Tuesday, March 29, 2016

'Batman v Superman' Embodies Toxic Masculinity at Its Purest

This movie made me angry. There. I said it. I've been trying to write this article for an hour now, all bogged down in how to explain to all of you that while I wasn't exactly beating down the door for Batman v Superman to come out, I was more than happy to like it once it got here, but I can't do that. I really really don't like this film. Some of my reasons are structural, some ideological, and some just plain petty. But I do not like Batman v Superman, so I guess I should say that you're all duly forewarned.

A vague disclaimer is nobody's friend.

Look - it's a concept familiar enough that we have plenty of pop culture precedents to consider. Fans love making their favorite characters fight. Whether it's a silly conversation between friends over whether Gandalf or Dumbledore was the more powerful wizard or a big budget movie called Alien vs Predator, fans love to make them fight. They have an undeniable urge to figure out who would be on top, I guess. And yet these fans still insist on making fun of the other fans who would rather see who's on top in a less violent situation.*

Batman v Superman, then, falls into this long and not particularly noble tradition. So does the upcoming Captain America: Civil War, which pits differing ideologies and Avengers teams against each other. Like I said, this isn't anything new. As long as we've had brains we've wanted to know if Odysseus could beat up Jason or if that Sabre Toothed Tiger could take on a Dire Wolf. We're all about the matchups, human beings. And this film is no exception.

The problem, however, comes when there really isn't anything to a particular piece of media besides this question. The continual fighting of Magneto and Professor X, at least, has a backing of strong relationship and profound ideological differences. Freddy vs Jason is silly and funny, but has some solid horror, and it's not hard to see why those two might want to kill each other. In general, a matchup of this kind requires a level of congruity with the rest of the story - it's got to make sense why they're fighting.

And that brings me to the fundamental problem with Batman v Superman and the ultimate reason why I think you should probably wait until it's out on dvd so that you can fast forward through everything that's not Wonder Woman: there is absolutely no reason in the plot of this movie why Batman and Superman should fight each other. None at all. And the contortions that the plot must go through in order to make these two ostensibly good and intelligent men beat the shit out of each other are frankly ridiculous. I have seen better plotted porn. Not joking.

If all you're looking for out of a film is an answer to the question "Who would win in a fight?" then presumably this movie is made for you, but even then it fails to satisfy, because the real answer is that neither of them is particularly good at fighting in this film. Even when it comes to its one big draw, the movie utterly disappoints. So while Wonder Woman is rad as hell and Gal Gadot crushes it, and those thirty seconds each of Flash and Aquaman are tantalizing, this movie might go down in history as the most expensive theatrical trailer ever, because all it really does is make people want to watch literally anything else.

You might think that this is me being harsh and judgmental. And you'd be right. I am being harsh and judgmental. But I have good reason to be, and so far it seems that most people agree. Batman v Superman doesn't work, either as a piece of superhero media meant to build a new franchise or as an entertaining movie. It's just two and a half hours of me wanting to bang Superman and Batman's heads together so they make that cantaloupe sound and I can go home.

Since it's going to take some explaining on how a conceptually intriguing premise like this gets so thoroughly trashed, here is a bare bones synopsis of the events of Batman v Superman:

Ben Affleck is Bruce Wayne, a middle-aged man still haunted by the deaths of his parents. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's clear that Mr. Wayne is still more than a little emotionally stunted. When Superman (Henry Cavill) revealed himself to the world in the events of Man of Steel, Bruce was on hand to see the action close up, attempting to rescue employees from the wreck of his Wayne Enterprises building in Metropolis. And since Bruce Wayne is apparently a moral idiot with no concept of complexity, he utterly blames Superman for the destruction, despite seeing firsthand that Superman was getting his ass handed to him.

Fast forward two years and Superman is going about his daily life as incompetent reporter Clark Kent and heroic space alien Superman. When Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is captured by terrorists in Africa while attempting to write an article, Superman intervenes but accidentally exacerbates a complex political situation, causing the deaths of many innocents. Congress creates a committee to deal with his brand of superheroism and wonder if they can even pretend to regulate him, a committee led by Senator June Finch (Holly Hunter), literally the only interesting non-Wonder Woman character in this whole movie.

Because Bruce Wayne is an idiot, he decides to start hunting down Superman so that he can kill him. It takes a little bit of plot for him to get there, but honestly not that much. Superman, meanwhile, doesn't really like Batman but is otherwise ambivalent about the whole thing. He should care more, though, because Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is actually pitting these two heroes against each other like a little boy making his action figures fight.

So while Bruce is making kryptonite spears and smoke bombs and Clark Kent is literally flying around moping about how people don't like him anymore, Lex Luthor is secretly using Kryptonian technology from the downed spaceship to make a giant unholy monster and also to learn how to kill Superman. Why? Because he's a sniveling millennial villain with daddy issues, why else?

The end result is that Batman and Superman have to fight each other or else something bad will happen, and for all that Superman insists that he just needs to explain himself to Batman and all will be well, he does very little talking and much more punching. Sure, it's the fight that we all went into this film assuming we'd see, but the machinations required to get these two heroes into the ring were extensive and frankly stupid. It's not until they've slapped themselves silly for a while that they manage to actually say the like four words that would have avoided the entire fight and completely get over the previous two hours of animosity just in time for them to be best friends before the credits roll.

If it seems like I'm being vague on the plot here, please understand that it's not so much because I'm avoiding spoilers as because I don't want to get into detail. There is too much detail. Far, far too much. There's so much detail I feel like I'm going to choke on it, because it turns out that the plot these writers came up with was an affront to screenwriting students everywhere. It was needlessly complex and simultaneously moronically stupid. Literally there were whole sections of the plot that could have been avoided if a single character stopped kissing her boyfriend long enough to say, "Hey, this is a trap."

It's worse than feeling uninspired - this story feels down right nonsensical. In order to make Batman and Superman fight, this plot has to make Batman straight up hate Superman. How do they do that? By having him responsible for ruining something Bruce cares about, like his company. Okay, fine. But in order for Bruce to completely blame Superman for this, he has to be willfully ignorant of any extenuating circumstances. In other words, Batman in this movie is pretty dumb. A couple of hours of google searches would have answered most of his questions about Superman, as would his own actual first hand knowledge of the man, but Batman remains aggressively ignorant.

