Tag Archives: bridget fonda

Jackie Brown: 4 STARS

*So this week’s feminist film news was brought to my attention by a dear friend of mine whose future career in film will I hope help to right some of the wrongs we see here today. So Jill Soloway, who is the writer/producer of the show Transparent which is one of the 2 TV shows I haven’t seen, something I hope to rectify soon, recently made this speech. Here she says many wonderful and terrifying things about how hard it is to be a woman working in film and TV, an industry which is constantly and actively challenging female subjectivity ie questioning that women are, in fact, people. So I join Ms Soloway in saying “I just beg everybody to be relentless in their pursuit of their voice”. So go ladies and make films or just say things loudly whenever you get a chance.*

(SPOILERS. As always, only sort of, I basically think of any review as always containing spoilers because, I mean it tells you about the film before you’ve seen it, but yeah I guess you decide if that matters to you. CN for violence against women, shooting and attempted strangling, racism)

“I think if I was a middle aged black woman working for $16000 a year I wouldn’t think I had a year to spare” – Mark Dargus to Jackie

“If you walk into a business meeting wearing that suit, you’ll be the boss” – Sales Assistant to Jackie

Ok so I’m a bit scared about writing this. Because really my opinion about what this film says about women is immaterial. This film is not about me, it is about Jackie, and to suggest that I know anything about her life or Pam Grier’s life or what this film might mean to and say about black women would be arrogant and stupid. However I did not want this blog to be yet another place full of white faces and interest in white media and I am a big Jackie Brown fan so I’m going to give it a shot. Feel free to slap me in the face whenever you like. To double my sins I couldn’t find anything written by black women about this film. I mean obviously it must be out there I just I don’t know where to look because I’m woefully ignorant and because I don’t read film reviews (a great quality in a critic I know – in my defense at least 50% of the reviews I did find referred to Jackie as a “spinster” I mean seriously fuck off) so all I could find is this interview with Pam Grier about her role. She really just chats about her experience making the film but this moment seems like a particularly shocking example of the combination of everyday sexism and racism black women have to face in the business called show, and she says it like it’s nothing – completely to be expected:

“When I originally was sent and read the script, I thought I’d be playing the dope ho, with the bra and the hotpants. When Quentin said I wasn’t, I asked him what role I was reading for, and he said ‘You’re not reading! You are Jackie Brown!’”

So here’s my attempt at a Jackie Brown review, a film which I feel gives its female characters space to breathe and have lives and be wonderful while still acknowledging the continual waves of oppression they have to stand against, and at the same time is completely complicit in their sexualisation and the creation of their ‘other’ness. So this shouldn’t be complicated at all

STAR: The Bechdel Test

– Developed female relationships

(By the skin of its teeth. Jackie talks to the sales assistant about her cool new suit for long enough to qualify. She also talks to Melanie for a minute in the dressing room and gives her some money (what did Ordell ever do for us? what indeed, got us all shot and arrested seems to be the answer) and she talks to Sharonda, again very briefly. On the one hand the scene between Sharonda and Jackie is very touching, in that Jackie doesn’t seem impatient with Sharonda’s awkwardness and in general does her best to put Sharonda at her ease; on the other hand any scene with Sharonda in kind of brings up the issue of how acceptable it is to portray young black ‘country’ women as dim, simple and inclined to live in squalor. I mean I don’t think Tarantino is endorsing Ordell’s horrendous exploitation of this young woman but she seems unnecessarily silent to me and there is a certain glamour about Ordell’s life. This is a masculine fantasy, where you have enough money to ‘set up’ several different ‘types’ of woman, who, you then seem to think you own (and occasionally rent out to your friends). There is no solidarity between these women, and there was meant to be a scene between Jackie and Melanie (as Pam says in her interview) where Jackie tries to encourage Mel to make it on her own. I would liked to have seen that scene is all I’m saying)

STAR: Non- stereotyped Female Characters

STAR: Developed, prominent female characters

(Yeah, so no female relationships but lots of female characters. Jackie is wonderful. She’s genuinely complex. She has tastes in music, desires, dreams, a past, mixed emotions. Tarantino calls this a ‘hang-out’ movie, one where you get to hang out with his characters and you do feel like you’re getting to know Jackie. There are elements of her character that are larger than life, that verge on the ‘sassy black lady’ stereotype, a stereotype which applauds black women for their strength even while making that strength palatable and unthreatening to a white audience. All that can be said of these moments is that they are direct references to Ms Grier’s previous work in the Blaxploitation films of the 70s when she played characters like Coffy and Foxy Brown. Whether that makes such stereotyping ‘ok’ is, I guess, something one has to decide for oneself. Whatever your perspective on this however Pam Grier’s performance seems unquestionably accomplished and to have a 44 year old black stewardess as a film’s heroine, particularly when that character was originally written as white, seems great and important to me. As for the other women in the film, Sharonda has been discussed, Simone’s scene where she dances to The Supremes dressed entirely in sequins seems too easy to laugh at although it seems a marvelous performance to me and could just as easily be appreciated as such. And then there’s Melanie, who will be discussed more later in our sexualisation section, because, despite a wonderful performance by Bridget Fonda, she does play the ‘dope ho’ Pam thought she was reading for)

