Hollywood studios are finally according women effective enmity. Why did it take them so long?
The new ‘Cruella’ (2021) trailer dropped the other week and it looks AMAZING. Set in 1970s London, this punk rock origins story stars an unrecognizable Emma Stone as everyone’s favourite dogskin-loving, scary-haired supervillainess - Cruella De Vil. It takes place when Cruella was a young fashion designer who becomes obsessed with dog skins, especially those of Dalmatians.
The trailer gave me serious ‘Birds of Prey’ and ‘Joker’ vibes and I say that as a good thing. It looks set to be a Heath Ledger-Margot Robbie-style transformation for Stone - similar to what those actors did for the Joker and Harley Quinn. It will be really interesting to see Stone’s psychotic, evil side. I had never really thought of her as a villain - she always strikes me as one of the nicest people ever, as well as adorable, bubbly and sassy as hell. But, thinking about it, she does have that glint of insanity and asymmetricality in her eyes that would look fantastic when completely and utterly unhinged.
Cruella De Vil is certainly an iconic character. She was created by Dodie Smith in the 1956 novel ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’. Betty Lou Gerson did a fabulous, spine-tingling job voicing her in the 1961 Disney film adaptation and Glenn Close did a scary job in the actually surprisingly decent 1996 live-action remake and its sequel ‘102 Dalmatians’ (2000). She is easily one of the greatest villains of all time.
Disney have a history of great female supervillains. Remember Maleficent? Not those terrible live-action films with Angelina Jolie. No. I’m talking about the evil witch in ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (1959) - an heiress to the Wicked Witch of the West in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939) for scariest witch on film. I loved Ursula the sea witch in ‘The Little Mermaid’ (1989) and the Evil Queen in ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1937) whose beauty hid that horrible witch face that gave me nightmares as a child. The Queen of Hearts with that awfully large head was also great in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (1951) although Helena Bonham Carter was just annoying as her in the 2010 Tim Burton remake. And then there was Lady Tremaine in ‘Cinderella’ (1950) who is responsible for every little girl’s fear of their stepmother. She didn’t just force Cinderella into hard labour, but allowed her two daughters to pull Cinderella’s dress apart before the big ball. Evil stuff.
Live-action supervillainesses have fared far less well. Apart from the live-action ‘Cruella’, I can only think of Electra King in the otherwise pretty mediocre Bond movie ‘The World is Not Enough’ (1999) and Bellatrix Lestrange in the ‘Harry Potter’ (2001-2011) films in terms of unsexualised queens of mean. Catwoman in the many ‘Batman’ films and Mystique in the ‘X-Men’ (2000-) films are heavily sexualised. Mystique is a naked blue alien and Catwoman is clad in skin-tight leather and spends most of her time seducing Batman with her power of seduction.
In recent years, female superheroes have really come of age. ‘Wonder Woman’ (2017) was the highest-grossing female-led superhero film of all time, 21st highest-grossing superhero film and 3rd highest-grossing film by a female director. This shows there is clearly a demand and market for female superheroes. Marvel Studios will be hoping to pull off the trick themselves this summer, provided cinemas are open in time, with the May 7th release of ‘Black Widow’ (2021). As with any major tentpole blockbuster released in cinemas post-pandemic, all eyes will be on ‘Black Widow’ and her arse-kicking lycra to kickstart the film industry again in the wake of the pandemic.
The odds are certainly in the movie’s favour. It stars a feminist two-hander in the two most pivotal roles in Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh as the kick-butt Black Widow sisters. We haven’t seen this many women headlining a potential franchise since ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ flopped back in 2019. That starred Linda Hamilton, MacKenzie Davis and Natalie Reyes in the lead roles.
‘Black Widow’ will surely do better than ‘Dark Fate’ as it stars one of the world’s most bankable movie stars, Scarlett Johansson, and the Oscar-nominated breakout star of 2019, Florence Pugh. There’s a newly renewed demand for conventional “movie stars” after the flops of ‘Tenet’ (2020) and ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ (2020). Neither of those movies starred any Box Office draws and the latter completely relied on an established brand like D.C Comics to draw in the crowds. Even this isn’t enough these days to convince people that it’s safe and cheap enough to attend the movie theatre. Maybe two big stars will do the trick? I hope ‘Black Widow’ is a success - both for the future of the film industry and female superheroes who are increasingly becoming the face of franchise blockbusters and terrific for it.
