On Conan O’Brien last night J.J. Abrams was asked about the recent controversy over a moment of contrived near-nudity in Star Trek Into Darkness. And I actually respect Abrams’ response: he says that his intention was to do a quick joke in the midst of a bunch of action, but says “I don’t think I quite edited the scene in the right way,” and of those that felt the scene was exploitative “I can also see their point of view.” There are ways that the scene could have been directed or edited in a way that actually made it appear that Carol Marcus’ reaction to Kirk being a supercreep shamed or cowed him in, well, any way. If Abrams felt this scene was really the “balance” to a brief scene of Kirk post-coitus with two alien women, where his nudity before the opposite sex is a product of his sexual prowess, not something that he has just expressed a clear desire to avoid, I just wish he’d executed that better.
Abrams also shared a few seconds of Benedict Cumberbatch‘s character taking a shower, which was not included in the final cut of the movie. And since Cumberbatch is kind of a rising nerd property now (particularly among women), that clip is getting spread around quite widely, touted as the end to the argument. And I’d like to, just for a moment, talk about what this clip isn’t: it isn’t evidence that men and women’s bodies are treated equally in the movie.
For one thing, the clip didn’t make it into the final cut, and an entire scene crafted, solely, as Abrams admits, to make a joke of the movie’s hero violating the privacy of a female crew member did. It’s difficult to see his offer of it now, now that folks are actually complaining about the gender roles in the movie (instead of, say, the whitewashing), as something other than an attempt to imply an equivalency, or as some kind of equally creepy, in my opinion, invitation for the audience to objectify Cumberbatch as a… peace offering?
(If I might take us a little off topic for a moment, I’d just like to say that, in the clip, Cumberbatch resembles nothing so much more than a cat being bathed.)
But the other, larger reason why the clip is not equivalent, and Abrams is missing the point, is because Cumberbatch’s character is not being ogled, against his specifically expressed will, by a third party who holds his career and freedom in their hands, as scientist stowaway Carol Marcus was. In fact, there isn’t even another character in the scene! Apparently Starfleet prisoners, men awaiting trials for terrorism and murder, get their privacy. No matter how hilariously grumpy they look.
If only one point that I make in this article could reach the ears of Abrams and Damon Lindelof I would have it be this one: I didn’t get angry about this until you tried to make excuses for it. The fact is that I face less disappointment in my life if I expect a summer blockbuster to gleefully objectify at least one of its female leads than the other way around. Frankly, the unashamed whitewashing of Cumberbatch’s character was the thing that really turned my stomach, not because there was less wrong with Kirk getting off scott free for ogling a woman who’d just asked him not to, but because sadly I’ve just become used to that kind of thing. Like our category, if I got angry about this kind of thing every time it happened, I would be angry all the time.
No, I got angry when, after being questioned about it, Lindelof admitted that the scene was gratuitous and contrived, but went on to say “Well there’s a very good answer for that. But I’m not telling you what it is. Because… uh… MYSTERY?”
Like I said: I’m kind of inured to the objectification of women in action movies. But like Kirk, I would have respected this scene a lot more if your production’s initial response to criticism was one of actually attempting to understand or show understanding of the actual complaints. In other words, at least do me the courtesy of pretending that you’d done it by accident. That you respect the genre enough to not cheapen its potential as an excuse for “free naked ladies.”
And now that you’ve both admitted that the scene didn’t work as intended and that you respect the opinion of folks who don’t think that it’s a “balance” with shirtless Kirk, please don’t try to pass off a deleted scene as the thing that restores that balance.