I loved Birds of Prey for multiple reasons, but I loved it the most for its depictions of women protecting women, and women protecting girls.
Birds of Prey blew my expectations out of the water. While I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite DCEU movie (I still tear up when I think about “It’s about what you believe” in Wonder Woman), it’s definitely a strong second favorite. And it’s all thanks to the film’s excellent portrayal of dynamics between women.
Team-up movies tend to focus on rivalry during the first half, which becomes particularly nasty in movies featuring a mostly-female cast. The toxic stereotype of rivalry between powerful women, which in turn perpetuates actual rivalry between women in real life, is one of my least favorite tropes. But I’ve gotten so used to seeing it that I simply assumed it was going to be a big part of Birds of Prey.
Well, Birds of Prey doesn’t do that. Even though Roman pits Black Canary and Harley Quinn against each other, and they certainly annoy the hell out of each other, there’s an undercurrent of compassion that runs through everything they do. Even when they’re fighting, they’re looking out for one another.
Black Canary and Renee Montoya are also on opposing sides, but they understand each other’s position. And Renee Montoya, as frustrated as she is with Harley Quinn, never treats her any differently than she would treat a male criminal.
And everyone — everyone — thinks Huntress is cool.
Why does this matter? It matters because women looking out for each other is one of the most important parts of womanhood; something that society often tries to discourage, but that is ultimately responsible for our survival. Women look out for each other, educate each other, and when necessary, fight for each other.
This is perfectly illustrated not only through the relationships between the adult women in Birds of Prey, but also through their relationships with Cassandra Cain: the one child stuck in the middle of all of this. As a little girl stuck in the foster system, Cassandra is set up to become a criminal herself. But it soon becomes clear that her fate will likely be even worse: she’ll become a victim of criminals.
From the beginning of the movie, both Black Canary and Renee Montoya know Cassandra and her situation. They do their best to guide her and make her feel comfortable around them, even when she’s stealing from them. Harley Quinn and Huntress, on the other hand, probably would never have met Cassandra if it weren’t for the predicament she suddenly finds herself in… but once everyone realizes what’s happening, something very powerful happens.
Cassandra’s vulnerability as a young girl put at risk by a dangerous older man inspires an incredible amount of heroism from all the adult women, even from Harley (who’s probably the least reliable person out of all of them). They all risk their lives to save Cassandra without even knowing her that well, because they feel a need to protect her.
It’s amazing to see these kinds of relationships form on screen, because you generally only see these kinds of scenes play out between girls and their mothers — not girls and adult women who aren’t anywhere near society’s idea of what “motherly” means. All these women are nurturing and protective in their own way, while also being independent, strong, and flawed. They aren’t mother figures to Cassandra — but they don’t have to be in order to be wonderful mentors.
Many of us have had women older than us offer us guidance, or even defend us in difficult situations. Many of us have also tried to be that woman for a girl we know. It’s what we should all aspire to be for each other as women. (There’s also a lot to be said for amazing movies like Logan, where men protect kids they aren’t related to, but that’s for another article.)
Birds of Prey showcases women looking out for each other and for young girls in a great way — all without sacrificing Harley Quinn’s signature unhinged and unapologetic style, and still feeling incredibly genuine.
It shows us that “Girl Power” is about more than just strong women fending for themselves; it’s about strong women defending each other and those more vulnerable than themselves from a society that often preys upon them.