Representation of Women in Action Movies

If a man can fight, he’s a hero. If a woman can fight, she’s a b**ch! Representation of women in action films The film industry never seems to lack action films and there always plenty for the market to choose from however how many of those have women in a leading role? A handful. There aren’t that many films that feature women in lead roles within action films. But the question is why? Why haven’t a majority of these women been given a chance? Are actresses like Uma Thurman and Angelina Jolie one-woman-wonders or have they just been given a lucky break?
I’ll be exploring the representation of women in action films through a semiotic analysis. David Gauntlett argues that “in contemporary society, gender roles are more complex and the media reflects this. The female roles today are often glamorous as well as successful in a way that they were previously not. Much of this is due to the rise of ‘girl power’ in the media, through identities constructed by music artists and contemporary actresses, for example, who are demanding less passive roles” which explains how films like Charlie’s Angels have made it to the forefront.
Unfortunately, women have repeatedly suffered from a narrow set of representations in the media. They are regularly linked to the domestic situation i. e. housewives, or as sexual objects represented to entertain men. Furthermore, “the number of roles for leading women is far below that of men. ” Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle is the film I’ve chosen explore and there several reasons behind this. I’ve chosen this text because it portrays women within dominant roles. Furthermore, the concept behind it breaks the pre-existing norm of women being the sexual object that entertains the male hero/spy.

