Black Widow might be feeling a little down lately. She’s been left off “Avengers” T-shirts. Her action figure isn’t part of the Marvel Universe Heroes Collection (available exclusively at Target!). And then this week Captain America took her place in a Lego set.
It’s been a tough week. So it makes me feel better to imagine her taking the afternoon off work, getting herself some popcorn, going to see “Pitch Perfect 2” and feeling a whole lot better. Not only because the sequel is funny and charming and everything the first one was, but because it’s the most feminist movie in years.
During a Barden Bellas performance, Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) is descending from the ceiling when something goes wrong, resulting in a wardrobe malfunction of the crotchular area. The audience reacts in horror, and Amy is forced to apologize for accidentally revealing the wrong body part (and it’s strongly insinuated she has the wrong body type to display or even possess said part). The Bellas are stripped of their championship title due to this ENTIRELY ACCIDENTAL, “lurid” display.
The way news stations in the film report the scandal is hilarious, as well as cutting. During one broadcast, the word “vagina” is bleeped out because ewww vagina; another station uses a graphic to label the situation “muffgate,” because you can call the Part-That-Must-Not-Be-Named anything but its actual name. Vulvas are the Lord Voldemort of biology.
The whole scandal illustrates how women’s bodies are regulated in the mass media: If they are not presented in one of a very few “appropriate” ways, they are shameful and the woman who wears that body must be shamed. “Pitch Perfect 2” smartly presents the entirely absurd situation as absurdity. It’s not quite satirical, because satire has to exaggerate — and one only has to look back at Janet Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl appearance to see that the writers didn’t have to exaggerate all that much. (When I Googled this to check that I had the right year, the first suggestion was “janet jackson wardrobe malfunction.” The second was “janet jackson superbowl.” The third was “janet jackson songs.” That’s the electronic legacy Jackson has to live with.)
What makes “Pitch Perfect 2” so good, so thoroughly empowering, is that the Barden Bellas treat the gender-based crap they have to put up with as just that: crap. Throughout the film, tired tropes arise, are examined and then discarded. There’s misogyny in the film, but it’s portrayed as the utter stupidity that misogyny is.
It’s easy and cheap to make jokes about feminists: blah blah unshaved legs bra-burning lesbian blah. “Pitch Perfect 2” flips the script, making it so the women (and the men who support them) are the ones laughing.
So feel a little better, Imaginary Black Widow. Oh, there’s still (a lot of) work to be done, but hopefully one day you’ll take your rightful place in Legoland. Until then, “Pitch Perfect 2” creates a world where feminism is simply the norm; it’s just waiting for reality to catch up.
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