If you haven’t seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet, you’ve probably heard that it’s a nonstop car chase with with feminist overtones. That’s a pretty accurate description. This movie is amazing, not just visually with it’s practical effects and beautiful landscapes, but also for the way it portrays its female characters. Fury Road is not about Max—Tom Hardy—the titular character of the franchise. Instead, it follows the story of Imperator Furiosa—Charlize Theron—the female road warrior in every way Max’s equal. Furiosa is a force to be reckoned with as she stops at nothing to return to the Green Place, her childhood home, and to liberate the “wives” of Immortan Joe, the deformed villain of the film. She is determined, and fierce, and capable, and caring, and so complex that it’s a privilege to watch Charlize Theron bring her to life on the big screen. This movie is all about Furiosa; Mad Max simply wandered into her story.
But Furiosa isn’t the only female character in the film. Amazingly, there are over 15 female characters with actual names and multiple lines. The Wives—the Splendid Angharad, Toast the Knowing, Cheedo the Fragile, Capable, and the Dag—were not just props or baggage that Furiosa carried from one place to the next, they all had a purpose and a unique personality to match. Splendid, the pregnant leader of the Wives, came up with the mantra “We are not things” and taught the girls that they deserve to be free. Toast isn’t ruffled by the violence and reloads guns and counts bullets when she needs to. Capable is able to reawaken the humanity in the broken Warboy, Nux. The Dag befriends one of the Vulvani, a motorgang of older women, and becomes the keeper of a bag full of seeds. Even Cheedo, depicted as a scared child at first, willing to return to the arms of Immortan Joe to avoid all of the danger, tricks Rictus, Joe’s son, into taking her back only to turn around to help Furiosa destroy Joe once and for all. The Vulvani, lead by Valkyrie, are the last survivors of the Green Place and the remaining Many Mothers. However, they aren’t afraid to kill any man they come across to protect their own. In an interview, Australian actress Melissa Jaffer, aged 78, said that she and the other woman in the all-women motorcycle gang jumped at the chance to play these characters and did all their own stunts. In one shot, every person within the frame was a woman with a speaking role. Fifteen women were onscreen at the same time, talking and taking control of their future. Sitting in the theater, I was taken aback. It didn’t seem real that this many strong women could be onscreen at the same time. This shouldn’t be surprising; multiple women in movies should be the norm. In the action genre, though, women are severely under represented.
The superhero genre, for example, has come under fire for failing to represent the other fifty percent of its audience. The 2012 Avengers movie was a sausage fest with Black Widow as the only female superhero in the line up. This year’s Avengers movie was not much better, only adding Scarlet Witch after completely whitewashing hers and her brother’s character. With the only two female superheroes in the MCU completely absent from most merchandise, plus only one future solo movie for Captain Marvel in the works, the superhero genre hasn’t had the best track record with women. DC is faring only marginally better with their solo Wonder Woman movie, diverse cast for Suicide Squad, and the upcoming Supergirl TV show. Film executives and producers believe that it’s too hard to write female action flicks, that they won’t sell, even though Taylor Swift just produced her own music video to her song Bad Blood which features a score of famous women, acting as assassins while still using stereotypical feminine items like stilettos and lipstick, that weren’t sexualized in the slightest. The Bad Blood music video currently holds Vevo’s record for most views on YouTube. On your left, Marvel.
Despite the taboo on women in the action genre, director George Miller still managed to produce a fairly feminist, incredibly enjoyable movie about women rescuing women from sexual slavery. Even though one of the major plot points of the film was that Immortan Joe owned and repeatedly raped his “wives” for offspring for his empire, there were no rape scenes, no sex scenes at all. Miller had even invited Eve Ensler to be a consultant on set because she works with abused women in real life. The fact that Miller cared enough about the plight of his characters that he wanted his actresses to be able to express it accurately is the mark of a good director. A rated-R major Hollywood blockbuster managed to respectfully depict the struggle of sex slaves without showing them actually being sexually abused, unlike some other major televisions shows that tend to use rape scenes as a shock factor. (Looking at you, Game of Thrones.)
If you were still on the fence about seeing the film, you should know that Fury Road made a bunch of Men’s Rights Activists angry because it “tricked” them into seeing feminist film when the thought that they were going to see cars blow up. Aaron Clarey, a writer for the MRA blog Return of the Kings, warns that “if [men] sheepishly attend and Fury Road is a blockbuster, then you, me, and all the other men (and real women) in the world will never be able to see a real action movie ever again that doesn’t contain some damn political lecture or moray about feminism, SJW-ing, and socialism.” Because it’s not like action movies have ever had hidden messages and agendas to point out the problems in the world while also making it palatable for the masses. The Matrix, Avatar, Robocop, the Hunger Games, and other famous action movies definitely do not have any underlying messages about classism, racism, environmentalism, and war. Not at all. For some reason, people still believe that media exists and is created in a vacuum, that it does not reflect or affect the society we live in. Feminism and exploding cars are not mutually exclusive, as George Miller shows us in Fury Road, but to the MRA’s it is. For some reason, they are against the liberation of sex slaves and Charlize Theron beating the snot out of Tom Hardy while also driving a massive war-rig—to each their own, I guess.
There’s so many other things I could say about this film. I could talk about the toxicity of the patriarchy, how when the matriarchy triumphs, so does equality and a peaceful society, how the humanity between strangers is really what saves the day. I could talk about how Max literally washes away the blood of his enemies away with Mother’s Milk and how, when treated like a human being, he gains his voice. I could also talk about how Furiosa is a disabled woman, with a prosthetic left arm, but that didn’t define her and she still kicked butt because of it and despite of it. There are so many points to talk about this movie besides the political, like the practical effects, the guitarist with the flame throwing guitar, or how there were only about six pages of actual dialogue. Go see the movie if you like nonstop action and adrenaline inducing car chases. Go see the movie if you are a feminist and want to see Charlize Theron overthrow the patriarchy. I can guarantee that you will leave the theater thinking in all caps like Spencer Hall over at SB Nation did in his review of the movie. Go support this movie and show Hollywood that women can and should lead blockbusters.
This article was written by Halley Dewey, a writer for dusk magazine.