Entertainment Movies Charlie’s Angels and the quandary about whether it’s empowering or sexist

Charlie’s Angels and the quandary about whether it’s empowering or sexist

Kristen Stewart Naomi Scott Ella Balinska
Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska shape up in the new Charlie's Angels. Photo: Columbia Pictures
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I saw the Drew Barrymore Charlie’s Angels movie when it came out in 2000. I was 20 and I went with my two best friends.

The female characters were bad asses cracking skulls in cute outfits – it was something we hadn’t really seen on the big screen before.

Afterwards, we drove home on a high, listening to the Destiny’s Child track Independent Women at full tilt.

Another friend, who is slightly older and watched the original Charlie’s Angels TV series in the 1970s recalls being similarly enamoured by Farrah Fawcett and Co.

“I used to love watching how pretty they were and good with clues and tiny handbag guns,” she reminisces.

And so here we are in 2019, with the new big-screen incarnation opening in cinemas on Thursday.

It will be interesting to see how the concept holds up in the new ‘woke’ era.

Does the world need more Earth-bound Angels in a time when superheroes rule the movie universe, or is it just another excuse to stick women in sexy outfits and have them bash up men (and each other) and say it’s empowerment?

Hopefully it will have come a long way from the Aaron Spelling-produced TV series from the ’70s.

While many people (like my friend) have an affectionate nostalgia for the show, reviewing it in 2019 can be a confronting experience.

Hayley Phelan, a New York Times contributor, wrote about it in her piece  ‘A Feminist Rewatches Charlie’s Angels for site Man Repeller.

Charlie’s Angels, a show where women finally got to be the ones kicking butt and taking names, is incredibly, can’t-believe-this-aired sexist,” she said.

“Aside from the constant objectification of all the women on screen, what really grossed me out upon re-watch was the way sexual harassment and even violence against women was portrayed in such a casual and light-hearted manner.”

Phelan points out that in almost every episode, one of the female characters is threatened with rape, something that totally went over the head of my friend when she watched with her family back in the day.

The 2000 and 2003 films – both directed by McG – also suffered from the male gaze, with plenty of lingering butt shots and moments like Cameron Diaz receiving a parcel and cheerfully informing the delivery guy that he can just stick it in her slot next time.

In a way, that is an inescapable element of the Charlie’s Angels story.

It’s about beautiful women in excellent outfits using their lady charms as a secret weapon against evil men. And while the men are ogling, they are being caught off guard.

But hopefully the 2019 film will have a slightly different flavour, with a female at the helm for the first time (Elizabeth Banks of Pitch Perfect fame wrote the screenplay and directs).

Banks explained her motivation in resurrecting the franchise to Stephen Colbert on The Late Show.

“I wanted to make a movie that celebrated women at work … I felt like the DNA of Charlie’s Angels is about sisterhood, camaraderie, working together, believing women, supporting women,” Banks said.

“I wanted to celebrate ladies teaming up.”

As well as casting Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska in the lead roles, a posse of powerful women were called upon to play cameos.

Wrestler Ronda Rousey, gymnast Aly Raisman, snowboarder Chloe Kim, and racer Danica Patrick all appear.

It was important to Banks that the script was also written by a woman, for women.

In an Entertainment Weekly interview she references male scripts that gender flip, cast a female star, and call it empowerment (“Did you go all the way though, or did you just get Angelina Jolie to play the role that Tom Cruise didn’t want?”).

Drew Barrymore Cameron Diaz Lucy Liu
Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu take care of business in 2000’s Charlie’s Angels. Photo: Columbia Pictures

Banks is also keen to depict older women saving the world, not just hotties in their 20s.

As well as directing she plays the role of Bosley, saying, “My character is a former Angel … I got promoted.

“Because I also felt like one of the messages of the movie should be when you turn 40, we don’t kick you out.”

The sense of hope that this may well be a fresh new Charlie’s Angels begins with the revamped opening credits.

Banks explains her decision to do away with the opening vignettes in the 2000 film version that served as biographies for the Angels.

“I felt that those beginnings were a way to apologise for the fact that these women were doing a job that you weren’t used to women doing,” she told EW.

“18 years later I don’t need to explain how she got her f—–g skills. As audiences we accept that women can do anything.”

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