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And Now For Something Completely Different

Dragon Tattoo Marketing Worried That Their Ads Are Alienating Women

Normally, when ad executives worry about women not responding to violence in movies, we scoff and write a post about how narrow minded they’re being, and feel free to use our own community as an example of women who would totally go see a movie that began with “John Carter” even if it ended with “of Mars.” Especially if it ended with “of Mars.” But when the ad folk behind American adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo say they’re concerned that their movie is too full of sexual violence to appeal to women, I’m gonna say: Yeah. You might be right.

According to Vulture, this is a big concern:

To date, Knopf’s Vintage Books has sold 18 million copies of The Millennium Trilogy in all formats (with 1.3 million more paperback copies of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo being shipped as a movie tie-in). While a Vintage spokesman, Russell Perreault, said that the imprint could not furnish Vulture with demographic data about what percent of the Dragon Tattoo readership was female, he did note that on the publishing house’s official Dragon Tattoo Facebook page, 71% of the 469,000 fans were women. He also noted that on Knopf’s official Stieg Larsson Facebook author fan page, some 65 percent of the author’s 291,000 fans of the author were female.

And yet those female fans seem to be backing away from [David] Fincher‘s dark film adaptation, which has so far been racking up stellar reviews. The movie is hardly tracking to be a bomb; the issue is more that by scaring off women, it could be leaving money on the table, or at least in purses and handbags. “It has had a problem with women since it came on tracking,” says one former studio marketing chief, referring to audience polling conducted by Nielsen Media’s National Research Group. This exec says Sony is concerned that while women are more aware of Fincher’s movie than men, they are almost no more likely to want to see it: Fully 83% of women over 25 and 79% of women under 25 are aware of the film, but only 36% of either group of women expressed “definite interest” in seeing it. Men are about five percentage points lower in awareness in both demos, and yet at about the same percentage of definite interest.

Fincher’s The Social Network caught a bunch of flak, even from Stephen Colbert, about its treatment of its female characters, and he’s made no bones about seeking to please with Dragon Tattoo.

After the success of The Social Network, the director got final cut of this movie and has an outsized influence on its marketing materials, and he seemingly had no interest in hunting down a mass audience… To be sure, the marketing of the film reflects Fincher’s asocial sensibilities: Gray-on-gray posters of the mohawked femme courageux, Lisbeth Salander. A quick-cutting trailer that’s so hip, it barely bothers to name the film it was teasing. Dour TV commercials that, as one insider put it, “do not say, ‘Come, all ye who have read this book!’”

Our own Jamie offered this candid quote for me on why she’s decided not to see the movie, having watched the Swedish film adaptation:

I watched the original movie, and it wasn’t a bad movie, but I’m not going to pay money and leave my house to volunteer to feel that uncomfortable. But that’s just me. I wouldn’t tell other women not to see it because of that, though they should know that there’s a horrible rape scene in it. Also, from what I can tell, [Fincher's] version might be more graphic. For example, in the original, you see Lisbeth limping away afterwards. In the Fincher version, you see her bleeding in the shower. So, yeah. No thanks.

If the book is popular with women, but the same story presented in film isn’t, it’s probably because you’re doing something different. Maybe, your depiction of violence against women is being interpreted as voyeuristic, as sexed up, or simply as a presentation of sexual violence as attractive (whether aesthetically attractive, sexually attractive, visually attractive, thematically attractive, or whatever). Needless to say, “attractive” should never be the way that sexual violence against anyone is purposefully depicted. That’s not necessarily my accusation (that this attitude was purposeful), and I certainly wouldn’t consider myself an expert in the PR for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but purpose may not have had anything to do with it.

It’s simply very difficult to present sexual violence on the screen (whether or not it’s “realistic” or “graphic”) in a way that isn’t going to make many women uncomfortable, and it’s what you do with that discomfort; whether it’s left to linger, given proper closure, or glossed over by the narrative; that will ultimately redeem or damn your handling of the issue. Even if you’ve read the book, we all know adaptations can be unfaithful or strike a different tone than the source material. Whether a movie will have that resolution, or not, is near-impossible for an audience to figure out from trailers or advertising unless the campaign is explicit about it, and it’s that uncertainty that I would say is likely to be alienating people.

What do you guys think of the movie? It’s publicity? The book? The original movie?

(Vulture via Jezebel.)