Harley was grimly sexualised and choke-raped by Batman in ‘Suicide Squad’ (2016) - the camera leched over her legs when Batman was carrying her unconscious body. She was better served by ‘Birds of Prey’ which let Margot Robbie exercise her grinning and gurning and her pixie cut.
Robbie is arguably the most sexualised actress at the moment. Just look at her multiple nude sex scenes with Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (2014). But her blonde bombshell hair was bleached green and her fulsome prettiness was covered up by face paint in ‘Birds of Prey’. There was no chance of the camera perving on her body because it was more focused on the extremely violent acts she was commiting and watching her kick butt completely unsexualised.
Harley Quinn is a great character - a full-rounded, unsexualised supervillain and doubtlessly the inspiration for Stone’s Cruella. Stone and Robbie even look similar and the ‘Cruella’ trailer has a faux Sharon Osbourne voiceover.
I loved her ‘Taxi Driver’-style transformation from nerdy, Wonder Woman-idolizing young woman into all-powerful, arse-kicking supervillainess.
I wonder whether the #MeToo Movement is responsible for the rise in female supervillains. In the next few weeks, we’re getting ‘Promising Young Woman’ (2021) which is about a woman trying to avenge her raped best friend. That’s produced by Margot Robbie through her LuckyChap Entertainment production company and is shaping up as a major awards frontrunner and poster girl for empowering, feminist, arse-kicking #MeToo filmmaking. Showing that girls can be both the good girls and the bad girls and giving us a more rounded, evened-out approach to women doing good deeds and bad deeds.
Robbie clearly believes in the power of the women scorned. It’s a good cause and ‘Cruella’ will level the playing field for female supervillains even more…
Who will win and should win at this Sunday’s Golden Globes…
Great too to see ‘Normal People’ (2020) and ‘Small Axe’ (2020) nominated in the TV categories and to see Daisy Edgar-Jones nominated for Best Actress. But no Paul Mescal - he was the standout of ‘Normal People’.
Why is John Boyega nominated for TV Supporting Actor when he was clearly the lead in ‘Red, White and Blue’ (2020)?
I was disappointed by the lack of foreign language films and actors in the major categories - apart from German child star Helena Zengal for ‘News of the World’ (2021). ‘Parasite’ (2020) made history by becoming the first foreign language film to win the Best Picture Oscar. This year’s foreign language film list looks a bit bland - especially ‘The Life Ahead’ (2020) which I actually watched dubbed in English.
The worst thing was seeing a nomination for ‘Emily in Paris’ (2020). WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?! That show is a cultural travesty and, as much as I like Lily Collins, she does not deserve to be nominated for Best Actress.
Overall, though, a really good selection of films and performers. There’s a lot of diversity and a lot of gender equality. It’s clear the awards panels are listening to our concerns about levelling the playing field. They’ve responded by giving us the blackest, brownest, most feminist awards bunch in years. All eyes will be on the February 28th ceremony to see if awards still have a place in the Covid world…
I couldn’t be happier for Florence. She seems like a lovely girl, a terrific actress and is entitled to date whoever she chooses. There’s just one thing that people seem to have contention with. Pugh turned 25 last month and Zach is 46 this year - that leaves a 21 year age gap between the two lovers.
Now, age gaps between celebrity couples are no new thing. Harper’s Bazaar published an article in May last year (which I looked at before writing this piece) listing 40 couples with big age differences. George Clooney (59) is married to Amal Clooney (who turned 43 this month), who he is 17 years senior to. Bollywood hottie Priyanka Chopra (38) tied the knot with Nick Jonas (28) - the joint lead singer of the Jonas Brothers - despite being 10 years older than him. Even moving beyond heterosexual relationships, Stephen Fry is 63 and his husband, Elliott Spencer, is 33 (old enough to be his son!).
Now, the concept of older men dating younger women is not a newcomer to controversy. As much as I hate Donald Trump, I do think the reaction to the 74 year old former President’s marriage to the glamorous 50 year old Melania Trump was out of proportion. People should be free to love and marry whoever they like regardless of age and I think the stigma about Trump being with a younger woman largely stemmed from the press’ dislike of Trump and his politics.
