After a long day at work, I wanted to come home and watch a movie, and let’s just say it was one of those days where the only thing to put my mind at ease would be to watch something that was as completely and utterly far removed from the current life I’m living (not escaping from a bad thing, just escaping…healthy in small doses). So I decided on 300: Rise of an Empire. Amazingly choreographed fight scenes on ancient battlefields and mind-bending mythology weaved together with an epic score…it was an easy decision.
At minute 1:29, in the ultra-slow motion for which the original 300 was made famous, was a woman’s bare chest, breasts slowly heaving in the air – the kind of shot that is intended to bring drool down the chins of every sci-fi/fantasy nerd and 14 year old American boy making up the film’s target demographics. A cheap shot regardless…but the context of the shot made my jaw drop. This woman was being dragged kicking and screaming, one soldier on either arm, ostensibly off the battlefield to a setting more conducive to gang rape.
Now, as an adamant film buff, I can handle a good amount of violence. The special effects, both CGI and old school makeup, that go into many films’ most violent scenes are simply fascinating, and I am always able to remove myself from the story at hand to appreciate the artistry that goes into creating movie moments like these (note current favorite TV show: The Walking Dead).
But this was different.
I felt myself sickened by what I had just seen. I have walked out on films like Last House on the Left and Out of the Furnace and Irreversible that featured rape scenes, feeling that real life had its fill of sexual and gender-based violence, and Hollywood didn’t need to create more of it just to make money. But these films are all advertised in such a way that you know they are intended to be much darker, and that the darkness featured in them was much more grounded in reality. And in each of these films, the act being perpetrated was clearly conveyed as an act of evil.
When I decided to watch this incredibly nerdy summer blockbuster, marketed to the masses and likely the lowest-common denominator of moviegoers everywhere, I was not expecting to have sexual violence glorified in the way it was. I will not repost the scene in this blog, you’ll have to check it out for yourself, but to have a HIGHLY sexualized image of a woman’s bare chest – shot in the artistic way it was shot and captured in cutting-edge, super-slow motion – in the context of an act of arguably the most brutal form of sexual violence was nothing short of infuriating.
Why does Hollywood feel the need to glorify acts of sexual and gender based violence? Objectification of women in movies is sadly commonplace, even when men are not in tune to the women being objectified (hey men, try to watch your next film from a woman’s POV…you’ll see what I’m talking about). The ironic thing is, 300: Rise of an Empire actually tells the story of two men leading armies to fight for their competing empires, and the two women who are the true masterminds of the war. It is a weak plot, ripe with opportunities for messages of women’s empowerment. And perhaps those morals and lessons become apparent later in the film. For me, I couldn’t get past the over-sexualized act of ultra-violence.
Working together as a movement to address and prevent sexual and gender-based violence is going to be a long, long, long journey. I personally believe that the world is heading in a positive direction and gender equity and equality can only continue to improve from here. But how are we supposed to move forward if the film industry continues to use the exploitation of women to sell tickets and popcorn?
We need to be more in tune with the extent to which we are being inured to gender-based violence by films, by television, by the news, by advertisers and by the conglomerates that keep the whole machine of exploitation running as smoothly as ever. It’s baffling that with all the push-back against gender discrimination in politics and in the workplace, all this talk about the need to increase education for girls, all this talk about liberating women from the burka or niqab, and yet the fight against media incorporating exploitation as a marketing ploy in situations like this scene remains unreported, and for the most part, unheard.
Let’s do our part, each of us film buffs and moviegoers, to spread awareness about scenes like this one, about moments of ‘sexploitation’ and perpetuations of archaic gender and sexual norms. It’s like those ads in subways and airports all over New York and Los Angeles building a movement to prevent acts of terrorism – “If you see something, say something.” I feel very strongly that the same mantra should apply to gender-related offenses, so that we may amplify this dialogue towards a new and lasting paradigm shift.