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  • Anonymous

    I loved the books, but I won’t be going to see this movie.  This has nothing to do with the advertising; I haven’t seen any of it.  It does, however, have to do with the sexual violence that will be graphically depicted in the movie.  The book made me cry during those scenes.  I don’t want to relive it in the movie theater, surrounded by people, seeing things that I’ll never be able to unsee.

  • Priscila Simões Tchorbadjian

    I’m a big fan of the books, but I also don’t plan on seeing this movies. (Unless my mom drags me with her. She’s also a big fan) My motivation to not going is that I still don’t trust the portray of Lizbeth Salander on the movie. Seeing as the movies are never as good as the books they are based on, I’m simply saving myself from disappointment. 

  • Bel

    Tried to watch the original movie, had to turn it off for the sexual violence.  Kind of burned into my brain nonetheless.

  • Anonymous

    I was interested, but I’m glad I read this and got the heads-up ahead of time. I would struggle too much with graphic sexual violence… I mean, I had issues with that in Watchmen, and that was a lighter touch.

  • Anonymous

    I was aware of the movie, looked up the plot of the book it was based on, realized from both of those that there was going to be more sexual violence depicted than I might be comfortable with, knew Hollywood’s penchant for glamourizing sexual violence against women, which was definitely the impression I was given by the trailers for this movie, and immediately decided I wasn’t checking this one out.  Thinking about reading the books, though.

  • Mazeburn –

    I liked the first book. Buuuut in the rest she stopped making any sense as a character. After finishing the second one, I filled in the Mary Sue Litmus test for her and got a score of 83.

  • John Wao

    I read the first book and liked it, but thought the part where Lizbeth goes around disguised as a blond should have been edited out. To me it didn’t fit with the rest of the book. I haven’t read the other two novels yet.

    I liked the first movie with Noomi Rapace and personally didn’t see the need for a remake, but I understand that this is the way Hollywood operates. There’s always going to be unnecessary remakes of perfectly fine foreign language films, like Let Me In (Let the Right One In), The Departed (Infernal Affairs), and Quarantine ([REC]).

    I probably will see the Fincher remake mainly because I like his films.

  • Caitlin Rosberg

    I got desperately uncomfortable during those scenes in the first of the original movies, which I saw before I read the books.  After reading all three, the second two movies were a lot easier to handle because I KNEW she was going to get her revenge for everything that had happened to her.

    I honestly just don’t trust Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara.  Noomi Rapace (seriously, how could they get the only two actresses with such similar names?) was just so amazing as Lizbeth, and DC is too pretty to be Blomkvist, not to mention I’m still kind of indignant that Hollywood felt the need to remake a movie that’s less than 5 years old and was perfectly good, but had the temerity to be in a foreign language.

    I’ll admit I’ll probably be seeing this version, but it’s for the soundtrack.  I can’t get enough of Reznor and Ross together.

  • Caitlin Rosberg

    The blond bit is actually quite important to the second and third books, which is probably why it seems a bit tacked on.

  • Jodie

    I am definitely going to see the movie, mostly to compare. The one thing that bothers me about the GwtDT marketing is that the first promo pics were all of Rooney Mara as Lisbeth, naked or mostly so in a sexually provocative way (stretched out over a tattoo bench, breasts covered by Daniel Craig). These images are completely against everything the book and the Swedish original is about. Neither of them sexualize Lisbeth. In fact, they are completely against it. Lisbeth is not a character that is supposed to be seen as a sex object. She’s just not. So why is the American version trying to do just that? It worries and disturbs me.

  • Anonymous

    I haven’t read the books and may rent the movie so I can fast-forward any graphic scenes that are too much for me.

    What about the controversy over the first poster that showed Rooney Mara topless? I wonder what effect that had on potential female viewers (it certainly made me raise an eyebrow because it didn’t seem to fit what I’d heard about Lisbeth’s character).

  • Christy Houk

    The original was very good, and I think addressed the sexual violence very appropriately. It was HARD to watch, and Its the kind of movie I would only watch once for that reason, but NECESSARY.

    We as a culture have been glossing over sexual violence for decades in film, causing the unfortunate side-effect of a generation viewing rape as something that just happens. I know there are sickos that will get off on the movies portrayal of sexual violence, but mostly will be uncomfortable with it, and thats the way it should be. Not some kind of drunk girl staggering down the frat house stairs looking sad, but the life altering, violent, criminal and cowardly act it is.  

  • Anonymous

    I saw the original film the other day not knowing a thing about the source material. I had the house to myself I had a couple (more than a couple if I’m being honest) of beers and sat down to watch it, only choosing this particular film because of the Fincher version coming soon. Although I enjoyed the story, the rape scenes did nothing to improve my mood.
    As they shouldn’t.

