Tag Archives: Birds of Prey

New Shows + Movies by Women — August 21, 2020

Of the 10 entries this week, seven come from Netflix. Most weeks aren’t that exaggerated, but as I’ve done this the last several months, Netflix has tended to come up more than any other single service or distributor.

Obviously, a number of factors could influence this – they have the most new original and acquired programming of any streaming service, regularly outpacing their competitors in terms of sheer output. I feel confident in saying Netflix has put out the most projects directed or showrun by women these last several months. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve had the highest ratio.

It also runs into the boundaries of a weekly feature like this. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not covering reality TV or kids shows. That may change how much content is being overseen by women. As “Unreal” once so deftly addressed through Constance Zimmer’s Quinn, women have an extremely difficult time breaking out of reality TV showrunning and into narrative projects in an industry that’s still extremely misogynist.

Is Netflix doing the best job? I don’t know, but they are who I’m seeing the most in researching this feature. Is it a good enough job? Still probably not – the majority of projects are still overseen by men. You can recognize that Netflix has made what seems like a dedicated push, and still recognize there’s a lot further to go.

SERIES

Lovecraft Country (HBO)
showrunner Misha Green

“Lovecraft Country” looks exceptional. It follows three Black characters in the 1950s as they search for the protagonist’s father amid rampant racism and Lovecraftian mysteries and monsters. It’s based on a book that tells eight stories weaving in and out of each other.

Showrunner Misha Green co-created the show with Jordan Peele. She started as a staff writer on “Sons of Anarchy” and writer on “Heroes”, and has more recently written and produced on “Helix” and “Underground”.

You can watch “Lovecraft Country” on HBO.

Teenage Bounty Hunters (Netflix)
showrunner Kathleen Jordan

Two 16 year olds essentially become bounty hunters while navigating the social pitfalls of high school. Played straight, I’d have a lot of questions, but as a comedy it has potential. Obviously, it’s a touchy time for a show about two white women taking on bounty work. Hopefully, this is acknowledged and addressed in some way.

Early reviews have been good, and it brings a segment of Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” and “GLOW” team over, so it has the behind-the-camera talent to excel.

Showrunner Kathleen Jordan created the show. She’s a fairly new name, having written on “American Princess” and served in a number of segment producer and associate producer roles.

You can watch “Teenage Bounty Hunters” on Netflix.

Hoops (Netflix)
showrunners Jeny Batten, M. Dickson

The central figure of “Hoops” is Coach Ben Hopkins. He dreams of coaching in the NBA, but can’t even get the high school team he coaches to win. He’s constantly on the verge of being fired because…well, if you watch the trailer, you can hear why.

Showrunners Jeny Batten and M. Dickson have both produced for another Netflix animation, “Disenchantment”. They’ve worked together on a few shows, including “Superstore” and “Instant Mom”.

You can watch “Hoops” on Netflix.

MOVIES

Birds of Prey (HBO)
directed by Cathy Yan

“Birds of Prey” may be the most underrated film this year. It’s easily the best entry in the DC Extended Universe, and might be the best superhero movie in the last decade. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is that rare, generational action comedy performance that gets into Johnny Depp-as-Jack Sparrow territory. It’s subversive, it has a point to make, it brings the big “Tank Girl” energy that a character like Harley Quinn demands, the fight scenes are incredibly varied and creative, its unreliable narrator is psychologically complex, and the directing manages to be both confrontational and fun.

“Birds of Prey” is lightning in a bottle. Its go-for-broke attitude is something that increasingly complex extended universes and their checklists of fan service homework have tended to forget recently. It’s one of the best films of the year, and you should just see it.

Read my review of “Birds of Prey” if you still haven’t decided.

You can watch “Birds of Prey” on HBO, or see where to rent it streaming right here.

International Falls (Showtime)
directed by Amber McGinnis

Dee lives in a small, northern town. She wants to be a stand-up comic. She works at a hotel, where a self-described mediocre comedian stays. The two connect, discussing her dreams of stand-up and his disillusion with it.

Director Amber McGinnis has a background in helming interactive movies. Some have been about foreclosure education, some have been instructional videos for the Army. It’s usually not the path one takes toward an indie comedy, so it’s an interesting background to see.

You can watch “International Falls” on Showtime.

Crazy Awesome Teachers (Netflix)
directed by Sammaria Simanjuntak

A down-on-his-luck substitute teacher essentially fakes his way into the job. He resents it until the teachers’ salaries and his own father’s retirement payout are robbed by a local gang. He leads a group of teachers who decide to steal the money back in an elaborate heist.

I can’t find an English trailer, something many streaming services can forget to put on YouTube despite making them, but the Indonesian comedy should be available with English options.

“Crazy Awesome Teachers”, or “Guru-Guru Gokil”, is directed by Sammaria Simanjuntak. It’s her fourth narrative feature. It’s also co-written by Dian Sastrowardoyo, the Indonesian actress’s first screenwriting credit.

You can watch “Crazy Awesome Teachers” on Netflix.

The Sleepover (Netflix)
directed by Trish Sie

“The Sleepover” looks like it’s taking the baton from the defunct “Spy Kids”. The nice thing about family films like this is that there’s usually enough for adults to feel invested, too.

You might not know director Trish Sie’s name, but she’s done as much to change music videos in the last 15 years as any director, and she’s done so in only a few attempts. She’s largely responsible for OK Go’s unique aesthetic of eyecatching, lo-fi, DIY visual concepts.

What first truly caught the zeitgeist was her treadmill hopping one-shot of “Here It Goes Again”. Her zero-G one-shot “Upside Down and Inside Out” is…I mean, just watch it, it’s one of the most jaw dropping music videos ever made. Trish Sie should just be enabled to make whatever the hell she wants at this point.

You can watch “The Sleepover” on Netflix.

Good Kisser (Netflix)
directed by Wendy Jo Carlton

“Good Kisser” is about two women in a relationship who decide to invite a third to join them. What they don’t expect is that it forces them to examine their fractures and dissatisfaction as partners.

Wendy Jo Carlton has made a number of dramatic comedies centering on same sex partners, starting with 2004’s “Brushfires” and continuing through “Hannah Free” and “Jamie and Jessie are Not Together”.

You can watch “Good Kisser” on Netflix, or see where to rent it streaming right here.

DOCUMENTARIES

Islands of Faith (Netflix documentary)
directed by Chairun Nissa

“Islands of Faith” examines how seven different communities in Indonesia are addressing climate change, and how these efforts intersect with faith and culture.

