Reinventing The Science Babe

October 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

Feminism.

This controversial word, which essentially means that men and women should have equal rights, has so many connotations, and unfortunately most of them are negative. I’m a proud feminist, and even in 2015, it’s disconcerting for me to see so many stereotypical and often farcical portrayals of women.

I love J.J. Abrams and his rendition of Star Trek Into Darkness, but the only way he makes Alice Eve, who plays a brilliant science officer, memorable is through her unwarranted underwear scene, where she tantalizes the womanizing Kirk. In Jurassic World, a well-dressed Bryce Dallas Howard tackles dinosaurs without ditching her 3-inch stilettos. More power to her, right?

Throughout our class discussions, we’ve examined how science fiction mirrors societal realities, even if in a slightly exaggerated way. We’re all too familiar with the pusillanimous and over-sexualized female characters in By His Bootstraps, and Helen O’Loy. In her blogpost, Laura mentioned that such a negative portrayal of women pushes us to critically examine our society, and can be an impetus for future change. While some filmmakers clearly haven’t made any effort to empower women through their cinema, Alfonso Cuarón isn’t one of them.

Gravity, his path-breaking and mega successful space-survival movie, is one of the rare films that has a female-centric narrative. Much can be said about Gravity‘s achievements: its spectacular CGI, gripping narrative, and its depiction of a beautiful, yet terrifyingly empty space. But for me, its biggest achievement is giving us (forgive my language) a badass female scientist-heroine on whose shoulders the film rests.

Dr Ryan Stone is not your typical, one-dimensional science fiction heroine. An exceptional NASA bio-medical engineer, she breaks the glass (or should I say, space) ceiling, challenging gender conventions. But she’s not without flaws; she’s fiercely introverted, reserved, and a deep thinker. Well, that should should make her a boring heroine…where’s my playful and charming Kirk?!

Instead, these traits draw viewers to Dr Stone, whose ingenuity and perseverance make her an endearing protagonist. We see space (with all its scary debris) through her eyes. We feel her fears, her claustrophobia, her loneliness. She is vulnerable and above all, she is relatable. That’s what makes her one of the strongest female leads I have seen in recent times.

I also like how Cuarón subverts the idea of the quintessential arm candy in Gravity. For once, George Clooney seems superfluous. Yes, he’s charming and great to look at, but he felt unnecessary in Gravity, and I love how Cuarón reduces his primary male character to being a supporting and flirtatious character, only to kill him off in the end. Move aside George, this is Sandra’s film.

For once, the damsel in veritable distress doesn’t have to be rescued by a knight in shining armor. You can argue that George Clooney/ Matt Kowalski’s hallucination/ghost kind of helped, but it really was Dr Stone’s stoicism to overcome the numerous impediments in her return to Earth which saved her.

Cuarón’s representation of female scientists is also commendable. It’s 2015, but STEM fields still dissuade women because of the stereotypes associated with them. We need ambitious, successful, yet relatable women scientists such as Dr Stone, who can serve as role models to millions of young girls who enjoy science, but are hesitant to take it up professionally.

Having a female lead for a $100 million film gave Cuarón troubles with his producers who wanted a male protagonist (no, Clooney is not a protagonist), but the director’s determination and confidence in his self-beliefs made him stick to Sandra Bullock, and it paid off.

Sure, Sandra Bullock does meet society’s expectations of beauty. But that’s NOT the focus of Gravity. It’s her no-makeup, vulnerable, yet quietly determined countenance that captures the attention of the audience and the box office.

-dreamer2205/Aditi Thakur

(Extra blog post!)

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