    Oddly enough although the scenes in question were uncomfortable it was more the events revolving around the relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael that kinda rubbed me the wrong way. The film goes out of it’s way to show the effects that the assault had on her ability to have personal relationships. Except that the movie seems to want to have some semblance of a happy hollywood ending so Mikael, in a manner of speaking “gets the girl” and Lisbeth sorta shrugs off her assault as though it never happened Tra la la…

  • Fluffrick

    I have yet to see a Fincher film which treats sexual violence as being a signifier of crass, outlaw cool. 
    In that spirit, I have hopes that the truly horrible rape scene in “Dragon Tattoo” will be akin to the scene in the Swedish original.  It was desperately upsetting and had to be difficult to watch – a rape scene that is palatable is a scene which is so completely misconceived as to be actually dangerous, surely?  I can absolutely appreciate that some folks wouldn’t want to see it and find it gruelling – I did too – but I think to excise it or self-edit would be a disservice to some of the ideas in Larsson’s novels.

    I don’t think that Fincher’s treatment of the few and far between female characters in “The Social Network” did anything more than demonstrate the attitudes of the people it was depicting – The problem isn’t with Fincher. He’s arguably a misanthrope but not a misogynist.

  • Kimberly

    Why it’s being remade is the same reason why many foreign films/games/anime/whatever get dubbed or otherwise localized: Many people in the western world only speak english, or for whatever reason don’t speak the language used in these films/games/whatever.  There is also the misunderstanding that most westerners will be put off too much by overly foreign (and therefore unfamiliar) stuff.

    There are also a lot of people who will refuse to watch or play anything with subtitles, saying they hate to read or that it distracts from what is happening on the screen at the time.

    People have to understand that sometimes a localization is necessary in order for the film/game to gain ground in a country outside of the one it was made in. I am quite sure that western films/games have been localized in other countries, and I know for a fact that a lot of movies and shows have been dubbed, with their scripts localized, to languages other than english. It does go both ways.

  • Anonymous

    I liked the original movie series. So I’d rather not watch this on the principle of not liking remakes.

    But the sexual violence of the original is very, very disturbing and it’s designed to be that. I can completely understand people not wanting to see it because of it’s inclusion.

  • Nikki Lincoln

    It actually makes sense in the context of the other 2 books. It kinds of sets up the tools she has in her arsenal – the secret identity and what she acquires in the first book because of it (no spoilers from me!).

  • Nikki Lincoln

    I figured (and based on the comments here, seems right) that it’s just too hard to watch for most people. 

    I know when I first read the books I had just about no idea what they were about, but was curious due to the acclaim. While it was disturbing though, I still liked the story and do plan on watching the movie. I’ve seen the Swedish version and they did a decent job of making it less violent. Maybe this one is more graphic but honestly I’m just worried that Rooney Mara won’t be nearly as good and Noomi Rapace. But yea, if the movie is too graphic, it would have gotten the dreaded NC-17. 

  • Kristin Frederickson

    “Needless to say, “attractive” should never be the way that sexual violence against anyone is purposefully depicted.”

    Aaaand this is why I didn’t like the rape scenes between Drogo and Daenerys in Game of Thrones. Soft lighting and candles do not go with sexual assault!

    Sorry, a bit off topic there.

  • Victoria Eden

    I could NOT get through the first book. I managed to read 250-300 pages, and it seemed like there was no direction or development of any kind. I had to stop reading. I have started watching the original movie (only made it through about half an hour before I got too tired) on the recommendation of a friend who also didn’t like the book but loved the movie.

    I don’t plan on seeing the remake until it makes its way to Netflix or HBO.

  • Emma Jones

    Seeing the original version in a tiny theatre with my parents and my boyfriend was really awkward.

  • Kalynn Osburn

    I saw the original movie before they decided to remake in English. The fact of the matter is Lisbeth is an original character with deeply seeded psychological issues. She reflects to an extreme what all women have felt at one point in time or another. The desire to take control, the need for revenge, wanting to see justice done, wanting to be in charge of our own destiny and lives, and of course that need to walk away with our soul in tact despite everything we suffer or succeed in and what it costs. I’ll admit the rape scene is lurid, but frankly that makes it all the more real and encourages you to see life from the characters POV. I won’t be going to see the remake. But the original remains a personal favorite.

  • Kathryn

    I read the books and saw the original film. I wouldn’t watch the American version, because I don’t think you can beat Noomi Rapace, and because I think the film is better in Swedish, in Sweden. 