This is director Chairun Nissa’s second feature. Her first was “Cut”, covering how Indonesian films must face censorship before public release. Many are rejected for non-specific reasons and never see the light of day.

You can watch “Islands of Faith” on Netflix.

High Score (Netflix docu-series)
showrunner Melissa Wood

“High Score” covers the history of various older video games. What’s remarkable about this age is that we can still directly interview many of the people involved in the birth of an entire medium. We can’t still interview the first people who put words to page or the first filmmakers. We still have access to many of the first game developers.

One thing that “High Score” reveals is just how much diversity is hidden in the history of video games. Developers are often fairly faceless when compared with authors and filmmakers. There was a brief period in the late 90s/early 00s of rock star developers (such as Cliff Bleszinski and John Romero). This passed with AAA game studios treating developers as increasingly replaceable, developer figureheads turning into publisher figureheads (such as Gabe Newell and Todd Howard), and gaming communities becoming more segmented across a variety of indie developers.

There are good and bad aspects of this, but it means that most video game audiences don’t have a ton of access to knowledge about the history of the medium and the storytelling lessons that history can teach us. The point is, that history is often assumed to be largely male, straight, and white. It isn’t, and “High Score” shows at least some of this when talking about classic games.

Showrunner Melissa Wood is an experienced series producer who’s worked across documentary and reality TV.

You can watch “High Score” on Netflix.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

New Movies + Shows by Women — April 10, 2020

The big hitters are coming up dry this week. New originals on Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are pretty spare. Only biohorror movie “Little Joe” arrives as part of an already-paid subscription. That said, there are some interesting films when it comes to low- and mid-budget arrivals for digital rental. I want to start by featuring a film I’ve already championed pretty strongly on this site.

Birds of Prey (digital rental)
directed by Cathy Yan

The Harley Quinn supervillain movie was rentable two weeks ago if you were willing to pay $20. Now it’s a much more affordable $6 to digitally rent. I’ve hailed the movie as a film I expect to still be talking about at the end of the year. It’s bluntly subversive, funny, and phenomenally well told as both a traditional narrative and a meta-version. The fight choreography is exceptional, the set design is superb, and Margot Robbie’s Quinn stands out as a generationally good action-comedy performance.

Check out my spoiler-free review. If you’re interested in why “Birds of Prey” was described as a box office failure while similarly budgeted and performing films directed by men were described as successes, I wrote about that here (I mean, the answer’s in the sentence, it’s because they were directed by men, but the link has stats and stats are fun!) If you’ve seen “Birds of Prey” and want to read criticism by women about the film’s meaning and production, I compiled a few articles right here.

“Birds of Prey” is rentable for $6 through Amazon, Fandango Now, GooglePlay, iTunes, and Vudu. I highly recommend it, especially if you need something to escape into for 2 hours that’s still going to respect your anger at the state of the world.

Little Joe (Hulu)
directed by Jessica Hausner

Australian writer-director Jessica Hausner has directed a number of off-kilter films about personal obsessions and emotional compulsions. “Little Joe” is a film built around a houseplant engineered to make you happy…but it might not be doing that right. The concept is simple, but plays to all of Hausner’s strengths.

I appreciate that more films are moving into brightly lit horror. It feels more reflective and applicable for modern sensibilities. We’re still scared by what could jump out of the shadows, but we also live with overwhelming and obvious fears that threaten to become normalized every day. It feels like a needed trend in horror.

You can see this free with a Hulu subscription, rent it for $4 from Amazon or Vudu, or for $5 from GooglePlay or YouTube.

Stray Dolls (digital rental)
directed by Sonejuhi Sinha

Writer-director Sonejuhi Sinha is a relatively new voice. “Stray Dolls” fuses immigrant experience to crime thriller, with a protagonist who leaves India only to find abuse and corruption in the U.S. What follows is a story about two women trying to break free of a cycle of escalating violence.

You can rent it for $4 through Redbox on Demand, or $5 through Amazon or FandangoNow.

Sea Fever (digital rental)
directed by Neasa Hardiman

Escape from feeling trapped by quarantines with this horror movie about a group of people trapped on a boat and having to quarantine themselves. It’s strange the way that horror reflective of a horror we’re going through is appealing. There’s probably a German word for that, but I’ve got to say Neasa Hardiman’s “Sea Fever” looks pretty good.

The Irish writer-director has a long history in TV, with her most recent work as a director on Netflix’s sadly defunct “Jessica Jones”. While the trailer for “Sea Fever” looks action packed, it’s been described as more of a slow burn exercise in building tension.

You can rent this from Amazon, Fandango Now, Redbox on Demand, or Vudu for $7.

The Lost Husband (digital rental)
directed by Vicky Wight

Then again, maybe quarantine at sea isn’t your thing. Maybe a woman going through a process of self-discovery and being rewarded with Josh Duhamel as a hot farmer (there’s probably a German word for that, too) – maybe that’s your thing.

Yes, this looks like a totally predictable Hallmark-style movie, but there’s a place for the things that are predictable and enjoyable in all our lives. For me, it’s Irish sea quarantine movies with glowy infecto-tentacles. For someone else, it’s two attractive people with completely opposite backgrounds gradually falling in love amidst relaxing scenery. Neither’s better nor worse as a form of escapism, and these days…the relaxing scenery’s sounding better and better.

You can rent “The Lost Husband” from Amazon or Redbox on Demand for $6.

Take a look at new movies and shows by women from past weeks.

If you enjoy what you read on this site, consider subscribing to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

New Movies by Women — March 27, 2020

There’s an incredible number of new films and shows by women, so I’ll skip the preamble. Let’s just dive in:

NEW RELEASES

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Hulu)
directed by Celine Sciamma

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire” did get a limited theatrical release, but coronavirus has scrambled what a lot of these categories (new vs. recent release) mean. It was still expanding in theaters when the pandemic started shutting them down, and it’s a film from arguably the world’s best active director, so it’s going up top.

Celine Sciamma delivers masterpieces. There’s no other way of putting it. I highlighted her film “Girlhood” as my third best film of the 2010s. Her films often address characters who are non-binary or gender-fluid. She’s a director who can deftly fold touches of magical realism into scenes in ways that feel so real and natural we don’t even think to question what just happened.

Her films have heightened senses, storytelling patience, and themes that constantly show themselves rather than being told to you.

Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution (Netflix documentary)
c
o-directed by James Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham

Camp Jened was a summer camp for teens with disabilities. Many who attended the camp later took part in the disability rights movement that revolutionized accessibility laws. For many, the camp offered a space where everyone saw them as people. Society was essentially legislated to discourage this. When those who attended the camp returned, they didn’t shrink from the moment. They saw a need to change that legislation rather than fit back into it.

