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OPINION: Is Mad Max feminist?

It's filled with explosions, guns, cars and half-naked supermodels. But was it feminist?

There’s a scene in the latest Mad max movie Fury Road that made me chortle under my breath. It’s the scene where Max is stumbling through the wasteland chained to an unconscious boy warrior who is slung across his shoulders and he is suddenly confronted with five scantily-clad maidens who are making their collective escape from an evil warlord in an armoured petrol tanker.

It made me laugh because even though we are in the middle of a post-apocalyptic world, where everyone is scrambling for survival, these five beautiful young women are dressed in what amounts to cheesecloth bikinis. It seemed not matter how bad things get, there’s still room for a little titillation, especially when your main audience is hormone-charged pubescent teenage boys infatuated with cinematic violence and car chases (which, by the way, are superb and non-CGI).

And yet there is a school of thought that Fury Road, for all its mammoth explosions, gory death scenes and brilliantly choreographed action sequences, is at its heart actually a feminist-fuelled revenge drama where the chicks get their own back on the misogynists who use them as “breeders”.

One he-man was so offended by strong women characters that he claimed that men who watch the film will be: “duped by explosions, fire tornadoes, and desert raiders into seeing what is guaranteed to be nothing more than feminist propaganda”.

Now, I’m not completely convinced about that view. It seemed to me that there might have been just a little too much female flesh on display – a naked Megan Gale perched atop a metal scaffold amidst never ending sand dunes, for example – to make that argument complete, especially when the main male character gets to swan around clad in leather.

But there is no denying that the women in this Mad Max reboot kick arse. There are actually two lead characters in this film. One, of course, is macho Max but the other is an unequivocally macho woman, admirably played by Charlize Theron as the ultimate female road warrior.

More than that, the women in this movie are indeed the guardians of the future. The men are almost – Max, played by Tom Hardy, is actually the exception here – universally diseased, demented or just dumb as a box of hammers.

And the women have all the guts, morals, determination – as well as the physical ability to carry healthy children in a world where the future, like the earth itself, is deformed and doomed for more of the same.

So, if you are looking for a film where women stick exclusively to those tired old gender and biological roles then it’s certainly not happening here.

Asked about whether Fury Road had a “feminist agenda,” Charlize, who plays Imperator Furiosa, had this to say:

“I think George didn’t have a feminist agenda up his sleeve, and I think that’s what makes the story even more powerful, especially how the women are represented in it. It’s just very truthful, and I really applaud him for that. […] George has this innate understanding that women are just as complex and interesting as men, and he was really interested in discovering all of that. I think through just his need and want for the truth he actually made an incredible feminist movie.”

So, what do you think? Is Fury Road feminist propaganda? Or is it just a well-crafted piece of modern film-making?

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