On Superman's side, it's like the writers understood that an actual competent Superman would figure out that Batman was having some problems, wonder if someone was manipulating him, and then sit down and chat with Bruce Wayne because he's a freaking reasonable person above all else. Do we need to remember that Superman in the comics is frequently a diplomat? Instead, Superman is oblivious to anything that's not Lois Lane and her continuous peril. He just does not care. 

But that's not enough to actually get him to fight Batman. Indifference is not the same as malicious intent. Instead, the movie makes it so that Superman is blackmailed into fighting Batman. Only rather than actually say this to his opponent, thus negating the need to fight and uniting them against a common enemy, Superman makes one abortive attempt at communication before just punching his way through. He has no fewer than five opportunities to make Batman listen (I counted) and takes none of them.

Nope, this movie needs these two to fight, so it refuses to give them even the most basic human logic because that would prevent this showdown we all so clearly wanted to see. Common sense is, after all, utterly antithetical to watching two grown men fight like toddlers at naptime.

I just cannot get over how stupid this movie had to make itself in order for the central premise to work. And it's not just that Batman and Superman themselves had to become shambling half-men, characters devoid of all reason or higher brain function. Everything about the story is half-baked because any scrutiny or common sense would upend the whole thing.

In the first five minutes of the film, after seeing Batman's parents die for the thousandth time, we are treated to Bruce Wayne's experience of the attack on Metropolis from Man of Steel. In it, Bruce gets off a helicopter and into a Jeep which he then drives resolutely into the city, against the crowd of fleeing humanity, all while talking on his cell phone to employees stationed at Wayne Enterprises downtown.

The employees are basically all standing at their desks and looking out the window when Bruce yells that they have to evacuate. So they do - "Boss' orders!" And it's just in time because before Bruce can reach the building it's smashed by the destruction-train that is Superman and Zod. He has to pick his employees out of the rubble and it's all very sad and moving, right?

The problem, however, is that none of this makes any freaking sense at all.

Why the hell were his employees just standing there waiting for their building to explode or their boss to tell them to leave? This question is so fundamental that it undermines the entire premise of the plot. Bruce has to tell his employees to leave the building because he has to be involved enough in the incident to hate Superman to want to kill him later. But as we see from the thousands of fleeing residents, pretty much everyone else in Metropolis who isn't in Wayne Enterprises figured out that they should evacuate without needing to be told.

That means that the whole basis for the conflict here is made up. I mean, yes, it exists in the movie universe, but it's dumb as hell. The scene isn't just clumsily written, it's painfully obvious in its objectives - Bruce even saves a little girl from being crushed under the rubble just so that we can really empathize with him as a hero. And then she points up at the Wayne tower all sad and says that her mommy was up there. That's why Batman hates Superman, audience. For the children.

Ultimately what this all adds up to is the understanding that Batman and Superman fighting might be an interesting philosophical thought experiment, but it makes for a pretty bad movie. Without the establishment of some stronger reason for them to fight - like, say, deep and meaningful ideological differences or one of them being temporarily evil - the movie turns into one big justification for the fight. And since those justifications never actually make any sense, the movie is a mass of contradictions, failed plotlines, and unnecessarily long dream sequences.

But that, in and of itself, isn't what bothered me so much about this movie. Sure, I find terrible scriptwriting professionally offensive - I do literally have a degree in this - but that's not my biggest problem. That's not what made me incandescently angry about this film. 

No, what really and truly bothers me about Batman v Superman is that when Warner Brothers and DC were trying to think of a way to get us ready for the Justice League and to build a universe for its future films, all they could think of was making these characters fight.

I've talked before about toxic masculinity. Actually, I've talked a lot about toxic masculinity - I even created a whole weekly column to deal with good and bad representations of masculinity in our media. The basic concept is that toxic masculinity is a masculine ideal that is harmful both to the men who attempt to adhere to it and to the people around them. In this case, it's a look at how Superman and Batman, both classic ideals of masculinity, are toxic character templates in this film. Both of them evidence an understanding of moral virtue as related to physical strength. The stronger you are, the better you are. That's classic toxic masculinity.

The masculinity in Batman v Superman is all about physical power and violence. While the film is more centered on Batman, Superman isn't innocent of this either. Clark Kent might be a sweet wannabe reporter, but he's also the kind of man who flies out into the desert to save his girlfriend and asserts loudly afterwards that he doesn't care if it was wrong. He doesn't care about the people who got hurt because he did that. He's strong and therefore he's right. The movie judges this attitude, and justly, but it also doesn't refute it. 

Ultimately, Superman is proven right. He's proven to be the virtuous, good man he kept insisting he was, and we're bad for having doubted him. How does he prove this? With violence. He did a thing with his strength and he was violent and he was hurt and therefore he was a hero. This film's understanding of heroism is no more complex than that.

Batman gets an even worse depiction. A man who we are told has been fighting crime for twenty years, Bruce Wayne seemingly has never even considered trying a different way to help the people of Gotham. Seriously. He's spent twenty years failing to clean up his city, and yet he sees no problem with the way he does things. All he can figure is that he needs to be tougher on the criminals. Hurt them more. Maybe even kill them.

And, again, the movie doesn't refute this. Batman gets his resolution and justification through violence, albeit violence directed at a different enemy. Hell, the film even makes a point of retelling Bruce's tragic backstory just to make it a little more like an action film. Instead of standing idly by while the mugger shoots him and his wife, this version has Thomas Wayne (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) lunging at his attacker and getting a bullet for his troubles. Thomas Wayne still dies, of course, but he's an action hero here. He's a strong man, which means that he has to be physically strong and also willing to use violence. 

If it weren't painfully clear that the movie is playing this straight, parts of the film would feel like a parody of this kind of overbuilt macho showdown. In one particular extended dream sequence, we see Batman imagining the world as a post-apocalyptic nightmare where he is the only man left who can stop Superman. Watching it feels almost like you've walked in on someone masturbating, so clear is it that Batman loves the idea of being the only righteous man left. Like, he really really enjoys this fantasy.

Batman objects to Superman's superhuman strength and power. But he doesn't object to it by attempting to reason with Superman or understand him better. Instead, the movie suggests that the only way to deal with someone more powerful than you is to become more powerful and take them down. Batman, supposedly a genius, can think of no better solution than amassing a more powerful suit, getting a superweapon, and working out a lot. I rather wish we could have heard what was going through Alfred's head during all of this (a refreshingly droll Jeremy Irons), because I feel like he alone understood how much Bruce was freaking loving this.