For films that are co-directed by women, I’ve been including their names in describing the film and not really worrying about the men. That is, after all, what this feature is about. James LeBrecht is a lifelong disability activist who’s fought for his own and others’ rights as someone with spina bifida. Representation matters and a core part of why I’m writing this is that people telling their stories through their perspective – and widening our own – matters. It seems unthinkable in this case to not include his name as well, and to do so in the order prescribed by the film.

“Crip Camp” is Lebrecht’s directorial debut. He’s worked for the past 30 years as a sound editor and mixer, often on PBS and independent documentaries. Nicole Newnham has been nominated for five Emmy Awards and won one on her documentary work. “Crip Camp” was the winner of the Documentary Audience Award at Sundance this year.

Clemency (digital rental)
directed by Chinonye Chukwu

“Clemency” won director Chinonye Chukwu the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. She was the first Black woman director to win it. It earned her film an extremely limited expansion into theaters in January, competing with almost no advertising against other Oscar hopefuls that had studio-backed awards campaigns. Needless to say, it disappeared. No one knew about it.

In the film, Alfre Woodard plays a prison warden wrestling over the execution of one more inmate. The film itself seems to examine the social and racial implications of what she does, while allowing Woodard the room to play a character losing her own humanity.

“Clemency” is available for rental through Amazon, GooglePlay, Vudu, and YouTube.

Birds of Prey (digital purchase)
directed by Cathy Yan

I’ve pretty solidly raved about “Birds of Prey” since it came out. The super-antihero story follows Batman villain Harley Quinn, but that doesn’t begin to describe it. “Birds of Prey” is easily the best film in the DC Extended Universe, and it stands toe-to-toe with the very best of Marvel. When I compiled a collection of criticism from women on the film, I wrote:

“This is a film with a generationally good action-comedy performance in Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. It has award-worthy design. The direction is wildly assured and draws from a shockingly large range of influences to create something unique and precise. Its scenes are often thickly layered with dueling perspectives even as Quinn’s own storytelling drives the plot. It’s subversive in a blunt, forward, and challenging way that’s needed.”

“Birds of Prey” is a movie I fully expect to include when talking about the best films, performances, and design at the end of the year. You can check out my spoiler-free review for “Birds of Prey” as well.

Currently, you can only buy the film digitally. The price will be $20 for the next two weeks until it becomes rentable (and it’ll probably be top of this run-down when that happens.) You can purchase it through Amazon, Comcast, Google Play, Vudu, or YouTube.

Unorthodox (Netflix miniseries)
directed by Maria Schrader

This four-episode series follows a Jewish woman who escapes an arranged marriage and her Orthodox lifestyle in Brooklyn. It’s based on the autobiography of Deborah Feldman, “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots”. The show is told in multiple languages (with subtitles, of course), switching between English, Yiddish, and German.

Showrunner and director Maria Schrader started as an actress in Germany and shifted over to writing in the late 80s and directing starting in the late 90s. Between the German Film Critics Association and the German Film Awards, she’s been nominated as all three – actress, writer, and director.

Cunningham (digital rental documentary)
directed by Alla Kovgan

Merce Cunningham was a dancer and choreographer who changed the face of dance. He was known for a guarded artistic philosophy that entrusted interpretation to his audience. He worked with an unending number of avant garde and experimental musicians – perhaps most notably John Cage. The two were also lifelong romantic partners.

Cunningham had no single focus, but what might be most striking was his use of space. Dancers weren’t foregrounded, and his pieces often challenged the idea of a central performer. He removed focal points, encouraging the audience to choose where to look among multiple performers and to have various, sometimes disagreeing, perspectives. He pursued elements of the random in his work. True to his priorities, Alla Kovgan’s documentary of him seems more focused on Cunningham’s dance and choreography than it is on his own story.

Kovgan herself is a fascinating documentary director. She’s pursued stories of dance and music around the world. She’s been particularly focused on how myth survives cultural upheavals through art, and how that art enables an endurance through those upheavals. Her lens tends to focus on dance, but speaks to all art and what it provides us in terms of perseverance and persistence.

“Cunningham” is currently available for rent through Comcast, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube. Vudu is the least expensive at a $4 rental.

Shooting the Mafia (digital rental documentary)
directed by Kim Longinotto

CW: images of murder victims

Letizia Battaglia is a testament to the power of journalism. The photographer worked for L’Ora, a newspaper in Palermo that covered a brutal and bloody Mafia war that spilled into the streets. The result victimized and traumatized the residents, and Battaglia was there to record every moment of it despite the risk to her life. Her work was instrumental in the popular uprising against the violence that followed, and her photographic records contributed to the prosecution of seven-time Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti. While that prosecution failed, the information it revealed contributed to a change in national politics.

Director Kim Longinotto is a British documentary filmmaker whose verite-centered approach often examines the blending of personal lives into larger, more socially encompassing stands. “Salma” follows a Muslim woman who smuggled poetry to the world while imprisoned by her family. “Divorce Iranian Style” follows three couples in Iran who navigate religious law in a court system, and pays particular attention to how differently women are treated from men. “Shinjuku Boys” follows the lives of three transgender men in 1990s Japan. “Dreamcatcher” explores women leaving the Chicago sex industry.

“Shooting the Mafia” is available to rent from Google Play and YouTube.

There’s Something in the Water (Netflix documentary)
co-directed by Ellen Page

Actress Ellen Page has been increasingly involved on the production side of filmmaking. “There’s Something in the Water” is her directorial debut. The film focuses on environmental racism in Canada and its impact on marginalized communities.

The documentary examines elevated rates of illness in Black Canadian and First Nations communities in Nova Scotia. Contaminated water there has been connected to elevated cancer rates in these communities, and water pollution impacts the health, economy, and quality of life for the Mi’kmaw. Various levels of the Canadian government have been slow to address or even recognize the situation.

Tape (digital rental)
directed by Deborah Kampmeier

“Tape” is a low-budget drama centered around the abusive power dynamic between an aspiring actress and the man who tells her he can make her into a star. There’s very little information on it, and early reviews are divisive – and perhaps not the way you’d expect. Several male reviewers have praised it as being a rallying cry for women against harassment, while women reviewers have given it its most negative reviews. The L.A. Times review by Kimber Myers calls it “disingenuous” and “clumsy”, and Jeannette Catsoulis of the New York Times criticizes the environment of harassment Kampmeier creates as “cliched”.

