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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Where Are the Women? Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Where Are the Women? Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

The only female character here may be intelligent and capable… but she is often treated as a decorative object in a way that her male colleagues aren’t.

Warning! Tiny spoiler in the Wildcard section.


Is there a female character with significant screen time who grows, changes, and/or learns something over the course of the story? (for an ensemble cast, or a film with a male protagonist) [why this matters]
Is she the only woman in an otherwise all-male ensemble? [why this matters]


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

Is there a woman who dies (either onscreen or off) whose death motivates a male protagonist? [why this matters]


Is a woman or women used as decorative objects/set dressing? [why this matters]
Are one or more either a protagonist or significant supporting character? [why this matters]


[no issues]


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

Normally I deduct 5 points for a movie that romantically pairs a woman with a man old enough to be her father [why this matters]. Here, while Tom Cruise (born 1962) and Rebecca Ferguson (born 1983) do not quite end up as a romantic couple, the idea that it could happen at any moment hangs in the air throughout the film, and the implication that it may happen in the future remains hanging there at the end.


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

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

BOTTOM LINE: The only female character here may be physically strong, highly intelligent, and very capable… but she is the only female character with any real presence in the film — and there are several other roles that could have been cast with female actors without changing a single word of the script or altering in any way the story’s themes — and she is often treated as a decorative object in a way that her male colleagues never are.

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

NOTE: This is not a “review” of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation! 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 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

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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where are the women
  • leah

    This is so frustrating. I don’t know if it’s just me feeling a little blue and pessimistic but WTF, when will this cliché Smurfette (with sexy lamp overtones) syndrome ever diminish from the mainstream, when other major roles/characters in the same narrative could so effortlessly be played by women? It’s as if no progress is being made and we’re going backwards even, the current paradigm is so depressing. The big shake-up can’t come soon enough — and a part of me knows it’s probably not coming at all, which is horrifying. :-/ (sorry to be a Brenda Bummer)

  • RogerBW

    And when she’s the only one, it’s not so much “representation of women” as “being female is sufficient characterisation”.

  • leah

    Yes, obviously it’s a complex issue with no one simple solution, but in large part it does boil down to poor writing. The current paradigm is so problematic because the (overwhelmingly male) produced screenwriters in the industry so often have an entrenched mind set and template in creating characters for their narrative, for *fabricated* example: a scientist, a techno-wiz hacker, an explosives/demolition expert, a con artist, and a woman (usually as a wife/girlfriend/love interest/mother), seemingly clueless that being female is not an active character trait, or decorative by nature — or how effortless it is to make other characters – the scientist, hacker, etc – female by simply having women in these roles defined by their skills and not their gender. Until things change at the grass-roots writing level it doesn’t seem like any significant change will be forthcoming.

  • In this case, the problem is not poor writing. It’s a defaulting to maleness. As I noted, not one single word of the script would need to be changed if more women had been cast.

  • RogerBW

    Yeah, for filmmakers to whom “real” women are a challenge, gender-blind writing and casting are a decent half-measure.

  • leah

    Ah right, I guess I consider ‘defaulting to maleness’ as you put it (good term) poor writing, because it’s the writer who creates a role and names a character as male as part of the narrative, and defines this parameter for the production. Not that this must be adhered to for casting and the shoot of course, but I think a role is far less likely to be played by a woman if it’s written as male (by default) in the screenplay. It can be changed (Ellen Ripley is probably the best known example) but probably takes a concerted effort and level of consciousness and conscientiousness that a lot of male film-makers don’t have, mainly because they don’t notice it or think it’s an issue. :-/

  • I think a role is far less likely to be played by a woman if it’s written as male (by default) in the screenplay

    Yes, I think you’re correct. But let’s not let the director and producers off the hook. :-)

  • leah

    ha no, absolutely!
    I don’t know if you happened to read a recent interview with Denis Vileneuve about Sicario, which has a female protagonist played by Emily Blunt, but he mentions how when he came on board as the director there was pressure from a producer to change the lead role to male in order to get the movie made, but Villeneuve stuck to his guns about having the story be a woman’s journey because he thought it was a beautiful story (I haven’t seen the film so I don’t know if I’d agree with him or not), and he also mentions how he knew sticking with a female protagonist would mean he’d have LESS MONEY to work with on the production, which I think speaks heart-breaking volumes about where we are in terms of how women’s roles and stories are valued in film. (I’d try to link the article for you/readers but I’m not able to on my current device, hopefully it’s easily google-able)

  • RogerBW

    She seems to have done a decent job in Edge of Tomorrow but the trailers for Sicario make it look pretty simplistic. EoT has been regarded as a failure (it just about made its double budget back on international release), and I think that as usual the Hollywood types look at the things they don’t like about a failure and decide to avoid doing them again. Thinky SF? Female co-protagonist? Clearly People Don’t Want To See That.

  • Yes, I’ve heard that about *Sicario.* Can’t wait to see it.

  • LaSargenta

    I’m sorry, could you do a reddit-style EILI5 for me on

    regarded as a failure (it just about made its double budget back

  • RogerBW

    The reported box office take for a film is split between the cinemas that show it, the distribution company, and the actual studio. (The details are usually not public.)
    So the rule of thumb is that for a film to be profitable the box office needs to be twice the budget. Some people reckon three times the budget is closer to the truth.
    Of course, Hollywood Accounting applies – the budget sometimes has little relationship to what was actually spent on making the film. But that’s the best we can do as outsiders.

  • LaSargenta


  • Rebecca Dalmas

    Yes, and in this film of the series, I was thrilled that “the girl” didn’t get killed. Such a sad bare minimum.

  • Rebecca Dalmas

    Part of this is the harkening-back to “the old days” thematic element of the series. Apparently they weren’t able to integrate females into the old school reboot.

    I suppose it says something that the woman in 5 is part of a new page in the spy world, but the fact that she’s the only women, makes that hard to see if it was intentional.

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