Again, the real issue here isn't the actions of the characters - they're fictional and do as they're told. The problem is the studio behind this that banked their franchise's future on an ideology where the only way to be a good man is to kill lots and lots of people. The only rational way adults handle being upset is building doomsday devices. Where the two men who are hypothetically going to start the Justice League together can't even manage to have a single civil conversation in a two and a half hour long movie.

Maybe this will sum it up nicely: when I came home from the movie, expressing my frustration to my parents, my father asked offhand why the trailer showed Batman wearing that suit with glowing eyes. What were they for?

The answer, which you might know if you saw the movie, is that they aren't really for anything. Seriously. That big suit of armor with the glowing eyes is ostensibly there so that Batman can fight Superman more effectively, but it does very little in the moment. And as far as I can tell, there is no point to the eyes that glow. None at all. They are simply there because they look cool.

That, more than anything else, sums up how I feel about this movie. It's there to look cool. Batman and Superman are fighting because the studio didn't even bother wondering if they should fight and why they would. This entire movie happened because no one bothered to think about it long enough to realize it was a dumb idea. It's just there to look cool.

Or how about this lovely logic bender: Batman insists that the reason he hates Superman is because Superman indirectly caused the deaths of thousands of innocent bystanders when his fight with Zod took down Metropolis. But Batman sees no logical discrepancy in directly causing the deaths of at least fifty people in the course of this film. Probably more. It's fine because he's human - Superman can't kill people indirectly because he's an alien, but Batman can straight up murder lots of people because he's a human. Right.

What really chafes my butt, though, is the fact that about five minutes more thought would have turned this movie into a halfway decent story. Even worse, the basis for that is actually in the film itself.

Early on in Batman v Superman we are treated to a scene where Clark Kent, junior reporter, is aggressively crapped on by his boss, Perry White (Lawrence Fishburne). White wants Clark to write more puff pieces for the paper, the kind of stories that make good headline copy and will hopefully go viral online. 

But Clark wants to be a big boy and write real news. He wants to write an article on how the Gotham Bat directly targets working class criminals, taking down muggers and drug dealers and thieves. All bad people, sure, but Batman tends to ignore white collar crime. In so doing, he penalizes the lower classes of Gotham and gives the higher class criminals a free pass.

It's a very valid criticism. He even implies, rightly, that Batman is more interested in punishing criminals than saving civilians. This throwaway scene could have actually set up a really compelling conflict between the two characters, all based around their very different understandings of what a hero ought to be.

When you think about it, both Batman and Superman in this universe have been shaped by the deaths of their fathers. Batman saw his father die at the hands of a mugger, a low level criminal. Superman saw his birth father and adoptive father both die in natural disasters. So Batman is a hero by fighting low level crime and punishing criminals. Superman is a hero by saving people from fires and floods and natural disasters.

This fundamental difference in what it means to be a hero would actually make for a pretty good film. I mean, instead of making them fight, why not try to have them work together only to find them falling out because they can't agree on their priorities? That's good conflict, because it's based in character. The conflict of this movie is entirely based in the machinations of plot and studio executives.

So. While I love Wonder Woman and I'm thrilled to have gotten a full twenty minutes of her presence on screen, no amount of fangirl joy could save this movie for me. It is, when we get down to it, a perfect embodiment of what I consider the worst impulses of our culture. It should be a textbook on how not to write a film. 

And I hate to disappoint you all, but come on. Batman v Superman? The movie had to give Bruce Wayne thirty pounds of kryptonite, a giant robot suit, and an emotionally compromised Clark Kent in order to make it slightly less embarrassing when Superman beat the pants off Batman. That's not a matchup I needed to see.

Same, Diana. Same.
*I'm talking about slash fanfic here, as it happens. For more, read this fantastic article by brownbetty, "Why Do Fanboys Always Make Them Fight?"

Thursday, March 24, 2016

'Paper Girls' Captures the Terror of Being Almost Thirteen

I'm starting to think that there's a trend here in my comic-reading habits - because for all that I love my standard lady superhero stories, the independent comics that I end up reading and loving tend to fall into a pretty simple strategy. Basically, I like them weird and inscrutable. Like the words I've spilled on Wicked + the Divine and Prez and Chew and Saga and Lumberjanes and Locke and Key, to name only a few. I tend to like my indie comics to be really and intensely weird, which explains why I love Paper Girls so much. It's all that weirdness and inscrutability that I love, wrapped up in a candy-colored, time-traveling bow.

So I have to admit that I can't tell you exactly what Paper Girls is about - for one thing, it's not over yet, and I have a suspicion that this is a story that won't be over until it's over, you know? But for the most part, I can't explain Paper Girls to you because it's a story that's written to be intentionally vague, a plot that is meant to baffle you just a little while it pulls you into a really compelling and interesting story.

I can, however, tell you what I've gleaned from it so far, and in between the sci-fi adventures and classic 80s references, Paper Girls is shaping up to be a fascinating coming of age story, an examination of the sheer terror that comes from being on the cusp of puberty and suddenly realizing that you have no idea who to trust. 

Do you trust the adults? They've been your moral compass for years, but they're starting to seem more shady and flawed. Do you trust the teenagers you meet? They're a few years older than you, so I guess they understand more of what you're going through, but they don't seem to know what to do any better than you do.

Or do you stick together and only trust each other? There's strength in numbers, even if that strength has no idea what it's doing and is completely terrified all the time.

This is the story that I think (I think) Paper Girls is telling - a story about how scary it feels to be cresting the wave right before adolescence, and the radical shift in both you and the way society views you that happens then. But before we dig any deeper on that, here's the deal with Paper Girls and why you should absolutely be reading it:

Paper Girls is an ongoing (albeit slow-going) comic written by Brian K. Vaughn (who also writes Saga) with art by Cliff Chiang (who did that really awesome run on Wonder Woman). These guys are basically the dream team, and together they've created a really unique story and world. All the events of the comic so far take place in the very early morning of November 1, 1988 when a group of middle-school girls out delivering newspapers run into what may or may not be the apocalypse.

The story most closely follows Erin, the new girl in town, who falls in with her fellow paper girls when they save her from being harassed by some local teenage boys. The four girls agree to deliver papers together because it's the day after Halloween, and some partiers are still out on the streets, making it a little unsafe. As they go about their rounds, though, things get pretty seriously weird. 

