Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Pixar movies: Boys' Club

It is no secret that I absolutely LOVE Pixar movies. The animation quality is awesome, the stories are original, and I will shamelessly drag my fiance to the movies to see the movie the day it comes out, us two grown-ups sitting amongst the parents and their children.

This is a love/hate relationship for me though. In EVERY SINGLE ONE the hero is male. Women (if present) are background characters, accessories that must uplift the male hero so he can become the hero. The heroes often have to go through a journey to fulfill their unearthed potential, and the girls must undergo the daunting task of building the hero up so he can see what she sees (Finding Nemo, Cars, Wall-E, Ratatouille, The Incredibles).

Sometimes in these movies, it's all about the bros. Two dudes must overcome their differences, become friends, and eventually they'll both be heroes, and one or both will get the girl (read Toy Story, Ratatouille, Monsters Inc.).

Even where there are girls as heroes, like in The Incredibles, it's still painfully obvious who THE hero is.

In my favorite, Ratatouille, we have a strong female character of Colette. She's badass, and has to be tough because she's in the fast-paced career dominated by men. But the dopey hero is clearly Linguine. It's up to him to find his potential (oh, which is bequeathed to him from his famous chef father, Gusteau). And did anyone else notice the absence of female rats (until the end where they were listening to the male's epic tale)?

All of these movies are highly gendered, even in characters who would have no biological gender (Cars, Wall-E). Eve and Wall-E barely speak, but we know that Eve's a girl (sleek, curved, clean body) just as we know Wall-E is a boy (active, dirty, working-bot). Well, and the names don't help much. In Cars, we have the hero, McQueen, and his love interest, Sally, who is cute and curvy, and even has a "tramp stamp." Ugh.

The latest Pixar movie, Up, has me interested, but still frustrated. In the trailer, I did not see one female character. Even the list of Pixar directors is a sausage-fest--hell, even the list of writers. As far as I can tell, only Toy Story 2 has a woman writer--the rest? All dudez.

How hard would it be to have a woman or girl hero? Couldn't Remy be a girl-rat? Couldn't one of the famous race cars be a chick? Couldn't Up feature a crazy old lady who flew her house away? Couldn't one of the monsters been a girl monster? Oh wait, how would that work out since we all know a boy and a girl can't be friends without it turning into something romantic.

This reminds me of an article on Art at the Auction, where men on t.v. shows are allowed to be quirky or eccentric, and the women super normal to guide the men. This is true in films too. The boys make all the jokes, are allowed to act goofy, and the girls represent the voice of reason (the only exception for this is Dory, in Finding Nemo, but she still exists to make Marlin realize his potential).

And there's still the Disney formula of non-white guy = bad guy (as in Ratatouille). These movies are all white, and the one instance of a darker complexion is on the face of the bad guy. I can't think of any non-white characters in any other Pixar movie--please correct me if I'm wrong.

Non-white people can be heroes too; hell, they can be goofy!

As amazing as Pixar is, it's a shame that their characters aren't more diverse. What I love is that they've managed to break from the original Disney movie formula of princesses and woodland creatures--so why can't they break from the racist sexist patterns as well?

I will now cite the words of Peter Griffin:


Unknown said...

How terrible that males actually get represented in films! They should totally make all movies with only women!

Oh let's not forget EVE was a completely independent successful "person" in her own right and didn't need, but rather came to "want" WALL-E. But of course that doesn't matter, because she's a robot. *rolls eyes*

I get so sick of seeing this "omgzorz teh women arent equal" rants when it comes to film. Half the time in film women are portrayed as the "perfect" race while having to look down on us horrible little men that don't deserve to live. Is it really so bad that we occasionally get a film where we're not viewed as pigs?

FilthyGrandeur said...

@Midgard Dragon-

i'm only leaving your comment up to illustrate my point. if women were truly equal, i wouldn't have to ask why a production company doesn't produce one single movie that is male-centered.

also, i'm getting really fucking sick of "omg what about the menz" when i point out inequality and marginalization. you have a dick. you don't get to tell me what i can and cannot be pissed off about.

i hope you choke on your fucking privilege. stay out of my space.

Unknown said...

I always was trying to peg exactly what bugged me about these films, in spite of how wonderful they are. Thanks!
At least John Lasseter, the CCO of Pixar, is always plugging Miyazaki films, which ALWAYS seem to feature strong, intelligent women, and usually as the star. The only exceptions that come to mind are Princess Mononoke and Laputa: Castle in the Sky, which both have strong women characters, who get equal footing with the male characters of Ashitaka and Pazu.
Look on the bright side though, a new Pixar film, The Bear and the Bow, is in production, and the director is a woman, and features a female protagonist:
"In Scotland, Merida (Reese Witherspoon), a member of the royal family, decides to give up her family name for her dream of becoming an archer. Merida makes reckless choices, resulting in the destruction of her father's kingdom and her mother's life. Merida then struggles to set things right." (From Wikipedia)
So maybe things will get better.

summer_snow said...

There's Frozone in The Incredibles, but he gets to be the Token Black Friend in an otherwise exclusively white world. His wife never even appears onscreen, but you get to hear her nagging him.

FilthyGrandeur said...



summer_snow said...

Oh, I totally forgot to mention... Remember A Bug's Life? The one about ants? Where all the worker ants are male? Biology 101: all worker ants are female. ALL OF THEM.
DreamWorks does it too with The Bee Movie and Antz. There is not a single animated anthropomorphic insect movie that doesn't perpetuate tired sexist and biologically inaccurate tropes that only dudez are worth watching.

