Lifestyle & Culture

Feminist Thriller or Just Another Day For A Young Woman?

The screening of ‘Promising Young Woman’ coincides with International Woman’s Day 2021. Thus, it’s the perfect time for Phoebe Metcalfe to discuss why we need more feminist pieces like this in pop-culture.

TW: The following article discusses sexual assault, violence against women, and suicide. If this brings up any issues for you, you can contact any of the helplines included at the bottom of the article.

After the release of the trailer in early December last year, ‘Promising Young Woman’ (2020) has finally made it to Australia. The trailer did a fantastic job of retaining the best parts of the film. For the first time since I subscribed to Netflix and made binge-watching my regular viewing routine, I was so excited to actually go to a theatre and see a film. My heart was racing the entire time.

In a medium dominated by men, constantly spitting out sequels, remakes, and cliche media tropes, it is so refreshing to have women at the forefront – directing, producing, acting, writing, and telling stories every woman resonates with – giving Hollywood the intense feminist insight it so desperately needs.

Brought to you by the brilliant feminist mind of Emerald Fennell, produced by Margot Robbie, and materialised by Carey Mulligan, ‘Promising Young Woman’ is a story of more than just a *crazy* woman’s revenge plot. It subverts so many tropes that female characters in thriller films fall into.

Mulligan tells the story of Cassandra, a woman whose life derailed when she and her best friend, Nina, were forced to leave medical school after Nina was raped publically at a university party. It is later implied that Nina committed suicide as a result of her trauma. We follow Cassie as she combats her own grief and guilt, as she searches for closure, and ultimately revenge.

However, it’s not the A Plot that kept me entranced in the cinema.

It was the realistic portrayal of discrimination and sexual assault that woman, and female-presenting people, live through every day.

I was seeing myself on the screen.

I was hearing “but, I’m a nice guy”, “we get accusations like this all the time, we have to give the benefit of the doubt”, “if you have a reputation for sleeping around then maybe people aren’t going to believe you when you say that something’s happened”; words that too many of us have heard too often.

I was also thrilled by the subversion of the “feminists vs men” concept. Two of the characters on the wrong side of the story were women; one being the Dean of the University, the other a peer from medical school who lied and hid evidence of the event. Not all women support other women, and sometimes those women can also be the perpetrators, and this film wasn’t afraid to break down those “feminist” cliches.

The film gave the story of all the people who are inadvertently affected by one person’s sexual assault, it told the story of the people who profit from it, and it showed how extreme those situations can escalate to.

“The first take of it was ‘What does female rage look like? And what would you actually do if you were in that position?’ So we wanted to be, sort of, honest about that. And, I think, it was important that we look at who she was before this event that derailed her life.” – Carey Mulligan (Variety: Actors On Actors @ Home)

My female friend and I watched it together, both of us having a connection to sexual assault, one firsthand and the other secondhand. We walked out having felt every extreme emotion possible (including PTSD. So please, if you are sensitive, do not watch this alone), both of us were enraged and yet satisfied by the ending.

After discussing the film together in the car park for almost an hour, we couldn’t answer the question: Would men view this as an exaggeration of our experiences? And if so, is this because these situations are not portrayed accurately enough in our pop-culture and mainstream media?

After all, it’s not as if any woman, of any position, is exempt from these situations. Take Brittany Higgins, for example. The former political advisor came forward a fortnight ago with a sexual assault allegation from 2019, and since then a flood of allegations have arisen dating back to 1988.

I would recommend everyone go see this film, and if you hear anyone say ‘Uh, I’m not really into those types of movies’ then they’re the people this film was made for.

Start those conversations.

Happy International Women’s Day.

If this article has brought up any issues you can contact:

1800 737 732

13 11 14

NSW Rape Crisis
1800 424 017

The University of Newcastle After-Hours Support
1300 653 007

Feature Image: by Focus Features, no changes made.

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