First Tiffany, one of the other paper girls, is robbed by people in bad mummy costumes, except the only thing they take is her walkie-talkie. Then the girls sneak into an abandoned house and find what looks like a freaky fleshy spaceship. And then the power goes out and suddenly everyone in the world disappears except for them and the monsters.

Super interesting, right? 

As the girls go around town trying to piece things together and figure out how to get help, they discover that the mummies - who are actually teenagers with mutated faces - aren't the only ones roaming the streets. There are also futuristic soldiers riding pterodactyls and shooting people with lasers, possibly what has caused everyone they know and love to disappear. 

The girls seem to be the only ones left because these future forces, whoever they are, didn't think they'd be out so early. Whatever the cause, the four girls have accidentally stumbled into a war between factions of time-traveling armies, taking place on the streets of their hometown, and somewhere in here Erin gets shot.

I won't tell you precisely what happens here because I sincerely want you to read these comics for yourself, but suffice to say that the story only gets more interesting from here. There's a mystery surrounding Apple products and apple imagery, a creepy old man with a third eye, and some super rad time travel all working together to make this one of the weirdest and coolest comics you're apt to read this year. But that is, strangely enough, not why I like it so much.

What I love about Paper Girls, as I mentioned up above, is how it works as a metaphor about being just on the cusp of adolescence. I remember being that age and being simultaneously impatient and terrified, waiting for my "real life" to start. It was genuinely scary, facing down a future I had no way to prepare for but had to endure no matter what.

So I relate to the girls of Paper Girls, four twelve and thirteen year olds just about to become teenagers and completely unsure of what they're doing or who they can trust. Since the story of this book is a conflict between generations, a battle between adults and teenagers very literally, it draws the girls and their no-man's-land age placement into sharp relief. They belong to nobody and no one and they have no idea what they're doing, constantly being bounced between the two sides.

Making it even more interesting is the fact that these four girls are all really different and have very different views on their future. Erin, our hero, is a space nerd who has nightmares about the Russians killing everyone with a nuclear bomb and who is the most ready to look for answers in aliens and time-travel. She's also a twelve year old girl who seems deeply ambivalent about the way society views her - she's just hit the age where she is viewed "sexually available" and this clearly makes her deeply uncomfortable. 

She only finds solace with girls her own age who get what she's going through - like the scene where Erin is being sexually harassed by several teenage boys* and is saved by her fellow paper girls. For Erin, at least, the future is a scary place full of unwanted attention and possibly death. The only safe place is with her friends, or possibly with the adults who can protect her from this growing up nonsense. Erin is, after all, the only one of the girls to constantly insist on calling the police.

In contrast, Mackenzie, or "Mac" as she's most often called, is thirteen going on sixty. She smokes. She swears. She's already got a bad relationship with the cops. She hates authority and proudly boasts that her father has a gun. She's the one who scares off the teenage boys hassling Erin, and she's the one who tells her to stick by them so she'll be safe. But for all that bluster, Mac is still just a thirteen year old girl with no idea what the hell she's doing.

She's scared, deeply and honestly. All this embrace of her future, early embrace of adulthood and adolescence and growing the hell up, masks her fear that the future is one where she's left behind by her friends. 

There are very clear class indicators in Mac's life that show that she's from a more strictly working class background than her friends, and this backgrounds means that she's worried they will all go off to their private high schools and colleges and forget all about her while she stays there and gets in trouble with the law and slowly rots. Mac is terrified of the future, and who could blame her?

Tiffany might come from a family with more money than Mac's, but she's just as scared about the future. With Tiffany, however, it takes a different form. See, as we learn when she has a near-death experience and her life flashes before her eyes, Tiffany isn't afraid of the future exactly. She's afraid that her future will be nothing but more of the same. She's afraid of wasting her future, playing the same stupid videogame, doing the same stupid things all day every day. She's terrified that she's going to wake up one day and never have done anything with her life.

This might not seem like the same kind of fear that Erin and Mac have, but it's still a very valid fear about growing up. Doing the same thing every day when you're a kid isn't so bad. It's routine and it's comforting and there's nothing really wrong with it. But staring into the future like that is so much worse. Tiffany's greatest fear about growing up is that she won't actually change, and that seems just as valid as fearing that you will.

KJ, finally, has the most complex view of growing up, or at least the most loosely-defined. We know she's just shy of thirteen, as she mentions off-hand that her bat mitzvah is coming up, but she really doesn't say much about the topic otherwise. Instead, she stares at what is happening in the here and now. Out of all the characters, KJ is the one who most lives in the present, focused on keeping her friends safe and getting them all out alive, even if she has to threaten a grown man with an energy gun to do it. 

In its own way, KJ's refusal to even seem to think about the future is its own kind of fear. We're not clear yet what she is afraid of, but KJ rejects both the teenagers and the adults, clinging to her friend group instead. She's not interested in what either side has to offer, she just wants them all to make it through this. 

And who could blame her? It's terrifying and hard where they are right now. She's utterly within her rights to reject existential questions and focus on the day to day. But that in and of itself is a realization that the larger questions make her uncomfortable. She doesn't want to deal with it. And I kind of don't blame her.

In case you're thinking, "Well, that's nice, but it's clearly all subtext and this is a comic about time-travelers and spaceships, stop thinking so hard," I feel the need to express that I am not just pulling this out of nowhere. While it's not explicit in the text that this comic is a meditation on what it means to grow up, and particularly what it means to be a just pre-pubescent girl, Vaughn and Chiang have stated that the comic is meant to be a female version of Stand By Me, a famous coming-of-age narrative. So, there's that.

Furthermore, there's this lovely scene between the girls and Mac's stepmother, Alice. The girls are shocked to find Alice still in her house, having assumed that all the adults and everyone else had already evacuated. It's from Alice that they learn the truth - everyone straight up vanished into thin air - before Alice turns the conversation on its head and starts talking about being twelve years old:

I'm not saying that Alice is right in this scene. She's clearly disturbed and extremely drunk. Not that you can blame her: she woke up at five in the morning to see her husband disappear in a pool of light. That would mess anyone up.

But it's definitely made clear in the text that to some extent this is a story about growing up. The generational conflict the girls are caught in makes them question whether what they're heading into is actually even worth living for. I mean, teenagers and adults are caught in an endless cycle of aggression and frustration and misunderstanding. What's to like here?

I can only assume that as the comic goes on (we're only five issues in, after all), the story will answer some of this. Presumably by the end we'll have answers about growing up and how the girls will eventually deal with their impending adolescence. And that's good. I'm all for resolution.