I was more surprised therefore to see the amount of flack Florence Pugh received for her relationship with Zach Braff. Pugh is a media darling at the moment - a Kate Winslet-style icon for acting talent and queenly elegance. I’ve been swooned by her acting many times as many men and women have too. There’s not many actresses who can go from playing Amy March in ‘Little Women’ (2019) to throwing punches in hotpants in a wrestling comedy (‘Fighting With My Family’ (2019)) with The Rock.
Forget her acting, in all her interviews, Pugh always strikes me as a very well-spoken, intelligent young woman (I’m saying young, she’s 25 and I’m 24 this year so she’s a little older than me and therefore I can hardly talk). So why are people so determined to bully and belittle her over the fact that she’s dating a man old enough to be her dad?
The Oscar-nominated actress stated in an Instagram video defending her relationship with Mr.Braff - “within about eight minutes” of sharing a photo of her boyfriend to mark his 45th birthday, she started to receive abuse and hateful messages. “Comments hurling abuse and being horrid” as she calls it...
These messages accounted for about 70% of the photo’s comments and “for the first time in my instagram life, I have had to turn off the comments on my page” she very sadly says.
Florence continued in impassioned style with the very powerful line “I will underline this fact, I am 24 years old, I do not need you to tell me who I should and should not love and I would never in my life ever, ever tell anyone who they can and cannot love”. She went on “it is not your place and really it has nothing to do with you. So if those rules are something that you do not like then please unfollow me, because the abuse you throw at him is abuse you are throwing at me and I don’t want those followers and I don’t want to be protecting my comments every time I post a picture of him”. Powerful words.
I watched Florence Pugh’s instagram video and was close to tears. Not just because I like her, but no one, especially not someone as talented as her, should have to justify their choice of relationship. People should be thinking of her as “the next Kate Winslet” and crediting her as an Oscar-nominated actress who has played Amy March and Black Widow’s sister in the space of a year and done more in 6 years of acting in the film industry than 40 year old actresses do in a 20 year career.
Instead they’re belittling her for going out with a man old enough to be her dad. Well, the abuse is directed at him, but I’m sure it hurts her too that people have so much contention with her choice of boyfriend as she said in the video. It just makes me feel sick that people can be so cruel!
It’s not just the women who get the flack for a huge age gap between them and their partners. Like I said, Donald Trump has been heckled and jeered at for marrying Melania. But I suspect that has more to do with the fact that Trump is a horrible person. Florence, on the other hand, is not. So why is she getting so much hate?
I suspect there is an element of sexism involved. Female politicians know a lot about this. Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon were constantly photographed and commented upon for flashing their legs rather than talking about their policies. Just ask Jacinda Ardern about that sexist interview on the AM Show when she was asked about her baby plans instead of her campaign promises as Labour leader.
I think we unfortunately still live in a society with two expectations placed upon women - to get married and have children. No one bothered about Boris Johnson not being engaged to Carrie Symonds, for example. Boris’ situation highlights further sexism as no one appeared to bat an eyelid that he is 56 and Carrie is 32 - that’s 24 years between them.
We have to assume that Johnson is the more famous one out of the Downing Street couple, being Prime Minister and all. Naturally, you would assume this would leave him the first to be at risk of scrutiny for dating a woman half his age. But I’ve not seen a single news article criticizing him for dating a younger woman and rightfully so. People should be able to date whoever they damn well feel like!
Out of Florence and Zach, Pugh is the more famous one. Braff is best known for ‘Scrubs’ (2001-2010), but he’s not one of the biggest and hottest movie stars at the moment, due next to star opposite Scarlett Johansson in ‘Black Widow’ (2021). Florence is at the centre of all the media coverage of Florence + Zach and she’s been professionally slaughtered for it. They don’t care about him, they care about her. Had a big actor around Pugh’s age like, say, Timothee Chalamet or Asa Butterfield started dating an older woman, they definitely wouldn’t get so much flack.
