Female Rage: The Brutal New Icons of Film and TV
In both films, Amirpour uses violence to liberate his female protagonists from the danger that men might otherwise represent in real life. “With my storytelling, I want to enter a dream world, a fantasy,” Amirpour told BBC Culture. “What I’m looking for in all my films is to find freedom, to constantly define freedom – it’s not just one thing – to go after it, then to deconstruct it.”
Ti West and Mia Goth’s horror film Pearl, now in theaters across the United States, captures a different kind of female empowerment through violence; set in 1918, it stars Goth (who co-wrote the screenplay alongside director West) as the titular anti-heroine, a young woman who spies on a way out of her stifling existence by nursing her catatonic father under the watchful eye of her domineering mother. Pearl craves stardom and when a regional magazine contest comes to town, she’s ready to put an end to anyone who gets in the way of her ambitions – and we’ve got her back all the way.
Elsewhere, on-screen female violence is portrayed as a way to dispel still entrenched notions around women’s frailty and weakness by portraying them as anything but. The disbelief at the idea of female brutality that met McGehee and Siegel’s Lord of the Flies project encouraged screenwriter Ashley Lyle to prove doubters wrong with her series, Yellowjackets, whose first season featured poisonings , guns, and even (suggested) cannibalism as he portrays the aftermath of a plane crash that crashes a women’s soccer team into a forest. Although these conditions are extreme, by also jumping between the girls’ future lives as adults and flashbacks to their teenage years before the accident, Lyle makes a compelling case for the brutality women are capable of no matter what. either the situation. Yellowjackets was a huge commercial success, becoming Showtime’s second most streamed show in its history. Lyle pinned his popularity on how he encapsulates a certain mood, telling Indiewire: “There was something about the lockdown phase of quarantine coming to an end and everyone was reaching a point of exhaustion – maybe people wanted an outlet for their discomfort with the world around them or for their anger or feelings of dread.”
“We’ve seen portrayals of women in bands ‘going wild’, but perhaps the difference is that this type of media has often been hidden away,” Janice Loreck, author of Violent Women in Contemporary Cinema, told BBC Culture . “It’s B-level cinema and it’s not mainstream or popular.”
The low-budget, sinister “exploitation” films of the 1960s and 1970s, an umbrella genre that capitalized on sensationalism and controversy for profit, were the first cinematic movements to focus on female brutality. It was often an excuse to marry gratuitous nudity with graphic violence, seen through what feminist theorists have called the “male gaze” – the perspective of heterosexual men.. In the supposedly criminal Caged Heat (1974), “rogue” women are imprisoned and subjected to rape and abuse by an insensitive doctor (Warren Miller). The protagonist of Foxy Brown (1974) (Pam Grier) only turns to violence when her boyfriend is murdered; Seeking revenge, she is drugged, raped, and nearly sold into a sex slave. Female violence was either portrayed as exceptional or explained as a product of male control, as in Cannibal Girls (1973) where the actions of flesh-hungry women are orchestrated by a rogue reverend. While links have been drawn between the blaxploitation genre and the Black Power Movement, with Pam Grier particularly hailed as a cinematic icon, and women are sometimes given power in such films, they are, in equal measure, victims of exploitation for the pleasure of some male viewers.