For now, however, I'm actually enjoying living in the confusion and fear of this moment of their lives. That sounds sociopathic, I know, but I think it's actually a really important period of life that is frequently ignored by pop culture. Aside from Tina on Bob's Burgers, it's rare to see a piece of media intentionally engaging with female characters just before they become teenagers. And that's a shame, because it's an incredibly formative period of our lives.

I, for one, remember very clearly the first time someone made overt sexual comments to me. I was only eleven, and I remember distinctly how uncomfortable and painfully young I felt in that moment. I was scared. It was scary. I remember realizing that to society as a whole, because I was tall and looked older and developed breasts early, I was "old enough" for this kind of talk. I remember realizing that society now cared what I did with my body and with my behavior in a way it hadn't just a day ago.

In that same way, I remember realizing that I was going to be a teenager soon and wondering about the increased freedom and also increased responsibility I would have. I definitely was excited for all of that, eager to grow up, but I was scared too. I was terrified. I think a lot of us were, because it's scary to realize you're about to enter a world and a period of your life you cannot anticipate. It was a rough transition. 

So it's obvious to me, at least, that this is a time in life that needs more attention. There are good stories here. And it feels right to me that the characters of Paper Girls are being left in their fear and frustration and insecurity for a while longer, because that's how it really feels when you're in it. To resolve this too soon would be to cut short the real experience and to deny that it's as earth-shattering as it really was.

Being twelve and thirteen can easily feel a little bit like the world has ending. It's narrowed down to you and your friends, the people who can relate to what you're going through. All you see are hostile teenagers and even more hostile adults. There's no one to go to for help because you're not even supposed to be here yet. What can you do? How do you get out of this alive?

You grab your sisters and you hold tight, is what Paper Girls says. And I firmly agree. Society has made adolescence a battleground, but we don't have to go quietly. So for all the time-travel and fleshy spaceships and mysterious rays of light in this comic, I'm not here for that. Not really. I'm here for four girls figuring out how to grow up and trying to live through the process.

*For the record, this scene might be the most distressing one in the whole comic for me, not for any actual assault that happens, but for the matter-of-fact method of harassment. Upon someone pointing out that Erin is very young and "like eight", therefore not a subject who should be treated sexually, one of her harassers responds with "Grass on the field, man."** Which is super gross, but also a sign of how our culture routinely sexualizes young girls.

**By which he means that Erin appears to have already reached sexual maturity and has pubic hair. Yeah. It's a horrific thing to say to anyone, but genuinely traumatizing to imagine being said to a twelve year old girl.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

'The Bronze' Proves Women Can Be Bitter Washed Up Jocks Too

I love sports movies. In my personal life, at least, I have made that abundantly clear. I am a complete sucker for any story that involves the words "inspirational team" and "road to victory" - I think they're frequently garbage films, the kind of moralizing pablum that I find repugnant, and I will happily watch them until my eyes bleed. I own my own personal copies of Miracle and Remember the Titans and Chariots of Fire and Bend It Like Beckham and more. Hell, I even own inspirational sports movies for sports I don't particularly like and I own an alarming number of them in foreign languages.

The point is, I am all about the sports movies. Even if I don't actually care at all about real sports. And while I could sit here and write an entire article about how I think sports are an inherently satisfying vehicle for a film and adapt wonderfully to the standard movie story structure, that would be boring so we're not going to do that. Instead we're going to talk about another sports movie (our second this week) that subverts all of our cultural expectations about what a female-lead sports movie is allowed to do. And it's great.

You might not have heard about The Bronze, coming out as it does just at the end of the movie dumping ground that is late winter. Or you might have seen some article saying it's "Bernadette from Big Bang Theory gone wild!" Or maybe you saw the trailer and were baffled and confused by what this movie was even supposed to be. Like an R-rated version of Stick It? Is that what this is?*

The answer to all of this is that The Bronze is a very very dark comedy about an former Olympic gymnast who is living off of her faded hometown glory while being very bitter about accident that ended her career. When her former coach passes away, leaving her newest protegee and budding gymnastics star without a coach, our faded hotshot steps in (for incredibly selfish reasons) to take the reins. Only you never know if our hero is going to coach this young upstart to a gold medal or sabotage her so she crashes and burns.

If that sounds like a movie too dark for you, then you should probably not watch it. Let's get one thing super clear before we go on here: The Bronze is not for the faint of heart. It's really really not. I consider myself a hardened movie-goer, the kind of person who is perfectly happy sitting down and watching four films in a row, and even I had trouble getting this movie out of my brain. It's not that it's horrifically graphic (mostly) or that the swearing is actually that bad - it's that it's brutally emotionally honest in a way that refuses to make anything feel less than completely real.

But if the concept of a movie that actually tackles the idea that female athletes can be washed up jocks too and that women can be just as brutal and obsessive about sports as men sounds like good material for a movie to you, then you should totally give The Bronze a shot. It's fantastic. Hard-hitting, painful, and a little bit like having insults hurled at your face for two hours, but still fantastic.

And, I should mention before we go any further, it's a movie made for and about women. The star, Melissa Rauch (who, yes, does play Bernadette on Big Bang Theory) wrote it with her husband, Winston Rauch, specifically to address issues of fame and identity. It's a very personal movie for them, and it's also the best acting you are likely to see this year. Seriously, Rauch is astonishing in this, even if watching her is like watching a train derailment in slow motion.

It may sound like I'm being hyperbolic here in describing how this movie feels, but trust me I'm not. The more detailed plot synopsis is this: Hope Ann Gregory (Rauch) won a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics when she was a teenager. She was called the "Angel of Amherst, Ohio", partly because she was adorable, but mostly because partway through the competition she broke her foot and kept going, a true symbol of American inspiration and perseverance and blah blah blah. Literally the first scene of this movie is Hope watching a tape of her own performance in the 2004 Olympics and masturbating to it. Just so you get an idea of how this movie goes.

Eleven years later, Hope is still living off the glory of that bronze medal. She lives at home with her father (Gary Cole) in the house that her sponsorship deals bought them before those deals dried up. Her life consists of trading on her last dregs of fame to get free pizza at Sbarro's and a milkshake at the local diner. Her father is a mailman and Hope sometimes breaks into his truck and steals money from people's mail. In other words, her life is a sad mess, and it doesn't show much sign of improving.

