Mad Max: Fury Road And The Great Feminism Debate

After all the hoopla, debate, and thinkpieces, I finally saw Mad Max: Fury Road last night and it did not disappoint. The movie was a masterpiece of the senses and totally overwhelmed me with how engaging it was on all fronts. By about 15 minutes in, I was at the edge of my seat whispering, “this is amazing. This is AMAZING!” to myself. Basically, I loved it. I’m listening to the soundtrack as I type this.

A picture of Furiosa and Max from Mad Max: Fury Road

But aside from its prestige, the other reason this film has been generating so much press is because of its overt feminist themes. Early reviews praised it for its feminism, and MRAs called for a boycott. The director George Miller noted that he hadn’t set out to make a feminist film, but things had unfolded that way organically as the story progressed:

“There wasn’t a feminist agenda… The thing people were chasing was to be not an object, but the five wives. I needed a warrior. But it couldn’t be a man taking five wives from another man. That’s an entirely different story. So everything grew out of that.”

Additionally, much ado was made of the fact that feminist playwright, Eve Ensler was a consultant on set to talk about her work in the Congo. That in itself gave me reason to doubt the film’s growing feminist cred be honest. Eve Ensler does not have the best track record of inclusion, and her “work” in the Congo specifically was insensitive and reprehensible.

So what do I think now that I’ve seen it for myself?

Personally it’s increasingly clear to me, especially as I make a point to critically examine pop culture from a feminist perspective, that it’s fairly useless to try to designate media as “feminist” or “not feminist.” Very few things fall within such a strict binary, because media narratives, and the people who create them, are complicated. Even the most well-intentioned piece of overtly feminist media will have its problems. Instead, we should be looking to find and promote media that is “more feminist than not” while also critiquing the points where they fail, so that future productions can improve.

I think that Mad Max: Fury Road is more feminist than not. It definitely has its problems (race being the most obvious) but it is a movie that deals explicitly in feminist themes like misogyny, bodily autonomy, ableism, and ageism, and tackles them all fairly well. I actually love that George Miller said that he wasn’t explicitly trying to create feminist fiction, because it says to me that feminist ideals organically rise to the top when we take the time to consciously examine the way we treat certain themes. It tells me that feminism is the logical direction to follow, and I think we need more examples of that.

A group of women in the desert dressed in rags.

The aspect of the film that rang as most feminist to me was the role of the Five Wives. While they are technically the MacGuffin of the film, they are not treated as objects, but as full people; women with desires and thoughts and wishes, sometimes in conflict with each other. What impressed me most about their role is that they are not simply pursued or protected, alternating between captors, but are active in their own rescue. They consistently help Imperator Furiosa in their own defense against men bigger and stronger who wish to take them back to the Warlord Immortan Joe.

Most notable (to me at least) is the scene in which Immortan Joe has his sights on Furiosa and is about to shoot. To stop him, The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) who is heavily pregnant with Immortan’s child, hangs out of the War Rig and physically places herself between him and Furiosa. She literally uses her body, the site of which has undoubtedly been home to rape and assault at the hands of Immortan Joe (and now a constant reminder of such), as a weapon against him. She uses her increased patriarchal “value” against the very man who rules the patriarchal system of their world. To me, that was a powerful scene because it showed that even as her body had been used against her will to perpetuate a system that enslaved her, The Splendid Angharad did not view herself as property, but as an equal human being, capable of more than breeding warlords. Furiosa’s escape with the Wives was not so much a rescue as a partnership. She and the Wives worked together to achieve shared liberation in The Green Place. In my book, that’s really fucking feminist.

To that end, I disagree with Anita Sarkeesian’s assertion that Mad Max: Fury Road isn’t feminist because it “interprets feminism to mean ‘women can drive fast and stoically kill people too!'” In fact, there is an entire sequence where the Wives prevent Furiosa from killing Nux (Nicholas Hoult) because he is just a brainwashed follower of Immortan Joe, and in that sense, is an innocent in their inadvertent war. People are not killed in this movie gratuitously, they are killed as casualties in the pursuit of freedom. Furiosa and the Wives fight back because it is necessary for their liberation, not because they glorify or highly value violence. They are literally fighting back against a patriarchal system. So does it feel awesome to see so many women kicking ass and taking names? Sure, but it’s all the more profound because they are doing so in defense of their own dignity.

In any case, I positively loved the film, and I’m probably gonna have to pay full price to get a Blu-ray copy so I can experience it again and again in all its glory. In the meantime, I’m going to read other critiques of the film, both positive and negative. Feel free to leave me some in the comments below!


3 thoughts on “Mad Max: Fury Road And The Great Feminism Debate”

  1. Brilliant movie. I need to watch it in theaters again. It’s just amazing and I definitely agree with your critique. Would I have liked a more diverse cast? Always! But I also loved that Zoe Kravitz had a ton of lines and that each of the wives were their own person. And don’t even get me started on how awesome the many mothers were or Nux’s redemption. It was so shiny and chrome.

  2. Agreed that it’s sometimes useless to a designate everything as feminist or not because of the many shades of feminism and inclusivity that media often fail to achieve.

    However, I loved this movie so much and I can’t stop reading everything about it and I’m definitely about to see it a third time. It just hit so many things I love about great action movies and is also just a stunning movie, I honestly can’t wait to see it again.

  3. Oh Gods, I loved it. With every black screen our theater exhaled with some nervous giggles and I’m really considering watching it a second time in the theater and that’s something I never ever do.

    I loved how it looked as well. The surroundings, the people, it could all very easily become flat and caricatures, but somehow ..this was a world.

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