I watched The Heat (2013) last night.
Sonja came over and brought it from the library. Yes, I am slightly behind the times, I realize it’s 2014 now. But is this blog out of date? No. I want to talk about gender and race! (I know, big surprise.)
The successful (yet incomplete) woman
A step up! I was disappointed for the first few minutes of this film because Sandra Bullock‘s character started out in a style I’ve seen before and think of Sandra Bullock as being typecast into: the successful woman who is intimidating and unfeeling, not in tune with her co-workers and without friends, not characterized as “feminine” at all either because of or supported by her image as a powerful woman. There is something “missing” from her life socially (in this case, as noted in particular by the hatred of her co-workers and her desire to bond with a neighbor’s cat)…and ultimately in these films (cough cough The Proposal) she locates her emotions which she has been hiding from while developing a romantic relationship against a male counterpart who essentially creates the space or the role for her to become feminized. Don’t get me wrong. I totally enjoy The Proposal. But seriously? Successful women can also be independent and strong not only on the outside, but emotionally as well. Seriously. Back me up, Media…oh, wait, you don’t all that often, do you?
How The Heat turns this stereotype / subsequent story arc around
Three cheers for you, The Heat! On the surface, yes, you are a fun popcorn-eating action comedy. But you’re more than that too!
- Bullock’s character, Ashburn, is not “missing” something from her life because she’s not a woman but because she was a foster child. She’s missing not a man but a family.
- (although SAD SAD SAD the movie does pack a few direct blows to Ashburn’s femininity, particularly when she meets her (sort-of) partner-in-crime-fighting Mullins’ family, who ask questions about Ashburn’s gender and whether or not she had a sex change…sigh…this is still a lot having to do thankfully more with the uptight nature of Ashburn, I can convince myself, rather than her role as a strong female character)
- Bullock is also not the highest up on the ladder of the FBI (where she works) hierarchy. She is the only female FBI agent presented in the film, so she has men both below her and above her in terms of her professional life.
- There is no fully resolved romantic partner for Bullock in this film (more on this and mixed-race romance in a moment). Her love interest is played by Marlon Wayans and there is a nice sense of professional respect between them as well as flirtation and attraction, but the beginning of their relationship is merely hinted at, not achieved on-screen.
This is a girl power film
And this is a girl power film! This is, of course, not a new concept. I’ve seen The First Wives Club and watched (all of) Desperate Housewives and (sigh) both the Sex in the City movies (and the full run of the show). But what’s different here that also makes me love The Heat in particular in its view on women?
- There doesn’t need to be power in numbers. There are two female leads. Two. Not a gaggle. And they carry the film just fine without a cohort. And they don’t even drive over a cliff at the end!
- They’re badass. They act like rebels for the cause of good, and I don’t recall there being enough girl cowboys in the media.
- Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) is overweight and it’s not a joke. She’s not a joke. Out of the pair, she is the one who is constantly encountering men who she has left from one-night stands requesting more of her time. She is characterized as a strong and desirable woman, and one independent enough to love them and leave them (not the stereotypical “good girl” female playing within the rules society has laid out for women to act by as sexual beings). Out of the pair, she is the one who begins with true inner strength, and she helps lend that strength to Ashburn (Bullock).
- There is also a raging misogynist character in the film. He’s set up as a foil for comedic purposes as well as to serve as a common enemy for the female co-stars, who he believes are not good enough at their jobs and that women’s estrogen gets in the way. It created the kind of nervous laughter you get when you want to watch a character die, he’s so terrible yet still reminds us that people still think this way in the current world as well…
I am tempted to go on gushing, but that’s the meat of it. This movie hits similar heart-strings that regular chick-flicks might, but without all the unnecessary sap. It replaces that sap with some hilarious female drinking scenes and power-plays against criminals, strapping up in bullet-proof vests and doing what their male superiors tell them not to do. Even in its sometimes unrealistic levels of humor, there is something more real there for some women, myself included, than any group of women sitting at a coffee-house or lakeside cabin are going to bond over.
