It is NOT OK to normalise the heterosexual male gaze, even if it is part of the narrative in an otherwise fabulous movie like Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them!
Porpentina (or Tina, as she is called) tells Queenie to put something on over her nightgown. There are male guests in the house. Queenie obliges, peeking from behind the doorframe. As she slips something on, Jacob stares. The camera closes in on Queenie’s body, following Jacob’s gaze. When we see Jacob again, he gasps, almost drooling.
Welcome to the ‘male gaze’. You have encountered it countless times while watching a movie. It is when the camera follows a heterosexual man’s gaze, usually aimed at a woman’s body. As a result, the audience sees the woman, from the man’s sexualised perspective. The female gaze on the other hand, is a creature much rarer to come by.
Imagine you were changing, and a stranger was ogling you, sexualising you. And then, you could read their mind, and found out what was going through it. How would you react?
Queenie pacifies and reassures Jacob. Most men think what he was thinking about her.
That was the moment, that the magic went out the theatre for me. No matter how sexy a woman is, it is not okay to ogle her. ‘Most men’ doing it, is not proof that it is natural and acceptable. It takes away responsibility from men for their actions and puts it squarely on the shoulders of women. She is beautiful. He cannot help himself. Oh wait, where have I heard that before?
But that’s not all. In this movie, it is said by the woman on the receiving end herself. Explained as part of a free-spirited character owning her sexuality.
In another scene, Jacob whistles after Queenie leaves the room. The desi translation of his facial expression would be “Kya maal hai, yaar!” Newt doesn’t seem to notice it. Queenie has already given a free pass to this sexualisation. For the audience, it becomes an “Aww, so cute” part of their dynamic.
But don’t worry. Queenie is not here to only be sexualised by Jacob and the camera. She is actually quite smart and resourceful. In one scene, she even saves everyone.
But wait, there’s a catch here, too. In so many movies, we have seen women using their sexuality to get what they want. Surely, when the woman in question is a witch who can read minds, that will not be a thing? Nope. It is. It totally is. Queenie is busy saving the day and escaping, when she is stopped by a man. Of course, he is an admirer. Of course, she uses her sexuality to distract him.
How many sexist tropes can you fit in the narrative of a single character? One more.
Lo and behold, Queenie and Jacob fall for each other. After countless movies in Bollywood and Hollywood, here again a conventionally attractive woman falls for a conventionally unattractive man. Yes, yes, Jacob is absolutely delightful. Tell me, how many delightful, unattractive heroines are fallen for by intelligent, attractive heroes?
There is nothing wrong with having a sexy female character – especially in a movie with many brilliantly diverse female characters. But a character can be sexy without being blatantly sexualised by another character. A woman can be proud of her sexiness without having the camera and the male gaze closing in on her body.
I also fail to understand why Porpentina and Newt fall for each other. Jacob’s attraction to Queenie is abundantly explained. Queenie’s attraction to him just seems to happen. But, Porpentina and Newt come together in the most random fashion of them all. It’s almost like the male and female characters must fall for each other just because.
Since watching it, I haven’t come across anyone or anything that critiques these elements of the movie. Perhaps, the magic of the plot blinds one to the sexist, heteronormative subplots. After all, it belongs to the Harry Potter canon. Every second person you meet is a Potterhead. Which Potterhead among us doesn’t have a ridiculous story about their Potter obsession? Who among us hasn’t taken inspiration and advice from it for great everyday battles?
And yet, over the years, the criticisms have come out of the woodwork – its lack of people of colour, its pseudo-LGBT+ representation, to name a few. Loving something means protecting it viciously, even from itself. For “it takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
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Image source: youtube