Gwen said...

Great post! The discrepancy is really frustrating. (Re: EVE and Wall-E: have you seen this fanart piece?)

Midgard's comment reminded me of the oft-heard complaint that sitcoms are chock-full of guys who are incompetent, unattractive by conventional standards, not terribly bright, &c., usually married to or at least dating competent, successful, Hollywood-beautiful women with strong careers who can do anything.

My favorite rebuttal: "You know what they call the unsuccessful average person who keeps screwing up in a sitcom? The star." It's sooo true. I wouldn't mind the pedestal so much if the camera would follow us up there, but in American TV today, you have to be "relatable" to be the POV character--and you have to be a guy to be relatable.

FilthyGrandeur said...

yeah, i get mad watching movies about bugs that are naturally matriarchal. the ants are changed to males, and the females are baby-making queens, or the future-baby-making queens.

and the only dudez worth watching are white dudez. (this also goes along with what gwen said).

gwen: that fan art is awesome. it made me giggle. i will now transfer the mental image of that every time i watch Wall-E.

Anonymous said...

So, Pixar finally caught on that, hey, the majority of people are female, maybe we should do a woman about one of those female things, whatchamacallits, girls. Time for a GURL MOVIE!!1

I mean, really? A fantasy-era movie about a girl who is Totally Strong and Independent, We Swear except we still intentionally put her in a setting that conspires to prevent her from the most basic independence so that "marrying that dude she likes" can become, by comparison to medieval expectations, Totally Strong and Independent.

Why not make a movie about a girl who doesn't have to start out by asserting that she's not the literal property of her parents, so that when she does Totally Strong and Independent Things, she's not just getting to the status quo of today, but maybe doing something more awesome? Why start her out with all the baggage of being a princess?

Pixar! I want to love you! Do better!!

seitzk said...

OMG YES! That is all.

ander said...

Check out Monsters vs Aliens (dreamworks I think). I was surprised by how female-positive it was, compared to other movies in this genre. The main hero character is a (white) woman (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) who is getting married, and on her wedding day she gets hit by a meteor that gives her super strength and makes her gigantic. She has a chance to use her powers to save some people, and gains a whole new confidence in herself. But her fiance ditches because he's uncomfortable with her superhero status. She's upset, but she doesn't let it phase her, and instead of changing back to normal when she has a chance and going back to him, she decides she would much rather be a super strong super hero, and that her fiance was a self-centered jerk who was only interested in his own success. She actually has a little feministy speech where she says this. I was expecting the climax to be set up as a damsel in distress situation, where the male monsters would have to save her, but it ended up that there are times when she has to save them, times where they save her, and mostly they all work together and help each other as a team. The central message is about her gaining self confidence, embracing being strong & powerful against the social pressure to be a little passive girl.
It's not a perfect movie, and sadly, there isn't really any racial diversity to speak of (a few 'extras' are POC, most of the main characters are non-human monsters), which disappointed me. But my partner's 10 year old sister loved it and it was so refreshingly pro-female that we really enjoyed it too.

emily said...

Thanks for this awesome post! Pixar's general refusal to recognize females as anything other than accessories to the male lead is discouraging most of all for the films' influence on both young boys and girls. I still feel remnants of Sleeping Beauty lodged in my own brain, and I'd hope that this generation of kids wouldn't have to deal with the same crap.

Kragnorak said...

OP said "I can't think of any non-white characters in any other Pixar movie--please correct me if I'm wrong."

So is the boy scout in the most recent Pixar film an Asian stereotype or just a fat little mongoloid? I assumed that his crossed eyes meant that he was the same Asian stereotype that Disney/Pixar has been showing us for years, but I admit I could be wrong and it could a touching story that branches out of the lack of diversity most films suffer from: namely that the hero is not allowed to be handicapped.

(Did I trump the boys' club rant by bringing up the Abled Club issue? :D )

FilthyGrandeur said...


these are all important issues in pixar movies.

i can't answer your question though until i see the movie--i'm sure i'll write a review of it which include presentations of race and gender, and include something about ableism.

HappenedUponYou said...

You should really read before you label Wall-E as sexist. I say this not as an attack, but as a point of interest-- I happened to read it before I saw the movie, and as a result the movie was entirely different to me. These robots don't have genders. One is kind of butch and one is kind of femme, but any gender roles we impose on them is a Rorschach our own minds are bringing to it. Don't let society condition you to the point that you impose gender stereotypes where they don't exist!

Unknown said...

I have always been frustrated by this - by mainstream animation in general and pixar in particular. Because pixar's films are always so good, original and emotionally captivating, it would be nice to have one from a female's POV. The male POV's and stories presented in pixar film's have all been engaging and legitimate stories to tell - I have been able to empathize with all the male stories and have liked the female characters even if they are not the heros in the greek sense, but it would be nice...

About the boy in Up, he does appear to be Asian-American (he is even voiced by a Japanese-American boy), however that is as far as it goes, which I think is really cool. His ethnicity, just like the old man's ethnicity, has nothing to do with the story and is never brought up - he just is. Why couldn't Remy be a female? He could easily, because his contribution to the story is not gendered. Down that same line, Pixar is evolving by bringing some non-token diversity to Up, without needing a PC, hatched-up reason to cast non-caucasian characters.

Free Movies said...

I saw Wall-E last night, and I loved it! There are definitely a lot of references to other sci-fi movies. The creative genius of the people at Pixar has never amazed me more.