After mulling over Mullins and Ashburn and how pleased I was that there was so little sexually romantic plot, it occurred to me that my rom-com loving self wished just a little that I’d gotten the kiss. There was some great chemistry between Wayans, who was adorable and attractive in the film, and Bullock, and perhaps more for his sake than hers, I wanted him to “get the girl.”
And I liked the presence of a mixed-race couple! But wait… I liked
the PREMISE of a mixed-race couple.
Without the movie-kiss, the audience does not get that pudding in which therein I’m told lies the proof.
I feel conflicted about this. In the context of The Heat as a girl-power film, YAY! Who needs boys? These women are complete.
But in the context of mainstream media as a whole, and particularly in mainstream film, it surfaced in my mind:
Where are the mixed-race couples?
More specifically, where are the Black-and-White mixed-race couples? I addressed this with my boyfriend David, who is a science fiction scholar (who also watches a lot of Hollywood blockbusters…not so many rom-coms), over lunch this afternoon. I requested for some assistance in examples of Black-and-White mixed-race couples in FILM (we thought of a few weak examples in television). I noted that it seems that Hispanic-White couples, at least to some degree (Elysium, Gigli, etc…) exist, but here’s the list we came up with, for the most part:
- Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013),Uhura and Spock.
- …and I think this doesn’t quite count. I love science fiction (and sometimes hate it) for what it can do and say around race relations, but I think this is more a human-Vulcan relationship than a black-white one. A WASP-based audience isn’t looking at Spock and connecting to him…that’s Captain Kirk.
- And full disclosure, I have not seen the new Abrams Star Trek films yet. I’m just talking about science fiction race in comparison to our human on human race concerns.
- Made in America (1993), Sarah Mathews (Whoopi Goldberg) and ‘Hal’ Jackson (TedDanson)
- It has been forever since I’ve seen this film. But don’t tell me that a film which throws together a mother and a sperm-bank father isn’t more supportive of the standard nuclear family than it is of mixed-race couples. Having not seen the film recently, I can’t remember what level of making out occurs or not between Goldberg and Danson. I remember their real-life relationship causing quite a stir around the time.
Seriously. Other than this, I could think of some couples in films I have a particular interest in which feature almost all-black casts, like Think Like a Man which can and do feature token white friend characters, and other films I have watched and don’t remember the titles of – these are not the kind of mainstream film I am asking about. I am asking about your billboard-displaying, prime-time television commercial-featuring, movies featuring actors and actresses who grace the covers of People Magazine.
I’m sure there are some examples, or I hope there are some examples of films I have not seen or don’t remember which feature solid mixed-race couples on the big screen and as the lead couple where there is one black and one white partner. I really hope so. But I watch movies, and I can barely think of any off the top of my head. And that is just stupid.
Sexuality versus Race
Interestingly, David and I mentioned that there seems to be no big to-do anymore about supporting gay-lesbian-queer (not so much bi or trans) couples on the big screen (and especially the small screen) lately, and he wondered if this is because that is still a “hot” issue whereas “we” as a society feel like we’re “beyond” race issues now, so perhaps not consciously putting forth these couples in mainstream media is merely an oversight. But race is still an issue and we need good models of all varieties of couples in our mainstream media, and … I guess I’m still wishing I’d gotten that Bullock-Wayans kiss.
I stand by my point which is that we need more mixed-race couples in mainstream media. That said, can you give some examples of mixed-race couples for me? Mainstream or not, big screen or small. I’d really like to hear about them and explore them myself. (My co-worker’s roommate has provided Save the Last Dance so far.)
I’m also particularly interested in predominantly Black-cast films, so suggest away!
Additional comments and/or corrections:
Before posting this (just doing some final edits now), I had remembered the female lead of Mission: Impossible II as a Hispanic female and I was totally wrong. I wonder if this still read in my memory as a non Black/White mixed-race pairing because of Thandie Newton not being an African American female. Not quite sure, but I’m fascinated that I remembered the race bit so incorrectly in this case.
Also, I feel like in all the examples I’ve thought of, the male lead is still the white lead and the female is the minority. WTF.