There definitely is a further sexism at work in what I refer to as “cougar culture”. You know, when an older, relatively attractive woman is caught in a relationship with a younger man. Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher definitely knew a lot about this when they were married. Demi was 40 and Ashton was 25. They were constantly ridiculed by the press with Demi called a “cougar” and Ashton her “toyboy”.
Compare the media reaction to Ashton and Demi with the press coverage of “Brangelina” - when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were married. Brad is 57 now and Angelina is 45 and there’s an 11 year age gap between them. But Brad was seen as a hot player for pulling a woman as beautiful as Angelina while Demi was branded “desperate” for marrying boy toy Ashton Kutcher.
And think about grey-haired, nearly 60 George Clooney who is widely now seen as a sexy “silver fox” for pulling a woman as young and beautiful as Amal Clooney. Demi Moore and so many other older women dating young men (think Kate Beckinsale and Pete Davidson) were slandered as “past it”.
Basically, the double standards need to change. It should be as acceptable for an older man to date a younger woman as it is for an older woman to date a younger man. Maybe we should just forget about age, stop shaming big age gap relationships and concentrate on the fact that, as long as the relationship is consensual and legal, people should be able to date and marry whoever they bloody like. Florence and Zach included...
We have a remarkable shortage of Valentine’s movies this year. Perhaps that’s expected as we are under a lockdown Valentine’s Day. That’s why it got me thinking about the movies that I fell in love with and have made me fall in love. More specifically, I was thinking of individual moments from the movies that are the most romantic.
Necessarily, there are some great titles and moments that I’ve left out. I couldn’t find space for Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson’s first “brief encounter” at the train station in David Lean’s ‘Brief Encounter’ (1945), for example. There was no room for Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm in ‘When Harry Met Sally’ (1989). Or, even more recently, the planetarium scene in ‘La La Land’ (2017) with that adorably lovely coupling of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. And I couldn’t find room for the iconic phone kiss scene from ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ (1946).
These are all great titles and great omissions. But this is a top 5 list rather than a top 10 and so I had to really squeeze things down to the bare minimum with all the fat trimmed from the bones.
So here it is. My top 5 romantic movie moments…
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5. Montage - ‘Annie Hall’ (1977)/Expectations vs. Reality - ‘(500) Days of Summer’ (2009)
‘(500) Days of Summer’ takes a more ingenious touch to the subject by having two very similar scenarios play out split screen. Both are at a party and one ends with Gordon-Levitt’s Tom kissing Deschannel’s Summer and having sex and the other with him seeing her engagement ring and walking out in near tears. These scenes could be seen as very unromantic as they deal with when love could not be found, but they are guaranteed tear-jerkers and I love the choice of songs on the soundtrack - ‘Seems Like Old Times’ for ‘Annie Hall’ and Regina Spektor’s ‘Hero’ for ‘(500) Days of Summer’. I always love a bit of Regina…
4. “Ashley, I love you” - ‘Gone with the Wind’ (1939)
3. Trevi Fountain scene - ‘La Dolce Vita’ (1960)
2. La Marseillaise - ‘Casablanca’ (1942)
1. Kissing in the Rain - ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (1961)
15, 125 Mins
They’re also both rags-to-riches stories about young men brought up in poverty making fortunes for themselves against the backdrop of a very hostile modern India. But ‘The White Tiger’ is an altogether more universal story than ‘Slumdog’ as it does not only tackle child poverty and abuse, but also the casteism, classism and communalism that continue to affect Narendra Modi’s increasingly retrogressive India.
That’s not to say ‘The White Tiger’ is at all political or polemical. It should be championed first as a Dickens-worthy satire and a ‘Goodfellas’-style crime story about a man’s rise within the criminal underworld with a ‘Fight Club’-style voiceover chipping and chirruping commentary on the state of Indian masculinity, materialism and mainstream establishment.
Adarsh Gourav is the Oliver Twist or David Copperfield of this story. He’s Balram Halwai and we first meet him penning an email to then Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, requesting a meeting and recounting his life story. He believes the Indian underclass (referred to under the caste system as “the untouchables”) are trapped in a perpetual state of servitude which he describes as “like chickens in a chicken coop”.
Growing up in the poverty-stricken Laxmangarh, Balram is offered a scholarship to Delhi thanks to his academic advancements. He is branded a “white tiger” who is only born once in a generation. Yet, when his father fails to pay off the village landlord (Mahesh Manjrekar), Balram’s grandmother makes Balram scrape by selling tea (a “chaiwala”) in the village tea stall and thus Balram never returns to school.
