So. Star Trek into Darkness. Let's talk about it. I'll try to keep this spoiler free as possible.
|[Image text Spock and Kirk Start Trek into Darkness poster]|
But enough of that, let's get to the meat of what this summer blockbuster series is about: the gender messages of the film.
I have respected how the Stark Trek franchise, since the start, has had a fairly diverse representation of people among the cast members. That fact remains true in this most recent incarnation. Women and people of color are all over Starship Enterprise performing various roles. However, disappointingly not many of them get actual speaking roles.
Let's be real: overall it's a white dude's film (sigh, what else is new?) The main action is created by and between white men and there are far more dudes running around the ship than women.
There are two female characters of note: Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and the new chick to this
|[Image text: Uhura and Spock at the control board.]|
Because the potential of these two female character is so high, I was even more annoyed when they did so little with them. Uhura plays an important role in a few critical scenes, but overall she is reduced helping one of the main male characters including Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Kirk (Chris Pine.) Women are such good little helpers, aren't we!
Similarly Carol's skills are important in their understanding of a new weapon, but she is reduced to being the rebellious daughter of the evil Admiral Marcus (trope alert!) Her main character arch (if she's even important enough to actually be said to have one) revolves around this "daddy issues" -esque motif. Furthermore, when things get really serious, Carol is injured by the grand villain (Benedict Cumberbatch) and is unable to meaningfully contribute to the forward motion of the story at all.
One of the most annoying parts of the depiction of the only two significant female characters in the film is that they are both romantically tied to men. Uhura is outwardly in a relationship with Spock and there is a flirtatious (although not fully realized) relationship between Kirk and Carol. In what was by far the most infuriating scene of the film, Carol unnecessarily changes clothes while talking to Kirk. She insists that he turns around but ultimately he and us, as the audience, get to see Carol for about 5 seconds looking exactly like this:
|[Image text: Dr. Carol Marcus in only black bra and panties.]|
1) There are ways to build sexual tension between characters without the audience ogling at a female character's body and
2) As mentioned, they never even played out the possible relationship between Kirk and Carol, so what was the point of this scene if not to pander to the male gaze?!
I literally rolled my eyes and scoffed out loud at that scene.
|[Image text: Spock and Kirk talking.]|
Later, Kirk's life is the one now in danger and in a touching scene between Spock and Kirk, Spock breaks and we see him feel again, as he is terrified that his friend will die. This not only goes against what Spock had set out for himself (to no longer feel) but also the nature of the Vulcan people who are more logical than emotional. It was actually nice to see the story display two men who were so close that emotions ended up fully flowing between them.
That aside, I am still disappointed with how underutilized and exploited Uhura and Carol were. The media is chock full of empowering stories about men. It's the status quo. So even when they are not stereotypical (like the emotional exchange between Kirk and Spock) I want more female voices, characters, and stories represented.
It just wasn't good enough.
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I have been seeing ads for Star Trek at my job and the underwear scene is in it of course. I still want to see it because I really enjoyed the last one. I was hoping with 2 female characters this time we would get more from them. Sigh.ReplyDelete
Epic Bechdel failure as well - the two female characters don't exchange a word.ReplyDelete
(I know, I know, the Bechdel test is not a great way to evaluate any one individual film's treatment of women, sex, and gender; it's more of a metric of how films in general are portraying women at any point in history. Still, it is an interesting note in the context of this post)
Crap! I meant to include a line about that.Delete
I'm pretty sure I found this by googling star trek into darkness bechdel...So apparently, it came up anyway!Delete
I consider myself a Trekkie, and, overall, I liked the first Star Trek (reboot) better. I actually feel like Uhura got to play a bigger role in that one, which is disappointing because I'd heard she got to kick more butt in the second movie. She does get to speak Klingon, so props for that. I also feel like she played into the inexplicably-mad-girlfriend-trope. This bugged me because it reduced her role from important member of the team to important member of the team's girlfriend.ReplyDelete
Well, I am a trekkie from way back (I grew up watching the reruns of TOS throughout my childhood - then as they came out watched much of the other series and TV shows as well).ReplyDelete
That said, the gender problems in the reboot do stem in large part from the source material - the TOS crew skews male. Also, Carol Marcus does appear in original Trek - in Star Trek 2 Wrath of Khan, where Dr Marcus when young had an affair with Kirk and went on to raise a son (David Marcus) but never told Kirk - he only finds out in that movie. So, there were some flirty notes in STID between Marcus and Kirk it is only echoing what happened in the original timeline.
