I’m going to pull a high-school-essay move here and define the word “recessive” for you. From Merriam-Webster:
a: tending to recede
You have a firm grasp of what the word “recessive” means now, so here are some synonyms: shrinking, diminutive, backward, introverted, retiring, withdrawn. I don’t want to say it’s a negative word, necessarily, but Merriam-Webster’s “related words” kind of give you that idea — awkward, unadventurous, unassertive, uneasy. Given all that, “recessive” is kind of insulting, right? Kind of like implying that seven movies in which men are “recessive” is some major cinematic trend that deserves our attention? As in this exhausting column written by Michael Cieply for Deadline, “Make Way, Or Rather Don’t, For The Recessive Movie Male Of 2018”?
Cieply opens with this:
Will this be the year of the recessive movie male?
It’s much too early to tell with any certainty, as it only takes a few powerful contenders to set what seems to be a mood for an awards season.
First of all, you should never pose a question you can’t really answer; has this man never watched Law and Order? Second, Cieply goes on to attempt to argue, using only SEVEN FILMS as examples, that there is a “pronounced shift away from male dominance in films that are likely to score points on the prize circuit.” He lists Eighth Grade, Leave No Trace, the upcoming Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga reboot of A Star is Born, the Margot Robbie/Saoirse Ronan project Mary Queen of Scots, The Bookshop, Colette, and the upcoming Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic On the Basis of Sex as films in which the male character “fades to black” or doesn’t “leave much space for a dominant male.” And this is all a BIG DEAL, Cieply is arguing, like it’s some kind of sea change in cinema and all of us women should be happy now because guess what, in seven movies men kind of fade into the background!
Except, you know what, fuck that. Fuck that so much. Because DOZENS if not HUNDREDS of movies are released a year, and in the vast majority of them it is the female characters who are “recessive,” who exist solely to support their male characters. Here is a list of films released this year in which the female characters were noticeably underserved:
- 12 Strong, in which practically all the female characters were devoted wives or girlfriends but nothing else
- The 15:17 to Paris, ditto
- Red Sparrow, which is not empowering, please don’t @ me
- Death Wish, ugh
- Gringo, ugh
- Ready Player One, in which the main female character is consistently undermined to demonstrate the main guy’s greatness
- Deadpool 2, that whole fridging thing
- Sicario: Day of the Soldado, LOL
And if we want to go backward, there was also Only the Brave, a similar “wives and girlfriends” formula, and A Cure for Wellness, in which the daughter character only exists to get raped by her father, and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, in which yes, Charlie Hunnam was extremely hot, but again, the only time a female character really matters is when a prostitute is beat up to show how empathetic and caring Arthur is.
Women are the “recessive” characters in movie after movie after movie. Pointing out seven movies in which the male characters take a SLIGHT step backward from the women is not a trend, given the numerous films that do the opposite that are released every year. It is not something that should be lauded, as if we should be grateful for this small shift. It’s cynical to think “Of course these movies are going to win awards because men AREN’T the focus”; are we forgetting that while Lady Bird was nominated for Oscars, it didn’t win any? Or that Dee Rees wasn’t nominated for an Oscar at all, and Mudbound was shut out? Or that it’s still extremely difficult to get a female-led or female-centric project off the ground (why else has it taken so long to get a damn Black Widow movie)? Or that women are still disproportionately represented in film criticism? Cool. Cool cool cool!
Next time, Michael Cieply, please keep your opinions to yourself. Perhaps you can be the “recessive” behavior you see in the world!