In the year 2020, I wasn’t planning to find a hill I would die on, let alone and have that hill be the 2019 Charlie’s Angels movie, but here we are. A few things happened this week that finally led me to metaphorically snap and write this piece, but make no mistake, this has been brewing for some time. First was the Comic Book Resources article boldly claiming “Captain Marvel 2 Won’t Be As Controversial as the First”, as though the first movie had any sort of actual controversy about it outside of angry fans who were hellbent on tearing the film down simply for existing, and its lead actress Brie Larson for daring to say there should be more diversity. The second is the passionate defense from Birds of Prey fans against a juvenile tweet from a Twitter “critic” proclaiming the film would go the way of Charlie’s Angels (ie bomb) because it wasn’t sexy for men.
Now, I’m certainly here for pushback against blatant chauvinism, but the defense quickly took on a tone of “yes, Charlie’s Angels sucks because X, Y, Z, but Birds of Prey won’t because…”
Can we take some time to stop and look at some of the main criticism that was lobbed at Charlie’s Angels right out of the gate, and actually be honest that we maybe sort of let some bad faith actors totally control a narrative over what was ultimately a fun, dumb action flick that was suitable for people of all ages (and subversive in some surprising ways to boot)? If you’re willing to do some unpacking, you might just come out of this with a better appreciation for the movie, and a new radar for pinging “bad faith criticism attempting to control the narrative” bullshit.
Note: I’m going to primarily address some of the seemingly “harmless” criticisms. But do note that there is plenty of the below to be found as well.
“O-M-G Why Do We Need Another Charlie’s Angels?”
Perhaps one of the first ready-to-be-lobbed criticisms of Charlie’s Angels, it came right out of the gate the moment preview stills of the movie were released. Many a tweet was written saying “this is stupid, nobody asked for this.” The problem with this assumption is that A) it’s far too broad to be an accurate claim, and B) … men get movies like this all the time with male leads. Crank: High Voltage could certainly be a prime example of “did we really need another?” but yet it exists. Did we really need three Expendables movies? How many Spider-Man movies do we really have to have? Or Batman movies? Why do we need more Avatar movies? Or Harry Potter prequels, or ….? Seriously, why can’t women have another Charlie’s Angels movie? Speaking of…
“It’s Way Too Soon Since the Last One”
Um, I hate to break this to you, but the last Charlie’s Angels movies came out in 2000 and 2003. It’s been SIXTEEN YEARS. Over a decade. Some people have birthed and raised teenagers in that time. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith aired in 2005, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted in 2015. That was only ten years, but apparently this was an acceptable amount of time?
“It Just Looks Like a Dumb ABC Family Action Film”
You know what, that’s fine. There’s room for personal opinion here. However, this implies two things: A) that this person hasn’t ever actually watched the film and feels comfortable parroting this narrative anyway. B) What exactly is wrong with women getting to have dumb but fun action films in the first place? Why can’t we enjoy popcorn flicks with women kicking butt and taking names and occasionally blowing shit up? Men get these films ALL. THE. TIME.
“Two of the Leads Are Just Too Unknown”
Everyone has to start somewhere. Daisy Ridley was a nobody until she was cast in The Force Awakens. It’s called “your big break” for a reason. If we’re punishing movies for not having enough name-brand actors (which, star power isn’t even a guarantee that a movie will be a success anymore), then we can’t also turn around and lament the lack of upcoming actors and actresses (especially PoC) in major roles. Let’s not forget, Charlies Angels featured two WoC (Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska) as leads, plus an openly queer actress (Kristen Stewart) in a queer role to boot. Not to mention the fact that the rest of the cast are known actors such as Elizabeth Banks, Patrick Stewart, Noah Centineo, Sam Claflin, etc. It’s just awfully convenient that the two “unknown” leads also happen to be the lead WoC, and also ignores the fact that Naomi Scott was fresh off a run playing Princess Jasmine in Aladdin that totaled over $1 billion at the box office earlier in the spring of 2019.
“She Shouldn’t Have Included Laverne Cox”
I mean, if you have a problem with a 30-second cameo to reinforce that trans women are women, that sounds like you have some bigger issues than the scope of this article.
“I Don’t Like Elizabeth Banks’ Comments About…”
Gee whillickers, doesn’t this sound familiar to the backlash about Brie Larson’s comments? That is still going on? That those same people have once again made a bad faith petition to try and force her out so an actress of color will take her part? (Not that they actually truly care about that, they’re just targeting Larson and Disney’s supposed “wokeness” to try and shame them into making a change.)