I wish they would give bigger & more roles to women in the reboot. But, in a movie there is limited time to intro new characters and do character development of an ensemble cast - really, they can only focus on a few characters in any one film.
"That said, the gender problems in the reboot do stem in large part from the source material - the TOS crew skews male."Delete
That is garbage. Sorry, it just is.
JJ Abrams doesn't have carte blanche over Trek but he has made changes to Trek canon including blowing up Vulcan and killing Spock's mother. He has also gone on record saying he was never a fan of the show because it was too 'philosophical' for him. Moral and ethical dilemmas were a staple of Trek and one of the reasons Gene Roddenberry wanted to make the show in the first place. So JJ feels comfortable chucking out Vulcan, changing the timeline, making Kirk a captain well before his time, changing Khan's race and focusing more on action and less on Star Trek's core messages of ethics, exploration, unity and progress. But it would be too disrespectful of Roddenberry's vision for him to write better roles for the women and hire more female extras? Seriously?
And it's not as if the original show didn't have recurring female characters of note- Nurse Chapel and Yeoman Yand for example. The treatment of the existing female characters in the movie was bad enough that I think the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the writing and production staff.
Felicia Day wrote this about the movie:
"Where are the women? The strong women? The women we’d like to see in 200 years? Where are they in this world? They certainly aren’t around the roundtable when the Starfleet are learning about Khan (there might have been one in that scene, if so that extra was not cut to in any significant manner to be notable.) In the scene where Kirk gets his ship back and the admiral is having a meeting with “important” people around a table later, I failed to see ONE WOMAN AROUND THAT TABLE, ALL MOSTLY WHITE MEN IMPLIED TO BE MAKING IMPORTANT DECISIONS TOGETHER."
Though this series uses the TOS crew as a template I'm sick of people pretending like the last thirty or so years of Trek (TNG, DS9, Voyage, Enterprise) never happened and that the standards and developments made by the franchise have had no lingering effect on the expectations of Star Trek fans including female fans and POCs (like me) who have enjoyed having better written female and/or racial minority characters in our Trek.
"I wish they would give bigger & more roles to women in the reboot. But, in a movie there is limited time to intro new characters and do character development of an ensemble cast - really, they can only focus on a few characters in any one film."
They spent time showing Carol Marcus in her underthings- if they were really short on time they could've cut that out and written her scenes more efficiently and effectively. Other movies manage it even with large casts. It's not that hard. It's pretty damn suspicious that female and POC characters tend to be pushed aside in terms of screen time to make more room for white male characters. What, is that just an accident? Also see above for Day's quote about the lack of female extras in a pivotal scene- how would it have been too much trouble to include more women and POCs at that table?
Gene Roddenberry, in the original pilot for TOS, had a female first officer on the bridge but he was forced to remove her by studio execs and the focus groups. If a man in 1960s America can at least try to include better roles for women and POCs, can have two POC on the bridge and include the first inter-racial kiss on US TV then JJ and co have no excuse.
If we can have a show like Elementary that has great roles for women and POC characters but is also a recognisable and respectful take on Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories then we can have a Star Trek movie that uses the foundations of the franchise while boldly going where Roddenberry and co never got the chance to.
Late reply, but:Delete
"Though this series uses the TOS crew as a template I'm sick of people pretending like the last thirty or so years of Trek (TNG, DS9, Voyage, Enterprise) never happened and that the standards and developments made by the franchise have had no lingering effect on the expectations of Star Trek fans including female fans and POCs (like me) who have enjoyed having better written female and/or racial minority characters in our Trek."
This. This. THIS. "But the original had miniskirts!" Yes, it did. Then the movies had tunics that were only slightly longer for women, and then TNG brought back an actual miniskirt uniform- and made it unisex (and later eliminated miniskirts entirely in the next uniform redesign). "The original series only had one woman in the main cast!" Maybe, but it also had recurring characters, and although they didn't appear in the films, most of them introduced major, fully-realized female characters, and the future series always had at least two women in the main cast. The rebootverse has moved backwards, even compared to TOS.
The female Starfleet uniforms seem to exist to cater to a male audience. The vast majority of them wear very short skirts all the time, even when it's clear that this is massively impractical. I guess you could argue the point is to use the uniforms from the original TV series but it nonetheless makes no logical sense for them all to be dressed like this given the active nature of their jobs. I get this is a fairly minor thing but it irritated me so much I was distracted from the movie. Someone get the women of Starfleet some trousers.ReplyDelete
Also, the fact that I was as pleased as I was when Uhura got to use her knowledge of Klingon and fleetingly contribute more than just being a romantic interest really says a lot for how often female characters don't get a single thing to do independent of a male character.