I’ve seen a few movies recently where Hollywood has tried to fight the good fight.
And utterly missed the mark.
I love fiction and I especially love fiction that has a solid theme. A story should be about more than a bunch of stuff happening. It should transcend the plot and characters to touch on something universally human.
If you want your story to have ‘a message’, then you need to know two things:
What the problem is.
What the solution is.
In a few recent movies, Hollywood has known exactly what the problem is: ~toooxic masculiiiiinity~. I can just imagine those noble movie execs shaking their fists at how people misuse power and don’t respect each other.
Hence Birds of Prey and Gunpowder Milkshake and probably dozens of other movies on this theme.
These movies aren’t subtle. They’re going right at the problem. They divide the characters on gender lines, with women being the heroes and men being the villains.
The men are villains because they’re just so dang toxic. They enjoy violence, they’re reactive, they lack impulse control and they use their power to terrify, crush and kill people.
In these movies, the female heroes defeat these wicked men by… uh… being violent and reactive… and lacking impulse control… and using power to terrify, crush and… kill people…
Damn, that’s awkward.
Hollywood has a strong stance on toxic masculinity:
It’s great when women do it.
This doesn’t have to be hard. Here’s how you tell a story with this theme:
The villain is bad. They do bad things.
The hero is… wait for it… the opposite. Rather than being better at doing bad things, they do good things.
While the villain enjoys violence, the hero (of any gender) is capable of violence but knows it has its limits. The hero knows that relying on violence is a weakness that will get you killed.
While the villain is reactive, tearing out the throats of anyone who slights them, the hero is stoic and above such petty concerns.
Whenever the villain gives into their darker impulses, we see the hero being calm, methodical and rational.
As the villain goes around instilling fear and hatred, the hero lifts people up, inspiring faith and loyalty.
Such a hero demonstrates virtuous masculinity – which is the best way to beat the weaker versions of masculinity.
“LOL William, way to read way too much into things. Gunpowder Milkshake doesn’t have a message! It’s just a story of two groups of psychopaths shooting each other!”
Pretty weird coincidence for those two groups to split on gender lines then.
Also, the bad guy is a man who says he’s a feminist, then says he loves his son more than daughters. It wasn’t even subtle.
Besides, if that’s true, then the movie has no heroes. Or anti-heroes. Or villains. Just a swarm of emotionally weak lunatics hacking at each other. That would make it awful by design, rather than being mediocre by accident.
But hey, at least the visuals were excellent.
Lest you accuse me of hating any movie with a whiff of feminism, I loved the way Black Widow handled it. That was a cleaner metaphor for a terrible issue women face. I mean, the bad guy abducted young women and forced them to work for him. I’ll let you draw your own parallels to real-world situations.
The bad guy was a nasty piece of work.
Natasha didn’t beat him by being better at the nastiness. Rather than beat everyone to a pulp, she refrained from violence when that was the right choice. She was proactive, she put the mission above her feelings and she cultivated loyalty in her team.
She demonstrated how virtuous masculinity is powerful enough to defeat weak tyrants who rely on fear and authority.
Now, that’s the message you want your story to have.
Anyway, I could talk for hours about virtuous and toxic femininity and masculinity.
And maybe I will, later.
The point is you can do better by being better.
You can use your light to drive out the darkness.
Let your light shine brighter here: