Spoiler Warning: Lucy
Trigger Warning: Discussion of fictional racialized violence. I would add a pretty huge consent and body autonomy tw, too, if you watch the movie. I talk about it some here, but don’t go into much detail.
Image: Lucy poster, from IMDB.com
When Lucy was first announced and the trailers started coming out, I heard a lot of different opinions from people. Some people were excited, even saw the fact that the protagonist is female, rather than male, as a wonderful move for feminism. Some were decrying it for racism. Some were just excited about Scarlet Johansen and the fact that this could lead to a Black Widow movie from Marvel.
And some pointed out that the movie has exactly zero basis in actual science.
As the release date drew near, I had to make a decision: should I go see it in theaters, and give money to a movie that I was pretty sure would be racist, in order to talk about its content, or should I avoid it. I decided to go for the first option, so that I could either recommend the movie or not.
I have a lot of things to say, but let me sum them up:
I didn’t like it. I can see how it would be a fun popcorn movie, but between the racism, sexism, and crappy science, I didn’t really enjoy it. It had a few entertaining lines, and some very pretty scenes, but to be honest I found the whole movie pretty terrible–even without the problematic content.
More depth (and spoilers) below:
Let’s start with the sexism. As I mentioned, before this movie come out some people seemed to be hailing it as some kind of feminist revolution in movie making. It is not. For one thing, having a sexy white woman as the protagonist of a movie like this is not really a new idea. The movie was also written and directed by a man. The problems here go a lot deeper than simply not being “revolutionary”, though:
Lucy’s character has no agency until after her brain usage is increased, at which point she becomes “more” than an ordinary woman. She doesn’t even go into the building at the beginning of her own free will. Everything leading up to her increase in brain usage is out of her control.
Aside from Lucy, there are no female characters who have more than a couple lines. Other female characters include her mother (who we only hear, but don’t see, and who somehow doesn’t guess that there is something seriously wrong with her daughter), and her roommate (who’s topics of conversation consist of how much she hates auditions, where the men speak Chinese, and how she slept with a guy last night who wasn’t Chinese). The only other woman I can think of who had a line was a nurse, I think. This didn’t completely hit me until late in the movie, when Lucy sits in a room surrounded by five or six scientists, all men. She’s the only woman in the room, and she’s there specifically because she’s different from other people.
Although the Bechdel test is meant to be used to look at trends, I still think it’s worth pointing out that Lucy barely passes the Bechdel test.
In this movie, women only matter if they’re special.
And one last comment on sexism and feminism: if your feminism does not include WOC, it is not good feminism. Despite beginning in Taiwan and moving to Paris, which is a fairly racially diverse place, I do not think that any of the women in this movie who speak are WOC.
Which leads me into the next issue: race.
There is a lot of wanton destruction in this movie, however most of the people we actually see getting shot are Chinese or Taiwanese.
There is only one white antagonist. Every other antagonist is Chinese or Taiwanese, and almost none of them seem to speak English. If they do, we don’t see it. The white antagonist is never gone after, unlike the others.
One of the only things that can be said for the movie is that it does have Morgan Freeman, a black man, playing the lead scientist. I believe the police officer that Lucy works with in France (who is also a sort of love interest) is also a POC. While it is good that they show POC characters in positions of authority, it doesn’t do anything to lessen the anti-Asian racism shown throughout the movie.
Early in the movie, Lucy literally shoots a man because he says he doesn’t speak English. It has been suggested to me that she does this to make sure the next man answers her quickly and truthfully. Regardless, the result is the same: our protagonist shoots a man for saying he doesn’t speak English. This is a big problem. Why?
Because movies like this have a huge wish-fulfillment/power fantasy component–especially when there’s so little else. There’s not a lot in the way of plot here, and the science is nonexistent, so what’s left is escapism and wish fulfillment. Given that, I think it’s important to look at the world we’re escaping to, and ask why we want to escape to it–or why the people making the movie thought we did. Lucy is the protagonist, and the person that we the audience, re living vicariously through. And she’s going around shooting, almost exclusively, Asian men who don’t speak English.
If this is our society’s fantasy, what does that say about our society?