We’re far from the back­lash now

Ed­i­tor-in-chief Terri White on why the A Star Is Born gen­der pol­i­tics back­lash misses the mark

Empire (UK) - - THE AGENDA -

THE STORY IS al­ready the stuff of movie folk­lore. And it goes like this: Lady Gaga turns up for her screen test as Ally, the lead char­ac­ter in A Star Is Born. She has a face full of make-up. Di­rec­tor and even­tual co-star Bradley Cooper pro­duces a wipe and pulls it down her face, tak­ing off ev­ery scrap of make-up. “No ar­ti­fice,” he says (re­port­edly). As with all good folk­lore in the age of Twit­ter, it was im­me­di­ately seized upon to sup­port the back­lash build­ing be­hind the five-star re­views and the box-of­fice cheer. A Star Is Born has a prob­lem with gen­der pol­i­tics, they said.

The com­plaints: that Bradley Cooper’s char­ac­ter, coun­try star Jack­son Maine, was given as much em­pha­sis as Ally (the “star” of the films). That there was an un­der­cur­rent of sex­ism. That the booze-soaked, drug-rat­tling Jack­son Maine could be a bit of a — well — dick.

That he was controlling, pa­tro­n­is­ing, even sleazy. That Ally was pre­sented as be­ing “ugly” and crip­pled by in­se­cu­ri­ties. Why else would she be at­tracted to him? Why would she put up with it and him?

It’s worth not­ing that this — the third re­make — sticks closely to the story in the 1937, 1954 and 1976 ver­sions. That of a fad­ing, bro­ken man and the ris­ing star of a bril­liant woman.

It ac­cu­rately re­flects the (of­ten gen­dered) prob­lems at the heart of the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try — both then and now. It’s un­flinch­ing in its ex­am­i­na­tion of toxic mas­culin­ity. Of how that mas­culin­ity is brewed in rock ’n’ roll and what hap­pens to a man when he’s all used up.

Jack­son Maine is, by his own ad­mis­sion, flawed. In the bru­tal bath­room scene, know­ing Ally’s sore spot he says, “You’re just fuck­ing ugly.”

And much has been made of Ally be­ing writ­ten as “ugly”. About how un­be­liev­able and of­fen­sive that is to women. But the point that the film, and Ally her­self makes, is that she’s spent her ca­reer in rooms with men who like her tal­ent but not the way she looks. The doubts this has cre­ated in her is met only by her clear frus­tra­tion at this re­al­ity. And this is, with­out ques­tion, the re­al­ity of the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try.

The film doesn’t at­tempt to jus­tify or ex­cuse Jack­son’s be­hav­iour. It shows the true face of bad be­hav­iour. And let’s re­mem­ber that films are meant to show the whole spec­trum of the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. Of hu­man char­ac­ter and moral­ity in all its murk­i­ness. Jack­son is a man with a deep frac­ture run­ning through his mid­dle. And while prob­lem­atic sto­ry­telling is quite rightly called out in 2018, that doesn’t mean sto­ries can’t be told of those with prob­lems.

Male fragility is more un­der the mi­cro­scope then ever, as are cinematic de­pic­tions of women. That doesn’t mean that fe­male char­ac­ters have to be per­fectly drawn. That men have to be whole. Sto­ries will dry up fast if all char­ac­ters have to live up to gen­der ideals.

Fi­nally: that end­ing. An end­ing which ran­kled for some, with Ally singing a song for her hus­band. It ends with him, they ar­gue. How­ever, she’s the one that’s sur­vived. He’s been com­pletely de­stroyed by old-school mas­culin­ity. And it’s old-school mas­culin­ity it­self that lies dead at the end of the film. Which seems more sig­nif­i­cant than the use of a face wipe.

Top: Lady Gaga’s bril­liant Ally. Above: With di­rec­tor-co-star Bradley Cooper as the com­plex, flawed Jack­son Maine.

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