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Studying Feminist Film Theory$
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Terri Murray

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781911325802

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: February 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781911325802.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM LIVERPOOL SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.liverpool.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Liverpool University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in LSO for personal use.date: 17 September 2021

Unexpected Heroes of Feminist Cinema

Unexpected Heroes of Feminist Cinema

(p.97) Chapter 5 Unexpected Heroes of Feminist Cinema
Studying Feminist Film Theory

Terri Murray

Liverpool University Press

This chapter challenges critics' readings of films as ‘sexist’, looking at two illustrative examples: Paul Verhoeven and Spike Lee. Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct (1992) was widely regarded as misogynistic and ‘lesbophobic’. Basic Instinct is a neo-noir film that scandalously refuses to conform to the patriarchal rule of ‘compensating moral values’. Moreover, its visual pleasures are deliberately constructed against the grain of male voyeuristic pleasures and offer women (especially lesbian women) a rare opportunity to dissect and ridicule male sexism, homophobia, and voyeuristic power. Verhoeven's Elle (2016) is a much more subtle and complex critique of how women's self-image is ‘mediated’ by patriarchal culture, and the film makes explicit or oblique references to tabloid journalism, the gaming industry, and religion in the construction of a total culture that presents women as ‘others’ not only to men but also to themselves. Meanwhile, Spike Lee has been a frequent target for the ‘sexist’ label. The chapter argues that this is unfair, given Lee's relatively frequent attempts to make films about female sexual empowerment (or the causes of female sexual disempowerment). The three examples of She's Gotta Have It (1986), She Hate Me (2004), and BlacKkKlansman (2018) suggest that Lee has in various ways attempted to represent females as empowered sexual agents, and to address social double standards erected by men to possess women through the possession of their bodies.

Keywords:   Paul Verhoeven, Spike Lee, male sexism, homophobia, voyeuristic power, women's self-image, patriarchal culture, female sexual empowerment, female representation, Basic Instinct

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