Monday, October 17, 2011

Footloose: A Feminist Review

I’m not much of a movies person, since I object to paying twelve bucks for an hour and a half of entertainment (I can donate that money to a cause that has a lasting effect on the world). However, I love free stuff, and managed to get two advanced preview tickets to Footloose. Having not seen the original movie or Broadway play, I was only vaguely familiar with the plot. It was pretty cute and I liked it, although I wouldn’t have been amazed if I had paid full price to see it.

[SPOILER ALERT] While watching Footloose, a few things struck me. The movie opens at a high school keg party in Bomont, Georgia, where five students are killed in an extremely graphic car accident. (There are a lot of burning cars and violent fights - definitely not for the squeamish.) The next scene shows the town’s reverend and city councilmember speaking on behalf of a new law prohibiting partying, drinking, and dancing. The first thing I noticed was that there was only one woman and one African-American on the eight-person city council. (The sad part is that the percentage isn’t unrealistic - Congress is only 17% female, 8% black, 5% Latino/a, and 2% Asian-American.) I would've really liked it if there were a couple more women on the council.

Despite the fact that people of color are underrepresented on Bomont’s city council, the rest of the movie makes a specific effort to promote diversity and interracial relationships. The Woody character was recast as African-American, and Ziah Colon, a black actor, plays Rusty (originally Sarah Jessica Parker), who becomes romantically linked with a white character. Throughout the movie, there are a number of extras who are African-American, which I think is pretty cool. While Ariel and Ren, the two main characters, remained white, I think Footloose is still headed in the right direction.

In addition to showcasing the talents of actors of color, the movie also tells watchers that gay bashing is unacceptable. After Chuck, Ariel’s older boyfriend, calls Ren a f*ggot, Ren responds, “I thought only a**holes used the word f*ggot.” I think that’s a really valuable message to send, especially since this is a hot-button issue today. (I’ve probably signed five petitions in the past week to help pro-LGBT students who have faced discrimination in the last week alone.)

Ariel, the minister’s daughter, is supposed to be a good-girl-gone-bad, rebelling against the anti-party laws by dating Chuck. At the beginning, he pressures her to give into his sexual advances, and is depicted as a generally icky dude throughout the movie (almost killing Ren in a bus race, getting one of his cronies to plant a joint on him, etc.). After Ariel finally realizes Chuck’s a piece of work who doesn’t deserve her, she breaks up with him. After he calls her a slut, she starts beating up his car with a crowbar. He brutally attacks her, giving her a black eye. His punishment? When he comes to break up the dance at the end of the movie, Ren and Willard beat him and his cronies up.

Yeah, that’s it. Ariel never tells her parents on-screen who beat her bloody; if she did off-screen, they didn’t make any intentions of legal justice clear. No one else in the movie does, either. This made me really, really, upset. Ariel was wrong to destroy Chuck’s car, and she should be liable to pay for the damages; however, Chuck was 100% wrong to retaliate physically, and should pay for what he did in jail. It is never, ever acceptable for a man to lay his hand on a woman (or the other way around), and I feel like the movie didn’t make that clear enough. Ren and Willard’s vigilante justice was a very lovely gesture, but Chuck only walked away bruised. Beating him up didn’t make him understand how to respect women. Only time behind bars and some serious therapy can do that. Unfortunately, there are a lot of Chucks out there who get away with beating up their girlfriends. Even more unfortunately, Footloose advocated an eye for an eye rather than justice via the legal system. While Chuck did at least face punishment for what he did, it would have really made me happy if Ariel said that she and her parents are pressing charges.

So, I think that Footloose had its ups and downs. I don’t know how it compared to the original, but I hope all of you who are Kevin Bacon fans appreciate it!

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