2012-04-02

The Fast and the Misogynist

It opens with a crash and an explosion, a race, and a kidnapping. It has a female race driver. It is called "The Fast and the Furious." And it has no drifting in it. Because you know, drifting did not exist as a sport in 1955.

The other night, I watched the original "The Fast and the Furious" which shares little with the newer films in the sense of the plot, but the passion for driving and cars.

While I was watching the movie, I was torn between admiring the female protagonist "Connie Adair" and being annoyed by the overt sexism of the 1950s culture.

Formally, the film passes the Bechdel test to the T. It has more than one named female character, and when Connie speaks with them, they talk about cars, racing, the goings on in the racing community, and the news of the escaped murder suspect "Frank Webster." Frank also happens to be the man who kidnaps Connie and plans to use her race car to cross the border to Mexico as part of the international race which has a course running through the two neighboring countries.

The movie wins great props from me for:

  • Realistic depiction of the racing community
    The car enthusiasts, racers, crews, and officials could all have walked right off the silver screen and into an SCCA or NASA race day paddock, and found themselves right at home there. The conversations they have, and the general sense of community in the paddock and on-track were making me chuckle with recognition.
  • Good racing scenes
    I would say, if it actually had a plot revolving solely around racing, this movie would be now in the annals of the car fandom for its awesome race scenes and great stunts. It captures the moment quite well, and they have a large number of race cars shown on competing on course. Damn, even the people talking about cars sound like they know what they are talking about!
  • Strong female protagonist
    Connie Adair is a lady after my own heart, a true racer, and an awesomely strong woman. At the beginning of the movie she is shown competing in a race, alone in the cockpit, no male crew or navigator chaperoning her. She travels on her own to the site of the big international race, and is entered to compete in it--until the officials deem the course "too dangerous for ladies" and ban her along with all other women from participation. She is visibly upset, and not at all demure when she gets the news, so unlike the mid-century ideal lady! When her kidnapper enters to run her car, and goes on a reconnaissance lap, she can't help herself and starts instructing Frank in cornering technique when he struggles with the car. THAT's true racing passion!
    Throughout the movie, she remains independent, strong, and not in need of any man's help to get where she wants to be. She challenges Frank and makes several attempts to escape or have him captured.

Now to the parts that are less awesome:

  • Throughout the movie women are dismissed and belittled by men
    That is very much in line with the misogynist culture of 1950s, and I cannot hold it too much against the makers of this film. I mean, they DID make Connie a strong character, and all other females but one are nothing like your stereotypical "It's a Great Life" housewives in aprons. I am not even sure there is a single child in the film.
  • Abuse and violence against women is trivialized
    As Frank kidnaps Connie, he uses differing levels of physical violence to force her to comply, including a forced kiss to assert his power over her. He throws her on the ground, he grabs and shakes her, he verbally abuses her on a running basis. He yanks her by the arm and continuously interrupts her when talking to her racing friends, yet nobody seems to feel it necessary to say a word in her defense. While they roll their eyes at how rude he is, they don't seem to think that anything worthy of intervention is going on here.
  • Connie falls in love with her kidnapper
    When I put myself in Connie's shoes, kidnapped, physically and emotionally abused, forced on a long trip without as much as food and water, I imagine my reaction would be that of terror, hate, maybe ultimately resignation. However, over the course of the movie she is showing more and more compassion and confesses that she loves him towards the end! The script written by men who believe that women just play hard to get when they say No, spoiled the rest of the movie for me.

Watch full movie (may not work outside the United States).