Not even her father's reminder that he's retiring soon and his pension won't be enough for them to keep the house can get Hope to shape up. She's a spoiled child in a woman's body, a foul-mouthed, gutter of a human being who screams at her father and refuses to listen to anything he says. Basically, she's a monster, but she's a monster who is uncomfortable to look at. She's not funny awful, she's depressing awful, because it's so easy to see how Hope got this way.

She's even worse now, we come to realize, because it looks like her time in the sun is just about up. Amherst, Ohio has a new star in the making, the incredibly talented Maggie (Haley Lu Richardson). Maggie is training at Hope's old gym with Hope's old coach, and everyone says that she has a chance to win a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics in Toronto. The way Hope sees it, Maggie's victory will just be a nail in the coffin that is her life.

So when Coach Pavleck commits suicide unexpectedly and leaves Maggie with no coach and Olympic trials approaching, Hope isn't sure how to feel. On the one hand, the closest person she had to a mother has just died, and even though they hadn't spoken in years, Hope seems visibly perturbed. On the other hand, Maggie won't be able to go to Toronto so she won't surpass Hope so Hope can live peacefully. Silver lining, right?

Actually, no. A few days after Coach Pavleck's death, Hope gets a letter from the deceased coach with a special request in it: Coach Pavleck wanted to make sure that Maggie's future was in the best possible hands. And for some insane reason she thinks those hands belong to Hope. 

Hope refuses to do it until her father reads down to the part of the letter where it says that if she does this, Hope will inherit half a million dollars. But only if Hope coaches Maggie through to Toronto. And so Hope is sold. With half a million dollars she won't have to worry about money or get a job or jealously guard her legacy. She'll be set for life. And technically nothing in the letter says anything about making sure that Maggie wins...

It takes only a little bit of browbeating for Hope to convince Maggie and her mother, Janice (Cecily Strong), to make her the new coach. Even the owner of the gym where they train, a childhood "friend" of Hope's named either Ben or Twitchy depending on who you ask (Thomas Middleditch) is on board. Everyone wants Hope to suddenly become this inspirational figure and use her amazing talent to help the next generation.

That is not what happens. 

What happens instead is some uncomfortably hilarious sabotage. With Hope's help, Maggie stops actually doing any exercises and instead starts eating like a maniac, gains about thirty pounds, gets a boyfriend, and generally does the exact opposite of what an Olympic athlete should do in like any situation ever. When the Olympic team coordinator comes to check on Maggie after six weeks, he's horrified to find her completely unfit to compete (and completely and utterly stoned).

Hope would be super okay with this, but the thing is, if anyone else coaches Maggie she doesn't get the inheritance, a fact that is only now dawning on her. So if the coordinator, Lance Tucker (Sebastian Stan) takes Maggie away from her, she loses out on everything. No freaking way.

From there it's just a matter of making sure that Maggie and her mom don't jump ship, and then it's time for Hope to actually put on her big girl pants and teach Maggie how to be an Olympian. And maybe, just maybe figure out how to be a human being along the way.

But if you're hoping that this movie ends nicely with Hope completely at peace with herself and her past and super copacetic about everything, man should you probably watch a different movie. This movie does not give you a nice pat ending, and that's a good thing, even if it doesn't feel like it.

Probably the thing that most struck me about The Bronze was actually how I realized it's a movie I've never seen before. Or rather, it's a movie I've only ever seen with a male lead. 

I've seen plenty of films about male athletes staring their own obsolescence in the face, being asked to give up their own glory to coach the next generation. Lots of movies where the male anti-hero is a jerk who sabotages their protege. Film after film where our male lead is unlikable, borderline abusive, a horrific jerk living off the glory of their one shot at the sun. These movies are comedies and tragedies and everything in between.

You know how many movies like that I've seen with female athletes? This one. That's it.

While we as a culture are slowly and reluctantly coming to admit that women can be athletes too, and even more slowly recognizing that traditionally feminine sports are hella difficult and impressive (like gymnastics, figure skating, and cheerleading), we haven't spent much time thinking about female athletes as people. And we've spent pretty much zero time considering female athletes once they retire.

I guess one of the things I really loved here is how Hope might be a monster, but it's easy to see how she got that way. This movie is an unflinching look at what happens when you have a sport where the competitors have to be trained pretty much from birth, forgoing all school and normal childhood activities, where they're taught to value athletic achievement above everything else, and where their careers can end with a brutal, life-altering injury at the tender age of fifteen. What the hell kind of adults do these kids grow up to be? Well, if this movie has anything to say about it, not particularly well adjusted ones.

The glimpses we get of Hope's childhood are genuinely alarming for all that her father is a nice sweet old man now. It's awful watching Hope verbally harangue her own dad, shattering a "World's #1 Dad" mug she made him in elementary school, but it's worth pointing out that, well, he kind of deserves it. She made that mug because he told her to do it as a Father's Day activity in her homeschool. If Hope is a monster, it's because she has nothing else to possibly be.

The film makes it clear that Hope was raised all her life to be an Olympic gymnast, though it never really tells us why. We know that Hope is severely uneducated, to the point of being unable to do simple arithmetic or read well. She has literally no marketable skills and even fewer interpersonal abilities. In other words, Hope as an adult has very few options outside of the sport she can no longer do. It's not hard to see why she's bitter and angry and lashes out. It doesn't make her behavior okay, but it changes her from being just some bitch to being a rather tragic figure.

In contrast, Ben, the guy who owns the gym and who has a very sweet crush on Hope, is a much more well-rounded adult, probably because his gymnastics career never took off. He had skill, they point out, but he has an uncontrollable facial tic that would have cost him with the judges, so he never pursued it very far. Ben has gone to college and come home and worked several jobs and is a nice, pleasant man, if a little shy. He's had a normal life, and it's worked out well for him.

So clearly a lot of this movie is a tragicomedy about a woman whose future looks pretty damn bleak. But there's other stuff in here as well. There's a sweet love story between Hope and Ben, a hilarious rivalry between Hope and Lance, and a complex but intriguing relationship between Hope and Maggie. This, with Hope's ongoing sparring with her father, leads to a film that is less about the sport itself and more about the people who do it and the people who make it happen. It's a character piece, narrow in its focus and completely all about Hope, but that doesn't make it bad. It makes it brilliant.

The thing about Hope is that up until the last minute of the movie you really don't know which way she's going to go. You never actually know if she's going to sabotage Maggie or not, if she's going to go back to her old ways and keep trying to live off her old glory. It's brilliant because for all that we see Hope slowly changing, she's still clearly a conflicted figure, and that makes for great drama.

