widows

The Widows Trailer Gives Us a Female-Driven Gritty Crime Thriller and It’s About Damn Time

The genre gets a much-needed estrogen boost.

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The first full trailer for Steve McQueen’s Widows has dropped, and it looks pretty damn good. Based on an ITV series, the film (written by Gone Girl‘s Gillian Flynn) follows four widows whose husbands die in a heist gone wrong. Now, they must band together and pull off the heist themselves. The film stars Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) and Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple) as the titular widows, along with Liam Neeson, Jon Bernthal (The Punisher), Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall.

There’s a lot to look forward to here: an Oscar-winning director, top-notch cast, diversity in front of and behind the camera. But I’m really excited about this film because we’re finally getting a female-driven gritty crime thriller, and it’s about damn time. Crime dramas have long been the domain of men, dating back to the gangster movies of the 1930’s. While directors like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Michael Mann elevated the genre with critically acclaimed films like The Departed, The Godfather, and Heat. Even more modern films like Drive, The Town, and Hell or High Water focus squarely on men, with women in limited and (usually) cliched roles. Here’s a rundown of the classic crime film female character tropes:

The Sexy Side Piece

karen morley

(Karen Morley in ‘Scarface’ via United Artists)

The Sexy Side Piece (SSP) is usually arm candy for the mobsters and criminals. Mobsters know them as molls, mafiosos call them goomars, but they’re almost never wives. They’re beautiful but needy, charming but inconstant, and often come with substance abuse problems, like Blake Lively in The Town or Sharon Stone in Casino. Occasionally they get upgraded to wife status, like Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface, but they’re still smoking hot messes. They’re like femme fatales without the agenda, utterly dependent on their men.

The Damsel

ryan gosling

(Carey Mulligan in Drive, via FilmDistrict)

The Damsel is the good girl counterpart to SSP’s bad girl. The damsel represents everything the criminal could have if they stayed out of trouble, yet is often the justification for the criminal’s bad behavior. They’re pure, living a life free from the nastier elements of the crime thriller. Think Carey Mulligan as the saintly single mom in Drive, or Rebecca Hall’s bank teller in The Town. They’re the Tess Truehearts of the world, not the Breathless Mahoneys.

And that’s it! Occasionally you’ll get a feisty female cop who can hold her own with the criminals (think Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight) or the rare wife/partner who knows the score but stands by her husband regardless (Lorraine Bracco in Goodfellas). Otherwise, women in the crime genre are fall into the previous two categories, serving mainly as window dressing or as the impetus for the criminal to clean up his act. Neither are rewarding, nuanced roles. We haven’t seen a gritty crime drama starring women since Set It Off, and that was 22 years ago.

And there’s really no excuse. It’s not like there aren’t plenty of real life criminal women with fascinating lives. Here’s hoping that Widows kicks off a trend and ushers in the golden age of female gangsters.

(via Vulture, image: 20th Century Fox)

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Author
Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.