Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The not-so subtle negative messaging in Jessica Chastain's Iron Man 3 character description.

The big casting news from yesterday was the announcement that Jessica Chastain is being sought for a major role in Iron Man 3, joining Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, and (allegedly) Andy Lau alongside the various returning cast members (basically every surviving character from the first two films save for Sam Rockwell).  The cast listing for the other *male* actors primarily described their occupations and/or role in the story (Kingsley is the villain, Pearce is a 'sinister scientist', Lau is 'a scientist').   But the actress is being touted not just as a scientist but as "a sexy scientist every bit as smart as Tony Stark".  Because despite winning raves in seven films last year, with countless award nominations to go along with it, Ms. Chastain can't just be described as a scientist.  Oh no, she has to be a hot piece of ass who despite being (gasp!) a girl is as intelligent as Mr. Stark.

The quote came from Deadline Hollywood without attribution, so it may just be Finke's own choice of words, but I doubt it.  You rarely see male actors with character descriptions that emphasize their attractiveness, yet when female actors are cast in this film or that, you all-but-always see their characters being described by their attractiveness.  And that's if they get a character description at all, as opposed to just being cast as 'the love interest'.  When actresses are introduced on talk shows, they are described as 'the beautiful, the talented' as if their hotness is more important than their skills at their chosen profession. And it's arguably a redundant description anyway.  Ms. Chastain is an attractive woman and she probably won't appear in a mega-budget movie like Iron Man 3 without a token amount of polish.  So if you're attracted to Jessica Chastain, you're probably going to think she's kinda hot in Iron Man 3.

 The lesson is simple: As a woman, it doesn't matter what your achievements are since they are secondary to your ability to make men fantasize about having sex with you.  And the need to emphasize the fact that she's "just as smart as Tony Stark" sells two memes.  First of all, don't worry boys, she's not *smarter* than Mr. Stark, so she's not too threatening.  Second of all, it's still considered noteworthy in 2012 that (shock!) a girl actually possesses the intelligence and skill-set to be whatever kind of scientist she's going to be. It's no secret that Iron Man 3 is partially based on the "Extremis" story-arc.  Guy Pearce is probably playing Aldrich Killian while Jessica Chastain plays Maya Hansen.  There was no reason to not simply say that Jessica Chastain was playing a fellow scientist or acknowledge that her character has a prior connection to Tony Stark.  But the need to throw in a character description that is both sexist and patronizing at the same time speaks quite a bit to how Hollywood views its leading ladies, even those more known for their skills than their bodies.

 Scott Mendelson


Bill said...

You may find this hard to believe but many, many people find Robert Downey extremely sexy.

Scott Mendelson said...

Robert Downey Jr, Guy Pearce, Don Cheadle, etc. All of whom exude a certain amount of sex appeal (maybe Ben Kingsley too, but that's for another day). You're correct an that's kind of the point, Bill. They could have exclaimed 'Guy Pearce as a smoldering scientist who may be as smart as Tony Stark', but they didn't. That's the double-standard that I'm discussing.

Adam said...

I'm not sure it's entirely (emphasis on the entirely) a double standard. Regardless of her accomplishments it makes sense for Chastain not to simply be described as a "scientist". If Guy Pearce was described as smoldering, how would that add to your understanding of his character and more importantly to Tony Stark's relationship to that character? I don't think it would because I don't think it would matter at all to Tony Stark whether he was smoldering, average, or dumpy. Unless maybe they are planning on playing up a jealousy / love-triangle angle. Whereas describing Chastain's character as sexy does add descriptive value. Tony Stark as played by Downey is clearly someone who treats women differently based on their appearance. Chastain playing a "geek lab-rat" scientist (glasses, frizzy hair, lab coat, etc) would be a completely different character to Tony Stark, than a glammed-up (short skirt, showing cleavage, etc) flirty scientist. Calling Chastain sexy isn't to point out her ability to make men fantasize about having sex with her, it's to point out that Tony Stark is almost certainly going to fantasize about having sex with her, and that wouldn't be clear if she was merely described as a 'scientist'. Regarding the intelligence, Stark is a "super-genius". The assumption is unless specifically noted, a character, male or female, scientist or otherwise, is not as smart as Tony. It's fair to assume that Pearce's, Kingsley's, and Lau's characters all won't be as smart as Tony. Further Stark seems to be the type that might have a problem with dealing with a woman as smart as he is. We've seen Stark interact with sexy women, Paltrow, Johansson, explaining that Chastain is a smart as he is adds a layer to their interaction that we wouldn't guess at otherwise. So the description 'a sexy scientist as smart Tony' gives an indication of Chastain's role in the movie in a way that "fellow scientist" or "scientist with a prior connection to Tony" does not.

SeandBlogonaut said...

Are we selling the movie to Tony Stark or the average moviegoer?


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