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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Where Are the Women? Sicario

Where Are the Women? Sicario

The female protagonist is smart and competent, wields authority like a total badass, and is an intriguingly conflicted, wonderfully awful mess.

BASIC REPRESENTATION SCORE: +25

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

FEMALE AGENCY/POWER/AUTHORITY SCORE: +7

+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]


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

THE MALE GAZE SCORE: 0

[no issues]

GENDER/SEXUALITY SCORE: -5

-5
Is there a female character who is primarily defined by her emotional and/or sexual relationship with a man or men? [why this matters]

WILDCARD SCORE: 0

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

No.

TOTAL SCORE: +27

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

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

BOTTOM LINE: There may be only one woman with any significant presence here, but she is smart and competent, wields authority like a total badass, and is an intriguingly conflicted, wonderfully awful mess. Just like men get to be onscreen! And the story is all hers.


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

Click here for the ranking of 2015’s Oscar-nominated films for female representation.

NOTE: This is not a “review” of Sicario! 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 Sicario.

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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  • Kellyfergison

    Smart? Telling Benicio Del Toro that you’re going to rat him out is considered smart? Since when? Sounds pretty dumb and naive to me. Same thing her naively falling for the guy who seduced her at the club/bar

  • Did you miss, you know, the entire point of the film? It’s about having considered principles and sticking to them even when it’s not advantageous.

    I’m not sure there’s any evidence in the film that she was “seduced” by the guy in the bar: that word suggests a passivity on her part that is not a part of her character. And there was nothing dumb or naive in taking him home. She had no reason to suspect him of anything nefarious. Which is why he was the one used to ensnare her!

  • Blake

    The story is all hers, except at the end, when it’s Benicio’s

  • In what way do you think the story becomes his?

  • Danielm80

    There’s an extended sequence, near the end (and one scene in particular), that focuses on his quest for vengeance. I found it jarring. I wanted them to get back to the main character, whom I liked a lot better. Fortunately, they did.

  • Blake

    The whole justification for her being there in the first place was just a ruse, a legal loophole, all in the service of Benicio’s vendetta. That was what the story was really about. And to be honest, that for me was the best part of the movie. It broke the rule that the protagonist is who the story is about, and that he/she must be the one that resolves the crisis created by the inciting incident.

    If I had written this film on spec and was a Hollywood outsider, I would be told to fuck off unless I end the script with Emily going in guns blazing and taking out the bad guys. Which is why we don’t get more movies like this leaving me lamenting the increasing rubbish Hollywood puts out every year.

  • Danielm80

    In Raiders of the Lost Ark, nothing Indiana Jones did had much effect on the plot, but the movie wouldn’t have worked very well without him around to object to what the Nazis were doing and make sense of what was going on.

    And if Emily Blunt’s character were removed from Sicario, it would just be a story about a cold-blooded killer seeking revenge. We might even consider him sort of heroic. With her in the movie, it’s a story about the horrors of the drug war. That’s what the story is really about, not which character is most proactive.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    In Raiders of the Lost Ark, nothing Indiana Jones did had much effect on the plot

    Any chance this chestnut had of being clever was brutally murdered the moment it was used as a joke on the fucking Big Bang Theory.

    It’s also a very superficial read of that movie. Indy absolutely drives the plot. He just, somewhat incidentally, isn’t involved in theresolution of the story. But Indy had no way of knowing that’s what would have happened. Even the film’s bastardized Ark lore didn’t strongly hint that the Ark itself would object to Nazis on general principle.* That’s a well established trope to have the protagonists struggle against a threat that solves itself. Even the argument that Belloq wouldn’t have found the Ark without Indy’s presence is just an application of the “hero inadvertently helps the villain’s plans” trope.

    OK, rant over. Carry on. :-)

  • The movie is still about her, however. She is the character through who we understand everything that is going on. She is the one who learns something and whose perspective grows and changes through the course of the story.

  • Yes, but that doesn’t mean the story suddenly belongs to him. It clearly not does.

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