Why It Is Okay for Feminists to Like WOLF OF WALLSTREET
The truth is, if I were hung up about every predatory director or every degrading image of a woman, I couldn’t be a film critic. So I watch, loving movies that don’t necessarily love or even like women. --Manohla Dargis
I feel like I’ve been keeping my love of Scorsese’s newest film in the closet because it has managed to upset so many fellow feminists. For lack of a better way of putting it, 'Woman and Film' is my thing. It is what I think about every day. My radar for female filmmakers and depictions of women in film and media is constantly on. So, how is it that I went to see WOLF OF WALLSTREET and enjoyed all three hours of it while it had the opposite effect on so many women? On average I watch about seven films a week, and rarely do I see them in a multiplex. The films I watch usually don’t have big budgets either. Maybe I got swept up in the spectacle of WOLF (there was a giant tidal wave in it!) that I am not usually immersed in, but I’ve had enough time since to stew on this, and I think there are some concrete reasons why it is okay for feminists to like WOLF OF WALLSTREET.
Opponents of the film seem to believe that the life of Jordan Belfort and his colleagues was glamorized. DiCaprio plays Belfort with overflowing charisma, which certainly can be seen as infectious. But take a moment to think about what we see in him. He’s a lying, drug and sex addicted cheater who made a career of conning people into making himself rich. Anyone who desires to be a good person, would and should feel applaud by his actions. If you are a teacher, nurse, social worker, or just someone who cares about others, you should leave that movie feeling incredible about your life choice to not be in any semblance like Jordan Belfort. The scene in which Belfort has a partners meeting about the ethics of throwing dwarfs at a bulls-eye for an office party activity is perhaps one of the most telling about Scorsese’s opinion of these people. Why else include scenes of them doing the most despicable things you can imagine? Sexists are despicable. The sexism in WOLF is conducted by those despicable people.
You could say that we just don’t need another movie about the shitty things that happened during the 80s, but that would be your opinion, in which case you shouldn’t see the movie. I for one have reached my threshold of seeing movies that depicts black people as slaves and servants. I forgo THE HELP and THE BUTLER to see other stories about black experience, like BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD or MOTHER OF GEORGE. But depictions of a time in which slavery and sexism are prevalent will continue to be made because that really happened.
There is a kind of subtle sexism that I find truly alarming. I think of it as the socially acceptable sexism. This can be found in HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, a show that yields as many or more viewers than WOLF. There are two female leads; Lily and Robin. Two of Lily’s main characteristics are the cause for ongoing jokes; that she can’t keep secrets and that she is manipulative. Aside from that, Lily is the “standard woman” who is a nurturing mother and kindergarten teacher. By contrast, Robin is considered “not like most girls” by the show’s protagonist, Ted, (and the audience by proxy) because she is ambitious about her career and likes sports. This sets my feminist alarm off because it reinforces backwards ideas about what being a woman is (as if there is a mold for it to begin with) and in such a subtle way that no one is up in arms about it.
The truth about WOLF is that there isn’t nearly as much commentary on women in the movie as there is in a show like HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. This is because WOLF isn’t about women. The women we do see are like the furniture in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE’s Milk Bar—they are objects to the men the film is about. WOLF is about a terrible man who employed a bunch of other terrible men, and a sprinkling of women. These people signed up for jobs that require the deception of others for personal gain. They think they live in a world where everything can be bought and sold, even women. Scorsese is not celebrating them, he is exposing them. If you don’t think so, try watching it again. Or if you’re just not in the mood to see that gnarly behavior towards women, then don’t (I don’t blame you.) Ultimately, I believe banding together on issues of sexism in film will go further when women are the subject. If you want to get mad about BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR or SOME VELVET MORNING, please come knock on my door!