*This post contains spoilers for Mad Max: Fury Road – read at your own discretion*
The newest addition to the classic Mad Max film series was released this past week garnering tons of critical acclaim as well as being praised up and down by viewers everywhere. Mad Max: Fury Road, directed by George Miller, has also received a bit of negative attention from a Men’s Rights website called Return of Kings. A writer on the website called for a mass boycott of Fury Road due to it being “a feminist piece of propaganda posing as a guy flick” which means it’s pushing the feminist agenda and apparently ruining lives or something. He states:
The real issue is not whether feminism has infiltrated and co-opted Hollywood, ruining nearly every potentially-good action flick with a forced female character or an unnecessary romance sub-plot to eek out that extra 3 million in female attendees.
And the real issue is not whether Hollywood has the audacity to remove the name sake of a movie franchise called MAD FREAKING MAX, and replace it with an impossible female character in an effort to kowtow to feminism.
It’s whether men in America and around the world are going to be duped by explosions, fire tornadoes, and desert raiders into seeing what is guaranteed to be nothing more than feminist propaganda, while at the same time being insulted AND tricked into viewing a piece of American culture ruined and rewritten right in front of their very eyes.
That’s right, here you have the facts: Mad Max: Fury Road not only has an “impossible” female character but it also dupes, insults and even tricks the men of the world into “viewing a piece of American culture ruined and rewritten” before their very eyes. Apparently action movies have been renamed “guy flicks” because they are for men and no one else. Well, I have some news for you MRAs: action movies aren’t yours, they belong to everyone. Contrary to the boycott, Fury Road has earned a 98% positive review score on Rotten Tomatoes and a critic score of 89 (alongside a user score of 9.1) on Metacritic. It also earned roughly $17 million on opening day, only being outdone by the all-female main cast of Pitch Perfect 2. So in reality, the boycott did nothing but cause the handful of men who supported it to miss out on a fantastic movie.
The founder of Return of Kings, a man who openly supports the legalization of rape, responded to Fury Road’s success by stating:
Even though we were incorrectly identified as a men’s rights site, the idea that Hollywood is spreading feminist propaganda has for the first time reached the ossified brains of over one million new people this week, perhaps more. Most of these individuals will never allow themselves to accept how unnatural and phony it is to have female heroes who are as strong as men, but a few of them will encounter another movie in the future that portrays women as so comically masculine that they can’t help but remember the site with the word Kings in the title that described that very phenomenon.
I think that statement says it all and honestly – it is pure insanity. Numbers aside, I’m sure everyone can attest to their Facebook and Twitter feeds being filled with an overwhelming amount of positive comments about Fury Road. I myself found it to be a great movie, but after watching it I was curious as to why these men have decided to boycott it at all. The female character they are mad about is not “impossible” or “comically masculine” and the feminist elements were pretty subtle, contextually. I found it to me less of a women’s rights propaganda movie and more a movie about men and women working together and being humans. I tend to doubt that as many people would be calling it a feminist movie without the publicity the men of Return of Kings have given it, given that it wasn’t initially intended to be a feminist film at all. To further analyze the movie, I’d like to talk about some of the more notable feminist elements to discern whether or not it’s truly a “piece of feminist propaganda” as opposed to an enjoyable action movie meant to be enjoyed by all genders – not just men.
The character that the men over at Return of Kings are hung up on is Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, who is a woman with a mission – to free the female sex slaves of a mad warlord. I suppose what these people are angry about is that she gets an equal (if not more) amount of screen-time as Max, played by Tom Hardy. She’s a character with agency and realness, if that makes her “impossible” then so be it but when compared to other action flicks she is probably the best portrayal of a legitimate female character to date. The women she saves, commonly referred to as “the wives”, are also characters of their own, all with unique personalities. These are feminist portrayals as these women are shown as real people, not a cog in the larger machine that attempts to appeal to straight men with a sexualized scripts, actions and general presentations – which is sadly the plight of most other action movie ladies. They aren’t “comically masculine” or unrealistic in any way which is just how it should be, women in film shouldn’t be viewed as something that is so far removed from men in film. At the end of the day, male or female, we are all people and that is a true feminist ideal.
