Jessica Chastain Doesn't Want Women To Be Individuals, Or Heroes

As you’ve probably read, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino has been pulled into the #MeToo hysteria, and for understandable reasons. He made two very popular films with Uma Thurman as star and Harvey Weinstein as producer – Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill – during which Thurman claims to have been assaulted by Weinstein. Tarantino has made it clear that he knew enough about what happened and didn’t do much, and both he and Thurman admitted that their inaction likely caused more abuses of women to continue over the years. Add to this a new charge by Thurman, that Tarantino convinced her to do a dangerous driving stunt that caused a crash and put her in the hospital, which Weinstein apparently covered up. In her statement, she makes it clear that she forgives Tarantino for the accident, and that she puts the blame for the cover-up squarely on Weinstein’s shoulders. Nevertheless, the story of the car stunt has dredged up other anecdotes from Tarantino’s films, such as the fact that he himself performed the face-spitting and strangling of Thurman’s character in Kill Bill, leading to others in Hollywood denouncing him as a serial woman-abuser. Actress Jessica Chastain tweeted out this condemnation of him, which strayed into a discussion of the treatment of women in movies as a whole:


For the record, Tarantino states that he chose to do those things personally because by directing himself, he would get them done in as few takes as possible. And both Thurman herself and Diane Kruger (who he directed in Inglorious Basterds) have come to the man’s defense against accusations of intentionally abusing women. That said, I have no interest in defending Tarantino as a person. He’s a creepy guy, a really creepy guy and a cop hater who enabled Weinstein for years. He’s not a good guy. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to accuse him of malice against women where there was none.

And what are we to make of Jessica Chastain’s comments about violence against women in Kill Bill and other movies? Does she really believe that any and all violence against women in movies is sexist promotion of the patriarchy? In Chastain’s recent movie, Molly’s Game, her character gets the snot beaten out of her by mobsters who don’t like her stealing their gambling action away. The violence is ugly, and it’s not glorified, but it’s essential to the plot, to show just how dangerous her actions are. Without it, there’s no conflict, no tension, nothing at risk. Likewise, in Zero Dark Thirty, a movie that won Chastain great critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination, her character participates in the waterboarding and “enhanced interrogation” of a male terrorist, and when soldiers kill Osama Bin Laden and his family in an operation that she masterminded, it’s treated as a person victory for her. Why is violence against men okay, in this or any other movie, but not against women?

But back to Kill Bill. Yes, Thurman’s character, Beatrix Kiddo aka The Bride, is beaten, shot, choked and spit on, but not because she’s a woman. Because she’s a warrior. The attack on her is her entire motivation for the revenge that sets the film’s plot in motion, and she gives as good as she gets. And more to the point, what makes her an interesting character, and one that we root for, is that she takes her licks, overcomes diversity and triumphs in the end. That’s what defines every great hero: not what they dish out, what they take. What they’re willing to overcome to achieve their goal or defend their principle, to prove that it was worth fighting for. In the great Rocky Balboa, Rocky explains this in one of the best inspirational speeches in movie history:

You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can *get* hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!

That is the very essence of a great hero. Whether it’s the heroes of Greek and Roman mythology, Biblical heroes, or modern-day comic book superheroes and other action heroes, what makes them great is their ability to overcome whatever pain and heartache their enemies throw at them, and still come out on top. Without that, there is nothing heroic or relatable about them. In his video “The Problem With Action Movies Today”, YouTuber Chris Stuckmann discusses how great movie heroes like Indiana Jones, John McClaine, and Martin Riggs are defined not by their strength but by their vulnerability. Note in particular his discussion of Indiana Jones starting at around 17:30 in, when he discusses “The Breaking Point”, the moment in the movie when the hero is beaten down and nearly defeated, and must find a way to claw his or her way back up to victory. This is what shows the hero’s mettle, and makes us root for him.

Yet Jessica Chastain doesn’t think female heroes should have to deal with any of that. They shouldn’t have to prove they’re strong to the audience, because “we already are”, just by virtue of being born female. She wants to strip female movie characters of everything that makes them heroic and strong because she doesn’t think women should be heroes. Heroes are individuals who fight individual struggles, and like all feminists, she cannot see any woman as an individual, but as a member of a collective gender. Therefore, what happens to one woman happens to all of them. If a female warrior is struck while fighting against her enemies, that is not an attack by one warrior against another, but an attack by a man against all women everywhere. Like all modern feminists, she wants equality, but none of the consequences of that equality. She wants women to be held up in the same regard as men, but not have to do any of the work or endure any of the difficulties that men do to get where they are. She wants women in movies to be called strong heroes, without having to earn it, basic storytelling be damned. Apparently the only thing that would satisfy people like her is if every woman in an action movie has Godlike power and invulnerability from the very beginning, and defeats every opponent with ease, like Scarlett Johannsson in the second half of Lucy. No conflict, no difficulty, no stakes, nothing to overcome. Because grrl power. In other words, movies that are pointless and have no reason to exist, and nothing for the audience to connect with. Anything less is sexist.

Obviously, the result of this will be less women in action movies, not more, because screenwriters will be unable to tell compelling stories that meet feminist demands, so they’ll simply stop trying. Then feminists will complain that there aren’t enough female action heroes in movies. Because when you’re trying to use the culture as a cudgel to fix a problem that doesn’t exist, nothing will ever be good enough to make you happy.

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