I won't spoil the ending (hell, I've only barely told you what happens up to the mid-point), but suffice to say that you will not see it coming. And not in some cheesy twist ending kind of way, just in a really well-written, obvious in retrospect but still gut-wrenching kind of way. You should probably go watch it so you know what I'm talking about.

Just. There's so much to unpack in this film and I've barely scratched the surface. There's an entire other article here on how Hope is a mentor to Maggie and how both of them share a mentor, Coach Pavleck, making this the rare film where there are three different all-female mentorship relationships and no one is related to anyone else. Which is just hella unusual. 

There's an article on Hope's view of sex and sexuality and how it was clearly warped by her status as a public figure at such a young age, and the way that some sports (like gymnastics) are sexualized to an uncomfortable degree even though the athletes are literally children.

There's a lot here, is what I'm saying. The Bronze might not be a movie for the faint of heart, but that doesn't mean it's a movie no one can love. Personally, I think it's brilliant. I really do. I think this movie should become a gold standard (heh) for complex representations of women in the media. It's a comedy, but it's also one of the most honest portraits of an unlikable person I've ever seen. The word "unflinching" comes to mind, and it's accurate as hell.

Before I go, I do just want to point out (completely as an aside, this has nothing to do with anything really) that this year seems to be one for very inventive sex scenes? Between The Bronze and Deadpool, I'm not sure who had the best/weirdest sex montage, but it's a pretty close call. Deadpool's was funnier, but The Bronze's was more athletic and involved a naked man using a naked woman as a pommel horse. So, you know, keep and eye out for that one. Is this the year of the super weird sex scene? We'll have to keep track.

Okay, but kidding aside, I do think this is a movie that will ultimately go down as a classic. It's an inherently feminist film, if for the simple fact that it reminds us that women are people too. Women are people, and that means that women are capable of just as much awfulness and pride and petty jealousy as men are. We're not angels. We're blood and flesh and bad decisions. Hope Ann Gregory isn't a nice person, but she is just that: a person. She's a woman who I feel confident really does exist, and there's nothing more feminist than admitting that, even if we would never ever want to meet her.

The Bronze is a reminder to get your heroes off that pedestal before they rot there, and I can definitely see their point.

*I'm seriously not kidding. If it is a movie about sports, chances are I have seen it and loved it even if I also think it is terrible. Stick It is amazing and I saw it like four times in theaters.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Think of the Children! Tuesday: 'Zootopia' Tackles White Feminism

At this point I think it's fair to admit that I have pretty low expectations for your average animated kids' movie. After about two years of covering children's media and analyzing its potential impact on actual children, I have to confess that I tend to dismiss big commercial animated films as probably garbage. Garbage unless proven otherwise. Time has made me cynical, for all that I try to keep my hopes up. So it was with some level of trepidation that I listened to all of the rave reviews coming out about Zootopia. It wasn't until my best friend told me it was amazing and I had to see it that I was finally able to shuck my skepticism and go see the freaking movie. I am very glad I did.

Because Zootopia? Is phenomenal. It's exactly the kind of movie I have so desperately wanted to see, the kind of big-budget, professionally done, fantastically written and directed and acted children's movie that I have been clamoring for in this column. So I would like to take a moment and apologize to all of you, chickadees, for resisting the goodness that is this film. Clearly I need to have a more open mind. I'm sorry.

Not only is Zootopia a really good film, it's also a film that does what I've wanted movies to do for ages: it addresses real social issues in a way that's accessible for children, without sacrificing tone or story. It's not a preachy movie, nor is it a film that detours out of its way to make some social point. Instead, it's a movie that is explicitly about the issues with institutional racism, and it's completely kid-friendly, palatable, and perfectly executed. 

And it's a Disney movie. I'm still getting over it.

So for those of you not sure if you would enjoy watching Zootopia or not, let me stop you right there. You will almost certainly like it. Seriously. It's funny and sweet and sensitive and a good rolicking mystery story. It's pretty much everything you could ask for or expect in a piece of cinema, and it has enough complexity that it officially qualifies as a "movie for everyone". You should definitely go see this movie.

And you should probably stop reading here too. Because this article is going to be rife with SPOILERS, and I want you to get the full experience before diving into the analysis.

Okay. We all good now? Everyone caught up and on board? Then let's talk about the brilliant way that Zootopia tackles institutional racism and how this can give us a roadmap to how other films can address big difficult issues in a way that children understand. Like how Maleficent gave children a vocabulary for talking about sexual assault in a PG way and how Inside Out gave children a way to discuss mental health without overcomplicating it. That. Zootopia does that, but with racism.

Obviously the plot of the movie is explicitly about racism. But if you dig the slightest bit further, the movie really works as a criticism of white feminism and a demand for intersectional representation. Here's how that works:

Our hero, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is our audience stand-in, but also clearly meant to be an analogy about your average white feminist. She's a determined young rabbit who wants to be a police officer even though no rabbit has ever been made a police officer before. And sure she's small and cute and not physically strong, but she's perfectly capable of figuring out work-arounds that get her through police academy and placed in Zootopia's central police department. Yay! 

This plot so clearly mimics the struggles of women who want to enter traditionally male fields - when Judy finally gets to her dream job, she finds that they don't even want her and don't believe in her, just like so many women who finally got to be police officers and firefighters and soldiers, only to have to keep fighting the institutional sexism in those places. Zootopia is right off the bat making it clear that this is a movie about overcoming the odds, that "anyone can be anything", and for Judy at least, that's completely true.

What makes the movie fantastic, though, is how it then takes that premise and takes it apart. Yes, Judy has managed to achieve her dream through determination and hard work. She's become a rabbit in a big animal's world. Good for her! But because she's reached her goals, she assumes that anyone can reach theirs, and she figures that anyone who then doesn't achieve their goals or who fails to live up to their potential must not be trying hard enough.

That's why her interaction with Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) is so important. When she meets Nick, Judy first assumes the worst, then kicks herself. She's not a racist person, even if her parents made sure she kept some "fox spray" to bring with her to work. She believes that any animal can be anything, right? Her aggressive kindness to Nick, then, comes off as completely condescending. 

She's being nice as hard as she can, but she's still a privileged member of the majority looking down on the failures of a minority man. And when she realizes that all the "respectability" she liked about Nick was an act, Judy is furious, angry that he "lied" to her. She feels betrayed, even though Nick really didn't even do anything that bad. He sold off-brand popsicles, that's all. So why does this make Judy so angry?

