23 May 2013

Gender Inequality and 'Star Trek Into Darkness'


J.J Abrams has gotten himself in a bit of hot water as of late, the director received criticism for a scene of Alice Eve in her underwear for, what most argued, absolutely no reason. Appearing on Conan last night to defend himself, Abrams argues that there was such reason for Eve to be stripping during the scene: her stripping during her defusal of a weapon was meant to "provide a break in the middle of all this action and adventure,”* he said, and to "reinforce the idea of Captain Kirk as a ladies’ man"* (if anyone ever needed reminding that Kirk is a ladies' man, than they weren't watching the movie).

Abrams later contended that Chris Pine appears in a state of undress as well, but given that this appearance is post-love scene, that makes sense. If that line of reasoning didn't appeal to critics, then he played a deleted scene of Benedict Cumberbatch showering. While placing that scene in the film may have eased some qualms that Eve was objectified, Cumberbatch's deleted scene was just that, deleted.

Still, the point remains that thematically, Cumberbatch being naked would make sense given he is showering. What is the point of Eve undressing during her conversation?

Gratuitous displays of skin appear frequently in another big franchises like James Bond and comic book films, but the difference is, if Abrams is going to play the gratuitous skin card, he should do so with both sexes. Daniel Craig is on the screen shirtless maybe more than anyone (007's famous scene emerging from the water will attest to that).

More importantly, those films had female characters that were better written. Skyfall had Judi Dench's character defining performance as M and The Avengers managed to avoid demeaning any of the female characters at all during its runtime. Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) managed her own in combat and didn't have to strip to her undies when she interrogated Loki (Tom Hiddleston). That is the difference between what Sam Mendes and Joss Whedon did, and what Abrams did not.

All clothing issues aside, the real problem with this debate is that the prominent female characters of Into Darkness are reduced to their feelings about the male characters, or their anatomy. Uhura's (Zoe Saldana) sole motivation throughout the film is to pine for Spock and that is it. For one of the strongest female characters in pop culture to be defined solely through her affections for a man is misrepresenting Uhura in her entirety.

In a series that has long promoted equality for all races and genders, this point is hardest to stomach. It has been almost fifty years since the Enterprise lifted off, where is the progress in movies now? Will the next mission on the Enterprise feature some female roles with depth?

Having Ms. Eve strip down for essentially no reason is only a symptom of the larger problem that populates films: women are under-written. Benedict Cumberbatch showering can't make up for that.

* Meredith Blake May. "J.J. Abrams to Critics: Here's Benedict Cumberbatch in the Shower!" Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 23 May 2013. Web. 23 May 2013.