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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Where Are the Women? Wild


Reese Witherspoon messes up her life and then messes up her body on the way to getting right with herself and the world. Fan-feminist-tastic!


Is there a female protagonist? [why this matters]


[no significant representation of women in authority]


Is there a female character with significant screen time who bares her breasts (but doesn’t appear fully nude)? [why this matters]


Is there a female character who is primarily defined by her emotional or biological relationship with a child or children? [why this matters]


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

While Reese Witherspoon does appear topless, extremely briefly, in one sex scene, that scene (and others of a sexual nature, including ones in which she is not baring any skin while her male partners do bare some) are very much about her being in control of her sexual agency. Another brief instance of Witherspoon’s toplessness is nonsexual and about showing the impact on her body of her physical labor (bruises, abrasions, etc.). None of these instances are gratuitous or lascivious or about wrenching autonomy away from the character for the viewing pleasure of the audience (as is so typical on film). The nudity here contributes to a depiction demonstrating that a woman’s body is her own to do with as she pleases.
While Laura Dern’s character is defined primarily by her motherhood — of Witherspoon’s character — she exists in the story in order to explore the limitations traditional roles place on women’s lives, and how women can chafe at them. She is also a character who is discovering new ways to break out of those limitations and reclaim her life for herself.


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

IS THE FILM’S SCREENWRITER FEMALE? No, though it is based on a book written by a woman (Cheryl Strayed) (does not impact scoring)

BOTTOM LINE: This is a hugely feminist film, with very positive of representation of women — more than one, even! — as people with hopes, dreams, and problems uniquely their own.

Click here for the ranking of 2014’s Oscar-nominated films for female representation.

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

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

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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