Because Judy likes the narrative in her head where she helped a nice respectable predator. It makes her feel good about herself and open-minded and liberal, but she's furious to realize she was taken advantage of. In this anger, her actual opinions of foxes come out, and they're not complimentary. 

So if you take the metaphor as given (and I think it's pretty dang intentional), this is like a white feminist trying to be an ally to a man of color and being pissed as hell when he turns out to not appreciate her condescending help. Ugh. This movie knows how to hit where it hurts.

The film then bounces between Judy and Nick's struggles, looking at how Judy desperately wants the police force to take her seriously and stop seeing her as a token diversity hire while Nick keeps hustling to make his way in the world, dealing with a Zootopia that doesn't want to see him as anything other than a shifty fox - certainly not as a potential employee or trustworthy friend. 

And while a little of the story in the film deals with Nick coming to appreciate and accept Judy, the majority of plot time is actually about Judy swallowing her gut reactions and actually listening to Nick as he explains the world he experiences. It's not until Judy finally lets Nick tell her his story that she is able to be a true ally - and she still screws it up sometimes.

It's so funny, because this feels like an inherently adult problem. I mean, what kind of kid is sitting around wondering if their feminism is intersectional enough?* Why do we need a children's film to examine these issues if they're really more suited to adult situations and decisions?

Well, because kids are people too and these aren't adult problems, they're human problems. See, one of the biggest points in the film is that both Judy and Nick have had their perspectives on the world shaped by formative childhood experiences. Judy remembers being humiliated and hurt by a fox, which instilled in her a dislike for predators and a belief that they're all just bullies who want to hurt the nice prey species. Nick's memory of being beat up by his scout troop because he wasn't "trustworthy" enough to be one of them, that he wasn't good enough, clearly has shaped how his life turned out. Both of their experiences were valid and unpleasant - but that doesn't mean that the results are okay. Kids can understand that.

Seriously, this movie is a master class in how to explain these complex issues in a way children will understand. When Judy finally falls into old stereotypes about how predators have a natural instinct to be feral and go savage, even the littlest children will be able to feel how betrayed Nick is - and that empathic response will easily translate into "don't say mean things about big groups of people because it will hurt their feelings." 

That might not sound like much, but it's the beginning of an assumption of empathy and friendship that can set the tone for a child to be more receptive to friends outside their culture, race, or linguistic group.

Even the little ways this movie manages to dig in on race are so freaking on point. The scene where Clawhauser has to move away from the reception desk because he's deemed to threatening is heartbreaking. The revelation that physical size means nothing in the face of anti-predator sentiment - as with people being afraid of the Otterton family - is hard to take. And the moment when Judy finally sees how her actions have hurt Zootopia is fantastically written. 

So, yes. This is a movie about white feminism and the need for intersectionality. I mean, yes, it's also a movie about racism, but it's a movie about how even the most well-intentioned people who believe they're overcoming the greatest obstacles of discrimination in their world can completely miss how their privilege gives them a leg up. 

The movie even doubles down by establishing that for all that Judy is a rabbit and not very respected, she's also from a solidly middle class family, while Nick's background is implicitly working class. He barely scrapes by, while she can always have a home and a job to go back to if things don't work out. It's a solid reminder that you cannot make assumptions about someone's background, because you just plain don't know.

As far as the worldbuilding of the film goes, I am genuinely quite impressed. This is a movie that thought through all of the aspects of its premise, from where the animals would all live to how a chipmunk and a giraffe could ride the same train to work. It's complex and beautiful and really well realized. The characters all look like real animals while still being expressive enough to read as emotive to a human audience, and it doesn't fall into the Blacksad trap of making the female animals look distressingly human.

Actually, I have to admit that one of my first thoughts when I came out of the theater was how this was the story that Blacksad was trying to be. Blacksad, as you may recall, is a French comic about a world of semi-anthropomorphic animals, and it's a noir mystery where the hero has to fight racism and badness and solve mysteries and stuff. One of the major plots in the comic deals with our hero, a black cat, fighting against a white supremacist group of animals. Well, Zootopia does racism in a way that is much more nuanced and understandable than what appears in Blacksad

The predator vs. prey distinction gives us a world where there is systemic racism and injustice, but where it's "acceptable" - sort of like how white Americans are conditioned not to care about violence in the predominantly non-white inner cities because "it's part of the inner city culture." Zootopia sees that attitude, rebrands it as "predators are just more inherently savage" and then rips it the hell to shreds. It's great.

Look, I know that billing a movie as a children's flick where the characters are discussing the implications of white feminism and intersectionality isn't the most appealing thing in the world. But please know that this is a fantastic conversation to have, and a timely one too. 

We all like to think of ourselves as good people, as the kind of people who are definitely not racist and who have liberal values and who never judge someone based on their appearance. We pretend we live in a world where "anyone can be anything." But that simply isn't true. No matter how hard you try to unpack your privilege and deprogram your internal racism and misogyny, there's always more work to be done. Not to say that you should give up and let the blackness swallow you, but to point out that this movie gets it right. Judy Hopps is a good person and a good cop, and she still screws the hell up.

If we really want to live in a world where anyone can be anything, then we can't pretend that systemic discrimination doesn't exist. We must instead admit that it does and attempt to dismantle it. We can only make the world a better place by understanding it as it truly is, even if that means admitting when we're the ones screwing it up. It's painful and uncomfortable and so so necessary.

Zootopia could have been a movie about a rabbit who hates foxes explicitly and has to learn not to be a racist, but it's much more powerful to make a movie about a rabbit who thinks she's already liberal coming to realize how much internalized crap she really has. And the movie then pivots to look at how the institutional and cultural biases against predators impact both predators and prey. Negative stereotypes force you into a hole then tell you that there's no point pretending you didn't deserve to be in that hole in the first place. Thank you Zootopia for pointing that out.

Ultimately, the message of this movie seems to simply be, "Try." And while it's a very catchy song, it's also a fantastic concept. Try. The world is an unpleasant, screwed up place where the best intentions can still devastate entire communities. Try to make it better. The world might not actually be capable of being better. Try anyway.

This is a movie that manages to capture the complexity of a fully formed analysis of race and gender in modern power structures, and that can still make kids walk out singing a super catchy song. If that's not solid filmmaking, I don't know what is.

*Mine, hopefully.