When my uncle offered to take my sister and I to the movies last Thursday evening, I was more than happy to take him up on his offer. It wasn’t just the promise of an air-conditioned room on a hot Puerto Rican evening that made the prospect of going to the movies exciting, it was also the promise of seeing the new Jessica Chastain movie Miss Sloane. While I knew little going into the film, the trailers had intrigued me with the idea of a strong woman in the political field who had a take no prisoners attitude and a mission, and let me say this movie did not disappoint. Miss Sloane was hands down the most feminist, feel good, smash-the-patriarchy film I’ve seen in quite some time.
While many may believe that Chastain’s character falls into the tired trope of ice queen or femme fatale, tropes that keep so many female characters from truly developing or becoming multi-faceted, Miss Sloane steers clear of this trap. In fact, the film does a wonderful job in avoiding a patriarchal view of the main characters by allowing them to exist on a spectrum instead of locked into a particular gendered role. Although her character can be cold and calculating because she wishes to be a successful lobbyist, she is also shown as emotionally complex through her torn feelings over her actions of betraying those closest to her and through an anger that often bubbles to the surface when she feels cornered or misunderstood. While she does manipulate and confuse those around her like the classic femme fatale, she uses her fierce intellect to bring down Washington around her instead of her feminine wiles. In fact, besides her trysts with an escort named Forde, her sexuality is very rarely used or brought forward as a part of her character. This in itself is a rarity as female characters often find their youth, beauty and sexuality as a defining point of their character, instead of these qualities simply being a side note to their character. Although Sloane acknowledges the human urge of sexual needs in Chastain’s character, her sexuality is not what makes her powerful. Her momentum, her power, they all seem to come from a place outside of anything physical. In fact, Sloane makes it a point to never be an object. Action does not happen to her, she creates the action within the story. Flipping the script on why she creates such action, she is not fueled by personal connection or emotion to certain causes either, as many female protagonists often are. Sloane creates action simply because she wants to. Although she objectifies all those around her by making people into pawns, she makes it clear that she is the one operating the pieces, never a piece to be played.
Even when she uses female characters to get what she wants, she never travels into “mean girl” territory. She is never catty towards her fellow women, she simply needs them to fulfill a role so that her team has the fighting chance to win. When she feels that a character is in the way of her purpose, she will remove the obstacle. The women she uses never fall into victim category however, as they themselves command complex character status even if they are only minor characters. For example, although Gugu Mbatha-Raw's character Esme uses her past experience in a school shooting to fuel her passion of lobbying against it, she is more than a victim. Her character cries, feels anger, has joy in her work of helping others, and stands up for herself when she realizes she is being taken advantage of by Sloane. Her character, like Sloane's, is allowed to act human and powerful. While objectifying others is not a feminist value, the idea of multi-faceted, flawed and powerful female characters that create action outside of their sexuality or love lives makes this movie, in and of itself, feminist, even if the character of Sloane denies feminism as personal ideology in the movie.
Miss Sloane also passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, as Sloane and her female colleagues are often shown discussing how to beat a bill or how to change public opinion outside of any relationship to men quite often. It shouldn’t be hard for most movies to pass this test as the only requirements are for there to be more than two female characters that talk to each other about anything else than a man in one scene, and yet when 69% of IMDB’s top 250 movies fail this test, it’s exciting when one can find a blockbuster that passes it not only for one scene, but throughout the movie. In fact, when only 12% of movies in 2014 featured a female protagonist, and when 58% of any female character shown were more likely to be identified by their personal life such as the role of a wife or a mother compared to the 61% of male characters who were identified by their profession to some capacity, Miss Sloane definitely leaves its mark with a powerful female protagonist who is never identified in a role of mother or wife. She is defined by her character and her force, but never in terms of her personal life. The character of Sloane demands to be seen as a multi-faceted human disguised as a hurricane that brings some of the most powerful forces in Washington to their knees, not because of a raw sexuality or a duty to emotion, but simply because she wanted to. Fair warning though, Sloane may cause you to cheer in the theater as she crushes her enemies with her intellect alone. Miss Sloane will definitely leave you feeling powerful and will hopefully encourage you to smash the patriarchy this holiday season.
Even male characters within the movie are allowed to fill character types outside of the oversexed, non-emotional leading male. Although the leader of the gun lobby and Sloane’s former boss fill the angry, goal oriented toxic male stereotypes, Sloane’s new boss Schmidt allows himself to be a vulnerable male in a cut-throat world of lobbying. He is strong in his vulnerability however, as he refuses to break the law in order to serve a greater purpose and often times serves as the conscience of his firm. He is not power hungry and yet wants to beat his opponents. When Sloane crosses his boundaries he often times passes over his anger and finds himself wanting to understand her. The sex worker Forde also destroys preconceived notions of male characters. Although he is large and masculine with clear sexual prowess, he attempts to reach out to Sloane on an intimate, emotional level, pushing past a patriarchal idea that men are not emotional and only want sex from women. He respects Sloane’s “no” when she sends him away on a night that she is clearly not in the right frame of mind to have sex and breaks down stereotypes that men can’t “help themselves” in sexual situations. He leaves, not angered by her refusal, but understanding of it. Although he is vulnerable he is strong in his convictions, as he refuses to turn against Sloane at a court hearing simply because she turned him away a few nights before. He protects her without being a knight in shining armor towards a damsel, simply because he thinks it’s the right thing to do, not because he wants something from her. This human representation of men as emotional beings who are in control of their urges and respectful of the people around them is yet another way Miss Sloane crushes patriarchal standards in Hollywood and brings forward feminist values in the characters of the movie.