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The Revenant and female film critics

Film Feature by Hannah Sayer

After attending an advance screening of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s highly anticipated next feature The Revenant, Jeffrey Wells caused controversy by tweeting his praises of the film, which ended with the statement: ‘Forget women seeing this’.

Following the success of Birdman, Iñárritu has gone to the next level making The Revenant, as it has now become renowned for being one of the most difficult shoots ever completed. Based on Michael Punke’s novel of the same name, The Revenant focuses on Leonardo DiCaprio’s explorer Hugh Glass as he undergoes a remarkable physical journey after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his hunting team. The film follows his attempts to survive through the relentless winter, as he embarks on a quest to find the men who deserted and betrayed him. Also starring Tom Hardy, Domnhall Gleeson and Will Poulter, The Revenant has been described as epic in its proportions. Iñárritu has re-teamed with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who has won consecutive Academy Awards for his work on Gravity and Birdman. Comparisons have been drawn to Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which Lubezki also provided the cinematography for, as both were only shot in natural light. This resulted in Iñárritu turning to digital for the first time in his career, as shooting on film would have meant a limited amount of time in the day where natural light was available to shoot. The long takes that marked the visual success of Birdman are used to encapsulate the vast physical space of the landscape in The Revenant, stressing its epic scale. Leonardo DiCaprio’s almost silent and physically demanding performance is likely to garner long overdue awards attention for the actor, but it will no doubt be remarkable if Iñárritu and Lubezki are able to repeat their success during awards season only a year later.

By suggesting that The Revenant is too ‘brutal’ for half of the population is no doubt a dated and sexist view to have of cinema in 2015. Jeffrey Wells is known for making similarly notorious comments in the past. Earlier this year he referred to Amy Schumer as ‘Jennifer Aniston’s somewhat heavier, not-as-lucky sister’ and suggested that audiences ‘be wary of reviews by female critics’ writing about The Hunger Games, ‘as they’re probably more susceptible to the lore of this young-female-adult-propelled franchise than most.’

The lack of female critics in the industry is shocking in itself; there are not many for cinemagoers to ‘be wary’ of. Meryl Streep spoke out while completing press for Suffragette that she found the lack of female film critics ‘infuriating’. Streep stated that she had found that only 168 women contributed to the review site Rotten Tomatoes, compared to 760 men. Inequality in both criticism and film production results in films lacking in representation of gender, as well as race and sexuality. In 2014, there was only one film directed by a woman in the top 100 grossing films in the US. It isn’t surprising given the lack of females breaking into the industry that only four female directors have ever been nominated for an Academy Award: Lina Wertmuller for Seven Beauties (1975); Jane Campion for The Piano (1993); Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation (2003); and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (2010). Bigelow was the first, and is the only, woman ever to win the Best Director Oscar. In the build up to the 2015 Oscar nomination announcements, it was predicted that Ava DuVernay would be the first black woman to land a Director nomination for her work on Selma. However, this lack of recognition for DuVernay from the Academy resulted in another year of a male dominated category. The case was the same for the Best Original and Adapted Screenplay categories, with Gone Girl novelist turned screenwriter Gillian Flynn narrowly missing out on a nod. In the same year, there were no people of colour nominated in the acting categories and no stories about women included in the Best Picture race. The fact that the Academy Awards are continually dominated by white males in the industry makes it abundantly clear that there is a troubling lack of opportunities for others.

Jeffrey Wells is not the first critic, and undoubtedly he won’t be the last, to suggest that women should miss out on films deemed to have a gendered audience in mind. In his 2015 article for The New York Post titled “Women are not capable of understanding ‘Goodfellas’”, Kyle Smith argues that the male fantasy world created by Scorsese in his film is not enjoyable for a female audience. It is a fair enough statement to make that SOME women, as well as some men, may not enjoy watching this overtly masculine and violent depiction of a young man attempting to climb the ranks through the hierarchy of the mob. However, Smith’s unjustly sexist generalisations that all ‘women sense that they are irrelevant to this fantasy, and it bothers them’, is worthy of being ridiculed. It is not fair to state that all men love Goodfellas and all women hate it because there is no such thing as this clear cut gender divide when it comes to film. The most shocking part of his argument is his concluding set of statements:

‘What would “Goodfellas” be like if it were told by a woman?... And who would want to watch that movie?’

It is unmistakably offensive to suggest that if a film is written by a woman it would be significantly worse or inferior to anything written by a man. Male critical perspectives that suggest these points of view outline that there is still a long way to go in the film industry, in both production and criticism, before equality for all is reached. From a female perspective, I shouldn’t have to justify liking Goodfellas. I shouldn’t have to justify why I’m so excited to see The Revenant just because one man has declared that I should avoid it at all costs. Being female does not impact on my ability to value great cinema, which is why I’ll be seeing The Revenant as soon as it’s released.

The Revenant is in cinemas on the 15th January, watch the trailer below:


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