Baby Driver: Sensational, Superb, Sexist?
This film is top class. Fast cars, Cornetto Trilogy-esque humour, brilliant music, John Hamm playing someone other than John Hamm, and even a short-lived cameo from Flea. The one thing it lacks, however, is a compelling female character...
With it’s explosive scenes, witty repartee, and revolutionary soundtrack, there’s no doubt that this new Edgar Wright flick is one of the best films released in theatres over the past few years. The movie centres around Baby (Ansel Elgort), a personal getaway driver for the Kingpin of the Atlanta underworld, Doc (Kevin Spacey), as he prepares for his ‘final job’ in order to keep his newfound love interest safe.
As the film unfolds, we learn of Baby’s tinnitus, which developed after a traumatic traffic collision that killed both his parents when he was 11 years old. this condition causes Baby to experience a loud, high pitched drone constantly, that can only be drowned out by loud, relentless, catchy tunes through his earphones.
Overall, this film is top class. It seems to have everything anybody would want from a high budget summer blockbuster; fast cars, Cornetto Trilogy-esque humour, brilliant music, John Hamm playing someone other than John Hamm, and even a short-lived cameo from Flea. The one thing it was lacking, however, was a compelling female character. In fact, not even that.
It was missing any conversations between female characters whatsoever. I’m going to be honest when I say that when this fact was first revealed to me, I scoffed.
I made excuse after excuse for why this was, as I wanted nothing to taint what I had believed just 20 seconds beforehand was the perfect movie. But after dwelling on it for a few hours, days even, I had to accept it. This is a huge flaw in the film. A huge flaw in the entire film industry even. And it isn’t spoken about nearly enough.
I think it’s very hard for any guy to notice this common theme in films, let alone accept that it’s a big issue, because it doesn’t have an effect on us. We have no real way of experiencing what a woman feels when she walks out of a cinema, totally unable to recall a single conversation between two characters of their gender that isn’t centred around another male character, and totally unable to relate to any of the characters they share a gender with due to every one of them being either a stereotype, or purely a bargaining chip for the development of a male character.
In order to gain a wider field of knowledge on this issue, I decided to do a little Q&A with the female companion I was with when watching Baby Driver, Jenny:
So firstly, what did you think of the film overall?
Stunning. It was very well done. You could see a lot of hard work had been put into it, and there was some stellar acting. Kevin Spacey was obviously a standout for me as a devoted watcher of HOC.
Do you think that the issue you pointed out initially takes away from the film’s value?
Well, yeah. But if I’m honest, its a very common thing, so I was still able to appreciate the film for being really rather excellent. It’s just one of those things where if it had passed the Bechdel Test, it would have been even more incredible.
I can still appreciate that it’s an incredible film though. Another culprit for this would have to be Kingsman: Secret Service. It’s an awesome film, and I can watch it again and again and love it each time, but there are literally about four named female characters.
I mean even the poster that I'm looking at on your bedroom wall in front of me contains three male characters, a dog, a drink, even a gun, but the only sign of anything remotely female is the arse of the villain’s sidekick.
What is this Bechdel test you just mentioned?
Well, originally it was a cartoon by a man named Bechdel, that includes two female characters discussing what they value in films.
And what are they discussing?
The overarching theme I guess is how well female characters are represented as human beings. For instance, do two female characters talk to each other (and are they even named?), about something that isn’t just a male character? So their hopes, their actions, their political beliefs, what they want for dinner. Cause, believe it or not, we don’t just talk about boys.
Do you think the film industry are doing all they can at the moment to better represent women?
Well evidently not (laughing). If even the best of films are still falling foul and getting through editing with nobody saying "Here’s an idea, why don’t we put some women in this,’ then it's obvious that they’re doing fuck-all really.
The studios have become far too concerned with pulling in the masses, and what works, works. Summer blockbusters never used to have women in them and they made lots of money, so what’s the point in changing the formula? IT'S ALL CAPITALISM’S FAULT!
The sad thing is really that you can see its not just people being horrible and misogynistic. You can see that a lot of directors obviously know that it is an issue, but the industry has become so obsessed with money that they can’t afford to push the boat out and change things up.
I mean, Edgar Wright himself acknowledged the issue in the most recent "Empire Film" podcast, and even apologised for the lack of women in Baby Driver to the listeners. Art, and by extension the medium of film, is made to change perceptions. So, arguably, it is the duty of cinema to address social inequalities, and not just reinforce what is ‘realistic’. Nothing ever changes if you don’t challenge it.
One excuse that I certainly used when we discussed this issue with Baby Driver, and one that certainly a lot of other people would use too is that surely the lack of women is just realistic, as in reality there are very few females in the crime-based underworld of places like Atlanta. Is this valid?
There a load of bits in the film that aren’t realistic, so hell no. For example, a mobster would have definitely killed a teenager who stole his car. The real world isn’t as forgiving as Mr. Spacey. In reality, waitresses in diners don’t just fall for any old Tom, Dick or Harry who can name a song with their name in it and agree to flee the country with them after three weeks.
In reality, if John Hamm was shot three times, he wouldn’t be able to get back up, steal a police car and last for thirty more minutes of the film. The film is fantastical, so why can’t the female involvement be fantastical too? To be fair, Michael Bay is a far bigger culprit than anyone else, cos I’ve heard him use that exact excuse in interviews, and his films are about giant robots disguised as cars so I don’t know who he’s trying to kid but himself.
So, James Bond. Is it time a woman took the mantle?
In my opinion, no. We can do far better than rehashing a role that’s been around for bloody decades. I can understand doctor Who, cos it’s meant to be a sort of fluid, outside of human boundaries kinda thing. But James Bond? It’s far too realistic and cemented in our perceptions of the real world. Here’s a groundbreaking idea: How about actually writing a good role for a woman instead of changing a male character into a female one.
If you want a female spy, write a fucking female spy! I’m all for female emancipation, but that doesn’t mean we need to start just taking male roles. James Bond as a character is physically very strong, mentally very strong, slightly deranged, troubled, completely in-touch with his own sexuality, and of course, I want a layered female character like that. So why can’t the studios write one? Why should we have to nab these characters from Daniel Craig?
So what films or TV Shows have you watched recently that do actually pass the Bechdel Test?
Well, I think one of the best films of all time, The Devil Wears Prada, has to be up there; a detailed and thrilling account of female ambition, that doesn’t just focus on the superficial aspect of the fashion industry. It’s about artistry, and how intense the world of journalism actually is, with a character who’s determined, confident in her own sexuality, and who goes through a huge learning curve that doesn’t involve wanting to have sex with a male character.
I guess Game of Thrones too, cos although a lot of it is sex and tits and all that, there are a lot of sexually confident characters who don’t just allow their lives to be controlled and determined by men. Oh, and Lilo and Stitch. Although there are male characters and implied relationships, the real focus is on sisterly love, and that emotional bond. It accurately represents a broken family, and in Lilo, examines what many people believe to be autistic traits and behaviour, which is rare for a female character in a film, let alone a kids’ film.