Years later, an adult Balram aspires to be a chauffeur for Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), son of village landlord, The Stork, who brings home his gorgeous, Jackson Heights-raised wife Pinky from the USA. She’s played in a very sweet performance by the very beautiful Priyanka Chopra who is the token Bollywood star of this American-Indian production as has become tradition in these sort of movies (remember Anil Kapoor in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’?).
Balram becomes the family’s second driver while the primary driver hides his Muslim heritage because The Stork is prejudiced against Muslims. Balram goes on to blackmail him by threatening to reveal his true faith so that Balram can become Ashok and Pinky’s driver in Delhi. Unlike other members of their family, Ashok and Pinky treat Balram with respect and grow close to him. However, they still regard him as a servant…
One of ‘The White Tiger’s key themes is classism which is still a major issue in modern India. Balram beautifully sums up the class divides between rich and poor with the line “there are only two men in India - men with big bellies and men with small bellies”. He’s referring to the stereotype that the rich are corpulent and fat while the poor are malnourished. This lends a very Dickensian edge to the drama.
More significant, however, and still a very divisive modern Indian issue is casteism which ‘The White Tiger’ tackles head-on. Balram describes the differences between the two people of “the light” and “the darkness”. There are more than two castes still prevalent in the Hindu caste system, but what Balram is referring to is the stereotype and borderline racism that higher castes are often associated with fair skin and the lower castes with dark skin. His commentary really taps into a seemingly global prejudice and fear of darkness.
There’s also an element of communalism evident in Ashok’s primary driver having to hide his Muslim identity due to The Stork hating Muslims. This is a very real concern for many non-Hindus who find their ways of life under threat from BJP-governed Hindu Nationalism.
At times, ‘The White Tiger’ resembles a Shakespearean morality play. As Lord Acton said, “power corrupts” and it certainly corrupts Balram. He murders Ashok and absconds with a huge amount of bribe money. The richer he becomes, the more monstrous he becomes.
In the central role, Adarsh Gourav is a real talent find. He has some of the shortness and weediness of Dai Bradley from ‘Kes’ (1969) and Luis Otavio in ‘City of God’ (2002). I could certainly imagine him as the protagonist of an ‘Oliver Twist’ or ‘David Copperfield’ adaptation and I loved his skin-crawling transformation from meek narrator to Tyler Durden-esque sexpot.
Priyanka Chopra is the Nancy figure of the film. She is kind and humble toward the servants. She could be seen as the film’s “white saviour”. She’s not white, but she is rich, beautiful, fair and American and so some people might have contention with her character being the only one who is kind to Balram and other servants. I did find a scene where she sticks up for Balram when some rich men put their feet on him quite moving, though.
I’m sure the film could also cause contention in some of India’s more conservative states where Hindu Nationalism, casteism and communalism is a big issue. After all, politicians and Hindu nationalists don’t like to be reminded of the decades, generations even, installed prejudices that run rampant in the Bimaru states. Prime Minister Narendra Modi swept back to re-election in 2019 on the promise that “together we will build a strong and inclusive India”. Two years on, the castes, classes and communities of this huge subcontinent have never been more divided.
I remember the controversy generated by ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ in India when it came out in 2009. Many people rejected its depiction of child poverty and abuse in India and suggested Danny Boyle’s vision of the country was a tourist eye view of India from a wealthy outsider. I think there’s always a danger faced by any outsider - especially from a first world country - portraying a foreign, even third world country that they won’t see the full picture and are at risk of misrepresenting this country.
But, then again, Bollywood filmmakers are notorious for washing over the social and economic challenges facing modern Indians. I suggest they all watch ‘The White Tiger’. It’s a real eye-opener to just one side to this big and beautiful country.
‘The White Tiger’ is on Netflix now.
Meet Roshan Chandy
Freelance film critic, journalist and writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in cinema.
Roshan's Top 5 Films of the Week
2. Cruella (in cinemas)
3. After Love (in cinemas)
4. Dream Horse (in cinemas)
5. Frankie (in cinemas)
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