Catsoulis also calls to mind one of Kampmeier’s previous films in questioning the director’s portrayals of sexual abuse in “Tape”. Kampmeier directed “Hounddog”, a 2007 movie that included a rape scene of a character played by then-13 year old Dakota Fanning. The specific criticism centered not in a topic like that being portrayed, but instead on whether the way it was portrayed was exploitative. Similar criticisms seem to be meeting the subjects being engaged in “Tape”.

It’s not mine to make a judgment on as I haven’t seen either film. I do think it’s important in this case to convey what women film critics are saying in relation to “Tape”.

RECENT RELEASES

Blow the Man Down (Amazon Prime)
directed by Bridget Savage Cole, Danielle Krudy

“Blow the Man Down” looks like the kind of dark, quirky independent film I love. In a strange way, trailers and films like this bring me back to the best indie filmmaking of the 00s. There’s not a lot of information out about “Blow the Man Down” yet, but it boasts a quietly impressive cast that includes Margo Martindale (“Justified”), Annette O’Toole (“Smallville”), and Gayle Rankin (“GLOW”).

Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker (Netflix limited series)
directed by DeMane Davis and Kasi Lemmons

We learn all about the Rockefellers and Carnegies in school. We’re taught they built this country up, and this perspective reinforces ideas of capitalism and millionaires having our backs that just aren’t true. It also overlooks the countless people of color who did so much of the actual building.

There aren’t enough celebratory movies about the creativity, ambition, and success of Black people. There’s just as long and impressive a history, but our culture doesn’t value it. That in turn teaches us not to value it. I’m looking forward to this 4-episode limited series because these stories need to be told. Octavia Spencer stars as Madam C.J. Walker and frankly, I have no idea how she’s still so underrated at this point in her career. Tiffany Haddish and Carmen Ejogo join her. The film’s based on the biography of Walker written by A’Lelia Bundles.

Emma. (digital rental)
directed by Autumn de Wilde

Universal is making their new films available to rent digitally because of the coronavirus pandemic. This includes Amazon Video (as a separate rental, not included with the price of Amazon’s streaming service), iTunes, and Vudu, among others.

From my review for “Emma”: “The design in ‘Emma’ is a living, breathing thing. It’s constantly guiding the audience through the film. It doesn’t just accentuate the comedy, it often causes it. It subverts the characters even as they admire it. It undermines when it needs to and it gives support when no other element of the story – least of all its characters – will. This isn’t just a film that’s a successful exercise in design (not that there’s anything wrong with that). This is a film that tells a story through the participation of its design. The design isn’t only accentuating or shaping a moment, it’s not only elevating a mood, it’s not only there to elicit emotional reactions. It’s here to tell the story itself. That’s what makes ‘Emma’ so good and so unique.”

At $20 for a 48-hour rental, this is expensive if you’re living on your own. At the equivalent of two movie tickets, though, it makes some sense as the price for a new film that would’ve otherwise stayed solely in its theatrical run for weeks.

Feel Good (Netflix series)
showrunner Ally Pankiw

Charlotte Ritchie is the kind of actor who can make you a fan in one sitting. In my case, she acted as the core of a “Doctor Who” New Years episode called “Resolution”. Sometimes it’s lightning in a bottle and you never hear from that actor again. Sometimes, they turn up unexpectedly in something you’re already looking forward to.

Why was I already looking forward to this? Showrunner and director Ally Pankiw. She’s been an up-and-coming voice in music videos. Check out CYN’s “Holy Roller” to see the amount of visual confidence she brings as a director.

The core of the series is co-writer and lead Mae Martin, who is the voice in this that I know the least about. She’s had a good deal of success in Britain and has won two Canadian Screen Awards (the equivalent of Emmies in the U.S.) for writing on the “Baroness von Sketch Show”.

Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu miniseries)
showrunner Liz Tigelaar

This show is based on Celeste Ng’s novel of the same name. I don’t normally go in for big long lists of names but bear with me a moment. The script is adapted by Liz Tigelaar, who also acts as showrunner. Raamla Mohamed and Nancy Won also contribute episodes. It’s executive produced by Tigelaar, star Reese Witherspoon, star Kerry Washington, Lauren Neustadter, Pilar Savone, and Lynn Shelton – who also directs multiple episodes. In other words, the project is completely run by women.

It’s hard to get a grasp on exactly what the series will be like – how far it will shift between drama and melodrama, but the amount of talent from novel to crew to cast is considerable.

Frozen II (Disney+)
co-directed by Jennifer Lee

This was made available early, on Sunday, March 15. Disney collapsed the usual period between theatrical and home release because of coronavirus. It’s a boon for families who are learning how to navigate the social distancing that requires everyone stay home. It’s easy to start feeling underfoot of each other. The “Frozen” franchise is luckily one of those that children and adults can enjoy without rolling their eyes at the other one.

Lost Girls (Netflix)
directed by Liz Garbus

You may not have heard of Liz Garbus, but she’s been nominated for two Oscars as a director. This was for documentary films. “The Farm: Angola, USA” documented life in Louisiana State Penitentiary, a maximum-security prison. The second was “What Happened, Miss Simone?” It addressed the civil rights activism of singer Nina Simone. She also directed “Bobby Fischer Against the World” for HBO.

You may know some of her other films better. She executive produced “Street Fight”, about Cory Booker’s 2002 campaign for mayor of Newark, as well as “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib”, which discussed the torture of prisoners and human rights violations conducted by U.S. Army and C.I.A. personnel at Abu Ghraib. Her list of documentaries both directed and produced makes her one of the most important filmmakers you probably haven’t heard about.

“Lost Girls” isn’t a documentary, but it is based on real events. That claim often gives me pause, as films tend to use this term to mislead and exaggerate more than present those real events. Such events aren’t always treated with respect. I do have hope that one of the most important documentary filmmakers we have can translate the story in an accurate manner.

Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse (Amazon Prime)
directed by Leonora Lonsdale

This is a two-part miniseries based on an Agatha Christie novel. It’s already aired in the UK, and received considerable praise. It’s one of those storytelling triumvirates which is rare in the film industry – a screenplay by a woman (Sarah Phelps), based off a woman’s novel, directed by a woman. This shouldn’t be notable – men are enabled to do it this way all the time – and yet it’s still seen seldom enough that it’s worth noting when it happens. The series itself looks stylish, moody, and tremendously well cast.

Sitara: Let Girls Dream (Netflix)
directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

I’d also like to mention this short animated film out of Pakistan. It centers on two girls who one day hope to become pilots. To say much more would be to disrupt or ruin the film’s message. It’s only 15 minutes, and it’s well worth watching.

A FEW NOTES

This section will be for older films and films that got a full release that are now available for home viewing.

