AWFJ Women On Film – The Week In Women, April 16, 2010 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Hit Girl hysteria, where are the women at Cannes, the politics of hair, and

JUST WHAT ARE LITTLE GIRLS MADE OF, ANYWAY? “Hit-Girl Hysteria,” Cinematical contributor and AWFJ member Elisabeth Rappe terms it, and surely it’s the story of the week, if not the year, when it comes to how girls and women are depicted in mainstream films. Hit Girl — played by Chloe Grace Moretz, who is now 13 but was just 11 when the film was shot — is a pint-sized crimefighter in the vein of Batman (she has no superpowers) who steals the show from the title character in Kick-Ass with her shocking vulgarity the likes of which even R-rated films rarely indulge in and with her even more shocking violence: she dispatches bad-guy adults in bloody orgies of gunfire and knifework that director Matthew Vaughn presents with cartoonish glee. “Isn’t it hilarious,” the film seems to ask, “to see a little girl beating the shit out of villains?”

Reactions to the film on the whole and to Hit Girl in particular from critics, fans, and media watchers range from near-orgasmic delight to deprecations about the end of civilization as we know it. But because we’ve never seen a character like this as young as Hit Girl before, it’s hard to know whether these responses are driven primarily by gender, by age, or by a combination of the two. It’s clear, though, that Vaughn is hoping to derive extra shock from Hit Girl’s gender: a violent little girl is more unexpected than a violent little boy, because everybody “knows” that boys are more violent than girls. It’s also pretty clear that while Hit Girl is, by far, the most intriguing character in the film, Vaughn and creator Mark Millar see her only as color to their story, a story that simply must be about an older teenaged boy, Dave/Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson).

I dislike the film intensely, not because of Hit Girl’s aggression or crude language per se but because it — as well as the rest of the movie’s extreme brutality — serves no larger purpose other than to “be cool” and to promote vengeance and vigilantism as a pretty good paradigm for interacting with the world. It’s a bit disingenuous to my ears to hear so many of those who object to the film objecting only to Hit Girl’s violence and vulgarity, not to that of the male characters. It’s particularly disingenuous when, for the most part, nothing that Hit Girl does is much different from what we see in countless other pointless, vapid films that are violent and vulgar only for the sake of violence and vulgarity. If it’s bad for a young girl to swear and kick ass, then why isn’t it bad for a teenaged boy to do the same? What about an adult man?

The limitations of how female human beings are depicted onscreen gets thrown into even sharper relief when we consider why some women fans of the genre like Hit Girl: She’s a strong character who hasn’t been sexualized, they say. Hasn’t been sexualized? She’s 11! If the only way a female character in such a role can escape overt sexualization is to be prepubescent, then we’re in even worse shape than I thought we were.

A KEENER EYE ON FILM. Yahoo! Movies this week announced its “100 Movies to See Before You Die: The Modern Classics,” movies dating from 1990 through 2009. And its intriguing whom the Yahoo! editors decided best exemplified the modern era of film:

While big stars like George Clooney, Tom Hanks, and Morgan Freeman are well-represented on the list with three films each, it’s acclaimed actress Catherine Keener who appears in the most movies. By working in both independent films like “Being John Malkovich” and studio productions like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” she personifies the best of the era.


WOMEN CANNES’T GET A BREAK. S.T. VanAirsdale at Movieline wonders where all the women directors are at this year’s Cannes competition:

Remember 2009? That commercial and critical breakthrough year for women directors including Lone Scherfig, Anne Fletcher, Nora Ephron, Jane Campion and Nancy Meyers, culminating in Kathryn Bigelow’s historic Academy Award victory? Even the 2009 Cannes Film Festival had a record-tying three women filmmakers — Campion, Isabel Coixet and Andrea Arnold — in its prestigious competition lineup. Good times. They feel like they’re forever ago, though, particularly considering this year’s Cannes competition, where there’s not a woman to be found.

Perhaps all the female filmmakers went back to the kitchen, where women belong.

HAIR TODAY… Imagine this: An A-list actor — maybe a George Clooney or a Brad Pitt — shows up on a red carpet sporting two days’ growth of beard. Fans post comments to gossip blogs decrying his choice as “disgusting” and “unhygienic.” The A-lister has to come out and defend his lack of shaving. “It’s just a little beard,” he might say. “It’s perfectly natural.” Eventually, the entertainment press start nattering about the political statement he’s making by not shaving.

Ridiculous, right?

But that’s exactly what’s been going on during the recently concluded awards season, when Mo’Nique — multiple awards nominee for her performance in Precious — and Amanda Palmer, fiancée of Neil Gaiman, who wrote the book that the animated film Coraline was based upon — were greeted with stunned upset over their unshaven legs and unshaven armpits. It culminated this week in an article in The New York Times that opened with this:

Some grooming choices are so brazen that not even an A-lister can make them palatable.

It’s yet another reminder that while everyone deals with the pressure to conform, the range of behavior into which women are supposed to conform as much narrow than those for men.

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MaryAnn Johanson

MaryAnn Johanson is a freelance writer on film, TV, DVD, and pop culture from New York City and now based in London. She is the webmaster and sole critic at, which debuted in 1997 and is now one of the most popular, most respected, and longest-running movie-related sites on the Internet. Her film reviews also appear in a variety of alternative-weekly newspapers across the U.S. Johanson is one of only a few film critics who is a member of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences (the Webby organization), an invitation-only, 500-member body of leading Web experts, business figures, luminaries, visionaries and creative celebrities. She is also a member of the Online Film Critics Society. She has appeared as a cultural commentator on BBC Radio, LBC-London, and on local radio programs across North America, and she served as a judge at the first Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival at the 2003 I-Con, the largest SF convention on the East Coast. She is the author of The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride, and is an award-winning screenwriter. Read Johanson's recent articles below. For her archive, type "MaryAnn Johanson" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).