    I watched the original movie on my computer, alone, and I think that’s the issue for me. I can face watching sexual violence but it’s not an experience I want to share with anyone. 

  • Magdalena Kuzawinska

    i’ve seen all three swedish movies (one for every book)and they are really good movies. i’ll go to see us version too, but don’t believe they could do better job then Swedes.

  • Anonymous

    Alright, I’m not going to see the film, but not because of the graphic sexual violence. When I heard that David Fincher was remaking the movie, it was less than a year after the latest swedish version had come out. I just found that he showed a blatant disrespect to the originals by making an americanized version that soon. The orignals were freaking amazing, and I (personally, mind you) think that there was no good reason to remake them. 

  • sanna ulfsparre

    In Sweden there are some criticism on how Lisbeth Salander have been made less subversive and more objectified and sexualized in a traditional heterosexual manner, judging from the advertisement for the film. This is a really interesting article on the matter: It’s in swedish, but if you’re interested it might be worth braving the dire straits of possible mistranslations to give it a go with google translate. I think they are on to something, those who aren’t discouraged by the violence might instead have reacted on the normalization of Salander that gives her less agency and make her less of a (super)hero in my eyes. 
    I actually liked the original movie and didn’t find that it romantizised sexual violence – my impression was that it took the problem seriously. I feel more sceptical to this new one. Salander is not meant to be a primarily sexual creature, she’s supposed to be a person with agency and a sexuality. And it bothers me that I hear that the relationship between her and Mikael has been made more romantic since one of the points of it is that it isn’t a boy meets girl affair – why Lisbeth Salander has a serious relationship with a girl parallelly with the storyline with Mikael. @Diddy_Mao:disqus  Salander is all about control in personal relationships which might be her way of handling the abuse.

  • Caitlin Rosberg

    Go watch the other two movies.  The end of book/movie one doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense…it feel tacked on and weird (as mentioned above) until you put it in the context of the other two, which redeems your opinion of Blomkvist and his relationships with women (after making you dislike him a lot more)…at least that was my experience.

  • Joanna

    Cos how else would you get Americans into culture? =P  Anyway, Lisbeth doesn’t have a traditionally “sexy” body.  She’s supposed to be scrawny and flat chested.  I hope the American movie left it at that.

  • Joanna

    While the rape scene was disturbing, nothing made me whoop in triumph more than when she got her revenge.  I was like “Fuck yeah!  Take that, rapist!”  Lisbeth rocks my socks XD

  • Carmen Sandiego

    I ripped through the books quickly, finding some of the style refreshing (particularly in the first one) and the characters at times mundane, but at times riveting.  I saw the original movie, which I think did well.  Noomi was incredible in it, I’m so glad she now has a blossoming career here (she stars with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law in the latest Sherlock Holmes film and is filming another “big” movie which is coming out I think next year).  I have reservations about the remake, but I disagree with others here about Daniel Craig; I think he is a great choice, even if he is too handsome.  I prefer “Let the Right One In” to the American “Let Me In”, but still found the US one watchable.  I’m curious to see how they do this remake.  I’m going to a midnight showing, assuming there are some.  I hope so.  I think it will do decently with women.   All the people I know who read the books are women and most of them are curious about this, though they may wait for my take on it before they see it.

  • C. R. Lanei

    The marketing has been unappealing. But marketing of most films with a female lead are usually done poorly so it is hard to say one way or the other. That said, this is definitely not the sort of movie I’d want to see on a big screen. There are stories that lend themselves well to being watched in a crowd of strangers eating popcorn and texting their friends. There are others that do not.

    I have not read the books or watched the other movies and mostly became aware of this movie because of Reznor’s involvement in the music. As usual I’ll read the book and see the other movies before delving into Fincher’s version. But, the marketing of the movie and an article I read about Rooney Mara have lent no urgency to the matter.

    As far as rape and violence toward women (vulnerable populations in general)–it isn’t such a bad thing that inclusion of these behaviors in a movie isn’t a selling point. It should give us pause and make us consider what we’ll be seeing, why it will be included, etc. And also if it is necessary to see in order to comprehend some aspect of a story or if it is just an act of voyeurism.

  • Anonymous

    My (male) cousin kept forcing the books onto our female family members because he’s a book nerd, but he couldn’t understand (even resented) why they never finished the book or refused to read the next in the series. I’ve never read them myself, but from the reasons they said, I’m fully on their side.

