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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Where Are the Women? Creed

Where Are the Women? Creed

Why couldn’t Apollo Creed’s child have been a daughter who wants to box? That would have been a true reinvigoration of the Rocky franchise.

BASIC REPRESENTATION SCORE: -10

-10
Could the protagonist have been female without significantly impacting the film as a whole? (for a film with a male protagonist) [why this matters]

FEMALE AGENCY/POWER/AUTHORITY SCORE: +6

+1
Is there a female character with insignificant screen time in a position of authority? [why this matters]
+1
More than one? [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: -10

-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]


-5
Is there a female character who is primarily defined by her emotional or biological relationship with a child or children*? (*in this case, an adult child) [why this matters]


-3
Is a dead mother mentioned? [why this matters]
+3
Is a dead father also mentioned? [why this matters]

WILDCARD SCORE: -2

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

-3
Much in the vein of the “dead mother” trope [why this is a problem], we have the dead and absent — yet curiously still present — wife of Rocky Balboa. Adrian has been dead for years, but her influence is still felt without the need to employ a female actor; Rocky even visits her grave to talk to her and work out out some issues for himself.
+1
Unlike in every other boxing movie I have seen, the male director does not take the opportunity of the existence of bikini-clad woman parading around the ring holding cards announcing the round numbers as an “unavoidable” excuse to treat women as decorative objects. In fact, after the first such round card makes its appearance — held by a woman we see only from her (well-covered) chest up — we see only the cards themselves, not the anonymous Barbie dolls carrying them. While I am generally loathe to award points merely for not using women as decorative objects, in this case, it really is a notable departure from the standard, and so worth highlighting.

TOTAL SCORE: -16

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

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

BOTTOM LINE: Why couldn’t Apollo Creed’s child have been a daughter who inherited his athletic ability and wants to box? That would have been a true reinvigoration of the Rocky franchise. In the movie we actually got, the only female characters with any significant presence are the male protagonist’s stepmother and his girlfriend. They don’t get to take their own personal journeys, not even a little — he actually says to his girlfriend, “You motivate me,” making explicit the boosterish role women typically play — but at least they give him hell when he deserves it, and aren’t reduced to the saintly supportive types.


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 Creed! 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 Creed.

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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  • Tyler Foster

    I feel like it’s at least a little relevant that Bianca’s reply in the “You motivate me” scene, is “So what? Maybe you motivate me too.” And Creed replies that it’s fine with him. Later, when Creed screws up and beats up a guy, it’s clear that one of the central reasons it’s important to him to apologize is because she worked hard to get that show and she expresses as much.

    Her degenerative hearing loss, which pushes her to pour everything into her music because she has no idea how much time she has left to do so, is a great little parallel to Creed’s feeling that some clock is ticking away, that he might be missing his moment.

    I also don’t feel like the movie brings up Adrian much outside of the fact that Rocky knows his wife tried the treatment and it didn’t work, which is not so much a memory of an incident, but a memory of an experience those characters shared together. (It also feels kinda like a cheat in general given Adrian was in five Rocky movies, and if one was dinging a movie for having her death be central to the drama, it’d seem like that’d be Rocky Balboa, not this one.) When he visits the grave, he’s visiting Paulie’s grave as much as he’s visiting Adrian’s.

  • Tyler Foster

    -16’s not that harsh, but this is more in response to what’s written in the actual tabs.

  • I feel like you’re missing the entire point of all these issues as problematic for women’s representation. It doesn’t make it better if Donnie motivates Bianca, because she is not the protagonist, and she doesn’t change or grow in any way as a result of her relationship with Donnie. She is the same person at the end that she was when she met him. She may be drawn with a bit more complexity than the typical girlfriend character, but the story still is not about her, and her only purpose in the story is to motivate him and help him become a better person.

    That “So what? Maybe you motivate me too.” is akin to the “lesson” of Paper Towns, in that it suggests that the secondary female characters are as interesting as the central male ones, and it’s insulting for the same reasons, in how it refuses to actually let us know much about those interesting women or tell their stories.

    I don’t think Adrian’s death is “central” to the “drama,” but it’s yet another example of a woman motivating a man without even having to be in the movie at all!

  • Tyler Foster

    The difference would be (although I haven’t seen Paper Towns) is that you say that’s the lesson of that movie, whereas here it’s just a moment in a side story.

    My point wasn’t to absolve the movie among the context of Hollywood’s male-centric output. I would have been just as excited about the version you pitch about Creed’s daughter. It mostly strikes me as strange to call out that specific moment in your summary when that’s one of the things the filmmakers attempted to address. Maybe if had been another +1 or even just mentioned without points on the wildcard, I wouldn’t have felt compelled to nitpick.

  • whereas here it’s just a moment in a side story.

    Yes, that’s true. But it still doesn’t earn the movie any bonus points. The complexity of Bianca as a character does keep her from being an “awesome and perfect girl,” though, which did keep the film from losing even more points.

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