By Nora Panahi
Let me preface this by saying I haven’t seen 1917, and I don’t want to.
A tweet by comedian Joel Kim Booster summarizes what I want to say perfectly. There are virtually no women in 1917. Women aren’t considered important to the storyline. Men make movies about war so they don’t have to cast women.
I don’t know if it’s a conscious decision, if there’s some hazy smoke-filled back room full of Hollywood executives maniacally rubbing their hands together at the prospect of excluding women from last-minute Oscar grabs, but trailers for 1917 and other point and shoot movies are glaringly female-free.
A quick scroll through 1917's IMDb page shows there are two women in the cast - Clair Duburcq, who does not have an IMDb profile picture, and Teresa Mahoney, whose character has no name (“Lt. and Pte. Blake’s Mother”). There’s also a little girl, Ivy-I Macnamara, whose role is simply listed as “French Baby.”
Finding these three names took a while; they are virtually swallowed up in a sea of dude actors with names like “Kenny” and “Spike.”
Krysty Wilson-Cairns co-wrote the movie with director Sam Mendes, whose directorial debut American Beauty won the Academy Award for “This Aged Well” in 2019. As a female writer myself, I’m pumped for Wilson-Cairns, but representation behind the camera can fall flat when two of your three female characters don’t have names and one of them is a baby.
With the success of female-directed comedies like Booksmart, and the onslaught of powerful super-heroine movies like Captain Marvel and the upcoming Black Widow, I’m sure it’s really frustrating for dudes to have their favorite genres infringed upon by egg-toting ladyfolk.
Even in Knives Out, a man-directed mystery (manstery) about a man who gets murdered starring Daniel Craig, who is a man, the soon-to-be-former James Bond is upstaged by woman-over-40 Jamie Lee Curtis and breakout star Ana de Armas, a Cuban-American who (spoiler) literally vomits all over Captain America’s man face and body.
As a woman who is having a moment, I can’t understand how disenfranchising it must feel to not see yourself represented on the big screen.
No movie is safe these days from the pervasiveness of feminist girl narratives; unless (lightbulb!) there aren’t any girls in it to begin with.
1917 brings us back to a simpler time, before women were invented. The early 20th century was an era when men could be men, having conversations about important things like battle strategies and message delivery without having to worry about “representation” or “diverse perspectives.”
The whole of popular culture seems to be trying to look ahead to a new era of inclusivity and intersectionality, but Hollywood seems determined to look backward in a “make movies great again” sort of way.
Resist the patriarchy. Go see Cats.