Women in Film

Phyllis from Double Indemnity and Gabrielle from Kiss Me Deadly both poses qualities that were elaborated on in “Femme Noire: Dangerous Women of Color in Popular Film and TV”. Phyllis represents the queen/bitch trope, as she is a woman who is brave, intelligent and willing to do anything to meet her goals. These traits come across as evil, because Phyllis uses them quietly. In the same way that Iman’s character fools Captain Kirk in Star Treck, Phyllis’s beauty and seeming helplessness tricks Neff into helping her. However, as the plot thickens, Phyllis reveals her “white” exterior to be a façade. Beneath it she is “black” as she is shown to be manipulative and loyal only to herself.

Gabrielle, on the other hand represents the virgin/cannibal archetype. She enters the film as a dazed and confused roommate of a girl who was recently murdered. Although she throws herself at Mike, there is something so childish and naive in her attempts to be noticed that it almost makes her seem purer. Similar to Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert, Gabrielle is more than Mike bargained for. Instead of dealing with a doe eyed and rather clueless young woman, he is almost killed by a scheming criminal. Replace Priscilla’s sexuality with Gabrielle’s ruthlessness and the plot line of stories are quite similar.

In modern films, the queen/bitch and virgin/cannibal are combined in Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne. Amy presents herself as the “cool girl”. The type of woman who every guy wants to be with- she is beautiful and chill and mysterious and fun. However, this flawless front soon cracks to reveal a woman who is sadistic, manipulative and downright evil. In this way she traps Nick with our modern take on the once desirable “virgin” and releases her monstrous side out of selfishness and jealousy. At the same time, Amy is everything that our culture refers to as a “bitch”. She is aggressive and an over achiever. She is controlling and emotionally volatile. Any positive traits that Amy has are exaggerated to appear more sinister. Her “queen-ship” is more terrifying than it is admirable… (still a little admirable though).

An example of the dragon/lady in modern culture is reality TV tycoon and infamous momager, Kris Jenner. Many people accuse Kris of being an overly involved parent; a woman who is so concerned with international stardom and copious wealth that she is willing to sell her family and their privacy to achieve this. Kris’s creativity, work ethic and networking skills, which would most likely be praised if she was a man, are written off as a hunger for attention, insensitivity and superficiality. The criticism that she receives is a reminder that the negative representation of women found in Greek mythology, Film Noire and 80s and 90s media is alive and well in our current environment.

When explained, these tropes are obvious in television and film in general. What is most dangerous about these stereotypes is not that they exist, but how they are presented to us. In many cases, they appear in media that apparently has nothing to do with race. This however, does not mitigate the racial roots that these tropes have. Instead, it removes race and racism from the conversation. This leaves the demonized and misrepresented cultures (exclusively people of color) out of the conversation, while selling their typical characterizations as major flaws. In doing so, the media prevents minorities from gaining a diverse and accurate representation in film and places negative associations with their histories and cultures in the minds of the viewers.

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