Suicide Squad Director Responds Fairly Thoughtfully to Harley Quinn Costume Criticism
David Ayer, the director of 2016’s Suicide Squad, responded to a Twitter user who claimed that the character of Harley Quinn was sexualized in his movie and was better humanized in Birds of Prey. Ayer’s response to the comment and the small interaction that came after was pretty telling.
In response to the claims of his movie hyper-sexualizing Harley, Ayer said, “Sadly her story arc was eviscerated. It was her movie in so many ways. Look I tried. I rendered Harley comic book accurate. Everything is political now. Everything. I just want to entertain. I will do better.”
On first look, it’s not the best response, because as someone who has just recently given the film another look, I can say that it is “Harley’s movie” mostly because Robbie’s character stands out, and her relationship with the Joker pulls focus away from the actual story being told. As far a comic book accuracy goes, there is no denying that the hyper-sexualization of Harley has been part of her character since way before Ayer got his hands on her, but that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.
It doesn’t help that the costume is not flattering on an actual human body.
Media journalist Lauren Humphries-Brooks, host of the Citizen Dame podcast, responded with a very apt comment about the character of Harley and the voyeuristic lens trained on her in the movie. “A female character in an abusive relationship is already political, my dude. The way your camera looked at her was political. The way you used her was political. You treated her as an object and she still rose above it. That was political too.”
One of the things I noticed while watching Suicide Squad was how it doesn’t really properly address the abusive relationship between Joker and Harley in a way that I think gives weight to their relationship in comics. Yes, the sequence where Joker electrocutes Harley when she’s still a doctor is violent, but even that is before her transformation. If you look at how Joker treats Harley outside of that scene, especially in the extended cut, they are treated like a straightforward romantic relationship, where her devotion to him makes him care for her.
That’s why the “comic book accurate” part doesn’t ring true to me, because the most accurate thing about her is her name and backstory, leaving out the domestic abuse that has been so key to her character. Pair that with the way she is dressed and ogled the entire time, with her “hotness” being brought up constantly, and it’s very clear that her character’s depth is from Robbie’s acting, rather than the page itself.
Rather than double down, I was actually quite impressed that Ayer followed up, “Retweeting because this is very thoughtfully written. Thank you for this. I am growing and learning in a changing world.”
As far as discussions about this on Twitter go, this went better than usually expected. For that, I tip my hat to Ayer, because it is not uncommon for people to treat every thoughtful criticism as an attack.
Sadly her story arc was eviscerated. It was her movie in so many ways. Look I tried. I rendered Harley comic book accurate. Everything is political now. Everything. I just want to entertain. I will do better. https://t.co/8s4fewsBRH
— David Ayer (@DavidAyerMovies) April 11, 2020
A female character in an abusive relationship is already political, my dude. The way your camera looked at her was political. The way you used her was political. You treated her as an object and she still rose above it. That was political too. https://t.co/iW0fB1kZMZ
— The Notorious LHB (@lhbizness) April 20, 2020
Retweeting because this is very thoughtfully written. Thank you for this. 🙏🏻 I am growing and learning in a changing world. https://t.co/JUAy8H8RZw
— David Ayer (@DavidAyerMovies) April 20, 2020
There has been a lot of talk in a bunch of places about compassion and empathy, especially towards people in power or with positions of privilege. However, I find that while a lot of people ask for this kind of compassion or empathy, they rarely, if ever, think about the lack of it given to the least respected of us.
As a woman who loves comics and loves cute/sexy outfits, but also knows the history of the male gaze as film theory, rather than just a buzz word, and has seen firsthand the kind of mindless and ignorant vitriol that is leveled against anyone who decides to give a female character a skort rather than a skirt, I wish that there was more empathy for those of us who are just saying “be aware.”
The choices of how Harley’s body are used and exploited in Suicide Squad are jarring especially because the only other body that is seen in that way is Will Smith’s Deadshot, and that is done while he’s working out. We don’t have lingering shots of Smith’s pecks as he’s putting on his costume. We don’t have a direct angle shot framing his bulge as he shoots down a bunch of zombie people.
We do get Harley breaking glass and bending over to take a piece of jewelry that we never see again after that moment (at least, not that I can remember). It’s a pointless scene in a movie that wants to empower Harley, but also make sure that she looks fuckable in every scene at the same time.
That doesn’t make Ayer a bad person or a bad director, but it does show that he needs a little more education of what the male gaze is, how it frames female characters, and why that is always going to be political.
(via CBR, image: DC Entertainment/Warner Bros.)
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