“Little Women” is Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel. It was nominated for six Oscars, including best film, screenplay, music, lead actress (Saoirse Ronan), and supporting actress (Florence Pugh). It won for costume design. Many felt Gerwig was in particular overlooked for best director.

“Little Women” is still at a purchase price point from Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube. Vudu appears to be the least expensive at $13.

“A Wrinkle in Time” (2018) is already rentable from other services, but it’s become available at no extra cost to Disney+ subscribers. Director Ava DuVernay followed up her searing civil rights history “Selma” with this adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 sci-fi novel.

“Brown Girl Begins” (2017) is directed by Sharon Lewis and is now available on Hulu. It’s an Afrofuturist film that serves as a prequel to author Nalo Hopkinson’s novel “Brown Girl in the Ring”.

Wednesday Collective — “Birds of Prey” Edition

I’m going to keep talking about “Birds of Prey” because it is just that important a film. It’s underrated, speaks to our time, and it’s a lightning rod of toxic reaction to its feminism and diversity. I stopped counting how many comments from people with “nazi” in their name I had on my article “’Birds of Prey’ Box Office Failure is Make Believe”.

This is a film with a generationally good action-comedy performance in Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. It has award-worthy design. The direction is wildly assured and draws from a shockingly large range of influences to create something unique and precise. Its scenes are often thickly layered with dueling perspectives even as Quinn’s own storytelling drives the plot. It’s subversive in a blunt, forward, and challenging way that’s needed.

I used to run Wednesday Collective as a weekly gathering of articles on (mostly) film that I found interesting. One of the joys of being a critic is sharing voices with readers that cover diverse perspectives, and that help me learn. Let’s talk about what they have to say about the film’s treatment of trauma, its “Tank Girl” connection, its meaningful costuming, director Cathy Yan, and Margot Robbie as a producer.

BIRDS OF PREY, Trauma, and the Female Gaze
by Jessica Plummer

Birds of Prey lead 1 resize

This is a superb article at Book Riot that deals with a particular moment in “Birds of Prey”. It’s something I could tell was playing out differently, but because I have a male gaze, I focused on the reaction and what that said about toxic masculinity.

There was also something else happening in the scene that I couldn’t identify, that plays to female gaze. That there are so many moments in a film like this, and that it can produce this level of layered meaning in a scene, continues to blow my mind.

It’s also an argument for why we need more women in film and as critics. A male director wouldn’t have included this in the film. A male critic wouldn’t have noticed it in the film. Yet as a man, I can benefit, know more, and find more beauty and care in a piece of art simply from it being included and pointed out to me.

A Girl is a Gun: ‘Birds of Prey’ and the Legacy of ‘Tank Girl’
by Maya Thornton

Promo image for 1995 cult film Tank Girl

Maya Thornton points out for Adventures in Poor Taste one of the stronger influences in “Birds of Prey”: director Rachel Talalay’s 1995 cult classic “Tank Girl”.

Her article considers the through-lines in story, design, and comedy, how each film treats women (and how men react), as well as the differences in how studios acted toward these films in 1995 vs. 2020.

She doesn’t mention, but Margot Robbie’s production company LuckyChap Entertainment optioned the rights to “Tank Girl” in September 2019 as a starring vehicle for Robbie. That doesn’t mean it will definitely get made, but with the film already months into pre-production and director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte (who directed Robbie in “Dreamland”) tapped to direct it, it’s reasonable to hope.

Harley Quinn’s ‘Birds of Prey’ Costumes are Full of Hidden Meanings
by Irina Grechko

Various Harley Quinn costumes from Birds of Prey

Fashion-centric site Nylon goes into the inspirations behind costume designer Erin Benach’s unique and varied costumes. The strongest influences in “Birds of Prey” are DIY glampunk and glitterpunk, but Blaxploitation, 50s fashion iconography, and emo clubbing accessories each inform characters in the film.

Benach needed to create costumes that made statements, told histories, and defined the world of the film. They needed to be utilitarian and focused on the characters’ preferences instead of the male gaze that dictated Harley Quinn’s costume design in “Suicide Squad”. One of Benach’s most interesting imperatives was to take these influences and do something revolutionary with them – add pants.

How ‘Birds of Prey’ Director Cathy Yan Saved Harley Quinn From Joker and the Male Gaze
by Melissa Leon

Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, and director Cathy Yan in Birds of Prey

Here’s a rangy interview with director Cathy Yan at The Daily Beast. “Birds of Prey” is one of the most self-assured films I’ve seen recently, and it offers a storytelling voice that feels more authentic than anything else DC or even Marvel have done. Yan talks about accentuating the female gaze and how a woman filming women focuses on the actual performance being given. Yan wanted to make sure her characters sweat and that the work and effort they put forth was aspirational – not the impossible beauty standard of an impeccably photoshopped magazine cover.

This is also a different Gotham City than we’ve seen, and Yan has a precise reason for this. She discusses why she wanted to make Harley’s section of Gotham feel like a neighborhood on the outskirts instead of gloomy, downtown Gotham – that a story taking place on the outskirts of power avoids telling a story that focuses too much on established patriarchy.

How Margot Robbie Changed Her Hollywood Destiny
by Anne Helen Petersen

Margot Robbie holds grenade launcher in Birds of Prey

Anne Helen Petersen breaks down Robbie’s path to production and how it enables her to choose her roles and expand the range of other voices in film. The BuzzFeed News article reminds us that Robbie isn’t just clearing a path as an extremely capable actress, she’s also one of the promising and hardest working young producers in film.

Petersen does this in an absolutely brilliant and captivating piece that calls to account male journalists’ coverage of young actresses. It takes steps beyond this to interrogate the opportunities blocked to women as producers and how Robbie’s seized on becoming an important and exciting risk-taker. It highlights the history of how studios have limited women’s opportunities as producers, how women have fought back, and how patriarchal systems artificially block women into competing for limited opportunities while men aren’t similarly obstructed.

That would be more than enough to make the article stunning and important, but Petersen also threads how class plays into the opportunities women have, and how it informs and leads to typecasting, while also recognizing Robbie wouldn’t have this opportunity if she were nonwhite. I’m trying really hard not to swear to accentuate just how good this article is.

When something is this well-researched, clearly voiced, intersectionally woven, and pointedly structured, it is important. It functions as crucial journalism as well as a clear-eyed piece of art unto itself. Read this, it is one of the best articles covering the industry of filmmaking that I’ve recently read.

