Buried under the bad review schadenfreude are themes of female empowerment and liberation.
Yes, I’m talking about the much maligned, raspberry-award earning, 2004 Catwoman movie starring Halle Berry. The movie where critics seemed to gleefully expound upon the downfall of the first Black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress two years prior. I finally checked it out because a friend of mine, whose taste I trust, said that she enjoyed the movie.
Sure, it was campy. Berry’s clearly homaging Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman from the campy Batman 1960s TV series. Berry also did a lot of her own stunts, which no one seems to give her credit for.
And yes, there were motivation and plot holes. For example, how could Berry’s character Patience have so easily gotten into a manufacturing plant for a high value proprietary commercial product after midnight, particularly through an entrance screaming “biohazard”? Also, I would have liked more of a plant that she has a real soft spot for animals before she went out on that dangerous ledge to rescue a cat. I don’t think even I would’ve gone out there like that, and I love cats.
It’s interesting that (male) critics criticized the movie for, quote unquote, taking advantage of the opportunity to show as much of Halle Berry’s naked skin as possible. I mean, first of all, the movie is a comic book adaptation, and comic books are historically notorious for taking advantage of the opportunity to show a woman’s body. A man’s body, too, I’d argue, because those men’s suits are so muscle clinging tight, they may as well be naked. Halle Berry looked bomb ass amazing in her cat suit. It was also clear to me that it was supposed to evoke a woman who has just come into her cat-like power rendering her suit to reflect that. It looked like it had been ripped up with cat claws, and it looked freaking cool. And it seemed like a way that a woman who’s busting out of a mousy, fashion-flare lacking shell would express her new hotness. This impression I got when I first saw the outfit is backed up by a behind the scenes clip. Halle Berry herself said she wanted to emulate a real cat, so she wanted her spine to be visible to really get that visual of a cat’s flexibility and movement. The Netflix documentary Inside the Mind of a Cat explains that the cat’s uniquely flexible spine helps make it the fastest animal on land. In light of all this, I find it telling that there was so much criticism of her outfit. It kind of goes back to that idea that when a woman dresses and displays her body for her own purposes, men react negatively.
I also think it’s interesting that none of the reviews I read mention the prominent theme in the movie, which is female empowerment. This is just one of the cool things I really appreciate about the movie and it’s a shame that these positives got drowned out by all the negative press.
One – Relatively appropriate use of Egyptian mythology. As in, it’s being used to inform a character who’s actually of African descent. You’d think, from multiple pop culture images, that Egypt’s inhabited by and only for white people. That it’s not, in fact, an African country. Anyway. Here, the incorporation of the Egyptian mythology makes the connection between cats and women’s empowerment, and, in this case, a Black woman’s empowerment. I’m here for it.
Two – The male and female love interests are equally matched. I think this may have led to a male critic’s referring to the Benjamin Bratt character as a “bitch boy” as if he were a punching bag with no power. Because, apparently, a male love interest couldn’t be anything but a bitch boy if the woman he’s attracted to turns out to be his actual physical match. The basketball scene is a beautifully orchestrated illustration of this equal matching. This scene was also maligned by critics. ~Shaking my head.~ Another bonus— interracial coupling featuring lead actors of color.
Three – There is a dramatic character arc in the story that I think gets overlooked in all the criticism. Patience goes from being a timid mousy person to being a bad ass taking no shit liberated woman. It’s a beautiful transformation.
Speaking of liberated women, that’s the major theme running through the whole movie. Like, it’s blazingly obvious that this is a story about female empowerment. It seemed nobody cared about that. Maybe people weren’t ready for that message, especially one featuring a Black woman. Maybe critics wanted to bury that message by jumping on all of the movie’s faults.
Underlying the empowered woman story is the integration of duality. The story posits that the integration of both is essential for human wholeness. And in this case, female wholeness. This is an apt message because women often get pigeonholed into one or the other: virtuous or wicked, virginal or whorish, selfless or selfish. So the idea that a fully actualized woman is one who learns to integrate both sides of her nature, and that this is desirable, is kind of revolutionary.
And this movie celebrates that idea.
For another recent and positive take on this movie, check out this video.
Have you seen Catwoman? Did you connect to its theme and character arc? Tell me your thoughts.