Is the Sexism in Blade Runner 2049 Justified?

The film portrays a dystopia which treats women like trash. Thing is, it's not too far of a stretch from what's going on today.

Seemingly one of the biggest discussions at the moment revolves around the movie Blade Runner 2049. If you haven’t seen it or read any of the comments, let me fill you in real quick. A large portion of movie goers have accused the film of being extremely sexist, while others argue the opposite. On one side standing such heavyweights as i-D magazine stating the film is “a misogynistic mess, and the most overrated movie of the year.”

But others claim the misogyny in the film is there to make us reflect on how it functions within our lives. “For example, K’s ‘housewife’ is the picture perfect 50s housewife meant to never leave home and always have a meal ready for her hubby when he comes home,” writes a Reddit user. “This is true, it is what the film shows us. But, and here is where I think you misunderstand and underestimate the movie, this is not what the film is telling us. Sure, if this were Transformers, everything shown is everything told and there is no subtext.”

So what’s the truth? Is the movie just blatantly sexist for the sake of it—or is there a larger social commentary in play?

Warner Bros. and Alcon Entertainment

Of course, you can’t argue the fact that the female characters in the film are pretty much slaves, servants, sex workers and all in all (spoilers ahead), get killed. It’s true that the one lead female character in the film, Lieutenant Joshi, gets brutally murdered by another strong female character in the film, Luv. It’s also true that other than that, the women in the film are basically portrayed as sex workers and toys for male pleasure, like in the scene above where women in the film are desperately trying to get another ‘job’.

But personally, I don’t think this film is sexist without a purpose. It starts with the story: partially built based on the original film, it takes place in a society that’s obviously dystopian and devoid of humanity. It features a biogenetically engineered person – dubbed a Replicant – who falls in love with a biogenetically enginereed woman. The society they inhabit mirrors our worst nightmares about how our current habits might destroy our futures: their context is defined by a completely destroyed environment, urban sprawl, out of control technology, corporate dominance and heavy pollution. And part of that context is blatant misogyny: other than portraying women mostly as sex workers, the backdrop is one that highlights massive holograms of naked women and strippers.

Warner Bros. and Alcon Entertainment

But sticking with the textbook definition of dystopian film, all of these characteristics are meant to mimic some of the patterns defining our society today and act as social commentary. It’s no coincidence that this film was released after a dispiriting year for women, whether we’re talking about the election of a misogynist into the Oval office or the high-profile cases of sexual assault that continuously flood the media. Point being, the overall mood of the film is pointedly grim and almost dirty in the actual sense of the word. That atmosphere defines how we’re meant to perceive its storyline, so when it comes to misogyny, we’re not meant to take it at face value: we’re meant to consider it as just as grim and problematic as the rest of the crumbling world in the film.

Moreover, I think we’d be remiss to ignore that the main character for the following sequel(s) is going to be a woman and is introduced for her potential to reverse this dystopia. As the movie progresses, you learn that a group of replicants are planning an uprise, stating that when the time is right, a ‘miracle child’ will be their leader. The film basically revolves around a search for a child that has been born in a situation where it shouldn’t have been possible (and keep in mind, that’s a very vague description of it.) Although women are not commonly seen as strong characters during most of the screen time, it turns out that the most relevant character is a woman. In a plot twist towards the end of the film, one learns that Ryan Gosling’s character isn’t the miracle child, as you believed for most of the film: instead, it’s Dr. Ana Steline, played by Carla Juri. A man won’t be the hero here: instead, a woman gets the power to define a better world after all the destruction men created.

https://bryanalexander.org/2017/10/10/generations-thoughts-on-blade-runner-2049/

Also, gotta note: Dr. Ana Steline is just a straight-up awesome character! In the scenes where she’s introduced, Steline explains that her work consists of creating and designing memories which are later implanted into new replicant. She’s one of the best in her field, and her ideology is quite do-gooder: she aims to make replicants feel more like human beings by creating  flashbacks that are as happy and realistic as possible.

Also, this character is the definition of a female entrepreneur succeeding against the odds. She worked on her own for her whole career, and when a high profile company offers to buy her out, she keeps her integrity by refusing so she can keep on being ‘her own master’. Unlike the other female characters in the movie, which are most of the time highly sexualised, Carla Juri’s character is presented as the complete opposite.

Sure, Blade Runner 2049 is not a film that portrays women respectfully. I completely agree. However, I argue we need to look deeper into the meaning behind it and recognize the clear red threads between how we sexualize women today and the scary implications that bears for the future. Because it’s 2017, and we’ve discovered that one of the biggest Hollywood producers of all time has been abusing women for decades thanks to the help of complicit staff and a look-the-other-way industry. It’s 2017, and cat-calling is still so much of an issue that a woman actually straight up took photos of the men harassing her. It’s 2017, and women have resorted to outing themselves as assault survivors on Facebook using #metoo because maybe that will get men to finally listen. Gender inequality based on the sexualization of women is rampant—and in my opinion, Blade Runner 2049 is a reminder of what could happen if we don’t work to change that now.

Still, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ (2017) dir. Denis Villeneuve

Cover photo from Heroic Hollywood