No Excessive Air of Misogyny

– No rigid adherence to gender norms

(So Jackie’s great, there are lots of women (even if their characterisation varies in quality) and there are productive relationships between men and women in the film. Jackie and Max are, of course, partners, and her relationship with Ray, Michael Keaton’s hyper ATF guy, is relatively respectful although his partner’s behaviour towards her – threatening her, talking down to her, probing into her personal life and making presumptions about her based on her age, sex and race – is disgraceful. Whether it’s ok to have 2 ‘nice’ law abiding white men in positions of authority treat a black woman better than her black male friends is acceptable is a whole other kettle of fish which i’ll allow you to cook yourselves. Anyway despite these relatively positive relationships this is not a world that is kind to women. Women are shown to have no way to support themselves apart from relying on the patronage of dangerous and exploitative men. Melanie is forced to wait on Ordell in her own home while she tries to watch TV, all of which involves either women getting hit in the face, Tony Curtis saying it’s important he’s with a good looking woman (important to whom Tony?) or women in bikinis. Jackie’s experience with the law is shown to be equally humiliating and exploitative, and let us remember she has been forced into this low paying airline because of her ex husband implicating her in various crimes. Just because Jackie ‘wins’ does not mean sexism does not exist. You should not have to concoct such a deviously complicated plan just to be able to support yourself)

No Excessive Female Exposure or Sexualisation

– No objectification of the female body

(No chance. In hell. Melanie is constantly dressed just in a bikini top and tiny shorts. Her legs are the main thing in most shots of her. Her desire to have sex with the shabby, coughing, old Robert de Niro seems unlikely at best. Also there’s the show ‘Chicks with Guns’. Now maybe this is Tarantino making up for the fact that in this film the women aren’t all half naked super heroes. Maybe it’s a knowing nod of self awareness that this is the kind of film he would go on to make. Or maybe it’s a chance to show women in bikinis. Jackie herself does not get this kind of treatment but there is a lot of camera lingering on her body, particularly in the opening sequence, and her beauty is CONSTANTLY referred to. It is great that the young white blonde Melanie is not the only option as an ideal of beauty in this film. And it is very important to recognise the beauty of black women, but it does rather undermine the importance of having a 44 year old woman as a lead when she ‘looks 35’, as Quentin says. One might question the strength of the challenge to mainstream ideals of beauty when casting such an unquestionably beautiful woman. So no stars here)

STAR: No Gratuitous or Trivialising Scenes of Rape or Male Violence Against Women

– No threat of male violence against women

(The scenes of violence against women are not gratuitous. Melanie is shot but this is quick and largely off camera. It is also taken seriously. Ordell is very upset about Melanie’s death. I mean partly this is because he sees Louis as disrespecting his ‘property’ and partly because he doesn’t see why Louis couldn’t just hit her to shut her up. Inspiring stuff. However it is not a death that is taken lightly or swept under the rug. Similarly the handling of Ordell’s attempt on Jackie’s life is taken seriously, both in that it is truly sinister, and in that, in revenge for trying to throttle her, Jackie threatens to shoot off Ordell’s dick. The reality of this scene, the fact that Jackie needs a weapon to have any hope of fending off Ordell, adds to its power The physical prowess of Kill Bill is a fantasy, the real difference between the sexes is that one can kill the other with its bare hands, as Rachel McAdams says in the only good moment of this season’s True Detective. To kill Beaumont Ordell concocts an elaborate scheme to get him into the trunk of his car. To kill Jackie he walks into her apartment and puts his hands round her neck. I think Tarantino takes this difference seriously and I think Jackie Brown deserves this section’s star)

4 stars. And 3 bonus points. 1 for BME women, 1 for working class women, and in fact all of the women in this film, with the possible exception of Melanie, could be described as working class which is basically unprecedented in the film’s I’ve reviewed (although none of them, besides Jackie, actually have jobs, they’re mainly doing Ordell’s dirty work/making him drinks) and 1 for explicit discussion of feminist issues. Because discussion of the difficulties faced by middle aged working class black women is at the heart of what feminist discussions should be about. After Django it seems overly generous to give Tarantino the benefit of the doubt when it comes to dealing with race and the ‘white hero coming to the rescue of their black subordinate’ syndrome is not really successfully subverted here but in terms of putting black women centre stage, and in understanding the ways in which misogyny and sexism intersect, pressuring black women to become, as Zora Neale Hurston put it ‘the mule of the world’, Jackie Brown does important work. I love hanging out with Melanie and Jackie and I think you will too.

*A note on Tarantino. I will almost definitely be reviewing Tarantino’s other films at some point, because I love them. I’m prepared to admit that I love all of them, objectification, gratuitous violence and all, but why I chose Jackie Brown first is because you don’t have to be a Tarantino fan to like it. Jackie Brown is adult and sophisticated in a way no other Tarantino film is and I think Jackie, of all his protagonists, most obviously commands his respect. Also, all the Django madness aside, I think his desire for Pam Grier to be the first black woman to get an Oscar was sincere and commendable. And the fact that she didn’t even get nominated is pretty shitty. I mean I’m not trying to knock Kate Winslet but how was Kate Winslet in The Titanic better than Pam Grier? How is watching Judi Dench be Queen Victoria more exciting than watching Pam be Jackie Brown? I also admire his attention to his audiences, the fact that he went to cinemas with largely black audiences to see how the show was received is really cool and something few directors do. I think he is overly self congratulatory for this and I think Spike Lee basically hit the nail on the head when he said ‘Quentin, you are not an honorary black man’, but I guess the point is that, with Jackie Brown I think the good outweighs the bad and, for a film made by a white man about a black woman, it is surprisingly profound.*