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Wolf and the Accusations of Presumed Misogyny

Welcome to 2013 when every tiny detail in a film is scrubbed clean of any ambiguity — because if anything is left in doubt it might be misinterpreted and then what does that say about the film? What does it say about the film’s director? What does it say about society? Because our films are, perhaps, the new gathering place where church used to be, there is this continual application of political correctness and morality.

While I think in some cases that is to the benefit of art and artists, sometimes it feels like these arguments puff up just because there’s Twitter.  Or Tumblr. Or Facebook.  Content, traffic, attention. Everyone is watching each other watch a movie.

When Martin Scorsese’s extraordinary Wolf of Wall Street dares to tell the truth about not just the kind of men who play that game, but the layer of society that condones and celebrates it, suddenly Scorsese and Terence Winter are devoid of common decency, wanting only to celebrate the behavior depicted on film. Scorsese’s intention? What of DiCaprio’s? He endorsed Jordan Belfort in a video that keeps making the rounds as if to — what, prove that DiCaprio felt sympathetic towards Belfort? Come on, really people?  When did this become the norm? When did the chattering class, the Twitterverse, lose its ability to tell the difference between portraying and condoning?

The accusations of misogyny have not just sprung on Twitter, but have found their way into film reviews. It isn’t just that there are sex workers parading around, or women treated as sex objects — it’s that, supposedly, the movie encourages the audience to laugh at Naomi (Margo Robbie) when she’s caught with her legs spread apart by a security camera. Here’s the thing — that WAS funny. People were right to laugh. It isn’t as though she was dropping her robe and giving herself to her husband and was caught in a vulnerable position and then laughed at — she was playing a game of one-upmanship with her husband by taunting him. It is one of the best scenes in the movie because it not only depicts the “power of pussy” to bring a man to his knees, but it also shows how she gives it right back to him.  She fights him, toys with him, attempts to keep their relationship together.  It was a game of cat and mouse, that scene, and this time, Naomi lost.

That isn’t misogyny. But for one line she has when she says “you married me,” as if to say, yeah, I’m a trophy wife and you married that — the audience is always on Naomi’s side.  But, it’s worth noting, the audience is actually on the side of the first wife, the film’s only moral center (besides Kyle Chandler).  When Leo dumps her to marry Naomi it is not unlike when Jake LaMotta does the same to marry Vicky. Both of these men pay for that and by the end that choice is seen as one of their tragic flaws.  But the women aren’t the ones who leave the film looking bad. The men are.

One of the problems with women and minorities in film is that we have become so sensitive to how they are portrayed we can really only allow for one kind of dimension. That robs women, and minorities, of the privilege to play complex, complicated — maybe not all that likable — of characters.  We want to replace reality with what SHOULD-BE in our culture, even at the expense of great writing, memorable art.

The reception of Wolf, in this regard, can be piggy-backed on Zero Dark Thirty last year. The line between fiction and reality was blurred and interpreted in both films. Yet what those films ultimately say — what truths they deliver, how they play out the final moments of the film, seems to have doomed them to sink under the pressure of non-fiction.  Did Jordan Belfort pay for his crimes? No. Not really. Did he regret what he did? Sure. Does that matter? Nope. Did any of those billionaires on Wall Street pay? They got bonuses last I heard.

How sad to see smart people engage in the pile-on this year, and last — with Zero Dark Thirty. I was one of them.  I don’t know what it is in us that causes us to have fits about things that really don’t matter.  In one year’s time no one will remember the “controversy” that hit The Wolf of Wall Street. I can guarantee you that. Does anyone remember Zero Dark Thirty’s? The film itself endures, not the hysteria around it.

The only part of the definition of misogyny that has any business being discussed with regard to Wolf of Wall Street is the “objectification of women as sex objects.” Gay men are called the “f” word by shallow loser assholes, and women are paid for sex by same.   This is not a movie that is supposed to make us like the characters on screen.

Misogyny is everywhere in Hollywood. Whenever you read the complaints about the roster of older actresses dominating the Best Actress category, when you look at the slate of films up for Best Picture this year and last, when you look at the majority of films getting made at all women are treated like they don’t matter.  I didn’t see that women didn’t matter in The Wolf of Wall Street. I saw a sexy woman in her 60s kissing Leonardo DiCaprio.  I saw two smart wives confronting DiCaprio as if they actually had thinking brains. Huh. Imagine that.  I saw one of the Wall Street hot shots being, oh my god no, a woman.  I saw a lot of naked sex workers too. I saw a lot of naked men falling down with their asses hanging in the air. I saw a culture exposed.  What I didn’t see was a filmmaker’s, or a writer’s intent to hate women in particular.

What is worse is how women in MOST HOLLYWOOD FILMS and in the Oscar race in particular serve one purpose — to help men achieve their happiness.  Look at Silver Linings Playbook last year. Look at Argo last year.  What movie got the brunt of the outrage last year? Zero Dark Thirty, which was the only film that starred an actual adult female.  And Lincoln, which happened to have one of the best written female characters in any film last year.

Misogyny, like racism, is a powerful obstacle in Hollywood. These arguments are distractions to take our eye off what is really going on.  If a film is being made about misogynists you have to show misogyny.  Does that mean Scorsese, whose main character in his film Hugo WAS a young woman, Scorsese who directed New York, New York, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Cape Fear, and Goodfellas is a misogynist?

As a woman and a feminist I am annoyed by this kind of unwarranted hysteria. Women are people too. We are just as smart and capable of appreciating great filmmaking when we see it.  Many of us are relieved, in fact, to see a filmmaker so utterly nail a ubiquitous personality type, the kind of ideas you see every day in comment sections.  Our culture supports what is lampooned in Wolf of Wall Street only we hide it behind pretty pictures and movies that don’t fully commit to exposing its ills.  Not all of us women put our own outrage above that kind of artistic statement.