Maria Violet

Maria Violet is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy.

Soylent_Green_quad_movie_poster_lAlthough Soylent Green premiered over 40 years ago in 1973, many of its environmental and political themes are even more applicable today than they were then. With extreme class division, environmental ruin, food shortages, and overpopulation, viewers will find much to empathize with, especially in today’s world.

Though there are some additional environmental protections in place now versus when the film came out, the problems of overpopulation and global warming are more critical and threatening than ever.

In fact, according to Alberta Energy, about 5500 million metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted into Earth’s atmosphere every year due to human activity, which in turn is contributing to the progression of climate change. This theme runs rampant throughout the film, but perhaps even more telling of this dystopian future is the treatment of the female characters in the film and how this degradation is considered so commonplace, it is barely even discussed.

harrison_make roomIn Soylent Green, 2022 sees a world with severely limited resources due to overpopulation, which is at 40 million people in New York City alone. The middle class has disappeared and what remains is the ultra-rich, who are able to continue to live luxurious lives while the rest of society barely scrapes by. Even food is a restricted item.

The film’s Soylent Corporation begins to release a new nutritional product called “soylent green” and in the course of investigating the murder of one of the wealthy scions of society, a detective discovers that soylent green is made from humans. Things have become so dire, that cannibalism has become necessary in order to survive although most don’t know what they’re really consuming.

A lesser and more overlooked theme, however, is the treatment of the women in this film, who are ultimately seen as disposable and their value is primarily as objects of pleasure for men.

By treating its female characters as furniture and disposable chattels, Soylent Green might have been making the point that in societies with extreme class divisions, women are more vulnerable to mistreatment, as definitely seen in the real world today and would be doubly true had the Soylent Green world been made reality.

In times of distress, it’s been seen time and time again that women and children often get the short end of the stick, which is what may have been the statement this film was intending to make. But, it may also be that with a male director, male producers, and a male writer (even the author of original book, Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison, was male), the creators of the movie simply viewed this treatment of women as atmospheric given the generally dark tones of the film.

Whatever the case, the result is a distinct lack of female input into the creation of the movie, and it is a fact that the environmental themes are focused on much more directly than the overtly sexist themes. Perhaps discussion around Soylent Green centres on environmental warnings rather than sexism because women’s problems are often overlooked.

soylent gree-hestonAnd yet, Soylent Green hardly hides the fact that this world is sexist. The two main female characters in the film are both concubines. Martha is the concubine of a lower class man – indicating that not only the wealthy are able to “own” women; and Shirl is the former concubine of the aforementioned murder victim. Both are identified in relation to the men in their lives, and Shirl in particular is only valued for her beauty and her status as a sex object. She is young, but already resigned to her position in life, although there are moments when she displays distress at the role she’s been forced into.

The men in the film are shown to be much stronger characters. They are the owners, the rulers, the detectives, and even the primary victims. They are able to have a more complete destiny. Women are replaceable pieces of furniture. In could be inferred from Soylent Green that with environmental degradation could also come with female degradation, if we do not do anything about it any time soon.

Sadly, much like the environmental themes, the patriarchal themes also ring true today. Though times have changed and in many ways things have improved for women, there are still countries where women are not even allowed to vote or drive. Women are paid less and expected to do more in the home. It is still difficult for women to be taken as seriously as men in many industries and films made today still reflect the male gaze more strongly than the female gaze. Progress is being made, but there is still a long journey to go. Soylent Green remains as much a cautionary tale today for feminism as it was the day it was released.

 

Maria Ramos

Maria Violet is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy..

you-re-next-poster04Home invasion movies are an old and popular genre in horror, and it is possibly the only horror genre that is targeted more towards women. This may be because in the real world, women are taught to fear strangers and the dangers they represent on a greater scale than men. The home has also historically been portrayed as a woman’s place, one of the few in which a woman was expected to take charge. In a society where men are viewed as the physical protectors of the home, having a solitary woman pursued and under attack by an ill-intentioned invader is a popular narrative tool used to inspire terror.

The problem this presents is that it implies women without men are more vulnerable and less able to defend themselves. It also often places men in a predatory role. This involves a certain amount of sexism in both directions, indicating a woman’s weakness and a man’s supposedly aggressive nature. These movies tend to show women as terrified and helpless, being stalked by the big bad wolf in the form of an unknown assailant. Both an outdated stereotype and a harmful one, this sub-genre of horror can have real world negative effects as it reinforces insulting ideas about women’s strength. Even when the woman escapes, the implication remains that they survived against the odds rather than as a matter of course.

panic-room-posterFor example, in Panic Room (2002) the female protagonist feared danger so greatly that she literally hides in a panic room with her sick child (not a feature that most homes contain), though ironically a working cell phone was not something she thought to store there.

Her eventual bid to escape is not due to inherent bravery, but in order to get treatment for her daughter. In Funny Games (1997), both a husband and wife are attacked, but the implication exists that it is the man’s job to fend off the attackers while the women, his wife, is only expected to escape at best. Instead, they both die. In The Strangers (2008), a more modern film, a similar setup occurs through one of the three assailants is actually a woman. The female half of the attacked duo in this case survives, satisfying the “final girl” trope popular in all genres of horror.