  • Anonymous

    Although it’s definitely hard to watch, I think the sexual violence is what’s drawn so many women to this franchise. It’s taking it seriously, it’s putting things in the women’s perspective, and it’s showing that she doesn’t lose her agency or who she is once it’s happened. I know my whole body was tensing when I saw the rape scene from the first film in theatres, but I went on to buy all the books.

    Sexual violence affects all types, but especially women, and seeing it in the forefront of the story I think makes women feel more connected, more like this story is for them.

  • Anonymous

  • Allison Mages

    Could be partly the medium itself — films are more immediately arresting, especially in the movie theater, in public. It’s difficult to escape from a moment if you need to. As arresting as books are, they allow you to take things at your own pace. Films don’t.

  • Anonymous

  • Alison Ching

    I couldn’t even finish the book, largely because of the sexual violence. But the last straw for me was SPOILER ALERT when Lisbeth slept with Blomkvist. Because it made sense for her to be so damaged and alienated after everything that happened to her, and then Larsson completely undercut that by having her seemingly fall very easily for Blomkvist’s charms, especially since Blomkvist is such an unbelievably raging example of a Mary Sue ( the bad fan-fiction kind, not the awesome bloggy kind ;) ). Seriously, I was like, “Wow, this character who is obviously based on the author is going to have sex with every marginally attractive woman in the book. Except Lisbeth, of course, because clearly she is too messed up to be having healthy sex with anyone at this point”. And then he had sex with Lisbeth. And I was out.

  • Marianne Wolff

    I loved the books and liked the Swedish movies. I really don’t see why Hollywood had to do a remake after such a short time… or at all. So to me that’s one reason not to go see it. The other, even bigger reason is that I can’t stand Daniel Craig. I don’t know why but I find him one of the most overrated actors of the past few years. Those are my two reasons for not wanting to see it. It has nothing to do with the violence whatsoever.

  • Ms Avery

    I was never going to see the movie, but I found that poster off-putting.

  • Ms Avery

    I admit I laughed my head off at Lisbeth sleeping with him. The bit where she reflects that he’s the ONLY non-sexist man she’s ever met, so she may as well sleep with him… it was just the most ridiculous thing ever. Blomkvist is a completely ludicrous character!

    If it had been better written, I would have found it more offensive (because yeah, horrible rape trauma, overcome by Blomkvist’s awesomeness), but I just couldn’t bring myself to take that bit seriously.

  • Caravelle

    But remaking and dubbing aren’t the same thing.

  • Anonymous

    I doubt I’ll see it either.  I read the book and liked it a lot.  If I were going to see a movie, I guess I’d go for the Swedish one since it’s the “original.”  I just don’t trust Hollywood to do anything that has a point other than “Hey, look at my boobs/pecs/CG!”  I probably can’t think of a Hollywood movie I’ve seen in the past decade that was worth as much as the two ebooks or one-step-up-from-fast-food dinner out I could get with the same amount of money.

  • Emmie Fisher

    I have no intention of watching the movies in the theaters.  In a few years I might watch them on video, assuming they actually do all three books.  But after watching the disappointing Swedish versions, I don’t hold out much hope that the Hollywood version will be any better. Although, it does make me happy that they actually gave Lisbeth a mohawk.  But the reality is, that it’s just too soon.  I know they want to jump on the train before the interest in the books passes, but the problem is that with all 3 Swedish versions circulating in the US, having a Hollywood version just doesn’t make that much sense right now.

  • mandatory

    Although off-topic, I completely agree re. Drogo and Danerys. Its inclusion is especially aggrivating as in the book their relationship is consensual – the tv series makes it look a little like Danerys comes down with Stockholm Syndrome.

  • Anonymous

    I liked the trailer, primarily due to Trent Reznor’s score and my love for “Zodiac,” but this thread has me thinking that this movie will just piss me the fuck off.  So I guess I’ll be skipping it, thanks Mary Sues!

  • Anonymous

    This. I admit that even knowing that ASOIAF is set in a medieval-type world where girls are considered women at what is a young age to us, Dany marrying Drogo squicked me out a bit. So I was happy that at least their wedding night scene was consensual.
    I haven’t watched the series yet but I was very disappointed to hear they changed it and I don’t understand why they would do that.

  • Mark Steensen Nielsen

    I don’t think and hope that this will be an unnecessary remake. I think the original Swedish movie was decent, but I really like Fincher. I don’t thinks it’s as much a remake as another version and I really think Fincher’s version will be a better one than the Swedish, mainly because he is the better filmmaker.