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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Where Are the Women? Spy

Where Are the Women Spy

A fantastic example of how casting women in roles that could have been played by men adds layers of cultural commentary that wouldn’t otherwise be present.

BASIC REPRESENTATION SCORE: +25

+25
Is there a female protagonist? [why this matters]

FEMALE AGENCY/POWER/AUTHORITY SCORE: +25

+5
Is there a female character (either a protagonist or a supporting character with significant screen time) in a position of authority (politics, law, medicine, etc.)? [why this matters]
+5
More than one (of any race)? [why this matters]


+1
Is there a female character with insignificant screen time in a position of authority? [why this matters]


+10
Is there a female villain or antagonist? [why this matters]


+2
Is there a woman whose role could easily have been played by a man? [why this matters]
+2
More than one? [why this matters]

THE MALE GAZE SCORE: 0

[no issues]

GENDER/SEXUALITY SCORE: -25

-5
Is femininity used as a joke (ie, a man crossdressing for humorous intent) in passing? [why this matters]
-20
In a way essential to the movie? [why this matters]

WILDCARD SCORE: +20

Is there anything either positive or negative in the film’s representation of women not already accounted for here? (points will vary)

+10
Femininity is used as a joke throughout the film [why this matters], via the secret identities that the female protagonist is forced to assume: these are all cruel, diminishing stereotypes positing a fat middle-aged woman as most plausibly passing as a sad cat lady, a single mother, etc, and all with horrible dress sense. But there’s also a conscious (and funny) effort to push back against that: that it’s unfair, unkind, not representative, and ultimately just plain wrong.
+10
A major theme underlying the action comedy (one that actually informs and strengthens the comedy) is that the work that women do to support men and make men look good in their jobs goes woefully unappreciated, and that men actively attempt to undermine women’s confidence in themselves. What’s more, the film suggests that men do this because they know they cannot do their work without that support, and that if their female support was withdrawn (because, say, the women simply start doing the same more prestigious jobs the men are doing, which they are perfectly capable of handling), the men will lose the power and privilege that had been exclusively theirs.

TOTAL SCORE: +45

IS THE FILM’S DIRECTOR FEMALE? No (does not impact scoring)

IS THE FILM’S SCREENWRITER FEMALE? No (does not impact scoring)

BOTTOM LINE: This is a fantastic example of how gender-swapping characters and casting women in roles that could have easily been played by men creates a richer, smarter, more complex story without sacrificing any humor, action, or adventure, and adds new layers of social and cultural commentary that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.


Click here for the ongoing ranking of 2015’s films for female representation.

NOTE: This is not a “review” of Spy! It is simply an examination of how well or how poorly it represents women. (A movie that represents women well can still be a terrible film; a movie that represents women poorly can still be a great film.) Read my review of Spy.

See the full rating criteria. (Criteria that do not apply to this film have been deleted in this rating for maximum readability.)


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