Alphabetical Movie – Jackie Brown
At CONvergence 2012, I was on a panel that explored Quentin Tarantino as a feminist filmmaker. While the panel offered no answers, it inspired some spirited discussion on Tarantino and also on what makes a film a “feminist” film.
I mean, is Kill Bill a feminist film because it has a female protagonist who can kick all sorts of ass? Maybe.
On the other hand, the entire film began because of Beatrix’s identity as a mother. Is that feminism? Even as a feminist, I’m not sure I know the answer to that question. I think the answer depends on the person answering the question.
While Tarantino has a history of strong (or at least interesting) female characters, I’ve always felt that Jackie Brown is the strongest.
I’m frequently bothered by the fact that protagonists in most films survive, at least in part, by amazingly good breaks. In Die Hard, for instance, McClane gets out of a particularly tight spot because a radio call comes in at exactly the right time.
What bugs me is that for the bulk of the film, he’s gotten by using quick thinking. When he gets lucky, it feels like a cheat. The filmmakers couldn’t come up with a decent way to have him think his way out.
Jackie Brown is remarkable because although Jackie takes risks, she is always in control of her fate. There is no moment in the film where her plan succeeds because of dumb luck.
It may look like luck but we always find out that Jackie knew what she was doing. She plays everyone perfectly and comes out on top because she’s the smartest person in every room.
That, to me, feels more like feminism than anything else. The film features a female character completely at ease with herself and it allows her to be smart, sexy, capable and crafty. She is also allowed to be black and overweight.
When I talk about Ellen Ripley as quite possibly the greatest female action hero ever, one of the reason I think she is so great is because the fact she is a female is irrelevant. When I re-watched Aliens in preparation for a (different) panel at CONvergence, I was taken by the fact that Ripley’s gender was never a topic of conversation.
Not a single person ever treats Ripley differently because she is a woman.
I’m not saying that a strong female protagonist gender can’t be But try to think of another action film with a woman in the lead where her gender is not central to the plot.
The feminism that I believe in says that women (and men) shouldn’t be forced into gender roles. If a woman wants to be a homemaker, there is nothing wrong with that. She shouldn’t feel like she must be a homemaker.
So in order for a film to be feminist, it needs to allow the characters to occupy roles they want to occupy rather than roles they are forced to occupy because of their gender. The film also needs to feature women in important roles.
Love interest is not an important role.
So Jackie Brown qualifies as a feminist film to me because Jackie is making decisions for herself and those decisions are not driven by what is expected of her gender.
Does that make Quentin Tarantino a feminist filmmaker? I don’t think so because I don’t think his goal is to make feminist films. He’s not afraid of feminism but he’s got a different agenda as a filmmaker.
Whatever his intent, though, I think he ended up making at least one feminist film because he wasn’t afraid to make a movie with a genuinely strong woman as a protagonist.