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“Birds of Prey” Box Office Failure is Make Believe

Movie and box office websites have fallen all over themselves to report the failure that is “Birds of Prey”. The Harley Quinn superhero movie only made $33 million in its opening weekend! What if I told you this assessment of its failure is inaccurate? What if I told you there was a male-driven action film with the same budget and same box office performance that came out at the same time of year? Would you be surprised that it was lauded as a box office success and got two sequels?

“BIRDS OF PREY” VS. “KINGSMAN”

Bear with me while we get into some numbers. The budget for “Birds of Prey” is variously reported as between $75 million and $97.1 million. The two most reliable box office reporting sites measure it as $82 million (The Numbers) and $84.5 million (Box Office Mojo). We’ll go with these figures, but also talk about the most expensive estimate later.

The budget for “Kingsman: The Secret Service” was $81 million. It was a male-driven, niche action movie that came out in 2014 and was widely applauded for its surprise performance.

As mentioned, the opening weekend for “Birds of Prey” was $33 million. The opening weekend for “Kingsman: The Secret Service” was $36.2 million.

Well, what about international box office, outside the U.S.? “Kingsman” earned about $53 million overseas in its opening weekend. “Birds of Prey” earned just over $48 million in its opening weekend.

It’s notable to point out that “Birds of Prey” counts its totals without a China opening. China takes an outlandish cut of box office earnings made by foreign films, which account for $22.5 million of the “Kingsman” opening and thus far $0 of the “Birds of Prey” opening. This means that in terms of earning profit, they performed pretty equally and “Birds of Prey” may have even had the better opening weekend abroad.

You have two movies that cost essentially the same, and earned essentially the same opening weekend, at essentially the same time of year. “Kingsman” was widely reported as a rousing success. “Birds of Prey” is being widely reported as an abject failure.

PERFORMANCE IN THE DCEU

But maybe we should compare “Birds of Prey” to other DC superhero franchises. At about $84 million, “Birds of Prey” has just over a third the production budget of 2013’s “Man of Steel”. It has a third the budget of “Batman v Superman”. It has less than half the budget of “Suicide Squad”. It has just over one-fourth of the budget of “Justice League”.

(Even the higher $97.1 million budget estimate reported by Screen Rant means that “Birds of Prey” would be the second least expensive DC Extended Universe movie just behind “Shazam!”)

Advertising budgets aren’t made public, but they are estimated at 1-1.5x the cost of the production budget. Advertising and production in total typically equals between 2-2.5x the production budget alone.

“Man of Steel” made $291 million domestic off a $225 million budget. A $668 million worldwide total (including domestic) means it likely eked out a profit in the theaters after advertising is accounted for…just not that much of one. It got a $250 million sequel.

“Justice League” never even matched its budget. When it came out in 2017, the $300 million film made only $229 million in the U.S. At a $657.9 million worldwide total, it likely didn’t even make up its outlandish advertising budget.

After just two weeks in release, “Birds of Prey” has made $61.7 million domestic and a $145 million worldwide total. It’s on track to make up its production budget domestically, and to more than turn a profit after advertising once international takes are added. That’s the definition of a success, and it already out-paces other DCEU films.

Of course there are DC films that have performed better: “Aquaman”, “Wonder Woman”, and “Shazam!” are the best performing films the DCEU has. The point is, there are more DC films that have performed equally or far worse.

FEBRUARY BOX OFFICE IS TERRIBLE

But “Birds of Prey” came out in February, the same month as “Black Panther”! That means something for some reason, right?

February is actually one of the worst months in terms of box office, and that’s not even talking about being a shorter month. Simply looking at weekend openings, only two films have ever opened above $100 million in February. Only 11 films have ever had an opening weekend above $50 million in February.

An opening of $33 million is directly in line with other films of this budget. Beyond that, the film had a great second weekend hold, only dropping 48.2%. In fact, it joins “Aquaman” and “Wonder Woman” as the only DCEU films not to have dropped more than 50% in their second weekends.

Why we’re suddenly pretending it’s a surprise or mystery is…well, the reason’s obvious but let’s get to that in a second.

“BIRDS OF PREY” VS. “FORD V FERRARI

As Comic Book points out, another close comparison to “Birds of Prey” is “Ford v Ferrari”, the Matt Damon-Christian Bale Oscar-bait film that opened at $31.5 million domestic. Comic Book points out that this was a $97.6 million film, just out-pacing even the highest budget estimate for “Birds of Prey”. Yet it was celebrated as a success with a lower, $31.5 million opening. With the benefit of Thanksgiving, the holiday break, New Years, and extending its Oscar run, it amassed a grand total of $117 million domestic and $224 million worldwide.

At $145 million worldwide in just two weeks, “Birds of Prey” is guaranteed to surpass the Oscar-bait racing movie. Yet despite better performance on either a slightly or significantly lesser budget, “Birds of Prey” is defined as the failure and “Ford v Ferrari” as a success.

What makes “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” different from similarly performing films? It’s written by, directed by, and stars women.

“Kingsman” is a movie about men that uses women as rewards. It’s co-written by Jane Goldman, but the women in the film are fetishized, need to be saved, and one is presented as an unfeeling sidekick.

Comic Book points out “Ford v Ferrari” is a film written by, directed by, and starring men. These films get a pass when they perform just like “Birds of Prey” did. They’re hailed nonetheless as successes.

That films like this would perform almost the exact same – or worse than – “Birds of Prey” and yet receive the exact opposite narrative assessing that performance is a double-standard, plain and simple.

I’d go even further and say that while progress has been made, there’s also a misogynist bridgehead that’s taking shape in criticism due to 4chan style brigading of review sites. The numbers that get reported about box office are accurate. The narratives derived from them aren’t. They’re neither based on accuracy nor consistency, and they’re too often influenced by what narrative will frenzy male followers into perceiving they’re victims of women and diversity.

As Harley Quinn reminds us, “Behind every successful man is a badass broad”. She just doesn’t get the credit for doing more with less.

Read my review for “Birds of Prey” right here.

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Audacious, Subversive, Confrontational — “Birds of Prey”

I didn’t think I’d be writing this, but “Birds of Prey” is in that elite category of best superhero movies we’ve got. So you know where I’m coming from, I’m a bit exhausted on superhero films. I still go see them, and I think they’re better than they’ve ever been…so why are they sometimes tiring? There’s always the potential that I’ll be walking into something that feels extremely similar to what I’ve seen before.

That happened quickly with the Zack Snyder-directed Superman, Batman, and Justice League films. Everything began to feel blue, black, grim, and strangely plastic. Characters got less and less time to simply be themselves.

