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Cross-Post: Super 8 & Spielberg’s Chick Issue by Thelma Adams

by Melissa Silverstein
June 14, 2011 1:57 AM
8 Comments
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If Super 8 is truly a mash note to Steven Spielberg, as my husband says, then it also echoes some thing I detest about SS. He’s horrible on the women issue. His immediate reaction to the opposite sex is awe and fear: put her up on a pedestal and drag her down.

His acolyte J. J. Abrams doesn’t naturally share that problem (think Star Trek’s Uhura or Lost), but in creating this homage he steps into the same primordial ooze. Here’s a nostalgic movie set in 1979 about early adolescence where the five boys have distinct characters and are not universally attractive: one has braces, one’s overweight, another is tall and geeky. But then the girl comes along, Alice (Elle Fanning), and she is a glowing Amazon.

Sure, Alice is from the opposite side of the tracks and has a drunken dad, but she’s such an indiscreet object of the boys’ desire. It’s not her purpose to carry the plot or the camera, overcome danger, save the planet or, get bromantic. Her primary purpose is to be the sexual football that comes between the two young male leads: they both objectify her, love her and their one falling out is about their inability to saw her in half and share her.

In the film within a film, the female’s explicit purpose is to heighten the tension we feel for her beloved when he is in danger.

My undying favorite Spielberg character is Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark (possibly my favorite Spielberg movie). And what did he do with that adorably spunky, hard-drinking, truth-telling adventuress? Toss snakes all over her, and then replace her with the blander shiksa goddess (and future Mrs. Spielberg) Kate Capshaw. In Schindler’s List, there’s the eroticized rape of the beautiful Jewess Embeth Davidtz by the stinking Nazi Ralph Fiennes. In Saving Private Ryan, there’s no room for woman (OK, so that was historically accurate but what a bunch of beef.)

At least, in Super 8, object that she is, Fanning, 13, has the break-out moment of her career, a scene of acting surprise that recalls Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive One minute, Fanning’s Alice is an awkward tween, the only girl on the film set; the next she’s acting before the rinky-dink super 8 camera, blowing away her mumbling male co-star with a passionate, incandescent, adult performance.

“Was that good?” Alice asks after one take. To steal the boys’ highest compliment, it was “mint!” Props to the tween leaping from child star to romantic lead – and to Abrams for having the grace to allow that beautiful girl to stand out in a way that would have terrified Spielberg in the era that Super 8 memorializes.
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Reprinted by permission. Thelma Adams is the film critic at US Magazine and her novel Playdate was published in January.

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8 Comments

  • Adela Rogers | July 1, 2011 8:22 AMReply

    Dear Collin,
    You ask "What is this woman issue...?"

    The "woman issue" that we women take seriously, is the fact that female characters are consistently marginalized, objectified, or otherwise ignored when it comes to the bulk of pop cultural storytelling.

    When the majority of narratives in entertainment "content" relegate the lone, or one of the few existing female characters in the majority of stories, to the stereotypical role of mother, whore, or object (i.e. the sexual goal, the damsel in distress, the beautiful statue).

    This practice for the most part extends beyond the boundaries of the narrative, affecting the creation, production, and distribution of said content by the industry at large. Given that over half the audience of theatrical movie releases, for example, are female, yet the majority of content is made by, for, and about males, is evidence to the state of this blatant disregard for us.

    If you don't understand our objection to this prevalent practice, please keep reading this site. The experience may illuminate the concept for you. If you refuse to understand our objection, then by all means, don't read this site.

  • Collin | June 28, 2011 11:08 AMReply

    Kind of hard to take any article seriously that begins with the descriptor "the women issue". Is that a reference to something else? The women "issue". What is this one all-encompassing "issue" that is relevant to all women?

  • litchic | June 23, 2011 3:44 AMReply

    A) THANK YOU for the spoiling! That's awesome!

    B) JJ Abrams wrote a movie. JJ Abrams had a mostly male cast. Therefore Steven Spielberg is a misogynist?

    There are SO MANY examples of misogyny in our society -- perhaps you should try to find some of them instead of making up ones that don't exist.

  • sidewriter | June 18, 2011 7:45 AMReply

    The movie was so fun until I started seeing that Alice was going to be a pawn -- a damsel in distress to be rescued by the protaganist. Blech. And why, WHY wasn't she the one in the end to tame the alien? She's the one who had the actual psychic connection rather than the protaganist's psychic connection via hearsay. It reminded me of Coraline -- just at the moment when it could have been awesome, it took the cowardly way out.

  • James | June 15, 2011 12:07 PMReply

    What about The Color Purple?

  • Melanie | June 14, 2011 10:33 AMReply

    I saw this movie and I thought it sucked. I was so bored. You're totally right about the girl - she was so tokenized. Plus, the whole message of the movie was about using compassion to stop violence. But the plot revolves around everything but that.

    In the moment where the main character hero guy "uses compassion" to take down the alien, it's all of 30 seconds of looking into his eyes and then POOF suddenly all is well and the alien leaves. Like, hello? why wasn't the plot building to that? Ugh, it was just so stupid.

  • thelma adams | June 14, 2011 9:42 AMReply

    He, Grrljock, saw it again last night with my 15-year-old son. I stand by my words re the token chick -- also shrill women in supporting roles. What the movie offers on a second viewing is no softening of the opinion about the content but an appreciation for the way the story is put together -- it's a master class in (minor) pop movies.

  • grrljock | June 14, 2011 5:14 AMReply

    Yep. I'm getting so crotchety in my not-so-old age that I'm really reluctant to go see any movie that has no/token female characters--even one that's getting so many good reviews like "Super 8."

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