The narrative of saving the wives is also something that can be considered a feminist plot mechanic. It’s made clear early on that these women are owned, they are property and they are slaves to a man who refers to them as his “breeders”. They weren’t treated well and they didn’t have the chance to truly have lives outside of conceiving and giving birth (two of them are pregnant during the escape). The fact that Furiosa wanted to provide them with a better life by bringing them to a place where they could be free shows that even in post-apocalyptic societies there are people with morals. My issue here, in relation to the boycott, is that if this is somehow negative, what do these men think of women in general? Feminist or not, most people wouldn’t agree to a person being the owner of sex slaves – regardless of gender that’s commonly known as something that is not okay. By stating that this is “feminist propaganda” in the most negative of ways and implying that this kind of feminism is ruining the film industry I can’t help but feel that they are agreeing with the opposite of what this narrative offers – they are agreeing with women being property. Given that the founder of the website promoting the boycott is someone who supports legalizing rape in the real world it’s not surprising, just continuously sickening.
In the movie we also see a small group of women who aren’t affiliated with the three major patriarchal groups (The Citadel, Gas Town, and the Bullet Farm). It’s a small band of women, both young and elderly, who live on their own and get by without outside help. They join up with Furiosa, the wives, Max and their newly acquired War Boy friend from the Citadel named Nux to return to Citadel and claim it for their own. Since the Citadel has fresh, non-irradiated water and the women have seeds for fruit trees, vegetables, etc. this plan is less of a “let’s get those dastardly men out because girl power” and more a “we can make life better for everyone and get rid of the warlord who treats everyone like garbage and owns sex slaves” type of thing. Since those boycotting the film refuse to see it and realize that the movie isn’t centered around some giant in-your-face feminist plot to destroy all men, we can’t expect them to ever see the reality of the situation. Though I like to image that some of these men ended up wearing a disguise and going to the theaters anyway – or maybe they all went to see Pitch Perfect 2 instead.
MRAs tend to despise female characters who aren’t metaphorically in the kitchen making sandwiches. Any women who has any kind of agency and can be just like anyone else without stereotypes or “oh no, I can’t do that because I’m a woman” sub-plots is someone who is unrealistic and therefore negative/the reason the film industry is awful. They don’t seem to want things to be how they currently are either, they want portrayals of women to be as far from equal as possible meaning that it should be even worse than how it currently is given the amount of equality progress made over the past few years. It’s sad that as soon as we get a character like Furiosa, who is a near-perfect representation of a genuine female character in an action movie, there is a call to boycott the film because apparently feminism ruins everything; which we see is untrue do to the overwhelming fan support of Furiosa and Fury Road as a whole. They see the plot and characters and their knee-jerk reaction is “damn you feminism!” simply because Max isn’t front and center 100% of the time. If a movie that features more than one main character which also has a substantial plot such as the one in Mad Max: Fury Road is wrong, then I don’t want it to be right. Luckily groups such as those behind Return of Kings are few and far between. Realistically, very few men actually vehemently support Men’s Rights Activism and even men who maintain a few ideals from MRA movements generally oppose this kind of outrageous behavior.
Mad Max: Fury Road is a great example of how to create an action movie with characters, a story and all the action sequences you could have ever dreamed of without being sexist or offensive to women. Being a fan of action films means that I am constantly being hit over the head with negative representations of women which makes watching some movies so difficult. Thankfully this is a film that everyone can enjoy without having to leave the theater with that odd stomach pain that is indicative of having to watch someone use your gender to vividly paint out every negative action film stereotype that typically befalls women. It’s an industry changer, one which hopefully paves the road for action films of the future. It’s an enjoyable movie for mature audiences (after all, it is rated R for good reason) of all genders and not just because of the feminist aspects but because it is simply well-written, well-directed and the acting is superb. At the end of the day it’s the MRAs who are boycotting the film who lose because they are the ones truly missing out on an amazing action experience.