But now there’s another reason to root for George Miller’s piece de resistance to do well at the box office besides the high-concept chase scenes: feminism.
In an interview with Esquire, actress and model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who plays a character named Splendid in the new film, dropped the mild bombshell that Vagina Monologues‘ playwright Eve Ensler had spent a week on set consulting with the film’s gang of post-apocalyptic women.
On any other film, the reasons for wanting a feminist theorist as a consultant might not be immediately obvious. But the subjugation of women is central to the plot of Mad Max, which features Huntington-Whitely as the leader of a band of women who escape from sexual slavery, an act which catalyzes the conflict that propels the rest of the film.
After describing her character, who becomes pregnant as the result of rape at the beginning of the film, Huntington-Whitely shared a unique fact about the research that took place for her and the other four actresses who comprise the escaped harem. Miller flew Ensler, best known for compiling and fictionalizing the real-life accounts that make up the Vagina Monologues, to the Mad Max set:
We did extensive research with her. Eve herself has had a very intense life. She’s spent time in the Congo working with rape victims and women who have had unthinkable things happen to them through the power of men’s hands. We were able to pick her brain for a week. She told us the most tragic stories I’ve ever heard in my life, which gave us so much background to our characters. We really wanted to kind of showcase that. It was a privilege to have her around to make these characters something more then just five beautiful girls.
This is a really interesting revelation for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s awesome that Miller prioritized making sure that the traumatic experiences of his characters were grounded in reality. Traditional Hollywood narratives (see Taken and many others with similar tropes) often exploit the suffering of women in order to foreground a man’s story—a.k.a. manpain. And since the title of the film is still about a guy named Max, it could be easy to expect that a plot involving an escaped gang of sex slaves might be more of the same. So it’s encouraging that Miller has taken pains to make sure that the experiences of real women and rape survivors are represented on screen.
On the other hand, Eve Ensler is a squarely second-wave feminist whose ideas can seem outdated in today’s thoroughly intersectional world. And instead of having a privileged American represent the experiences of women in developing nations to the actresses, perhaps Miller could have allowed some of those women to speak for themselves.
Still, given how intense the set seems to have been, perhaps having a filtering voice was a good thing. In addition to having her character cut herself, Huntington-Whitely stated that Miller had the actresses design their own costumes from scraps of bandages, and that the freezing temperatures combined with their skimpy clothing gave one of her fellow actresses “pneumonia or hypothermia.” Yikes.
You can read the rest of the interview at Esquire.
H/T io9 | Screengrab via Movie Clips/YouTube