This isn’t the case in this film, they’re heroes fighting crime and saving the day. Not only are they stunning and beautiful but they also possess skills that crush and challenge existing stereotypes about women which is exactly why I chose this film. Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle is an action comedy film that was released on the 27 June 2003. The film was directed by McG and produced on a budget of $120 million. It was the sequel to the 2000’s Charlie’s Angels and it was number one at the box office for its opening weekend and produced a worldwide gross of $259. 2 million. The film was a success.
It stars an ensemble cast including Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu. It also features notable actors and actresses such as Demi Moore, Shia LaBeouf and Matt LeBlanc. Diaz, Barrymore and Liu or the “Angels”, are three extremely talented, strong, sexy women who work as private investigators for unseen millionaire named Charlie. Prior to this film, they had starred in more passive roles in the romantic comedy genre. In most action films, “men were more likely to be adventurous, active and vicarious, whereas women were more frequently shown as weak, ineffectual, victimised, supportive, laughable or ‘merely token females” (Gunter, 1995).
A film such as this allowed their fans to view them in a more dominant, powerful light. This immediately challenges the pre-existing stereotype of women because they are illustrated as superior to their male counterpart. The angels are independent women who aren’t tied down or held back by men. On-the-other-hand, the fact that they work for a male, wealthy character who controls their every move is ironic because in reality, many women are in similar situations and living in a patriarchal society. The opening scene of the film is a brilliant example of the female representation shown throughout the plot.
It’s set in a filthy, hostile bar in the Himalayas in Mongolia. The bar is packed with lots of men drinking and jeering. The use of an establishing long shot works well to familiarise the audience with the initial setting and atmosphere. I believe the director did this in order to show the contrast between all of the men and the Angels. A dolly shot is used to track two men carrying a box so the audience become intrigued to learn the contents as they descend into the basement. To the surprise of the audience, Alex Munday (Lucy Liu) was inside the box; contortioned and tucked away.
A high angle shot is used and the camera tilts in order to display the actresses’ flexibility. As she rises out of the box the camera zooms into a close up of Liu as she does a symbolic swipe of her long, dark hair; an iconic move for any female superpower. She’s dressed in a black leather ensemble which connotes mystery and obscurity. Perhaps out of the three angels, Liu is the dark horse. As she stands against the wall, a medium shot is used cleverly because not only can we see Liu against the wall but we can also see the hostage and his capturers in the room behind the actress.
The connotation is accurate as she then saves the hostage by taking out the guards with some impressive combat. Her character is almost portrayed to be a female equivalent to Jet Li; she appears to be unstoppable and fierce. As she drags the hostage up the stairs, the lighting changes dramatically. The basement was very dark and low-key lighting was used which made the action stealthy and hostile. Whereas, the lighting used in the bar is high-key; very bright and there are few shadows.
This is symbolic because it’s as if Alex has taken the hostage from hell (dark, unpleasant) and to heaven (bright, hope) which is essentially the purpose of an angel both contexts. Meanwhile upstairs, the atmosphere is volatile as a new character emerges dressed in a red, sleek kimono. Her costume connotes love, passion and warmth however in this scenario it connotes danger, sin and aggression. This is the 2nd angel; Dylan Saunders. The camera tilts over her shoulder and shows the male opponent smirking at her and then it pans around the table to eventually show her face.
As she throws back a shot of alcohol, she comes across as the bad angel, the bad girl of the trio. The use of red with Dylan in this scene is symbolic because it displays a wide contrast between her and Alex. She’s more masculine in her body language but the director has tried to mask this behind the sexy outfit and red lipstick. As she walks away she clasps one of the guards by the waist, grabs his keys and tucks them away subtly. The focus then turns to the doors of the bar and the audience anticipates the worst. As the doors fling open, a medium shot shows a tanned, petite and blonde angelic woman.
This is the third and final angel, Natalie Cook. She’s dressed in a white, fluffy coat and a revealing white mini skirt. This connotes purity, happiness and honesty which would be fitting for a normal angel. However, Natalie is no ordinary angel. As she stands at the door, she looks lost and dazed and a close-up of her face supports this further. As the men stare at her beauty in awe, she jeers at them and they erupt with excitement. The men are so amazed they form a guard of honour for Natalie as she walks over to the mechanical bull.
Whereas, when Dylan wanted to move through the men they simply didn’t move and didn’t even know she was there. The use of white dumbs the men and amplifies Natalie’s angelic nature. Furthermore, her body language also plays a part in stunning the men. She giggles excessively and winks at a few of the men. Also, Diaz flicks her pigtails every two seconds and is also chewing gum. She hardly challenges the existing stereotype of blonde women but adds fuel to the fire. This is supported further by the fact that her skirt is so short, the audience can see clearly underneath it.
Perhaps Natalie is the ‘bimbo’ of the group. The director has clearly added to the stereotype of blonde’s being stupid through Natalie’s character however this could be challenged throughout the plot. I believe this opening scene and in fact the entire plot supports Mulvey’s Male Gaze theory. It states that “media texts are created through the eyes of a heterosexual male and that women are viewed for the pleasure of men. ” (Smith, 2009) She also claimed that “women are turned into sex objects through how they are shot in the media (Cinematography). (Smith, 2009) Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle demonstrates this. The plot should challenge the norm and allow women to break free however the body language and costumes used throughout diverges the male audience from the plot and to the women being sexualised. In a review by the BBC, Nev Pierce argued “some call it girl power, others demeaning. ” Furthermore, “When female protagonists, for example, have to function as law enforcers and confront criminal behaviour – both associated with male authority and action – gendered conflict inevitably follows. ” (Hall, 1997, p. 364)
However, this film could mislead women into thinking they have to become successful and independent by wearing tight, revealing clothes and caking up their faces with make-up but of course this isn’t true. “It really makes me more and more angry. The aim is to rake in money, loads of money and people try to do that by all means of all these things – sex, beautiful people, wealth and you always have people who fall for it. ” (Ang, 1997, p. 347) This opening scene shows three very different women with different talents however what they all have in common is their characters have been onstructed to appeal to different types of men but collectively appeal to all men. Although this action film had 3 women in lead roles, it failed to truly challenge the existing stereotypes of women having to be objects and requiring sex appeal to become successful. In reality, “a woman cannot be herself in the society of the present day, which is an exclusively masculine society, with laws framed by men and with a judicial system that judges feminine conduct from a masculine point of view. ” References Websites Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle blog (non-official) http://c-angels. blogspot. co. uk/ Pierce, Nev. (2003). BBC film review. http://www. bbc. co. uk/films/2003/06/27/charlies_angels_full_throttle_2003_review. shtml Smith, Mr (2009). Representation Theory – http://www. slideshare. net/fleckneymike/representation-theory-2458490 Smcmediastudies, (2011). The Representation of Women in the Media http://www. slideshare. net/smcmediastudies/the-representation-of-women-in-the-media Books Ang, Ien. (2006). Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, in association with Sage. Ang, I. (1985) Watching Dallas: soap opera and the melodramatic imagination, New York, Methuen. Ibsen, Henrik (1917). Ibsen’s Workshop.

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