Unlike many reviewers, I loved it, and here’s why
Warning: contains spoilers
I’m reading a lot of negative #Moxie reviews, and they’re pissing me off. I loved Moxie, and no, it’s not just because I adore Amy Poehler, who directed the film. As an ardent feminist who tells women’s stories for a living, I believe that some of the critiques I’m reading are truly misguided.
“‘Moxie’ is a CliffsNotes guide to fighting the patriarchy. In its hyper-condensed view, all you need is a tank top, a Bikini Kill song and a mass walkout and voilà! The struggle is over.”
This is so unfair. Where in the movie does it suggest that “the struggle is over”? The members of a high school’s feminist club give each other a platform for sharing their stories and calling out injustice — and a rapist. The movie makes it clear, given the insidious misogyny evident in their school (and, by logical extension, their world), that these girls will be fighting an uphill battle — the struggle is certainly NOT over. But unity can give them strength.
Intersectional feminism and peanut butter
Other reviews argue that the film isn’t actually as intersectional as it wants to be — that diverse characters are given short shrift or are secondary to the white cis girl’s central narrative. For example, in Refinery29:
“The movie acknowledges that past generations of feminists, represented by Poehler herself, have been woefully oblivious to their white privilege, and stresses the need for intersectionality. Having said that — literally and often — the story continues to revolve around Vivian’s struggle. Moxie uses its supporting characters as symbols of inclusivity, suggesting that they matter just as much without ever proving it by digging into any of their stories.”
I won’t disagree that this is a story about a white, cis, girl, first and foremost, so in that sense, the stories of characters of different backgrounds do come in second to her narrative. There is no question that we need more stories that center non-cis, non-white, differently abled girls. We need them urgently. I agree with this Twitter user:
And yet: To fault a film about an intersectional fight against the patriarchy, for having a cis white protagonist, is unfair. It’s not up to Moxie to fix every problem with Hollywood’s centering of white, cis, male stories, and to do it perfectly. Moxie isn’t telling every intersectional feminist story. It’s telling a story about intersectional feminism.
What’s more, it infuriates me that a film that spotlights intersectional feminism, however imperfectly, get taken to task more than the 99.9% of movies and TV shows that don’t even acknowledge the issue. It’s like if every movie we saw was about peanut butter, and then along comes a movie about almond butter, and we say it sucks because it leaves out important almond butter information. Take issue with all the peanut butter filmmakers!
I understand: We put more hope into a film that purports to “get it,” even a little bit, so it stings that much more when we feel it fall short in any way. But let’s take a bigger picture view and realize that critiquing the makers of Moxie for how they told this story, when what we really mean is that we want different stories about this topic, isn’t fair.
Too many “broad strokes”?
Reviews criticize the movie for its broad-strokes treatment of everything from the sidelining of female athletes, to the experiences of trans girls, to rape. Ok, so — the filmmakers should be less ambitious? They should try to represent fewer ways in which girls are treated unfairly, oppressed, and abused? But then you have a movie about a white girl’s journey to find her voice and use it in the fight for social justice — that doesn’t acknowledge any of those things? How does THAT advance awareness of the need for intersectional feminism?
I also disagree that any character or topic in this film was treated with broad strokes, with one exception, which I’ll get to in a sec. I believed that every girl I saw on screen was a real person, thanks to a combination of the writing, the direction, and the performances. Even the girls who didn’t say a lot landed for me as real people with their own personalities, ideas, etc.
The one area that felt broad and clunky to me was Emma’s rape story. The foreshadowing of her confession felt stilted; I could see it, or something like it, coming. I wouldn’t give this aspect of the movie a “subtle and elegant storytelling” award. And do I believe that Emma would finally share that she’d been raped in such a public setting? No. But did I cry when she shared her story? Yes. And did I notice how Vivian stepped down from the proverbial podium to give Emma — and other girls who stood up to speak—their turn? I did. And I gave a silent cheer at this symbolic acknowledgment that unity means taking turns speaking and listening; and creating space where everyone can be heard.
The truth is that the oppression of girls and women is so rampant, and the experiences of girls and women so diverse, that no one movie is going to address all of it, perfectly. That doesn’t mean we let all storytellers off the hook, or give them a blanket A-for-effort. But it does mean, we don’t ask any one feature film to be the perfect, comprehensive guide to smashing the patriarchy.
Fulfilling a mission vs. telling a story
Amy Poehler’s celebrity obviously brings the movie a lot of attention. Some might argue — rightfully — that if someone with her platform is going to make a movie about a high school feminist awakening, she has a responsibility to tell a story that grapples with more than one cis, white girl’s experience. She does this. Maybe not perfectly, and maybe she, and the writers, and all of us, have more to learn, and unlearn — but that’s true of everyone.
In a recent interview in The New York Times Magazine, Poehler talked about how, above all else, she wants to make things that she wants to watch:
I do make it a point to try to investigate different ways to tell female stories. But it’s not because I’m a great person…I look for those stories because I want to make stuff I want to see. It always comes back to that when I’m trying to decide what to work on and what to produce: Is this a show I would watch?
As someone who is on a mission to fill the world with women’s stories, I have a tendency to think that we need to make things that achieve a certain purpose—a responsibility as privileged women to use our platforms to lift up less privileged voices. And yet, as a writer — especially as an aspiring TV writer — I know from personal experience that when you open up your screenwriting software and sit there trying to make a point, instead of giving birth to specific characters in specific situations… what you write is flat. And soulless.
Our job as storytellers is to write/act/direct/produce characters we care about. If we are people who believe in intersectionality, then our stories will likely reflect those values — if never in a “perfect” way that will satisfy everyone. It’s our job to create stories that mean something to us, because if they mean something to us, chances are they’ll mean something to someone else; that meaning, that genuine feeling, is what art brings into our lives.
Demanding new kinds of stories
We all know that more often than not, producers and gatekeepers (like distributors and publishers) still tend to showcase shows, movies, books, you name it, about white, heterosexual, able-bodied people. That’s why, for all its foibles, I still value public media so much, because its mandate includes the representation of all Americans; not to say it always gets it right — not at all—but it does better than any corporate media I’ve found. I wonder if anyone criticizing Moxie for not centering diverse stories more donates to PBS, or watches the independent films that, say, the Independent Television Service brings into existence. If not, check them out. POV, too.
We need to ask ourselves what we as consumers of media can do to change the status quo in commercial media. What are you spending your dollars on? What are you “liking” and sharing online? How are you finding YOUR voice and using it to create the world you want?
Some other things I liked about the movie:
- A daughter being inspired by her mother’s activism, while finding her own voice as an activist
- Resurrecting zines! One review I read (which I now can’t find) criticized the movie’s focus on zines in a digital age, but why NOT celebrate such an individual, independent form of expression over participation in corporate platforms? (And Moxie does use Instagram… and the girls text each other a lot…so it’s not like the film pretends to take place in a different era.)
- The theme of finding your authentic voice, and of using it to fight for social justice. Also, this message (which Jane also expresses to Vivian in a different scene):
- Amy Poehler. (Who am I kidding.)
If you watch it (or have already watched it), I’d love to know what you think!
Here’s the trailer, in case you haven’t seen it: