Let’s get this straight — I am not a movie person. ‘How can you not be a movie person?’ you may ask. ‘Everyone is a movie person,’ you may think. Not me. Movies produced these days are ridiculously long! Like usually 2 hours or more, and I do not have the attention span for it. I’m a TV show kinda gal. With that being said, however, I genuinely did enjoy the one hour and 49 minutes that was Birds of Prey: And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.
DC fans were first introduced to Harley Quinn in the 2016 movie Suicide Squad, which was directed by David Ayer, and produced by Zack Snyder, Charles Roven, and Richard Suckle. These people all have something in common…. They’re men. The fact that Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad was created for the male gaze is undeniable. The male gaze is when the storyline of a movie, or characterisation of a character, is correlational to the sexual objectification of women in that story.
Under the male gaze, Quinn was portrayed as an object of desire and the property of the Joker. Throughout the movie this is evidenced in her behaviour as well as her attire. For instance, Quinn wears a jacket which reads ‘property of The Joker’ as well as a literal dog collar which symbolises she is owned. Her clothes are tight and skimpy and show her butt cheeks. The camera expertly zooms in on Quinn’s butt and legs CONSTANTLY throughout the movie instead of focusing on her face.
Enough about her outfit and the sexist camera angles, which highlight her as something to be owned, tamed and put into a position of submission. Those issues are part of the wider problem of the male gaze, yes, but something that makes me even madder is the behaviour and characterisation of Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad. Margot Robbie (who plays Harley Quinn) was reduced to an object to be objectified by male viewers, and the male characters in the movie. Her character was also belittled, abused, and toxically treated by her Puddin’ The Joker.
The whole movie is a disgusting display of an abusive relationship where Quinn doesn’t even seem to realise she’s trapped. I hate to break it to ya gentlemen, but ain’t no woman going to jump into a vat of chemicals to ‘prove their love’ because you order it. We’re also not going to obey your every whim, or wait around for you to save us, like the Suicide Squad storyline shows.
The focus and romanticisation of Harley Quinn and The Joker’s relationship is reprehensible. It was a horrible storyline for young women to watch. The entire thing was offensive, anti-feminist and clearly the work of men implementing the male gaze.
However, fast forward to Birds of Prey 2020 release which has director Cathy Yan and producer Margot Robbie (Quinn herself). Two women smashed the patriarchy and eliminated the male gaze from their movie. What an achievement, congratulations ladies!
For me, this movie is a significant moment of claiming oneself. This is already seen through the title. Under Birds of Prey there is scrawled handwriting (which I assume is Quinn’s) saying ‘And The Emancipation of One Harley Quinn’. Having her character alter the title shows Quinn claiming back the narrative. The choice of the word emancipation in the title is also important, as this word was used frequently in the feminist movement through ‘female emancipation’. Which meant to be emancipated from a man and be able to make your own decisions as a person without a man’s permission. To be independent from a man.
The choice of that word is Harley Quinn declaring her independence to the world. Birds of Prey deconstructed the male gaze through Quinn’s characterisation.
For instance, I mentioned before Quinn’s outfit in Suicide Squad was claiming her as someone else’s property and highly fetishised by male viewers. In Birds of Prey, Quinn wears a loose crop top in embolden font with her name across it, as this Harley Quinn belongs to no one but herself. There are other subtle changes such as her hairstyle. The long perfect ponytails and seductive framing of her face with bangs have been cut in a fun short-and-choppy way. This deconstructs the sexualisation of hair that is long enough to pull during sex.
Another change in characterisation that makes Quinn independent from The Joker, was the authenticity behind the fighting scenes. In Suicide Squad the camera followed Quinn in these scenes, but the focus was on how she looked while fighting — still trying to maintain that sexiness for the male viewers. Juxtaposing this, in the fight scenes in Birds of Prey, the actresses Margot Robbie (Quinn) and Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Black Canary) did many of their stunts themselves. Importantly, instead of cleaning the actresses up or stooping to editing the scenes so they still looked sexy and badass, director Cathy Yan left them all sweaty, raw and unfiltered.
This is an important statement because it shows authentic femininity while performing a typically masculine action. It highlights that women are not perfect, and when we fight OF COURSE we sweat. On a personal note, I enjoyed Harley Quinn trading her baseball bat in for a glitter/coloured smoke gun for most of the movie! Signature girly and badass move on her part.
Harley Quinn’s character growth has been phenomenal. She went from a sex symbol to a character women can actually relate to, and look up to. I’m not saying women can’t look up to sexy women. I’d just prefer to look up to a sexy woman who chose to be sexy for herself. Not a woman who was forced into a ridiculous outfit for male pleasure.
Kudos to all the actresses in the film. I wish I could have seen some authentic badass women kick villainy-butt when I was younger! Also, it is worth mentioning that director Cathy Yan is officially the first Asian-American woman who has directed a superhero movie — so congratulations to her for making it one for the history books. All hail Cathy Yan — the woman who has started the deconstruction of the male gaze.
Featured Image: mxdwn.com