Wonder Woman, herself, fights for justice, but the focus remains the close-up butt shots of her in her short costume.
The over-sexualised version of the Amazons and Wonder Woman in the latest Justice League movie is another instance of objectifying the female figure in cinema.
Wonder Woman’s mentor spins, notched two arrows and fires at the German Army; Gal Gadot, in her Amazon armour lashes out with a sword, the enemy falls. These are sequences from the 2016 Wonder Woman movie where the Amazons rode into battle in full armour and headgear — an embodiment of beauty and strength. Cut to 2017, and the latest Justice League movie and the Amazons are no longer the upright heroines of last year, but objects for the male gaze, clad in strips of leather. They don’t even have any armour to speak of. Wonder Woman, herself, fights for justice, but the focus remains the close-up butt shots of her in her short costume.
“The unfortunate fact of the matter is that female superheroes in the West were created to cater to a male audience. So, it panders to their sexual fantasies. We have standing jokes about women drawn like Wonder Woman in some of the comics with a perfectly arched back and overly endowed bosom. However, when you take that to the movie dimension, you’ve got to be more careful, since it’s no longer the same audience that’s looking at it,” says Abhijeet Kini, creator of the Angry Maushi comics. “In India, surprisingly, we don’t really have that kind of a depiction of women in comic books. But then again, I suppose we have our movies for that.”
The movie business has always been rather prone to objectifying women. Whether it is the odd “item number” with scantily clad women, or the zoomed in shots of the waist in movies in the South, women are often simply objects for the male gaze. The character of the woman wearing the clothes is hardly ever elaborated upon.
One director who did so was Avinash Das, with his film Anaarkali of Aarrah. “I wanted to show in my film that even a woman who sells her body has a story and a choice that should be respected. That’s where my character became a real person and more than someone to be gawked at,” he explains.
The larger narrative, unfortunately, is not the same. “There are unfortunately directors, who believe that by objectifying women, they will draw a certain section of the audience to the film. These are people who still continue to think of women as being lesser than men. While there are those who are beginning to change the narrative in Bollywood, their number remains low,” the director adds.
Shama Sikander, who has acted in Maya, a web series on the BDSM lifestyle, says that it is ultimately by being aware and making the right choices that one keeps from being objectified. “It all ultimately boils down to awareness and how much you yourself are comfortable with. In Maya, the series is based on deviant sexuality but I remain the subject of the film and not its object. That’s because I knew about my character before the series was shot and I knew that it was more than just skin show. Also, Vikram Bhatt and I would discuss each scene in detail and if there was something I was uncomfortable with, I clearly said that I wouldn’t do it, and he respected that decision,” she asserts.
Dolly Ahluwalia, who has won awards for designing costumes for Bandit Queen and Haider, says that it depends on each individual designer and director what they wish to depict with their character. “Personally however, I do not believe that you need to sexualise a character to show them as a woman of power and strength. In Rangooon for instance, I dressed Kangana in modest clothes. But her strength still shines through,” she says, adding, “It may have something to do with the fact that the director and costume designer of Justice League were men, while those of Wonder Woman (2016) were women. Men have a very obvious and narrow vision when it comes to the depiction of women and often misses out on the more sensitive nuances that a woman takes into consideration.”
Avinash, however, firmly stands by the fact that it is the person’s mentality that matters. “It would be wrong to say that all male directors are insensitive to woman characters, just as it would be wrong to say that all women are sensitive to it. What matters is the thought that goes behind the movies when they are made, and the mentality of the filmmaker. In Bollywood, we have been lucky to have women filmmakers coming up who have a broad vision and a sensitive way of portraying a topic. Hopefully we will also see the tide turning towards a lesser objectification of women than before,” he signs off.