*****CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS!!******
Please do not read any further if you haven’t seen Rogue One yet. Or read it anyway but don’t complain to me when it’s all spoilered for you.
For months there have been whiners on twitter bemoaning the fact that Rogue One has a female lead with Felicity Jones playing Jyn; crying about how feminism is ruining everything and why can’t Star Wars go back to the good old days. The good old days? Lads. Are you for real? The days when it was a film trilogy about a rebellion lead by two women? Eh, ok then.
Rogue One is an exceptionally good film. For 133 minutes I had my mind blown. Krennic is an amazing movie villain; Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus and their ninja moves are incredible. The battle scenes are astonishing and when K-2SO died I suddenly realised how millions of Brits felt when they heard about Princess Diana dying.
The balding white men with self-esteem issues that live with their mammies are wrong about Rogue One being feminist propaganda. Yes, it passes the Bechdel test. Even the trailer passed the Bechdel test, but it isn’t the most “feministy” of films ever. The Force Awakens probably tops that. It does however contain one of the greatest feminist moments in movie history.
When Jyn Erso goes back to Jeddeh to find Saw Gerrera in the hope that he can assist her locate her father, Saw shows her a hologram message from her father Galen Erso. In this message, Galen tells about how he was basically forced to assist the Empire build the Death Star but that he put a defect deep within the Death Star to help take it down. After they leave and Saw is killed, it transpires that the pilot who smuggled the message to Saw hadn’t actually seen it. So Jyn is the only person left who sees the message.
Jyn was dragged into the story. She wasn’t ideologically committed to the rebellion at the start, and there’s a question mark over her because of her parentage. But here is the important part, Cassian Andor, a rebel intelligence officer who had fully intended to kill Galen subsequently turns to Jyn after she relays her father’s message that he was trying to help the Rebel Alliance all along and says three of the most powerful words that could ever be said to a woman on a cinema screen;
“I believe you.”
It’s a powerful moment on screen. Cassian and his team of male comrades believe Jyn. It’s so powerful, because women are routinely not believed about anything. They are not trusted.
Women’s credibility is questioned at work every time she has her idea co-opted and mansplained by a male co-worker in a meeting. There are less women political representatives because of outdated views on what women should or shouldn’t be trusted to do. At one point Hilary Clinton’s capacity to take on the role of POTUS was questioned because of the potential impact of periods. The majority of people still don’t trust women pilots to fly planes. It seems that the only thing women are trusted with, is incubating foetuses, because they aren’t trusted to decide what is the best way to give birth to them.
In film and tv, the “bitches be crazy” trope is something that comes up over and over again where women actually appear in media. Film noir was famed for the manipulative femme fatale. The reason the Bechdel Test even exists is because it is so uncommon in film to have two female characters, let alone two that speak to each other about something that isn’t a man. Women are portrayed as being vindictive liars determined to get their own way and always to be viewed with suspicion.
The default position is that women are not to be believed. In Greek mythology, Cassandra has the gift of prophesy but is cursed by Apollo after she rejects his advances to never be believed leading to a modern usage of the term “Cassandras” to apply to those who speak truths but who are dismissed. Cassandra prophesied the defeat of Troy by the Greeks, and no one believed her — leading to the fall of Troy and her own demise. More recently the Ghostbusters remake, there is a scene where Erin recounts having seen a ghost at 8 years old, but she wasn’t believed. In the film Aliens, Ellen Ripley survives an alien attack and after her escape vessel is recovered after drifting across the galaxy as she slept in cryogenic stasis, nobody believes her story that she has discovered an alien existence and they take her flight officer’s licence. In the film, The Snorkel, Candy says she knows who killed her father but nobody believes her. In the Pedro Almodóvar film High Heels, the female protagonist confesses to a murder and isn’t believed. Initially no one believes Lydia Deetz about the weird things going on in Stranger Things.
For those of us not on screen, there are literally thousands of websites where women discuss how their doctor does not believe the pain they are experience or their anxiety or depression or how their health care practitioner does not believe their menstrual pain.
One of the things that comes up again and again for women is that they don’t report crimes against them because they are afraid they won’t be believed. It’s the reason that a group of feminist writers set up a website called “I believe you, it’s not your fault.” Fearing you won’t be believed is not an unrealistic prospect.
Even where victims of sexual violence are believed, they become the target of blame –often being held to account for her own victimisation due to whatever she drank or wore or the said to her attacker. Her truth is not trusted. When Anita Hill testified to a US Senate Committee about her boss sexually harassing her, she wasn’t believed. The 29 women who were victims of Bill Cosby have spoken about the pain they suffered when their loved ones didn’t believe their stories of abuse.
In countries where women have legal abortion rights, they are not trusted to make a decision about their reproductive health themselves — they must generally provide a specific reason as to why they do not want to carry their pregnancies to term based on mental health or physical health etc. It is not enough to trust a woman who just doesn’t want to be pregnant.
This is why Cassian Andor’s statement “I believe you” is so important. We go through life with our claims routinely dismissed, so witnessing those three words being said with a band of men choosing to go into battle on their basis, is incredibly powerful. It will be powerful for the generation of children who grow up on this film as well as the original trilogy. For a film with such a male-dominated fanbase, this is huge.
Jyn goes on to have some excellent scenes, particularly where she is climbing up the tower to get the plans for the Death Star with Cassian following behind her. When he falls onto a lower platform there’s a moment where she looks down at him and hesitates and I silently cheered inside when she turned her head and carried on climbing, leaving Cassian to sort himself out. It’s a wonderful scene — for Jyn, the rebellion is more important than whatever unresolved feelings there are between her and Cassian.
The symbolism of the plans being passed from Jyn to Leia at the end is impressive; they go from one powerful woman to another. Leia was the original powerful female character in Star Wars and having her at the end was two fingers to the sentient receding hairlines who complained about having a woman in a lead role. Like the rebellion, this film isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t need to be. Like Jyn says, “Rebellions are built on hope,” and Rogue One has the potential to instill hope in women everywhere.
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This was originally posted on Medium.