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'Machete' + Progressive Audiences

While it might not look like it from the trailer, Machete was one of the smartest and interesting Hollywood-style films I’ve ever seen tackle issues of race, national identity and systematic oppression and do it in a humorous, light hearted way. “The Network”, an underground group of illegal immigrants and allies, start a revolution to dismantle the Right’s “Mexican Terrorism” agenda involving an electric fence to keep out illegal immigrants. The response from some evokes a race war ever since the special trailer dedicated to Arizona was released. There’s lots of violence, bait and switches and blood. There are even two strong and smart women of color in the film who play key roles.

But however powerful and progressive the message was, I couldn’t get passed how hyper (and I mean HYPER)-sexualized these strong female characters were. Now, maybe I don’t see many target-male movies, but I’m still shocked.

In a Facebook discussion after the movie, I learned that (to my surprise) the progressive men didn’t have a problem with the way women were depicted. They felt that the movie was made for them and the tits & ass shots were there to entertain them. Are progressive men all that progressive if they’re not examining their own privilege of a male gaze? In its somewhat radical (by Hollywood standards) depiction of ‘revolution’, Machete ignored the struggle of women, posing the question: must a filmmaker choose between race and gender? Or is the exploitation of one necessary to explore the other?

Below are my responses to the men in the group.

Yes, a great genre blurring film that looks critically on issues of race, identity and nation with humor… But did the women have to be oh soo objectified? It reminded me of the many Latin American revolutions that proclaimed political liberation for the people & placed the women-led fight against machismo on the back burner to be dealt with after the revolution… Needless to say that fight didn’t happen.
A great look at the politics of systematic ‘othering’, but it’s upsetting that a progressive guys guy movie would set women in such retro object-oriented shots (ie the full on nudity, thigh high boots, the many many tit & ass shots, etc). My only guess is that the box office let’s you explore only one progressive issue & they had to exploit gender to explore race… but even that’s not that great an excuse.

[the responses]

@ Elisa… Everyone in the movie both men and women were objectified. The film was not discriminatory in its sterotypes. Its was all done on purpose to entertain as well as to inform the audience.

….I was saying that a movie like Machete as well as Sweetback, Porky’s, Animal House, Airplane, all in my humble opinion, made for MEN will always have object-oriented shots and some objectification of women because as men we like those types of shots. I’m interested to see what the critique of Machete will be too.

I was definitely referring to sexual objectification and I’d be interested in hearing in what ways men were sexually objectified in the film. I’d agree, generally, that increased sexual freedom of women has led to an increase in the objectification of men, particularly in the media, however I didn’t catch many (1?) glaring instances of male sexual objectification as I did with women.

Admittedly, Hollywood as never been a liberator; if anything they recycled and perpetuate oppressive cultural norms. I was happy to see Machete toy with this cycle and explore issues of race. I was appalled that with all it’s self-realization, there was such poor representation of women.

Despite the progressive subject matter of the film and perhaps some instances of male objectification, the role of women in Machete was defined by the male gaze. This is a problem, a common one, central to understanding women’s position in society. Females seldom find themselves in the role of spectator; women form the spectacle. They are the objects while males are generally the subjects.

The reason men often like these images is no surprise: the camera almost always assumes the gaze of the male and seems to constantly watch women, something it does not do with men. It is a male gaze that moves and controls the camera.

My disappointment stems from a history of women in film being depicted as objects for men’s sexual fantasies and this film’s proximity to praise: there were 2 prominent women of color in the film who had actual lines of dialog, important scenes and fight sequences, far more than your average Hollywood film. But just as quickly, the female characters were hypersexualized and self-objectified as an expression of their supposed empowerment. This is problematic as women’s bodies (as defined by men) are historically a site of oppression, abuse and reproductive terrorism, not liberation.

I was hoping that there’d be more understanding of and solidarity with the history of women’s struggles against the male gaze and the body as site of oppression among a progressive audience.

I can understand your hope Elisa and I think we all agree that women have not been treated all that great in most hollywood films but it shouldn’t be expected in a film made for men by men. Clearly, if a man made it and the women who accepted those roles agreed with them then why should anyone hold the film to a standard of overall liberation when just dealing with race and masculine images was the point of the story?
I agree with you wholeheartedly that the history of oppression and objectification are horrible and need to be examined but I also think that some films should be made for their core audience and allowed to live in that realm without having to answer ALL the social ills that we commonly see on display.
Agreed, they are the two strongest female characters I’ve seen in a position to create lasting social change. Additionally, yes, no one film can be the liberating force for all social movements. That’s why we need multiple voices contributing to the discourse. I think this film and The Kids Are Alright are a good start, albeit problematic, to the future of film and Hollywood.
I still think progressive male audiences have to look at their privilege in having films being ‘made’ for them.
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