Though this final girl trope of having one surviving woman at the end of a horror film tends to play out more often in scenarios where there are groups under attack, such as slasher films, there are examples found in the home invasion category as well. The film You’re Next (2013) is another such example, where Erin is the last woman standing after killing four attackers and then, accidentally, one police officer. She survives but is on the hook for the deaths even though they were in self-defense or accidental. This movie is a bit of an exception in the genre in general anyway, due to Erin’s ability to physically fight back.

 In fact, often women in these movies use their wits rather than their strength to fend off attackers. Wait Until Dark (1967) stars Audrey Hepburn as a woman being terrorized by three men searching for drugs in her home. To emphasize her vulnerability even further she is blind in the film, but there the convention is turned on its head. Hepburn’s character uses her blindness as an advantage, plunging the robbers into the dark and setting traps they cannot see to avoid. She likely would have had an easier time had this movie been set more recently, as a security system would have done her job for her.

single-white-female-movie-poster-1992-1020233026Women are sometimes the attackers as well. 1992’s Single White Female is a perfect example. Hedy is the murderous assailant – though that is not apparent at first – and she manages to kill two men and severely injure a third in her pursuit of Ally, the “victim.” In the end, Ally is able to outwit her, once again relying on the positive brains over brawn narrative. Though the women here are not portrayed as weak in the same way as other movies in this genre, there are nevertheless negative stereotypes at play. One is of women as constantly being in competition with and jealous of each other. After all, there is no better way of portraying jealousy than literally trying to take over someone’s life. Another is of the crazy or unstable woman, an extremely damaging stereotype of its own. Those same stereotypes are at play in 2007’s Inside, where a woman stalks and eventually kills a mother-to-be in order to claim her child as her own.

In all these films, the sanctity of the home – an historically female sphere – is disturbed and a woman is shown as the main or ultimate victim. Most show women being forced to rely on their cleverness to protect them rather than a direct physical defense. The home becomes a trap that must be escaped, in fact an apt allegory for repressive sexism in general.

 However, there are differences as well, and signs of change in more recent movies. This genre sometimes has a woman as the attacker as well as the victim. There is even the occasional physical battle in which the woman triumphs. This is a sign of progress both in fiction and hopefully in how women are viewed in real life. Though the genre has historically relied on incorrect and offensive stereotypes of the weak and frightened female victims, if it continues to show women in the stronger role of successful defender and even sometimes attacker, the genre may be able to successfully evolve with the times.

 

Maria Ramos

Maria Violet is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy..

scorch trials-maze_runner_2_concept_art_1What YA dystopian fiction doesn’t portray…

Dystopian fiction is designed to highlight societal and political shortcomings that could, if not corrected, lead to a less than ideal future. Historically aimed at a more mature audience, authors and filmmakers in recent years have nonetheless produced a number of books and film adaptations that target a young adult audience. These resulting materials have proven to show large profits and popularity at both book stores and box office.

jennifer-lawrence-katniss-everdeenWhile traditional dystopian fiction wouldn’t seem to appeal to the young adult demographic, many of the currently popular works, such as The Hunger Games trilogy, the Divergent series, the Maze Runner series, and others, utilize a protagonist who is close in age to the targeted audience in order to make him or her easier to relate to. Katniss, Tris, and Thomas are all described as being in the range of 16 or 17 years old, allowing an audience of similar age to, hopefully, feel a connection to them and to their challenges and struggles.

Unfortunately, while these novels contain plenty of references to what can happen when politics goes bad, there is a glaring hole in their reference to some of the very real problems in existence today, problems such as racism and sexism. I mean, these issues are not likely to miraculously disappear when some bigger global crisis comes along. And yet, that seems to be exactly what we’re expected to believe when either reading or watching these dystopian stories.

A dystopia is what occurs when the world falls to pieces and society’s very real problems are pushed to an extreme. This can be be portrayed in many ways: leading to some form of oppression such as mind control like that found in Divergent and Insurgent, which can both be streamed on Amazon or DTV, or through more direct and brutal means such as the yearly battle to the death in The Hunger Games. However, when society’s real world issues of racism and racial inequality are (at best) downplayed and (at worst) ignored, the risk is very real that entire segments of current society will ignore and/or condemn the books and films that Hollywood is hoping will draw them in.

insurgentFurther, while these novels and films are offering up more in the way of female protagonists, the girls in question more often than not succeed due to their ability to act more like their male counterparts rather than less. They compete on the same level and without any mention of historical inequalities that have beleaguered them i.e. their assumed inferiority, or their being supposedly the weaker sex.

In the Divergent series in particular, we’re led to believe that the powers that be following a catastrophic global event of some sort set up a system where human beings are segregated and identified by faction only. And yet, even recent history has repeatedly shown that we as a people tend to divide along lines of both race and gender when hit with a crisis situation.

On the positive side, some of these novels do a fairly decent job of describing what could happen if, for example, our current environmental issues are left unchecked. This is particularly true for a series such as The Maze Runner, and is especially emphasized in The Scorch Trials, the second film to be adapted from the second novel in the trilogy and in which the Earth has become a desert wasteland. However, leaving out other equally important issues leaves the entire genre feeling a little incomplete.

If this particular subgenre of young adult fiction wishes to continue drawing in the widest audience possible, it’s time that the writers and filmmakers alike consider embracing more diversity within the material they present. Otherwise, they may find that both their popularity and their profits are short lived.

 

Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

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