It’s taken Marvel longer to get there, but it’s found its own pitfalls. Fulfilling as it was as I watched it, I left “Avengers: Endgame” feeling like it was a largely empty experience. That was a strange feeling. I’d just cried at the sacrifice made at the end; I was excited by the fights; I laughed when expected to.

That’s the thing. As solo superhero movies increasingly get to extend into other genres and make more blatant social and political statements, the most bankable core films color by the numbers more and more. They often do so extremely well, even artfully – but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re doing what I’ve seen before. I was excited, laughed, and cried when the filmmakers expected – and when I expected. I miss being surprised by those things.

When watching superhero films, sometimes I feel like I’m having more of a Pavlovian response than an honest emotion. What’s worse is that it becomes difficult to tell the difference.

Enter “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn”. It’s thematically blunt and wants you to know it. It’s also wacky, violent, slapstick fun. The story is told out of order, sometimes under various influences, by villain-as-antihero Harley Quinn.

It boils down to finding a gemstone everyone’s after, which means capturing the young pickpocket who stole it. Gotham City’s criminal underworld has just become aware that Quinn is no longer protected by the Joker, so they’re after both Quinn and the gemstone. Of course, it becomes much more complicated than that, but let’s not spoil a good thing.

Something I am thankful for is that the Joker is passingly referenced, but never seen. This is a wonderful way to acknowledge Jared Leto’s Joker while hopefully never having to see that version on screen again.

Quinn ends up alternately running from and working with the pickpocket Cassandra (Ella Jay Basco), under-appreciated police detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a singer trying to hide a superpower in Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and vengeful assassin Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead at her Winsteadiest).

I found myself thinking chiefly of two films as I watched, and they aren’t what I’d call similar. “The Usual Suspects” came to mind because of the out-of-order storytelling. Quinn is an inherently untrustworthy narrator, though for our purposes we can believe what she’s telling us. She’s more importantly a narrator who wants to tell the audience the thought she’s most excited about before filling in its context. This creates moments where we take guesses why she’s doing something, but we have to wait to be proven right or wrong. Essentially, events are strung together in a way that makes sense to her, and we pick up on how they fit together as we listen and watch. It feels conversational.

Birds of Prey Harley Quinn cocaine scene.jpg

The other film that came to mind is “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Despite some problems I have with that film, it still may be the best example of fusing traditional animation into live action. The comparison isn’t because “Birds of Prey” incorporates a ton of animation. It opens with an animated sequence. When they’re introduced, new characters get a freeze-frame that’s sometimes drawn all over like the cover of a Trapper Keeper.

Other than that, there’s not a great deal of animation used in the film. “Roger Rabbit” comes to mind more because of the way Quinn herself exists in her story. She’s all but a cartoon character at times, and in terms of actors emulating past portrayals, her performance is as close to the 1990s “Batman: The Animated Series” as anyone will ever get in live action.

The work Robbie’s doing here is complicated, and it requires comedic and dramatic performances that fit a range of different genres to function. Beyond that, she’s doing most of her own stunts and fight choreography. The same praise we once gave to Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean” should be finding its way to Robbie in “Birds of Prey”. (It won’t, but that’s another conversation.)

“Birds of Prey” navigates a ludicrous range of influences and genres while doing all this. Director Cathy Yan starts by essentially taking Zack Snyder’s midnight blue-and-black DCEU and exploding bright colors all over it. What follows pulls from blaxploitation cinema, kung fu films, Michael Mann cop montages, Marilyn Monroe dance numbers, fashion magazines, “Trainspotting”, and Mel Brooks comedies.

Do you want a film that draws its set design influences equally from “A Clockwork Orange” and the 1960s “Batman” TV show? You have found it and it somehow works really well.

This isn’t just pulling from previous cinema, though. It’s also drawing from ultra-modern influences. Quinn’s meta interaction with the story means she occasionally interrupts herself to look at the camera and talk to the audience. It isn’t new for those who grew up watching “Saved by the Bell” and “Wayne’s World”, and it isn’t overdone, but the specific presentation here often recalls Twitch streamers and YouTube influencers.

It should all be a mess. It may be to some people. Yet while Yan is willing to spill utter chaos on us, it never gets in the way of presenting Quinn and her story. That’s what’s most impressive. A ridiculously complicated bit of interwoven choreography and cinematography will cut to a joke at the drop of a hat. Both Robbie and the editing need to be utterly on point to make it work. They both need to be so perfectly timed that they seem completely relaxed in the delivery. Yan’s broad comedy and action set-ups fuse with an editing and lead performance so exact and in rhythm they seem off-the-cuff.

Cathy Yan Margot Robbie Birds of Prey.jpg

In other words, that chaos holds together because that rhythm and relationship between Yan as director and Robbie as actor can veer from the broad to the precise with such control that it all seems easy. “Birds of Prey” is what happens when you watch masters of their craft who synchronize with each other perfectly.

This same sensibility shapes the action, too. The set-pieces here are as good as you can get, in large part because Yan makes the job so much more complicated than it has to be.

The action scenes live off their props and set design elements. Yan’s set pieces are often immensely complicated, yet they flow naturally. There’s a cartoon logic at play in a more dramatic live-action presentation. Robbie constantly makes you wonder why all the people trying to kill Quinn brought guns to her baseball bat fight.

There’s also a consistent feel despite Yan regularly switching filmmaking tools in these fights. Pastel smoke grenades and sandbag bullets that explode in glitter get slow-motion cause they’re so colorful, while Robbie plays the fight slapstick for the camera.

You expect that to be the way fights happen in this movie, yet a few scenes later the fight is hard hitting and plays at full speed. The comedy comes instead from reaction shots cut in for Robbie to deliver dialogue.

A fairly straightforward fight beneath drenching water gets choreography movements edited in isolation – one or two movements per edit, a few seconds per shot.

A later fight involving dozens of characters, roller skates, guns, shifting elements on a rotating set, mirrors, all while swapping fight partners, props, and weapons features some shockingly long takes.

The minute you think you understand how the film wants to present its fight scenes, it’s turned that approach on its head. At the same time, they all feel part of a whole. That constant change in presentation makes sense. Yan is a director at the absolute top of her game, in complete control of what she wants to do, working with an actor who can essentially enable her to do anything she wants – in part because Robbie’s that good of an actor, and in part because she’s also the producer and can give Yan the cover to do it.

This film, Yan’s direction, and Robbie’s performance are all elements I’m fairly certain I’ll be talking about at the end of the year.

This doesn’t even get to the themes and elements at play: a refreshingly aggressive, unhidden feminism and extensive commentary on white male privilege and toxic masculinity – often through Ewan McGregor’s villain Black Mask.

