11:45 am EDT, May 23, 2013

‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ real issues: Where no man has gone before (opinion)

Star Trek Into Darkness writer Damon Lindelof recently apologised for the “gratuitous” half-naked scene featuring actress Alice Eve. Now, two Hypable writers weigh in on the ensuing controversy.

First, let’s get rid of one particularly silly misconception which tends to crowd up on feminist responses: We didn’t hate the movie. Star Trek Into Darkness was, overall, a pretty good film. We found it entertaining and amusing, there was some brilliant acting (especially by Zachary Quinto), and hey, we even liked the lens flares.

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That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t question the elements of the film that we found troubling – and these issues should certainly not be dismissed as unimportant.

So when, in the midst of a taut dramatic sequence, we watched Alice Eve stop to display her well-supported assets to the audience (oh, and Kirk was there as well), it’s fair to say that we were dismayed. Why? Well, let’s start with the attitude of the filmmakers. Let’s quote costume designer Michael Kaplan:

“Last time, Zoe needed to wear underwear, and this time it was Alice Eve’s turn. You know, it’s a rather large male fanbase, and JJ wanted to appeal to that.”

The fact that the display of female skin presented in terms of “turns,” especially when there is no equivalent for the male actors is horrifying. (No, we’re not being hyperbolic. It’s actually scary.) The resulting pleasure of a “large male fanbase” is absolutely no justification for exploitation – in fact it is simply an excuse for the blatant sexualisaiton and objectification of women. Given Kaplan’s propensity toward the miniskirt (super practical on a spaceship with cold plastic seats and miles of reflective flooring), we are not especially surprised.

Carol Marcus (Alice Eve):

Now let’s look at the character who inspired our upset. Make no mistake, the half-naked scene was always going to be gratuitous, but it was even more so because that was the only moment when we noticed Alice Eve’s character Carol Marcus was there at all. So she is a weapons specialist – great! Is that why she makes it onto the Enterprise? Nope.

Carol comes aboard because Kirk thinks she’s cute, and her status as a Pretty Thing is only intensified by the bikini model scene. Her character is paper-thin as it is, so to compound it with near-nudity is not only a mistake from a feminist perspective, but from a filmmaking one.

Marcus spent the majority of the film as a damsel in distress, a chip on a board who can only shriek prettily and wait to be rescued after her one failed moment of glory in standing up to her father. Marcus is present to provide motivation; she has little of her own. Her intelligence, while admirable, is an inorganic plot device – an attempt to imbue value in a character which the film has no intention of treating as valuable.

Telling us that she possessed advanced knowledge that the other characters don’t have is irrelevant if they don’t actually demonstrate this. Or was the scene where she desperately ripped all of the wiring out of the torpedo a mysterious and precise technique that she had learned during her studies?

Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana):

Then we come to Uhura, the supposedly ‘badass, strong and empowered woman’ of the film. While Uhura did have some promising moments, there were consistently undermined by the fact that her role was essentially to act as a love interest to Spock. Uhura was necessary to the film not because of her own involvement in the plot – see: failed Klingon negotiation – but because she was the object that allowed the audience to see “Oh wow, Spock has feelings!”

While to a certain extent, this is a function of her relationship with a man who barely emotes, the relationship is used to illuminate and add depth to Spock, not to Uhura. According to the filmmakers, we already know everything we need to about the linguistic Lieutenant; unfortunately, most of what we know is how bouncy her ponytail is.

On the positive side, Uhura was given agency in her relationship with Spock – calling him out when she takes issue with his actions, demonstrating what is a relatively equal relationship dynamic.

These moments when Uhura was not just Spock’s girlfriend, but an active and important part of the plot were few and far between – and they don’t make up for the lack of women in the rest of the film. Unfortunately for the men behind this film, having other characters, or the character themselves proclaiming that they are “strong” does not make it so.

The ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ Apology:

The problems with Star Trek Into Darkness were thrown into sharper relief by Damon Lindelof’s apology for Alice Eve’s underwear scene. We appreciate Mr. Lindelof’s acknowledgement of this misstep.

The function of women as set-dressing in Hollywood (in service of the almighty straight male audience) is a problem that runs right to the roots of the entertainment industry, and it is not a small thing that Lindelof addressed this issue to his Twitter audience.

That said, Lindelof is only halfway there, as the apology itself shows that he may still have missed the point. Aside from using the buzzword “gratuitous,” by comparing Eve’s naked scene to Pine’s, he is essentially saying “don’t blame me, there were naked men as well.” Alas, this is not actually an argument in defense of objectifying women.

Kirk shimmied around in the half-light in his nearly-nude scene, while enjoying the company of two other scantily-clad women; Carol Marcus stood in full view of the audience for absolutely no reason beyond inviting an appreciative male gaze. Even the deleted scene released earlier featuring a nude Benedict Cumberbatch is no argument – it was cut out because it was deemed irrelevant. Why wasn’t Alice Eve’s scene deemed the same?

The argument that these are “strong intelligent women” is completely undermined if the only evidence of this are the characters listing their PhDs. It would have been nice if they had been given a chance to use their expertise, because, as always, actions speak louder than words.

Tellingly, this film completely fails the Bechdel Test. Uhura and Marcus are supposedly intelligent woman who have at least one thing in common aside from the fact that they are women – we couldn’t have had one scene with them talking tech?

At the end of the day, there were two women featured in the film, and one of them is only memorable for having been half-naked. The women of Star Trek Into Darkness are not members of its journey; they are merely passengers, sent along to make meager contributions and then look nice.

The fact that the two leads of the franchise are men does not negate the filmmakers responsibility to present women as equally realised and important characters – not just as plot devices. Damon Lindelof’s apology was the first step in addressing a highly flawed franchise, but it is not the last step.

Written by Michal Schick and Marama Whyte

Yesterday we published a News By You article by a Hypable reader in response to the news.

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