theme park owner (the new John Ham­mond).

But noth­ing com­pares with the lash­ing Claire takes for be­ing a bad sur­ro­gate mother to her neph­ews (Nick Robin­son and Ty Simp­kins), who are flown in for a few days of fun.

Claire’s re­fusal to pri­or­i­tize fam­ily time is a big deal, Guardian U.S. film critic Jor­dan Hoff­man told The Times via email: “When Claire’s sis­ter [Judy Greer] ba­si­cally says, ‘When you be­come a mother, you’ll un­der­stand,’ and Claire’s re­sponse is to look guilty, it’s pretty damn­ing. As if women who do not re­pro­duce are in­ca­pable of be­ing good hosts to vis­it­ing rel­a­tives. I know, ‘If you choose to be­come a care­taker, per­haps your at­ti­tude to­ward work ver­sus fam­ily may al­ter over time,’ doesn’t ex­actly roll off the tongue, but that’s why these folks get the big bucks, right?”

When the ac­tion kicks in, Claire gets her whites dirty, lit­er­ally. How­ever, she’s con­sis­tently robbed of char­ac­ter vic­tory mo­ments. She gal­lantly saves Owen from an at­tack­ing f lock of f ly­ing di­nos, but the mo­ment flips from a scene of per­sonal glory to a pause for ro­mance when Owen re­wards Claire’s valor with a kiss.

“I keep think­ing about the scene where Claire beats up the pter­a­n­odon that is at­tack­ing Chris Pratt’s Owen af­ter wit­ness­ing that the two kids want to hang out with Owen, not Claire,” said Birth.Movies.Death film critic Devin Faraci via email. “It’s like the kids are speak­ing for the film­maker — no mat­ter how cool Claire gets, Owen is al­ways cooler be­cause he’s a tough man.”

Not all crit­ics are down on the film. Slate writer Gabrielle Moss wrote in de­fense of Claire’s hotly dis­cussed high heels. In­stead of see­ing them as an un­nec­es­sary shackle of fem­i­nin­ity, Moss said the heels are an off beat and in­ter­est­ing de­ci­sion in a film, “largely ded­i­cated to prop­ping up old-school ac­tion movie tropes.... In the end, the heels aren’t a sym­bol of the val­ues that made Claire weak; they’re a sym­bol that she isn’t go­ing to have to change ev­ery sin­gle clas­si­cally ‘fem­i­nine’ thing about her­self in or­der to re­deemed.”

LA Weekly chief film critic Amy Ni­chol­son has a dif­fer­ing opin­ion about “Shoe­gate.”

“In last sum­mer’s ‘Lucy,’ Luc Bes­son had Scar­lett Jo­hans­son choose to wear im­prac­ti­cal stilet­tos and a mini-dress to a gun fight — and she was sup­posed to be the smartest woman in the world,” Ni­chol­son said over email. “Clearly, that was a male di­rec­tor car­ing more if his fe­male char­ac­ter looked sexy than made sense. Where were the out­raged think pieces about that? ‘Juras­sic World’ is less of­fen­sive be­cause Bryce Dal­las Howard’s char­ac­ter is just stuck wear­ing the pro­fes­sional out­fit she wore to work. It’s not ‘Juras­sic World’s’ job to bat­tle so­ci­ety’s sar­to­rial pres­sure. ‘ Juras­sic World’ has the bad luck of stum­bling right af­ter ‘Mad Max’ showed us what a real fe­male hero looks like.”

One thing is cer­tain: “Juras­sic World” of­fered a seem­ingly com­pe­tent fe­male lead. The park was run­ning smoothly for years, af­ter all. Whether or not to cheer on Claire as she bests the beasts of the pre­his­toric age is up to the au­di­ence.

Chuck Zlotnick As­so­ci­ated Press

CHRIS PRATT

and Bryce Dal­las Howard dive into ac­tion in “Juras­sic World.”

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