The cast is diverse, which makes the world feel inhabited, more realistic, and more consequential.

This is a movie that treats subversion as something that you shove in the audience’s face and use to confront them, rather than an option you politely offer and hope they one day notice. In that way, Quinn might be the hero we need, not just the one we deserve.

Does it Pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

This section uses the Bechdel-Wallace Test as a foundation to discuss the representation of women in film.

1. Does “Birds of Prey” have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Margot Robbie plays Harley Quinn. Rosie Perez plays Renee Montoya. Jurnee Smollett-Bell plays Black Canary. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Huntress. Ella Jay Basco plays Cassandra Cain. Ali Wong plays Ellen Yee. There are various other women with brief speaking parts.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes. I’d say that it’s possible the majority of the dialogue is between women, but studies show that men are incredibly bad at assessing this ratio, so I could very easily be wrong.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes. They often talk about their plans, their frustrations, plot developments, and each other.

When they do talk about men, it’s often about men standing in their way or taking credit for their accomplishments.

Quinn’s narrative monologue makes up a lot of the film, so it’s also worth addressing. It starts off revolving around her break-up with the Joker, but quickly moves along to the plot, and discussions of the other characters – mostly, but not exclusively women.

This section is a way to talk about whether a film meets some excruciatingly basic expectations. It’s not a measure of whether something is feminist or not. “Birds of Prey” is far more confrontational about feminist aspects than a lot of films, but I also recognize the character in some ways serves a very male gaze. That isn’t quite toned down in the sense that 190 is less than 200 but still a lot. More what’s communicated is that Quinn embraces her own sense of style for herself – because it’s who she wants to be – and less for the male gaze. That it still serves that gaze is complicated.

There’s also the conversation that Anita Sarkeesian brings up in relation to many movies where women demonstrate equality by displaying a violence that’s typically understood as male. Sarkeesian has said in the past about similar films (such as “Mad Max: Fury Road”) that embracing and performing male violence as women is an act that solidifies patriarchy rather than dissolving it.

I did think about this because of the extent to which Quinn is a character who plays to the male gaze. I write about fight choreography often, and is her violence equalizing, tantalizing, or both? If it’s equalizing, does the notion that it’s tantalizing undermine it? Or am I reading tantalization where there is none, and introducing that aspect through my own bias?

I can say that the film often delivers feminist ideas in a way that’s more forthright than most, but that it also potentially possesses problematic elements. I try to be careful with this section because it should be informational. This section exists because it’s something all critics should be engaging, not in order to tell someone what to think.

I’m a man, so I’m not qualified to assess the extent to which the feminism works or doesn’t work. What I can do in this section is provide information and be transparent about how it interacts with the biases I bring. I can communicate some of the specific questions that I’m unable to answer because – as a man – I’m not the one qualified to do so. Ideally, that communicates important feminist elements about the film without pretending I’m qualified to then judge or assess those elements.

It’s also important to highlight Black Mask’s embodiment of white male privilege and incel-adjacent toxic masculinity. He becomes excited about all the things he has, showing off supposedly colonialist treasures while talking about the exotic places he got them from. If someone isn’t in his employ, he wonders why they aren’t “his”, as if they’re toys. He abuses those around him, he perceives others’ emotions as targeting him when he’s upset, and he becomes upset when things that were never his to start with are “taken” from him.

McGregor delivers a beautiful lampoon of all these things succinctly, and characters like Quinn and Black Canary criticize this through their reactions and monologues.

Another consistent theme is men taking credit for the work of women. Joker always took credit for Quinn’s achievements. Montoya’s police captain was promoted for her work. Black Canary can be used by Black Mask, but he can’t trust her. Everyone assumes a mysterious “Crossbow Killer” is a man when she’s a woman.

Diversity

This is also a good section to address the film’s diversity in greater depth. Three of our heroes/anti-heroes are non-white. It’s good to see. The surrounding characters are also very diverse – this includes good guys, bad guys, and bystanders.

Some characters who betray in both large ways and the everyday are non-white. You always want to be careful when presenting people of color as traitorous or self-interested. You threaten to portray all people of that race or ethnicity as being that way because there’s so little other representation for people of color in media – and especially superhero films.

I’m not sure to what extent this is or isn’t stopped off by three of our heroes being Latina, Black, and Korean-Filipino – especially because they’re anti-heroes and not exemplary heroes. Stereotypes are generally avoided, and the film as a whole has an interest in portraying a diverse world. In general, I’m pretty happy with how it comes off. It’s not just for the sake of diversity, though that’s important on its own terms. It’s also because a world that looks like ours feels like it has more consequence, regardless of what genres it’s hopping through.

The Batman universe and its rogues’ gallery has always struggled with portraying mental health. It’s the major Achilles heel that tends to limit its aspects of representation. Criminality in Batman’s world is often associated with mental illness, rather than greed or bigotry.

“Birds of Prey” doesn’t fix this, but it does avoid to some extent presenting Harley Quinn as a criminal due to any mental health issues. Her presentation here is more akin to an outlaw hero. Others call her “crazy” and sometimes she points out the equally ridiculous things they’re doing. They call her dumb and she reminds them she has a PhD. I wouldn’t say “Birds of Prey” avoids further harm along these lines, but it avoids leaning on it the way so many other Batman universe stories have.

Rosie Perez

One thing in particular that gave me joy is that I never knew how much I wanted to see Rosie Perez beat dudes up. She was an outspoken Latina who broke ground for Latinas in film in the early 90s before seeing declining work and criticism for everything that made her identifiably Puerto Rican and Nuyorican – her skin color, her accent, her presentation. Growing up then, she only ever came up when someone needed to make fun of Latinas. I didn’t know about her indie film history, her awards, any of that. Growing up in a very white suburb, my only understanding of her was that she was someone shameful that reflected aspects of my Latino heritage that I felt I should hide.

So it feels really good to see her beat down villains at 55 years old. It doesn’t just feel redemptive, it also feels like – here’s this person who white peers used to reinforce my otherness. And now she’s the closest thing the film has to a hero, fighting a corrupt system and the people who made it that way with brass knuckles.

I don’t often think of Perez or the way she was talked about back then. It applied to countless Latinx people. Yet when one of them rises and I recall how my white peers focused their antagonism on something they compartmentalized as otherness, it feels freeing to see her still fighting back, as an actor and as a character. She never really stopped as an activist for Puerto Rico, yet that doesn’t get the attention that being in a superhero movie can. It pushes acceptance in an additional way, and I can’t help but be thankful there are other Latinx kids today seeing her be accepted for the roles she once would’ve had no chance at playing.

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