Rise of the Planet of the Apes has been the box-office surprise of the summer, taking in $54 million its opening weekend and staying strong in cinemas thanks to overwhelmingly positive reviews. The film has been in theaters for about a month now and is overdue for a culture chew.
I enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The special effects are mind-blowing: the audience’s perspective is almost constantly in motion as viewers swing and run and climb along with the apes through scene after moving scene. Andy Serkis’s performance as Caesar is spectacularly rendered via motionscan technology. The success of motionscan in films like Avatar and Rise of the Apes and videogames like L.A. Noir has exciting implications for future films and videogames – but I digress.
Here’s where things get chewy:
Rise of the Apes does not even come close to passing the Bechdel Test. Unless we count the one lady chimp who – SPOILER – dies in the opening of the film (you know, to move the male chimp’s story arch forward), there is only one female character in the entire film: The Male Protagonist’s Girlfriend.
Freida Pinto’s Caroline is a particularly egregious example of The Male Protagonist’s Girlfriend, as her character contributes almost nothing to the plot. You could pull Caroline out of the film entirely and barely have to rescript a thing. Her purpose in the film seems primarily to affirm James Franco’s character’s heterosexuality and to function as eye candy for the audience. She could have been so much more.
On the plus side, at least she’s not another white person. Her presence in the film brought the number of actors of color all the way up to…two!
Attention Hollywood: It is 2011. Can we please get some women onscreen? And maybe some people of color? Can we have more than one lady per film? Can those ladies play characters more nuanced than The Girlfriend? Thanks.
All this is not to say that we must fling poo at Rise of the Apes. As I stated above, I truly enjoyed the film. I just want people who see it to recognize the substantial disparity between the number of male characters and the number of female characters. Being cognizant of these disparities is the first step toward a more egalitarian representation of minorities in mainstream cinema.
Interesting side note: One of my favorite characters in Rise of the Apes is a huge male orangutan named Maurice:
He is played by:
Karin Konoval. Pretty wild, right?
You can read an interview with Konoval about her experience playing Maurice here.
Have you seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes? What are your thoughts?