What exactly is wrong with Banks saying “I think women are allowed to have one or two action franchises every 17 years — I feel totally fine with that.”?
Or her comments about audiences (particularly male) flocking to comic book movies?
“They’ll go and see a comic book movie with Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel because that’s a male genre. So even though those are movies about women, they put them in the context of feeding the larger comic book world, so it’s all about, yes, you’re watching a Wonder Woman movie but we’re setting up three other characters or we’re setting up ‘Justice League.’”
Even though she also says
“By the way, I’m happy for those characters to have box office success, but we need more women’s voices supported with money because that’s the power. The power is in the money.”
The level of teeth-gnashing over (rather accurate) assessments of women in genre and franchises reminds me a whole awful lot of how certain fans turned Brie Larson’s nothingburger comments about everyone needing seats at the table as far as representation went into “Brie Larson Hates White Men!”
Once it became apparent that Captain Marvel was a box office success and they didn’t get the victory of saying the film bombed, they then spun it into a bizarre conspiracy that the rest of the cast from the Marvel Universe hated her.
Do we think that maybe, just maybe, there are some connecting threads here that started being flung all over social media before most people even had a chance to look at the Charlie’s Angels stills or trailers? That maybe, just maybe, like they were waiting with Captain Marvel, there might have been some people trying to craft a narrative over this movie from the get-go?
And, worse, that some of us completely played into it?
It’s not just Charlie’s Angels or Captain Marvel that face this type of narrative. Any form of media with a woman at the lead, especially a woman of color, is a prime target for the SJW ARE TRIGGERED SNOWFLAKES brigade. And they dig in viciously, in part because there’s a sadly too large audience out there who buys right into that party line and floods their YouTube channels with views and sweet, sweet monetization money or “go support me!” funding. Other targets include Batwoman, Doctor Who, and Star Trek: Discovery.
Look I know fighting the wave of bad-faith actors trying to write the narrative for, well, anything, is exhausting. And I know that many people pushed back against the tsunami of nonsense that surrounded Captain Marvel and yeah, maybe people were just tired. It’s hard not to burn out when the other side prides itself on ops and their ability to infiltrate basically everything. But the more we secede to bad media narratives, the more we have failures like Charlie’s Angels, and the more regular people buy into bad narratives in general. The more extreme conspiracy theories don’t even need to be pushed terribly hard if the regular person buys in on Level One with the “yeah, that seems accurate!” criticisms. Media literacy is sadly not where it should be with the average consumer. If it were, for example, a great many people would be noticing that most of the British tabloids currently posting article after article about Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan conveniently exclude the disclosure that they’re also being sued by them for the same bad journalist practices they previously inflicted. How funny is it that the British tabloids immediately crafted the $$$ narrative, and that it’s been what everyone else has latched onto while some are also smugly denying that racism has had any factor whatsoever in the treatment Meghan, Harry, and their son Archie have been subjected to.
This is why media literacy is so, so important in our digital age. They who set the narrative get to tell the story. And with Charlie’s Angels, that story seems to be that” we don’t want fun action flicks for women, and we don’t care about actresses of color. Don’t make those movies, they just lose you money.” Which feeds back into the vicious cycle of “we need more women in more roles.” Hollywood is a for-profit business, and they’ll make films that prove to make money. Every time that a Charlie’s Angels, or a Terminator: Dark Fate bombs, the message that’s being sent back to Hollywood, rightly or wrongly, is that “people, especially men, won’t go watch these films and they aren’t worth making”. We want to see more women in more roles besides “strong female?” We have to go out and watch them when they’re made.
This isn’t just about Charlie’s Angels. It’s about finding the Little Monsters and the Fast Colors and the Kitchens of the world and supporting them with our wallets when possible, so the Hollywood bigwigs take notice of “Hey, people are watching films that aren’t all about a white male protagonist.” Even if they’re sometimes just fun dumb action films to waste an afternoon watching. And don’t be mistaken, we deserve our popcorn explosion films just as much as the white or male (or both) audiences, even if someone tries to craft a narrative implying that films for women, or PoC, or LGBT persons, or disabled persons, or any other combination thereof should only be of the highest quality Oscar Bait du Jour to be justified in existing. Those films are important too, but so is getting to see ourselves exist and thrive in the types of franchises and genres the other people have been enjoying for decades.
Instead, we have self-proclaimed experts on the internet reinforcing that Charlie’s Angels bombed because it wasn’t sexy enough for “teh menz”, and people rushing in to passionately defend Birds of Prey who in turn accidentally reinforce those very bad faith criticisms themselves. How awfully convenient.