2017 Breakdown: Which Blockbusters Passed

1. “Beauty and the Beast”

“Beauty and the Beast”

Passes? Yes.

The year’s top-earner — a live-action rejiggering of the beloved Disney fairy tale, itself a new spin on the classic Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve story — may focus on a tale as old as time (read: a love story between a comely country girl and the literal beast who tries to kill her father and then softens up to her feminine wiles), but it also has a number of scenes that put Belle’s (Emma Watson) agency into sharp relief. Sure, some of the “passing” moments do involve her speaking to a piece of furniture (Madame de Garderobe, voiced by Audra McDonald), but that piece of furniture is also a human woman underneath all that wood. One of their most memorable chats even centers on Belle refuting any mention of being a “princess.” She’s her own woman, even when she’s telling a large chest of drawers so.

Belle also interacts with other members of the cursed household, including Plumette and Mrs. Potts, to talk about the Beast and other concerns, including, “hey, why are we all cursed?” And while we never learn the name of the young village girl Belle teaches to read early on in the film, it’s an essential sequence that highlights a number of Belle’s core values, from literacy to helping others. It’s a prime example of what happens when the Bechdel’s aims are honestly met: character insight, told in a way that folds believably into a story.

2. “Wonder Woman”

“Wonder Woman”

Passes? Yes.

The first act of Patty Jenkins’ blockbuster superhero story is an almost entirely female affair, and while Diana (Gal Gadot) and her family of Amazons do spend some time talking about male gods and mankind itself (their creators and the reason for their eventual exile, incidentally), they also lead lives largely devoid of idle chat, the sort that so often falls into patter about relationships with the opposite sex. Instead, they’re busy interacting with each other, teaching other, governing each other, and attempting to negotiate the politics of their unique existence. The introduction of a man is understandably revolutionary — though Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is certainly not the only man many of the Amazons have ever met, they’ve done some living — but Jenkins continues to keep her focus on the women at the center of the story and how their bonds are tested by the interloper, instead of automatically moving the focus of the film to Diana and Steve’s blossoming interest (they’ll be time for that later).

Once Diana leaves the hidden island of Themyscira, the Bechdel continues to prove out: She forms a quick bond with Steve’s secretary Etta Candy (a divine Lucy Davis), and the pair talk about fashion, function, and just where the hell a warrior lady can stick her most important weapons while still dressing appropriately for a chilling London. Diana’s eventual band of rogue fighters may be decidedly male-dominated, but she’s already proven herself to be the kind of hero who can bond with just about anyone over anything, including other similarly compelling female characters.

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