The importance of the female gaze in Radioactive and The Dancer

A much-needed phenomenon occurs in films made by women that feature strong female leads, and that is the faithful portrayal of issues that women often have to face when breaking away from traditional roles.

By FF2 Associate Farah Elattar

This concept is brilliantly portrayed in Radioactive (Dir. Marjane Satrapi, 2019), and The Dancer (Dir. Stephanie Di Gusto, 2016), both based on real women. A quick recap of the films through the lens of the female protagonists shows their similarities. Radioactive (see my review here) explores the life and achievements of Marie Curie, and emphasizes the difficulty of being female in a male-dominated scientific world. The Dancer focuses on “Loïe Fuller” (Stephanie Sokolinski), a pioneer of modern dance, in her struggle to break away from traditional dance and to gain recognition and stage time in a male-run industry. Both films offer great examples of “the female gaze,” or the authentic portrayal of womens’ struggles through film. 

The films highlight the lack of trust and credit women can receive when trying to do things differently. In Marie Curie’s case, her desire to work alone and not have her equipment moved was scoffed at. In fact, she was instead stripped of a workplace. Similarly, in the early years of Loie Fuller’s career, her work was often stolen by showrunners who wanted the ability to make money off of her ideas without giving her credit. While the women in the film may have had the strength to move past such obstacles, this does not always translate to real life. Similar frustrations are sometimes enough to entice women to stick to the status quo. The depiction of such struggles, as well as the characters’ ability to move past them, are both important for a mostly female audience to relate to and be inspired by. 

Radioactive and The Dancer also question the intense scrutiny that successful women receive. While her work was making waves in the scientific world, Marie Curie’s personal life was often criticized, as she was labeled a homewrecker for having an affair with a married man. In fact, a scene in Radioactive shows protesters outside her home urging her to return to Poland after her affair became public. Similarly, Loie’s mother abandoned her for choosing to perform and break away from the traditional life offered by her church. 

Such scrutiny, whether in the form of protests or parental abandonment, represent the unseen barriers faced by women that break away from the norm. In other words, why are we paying attention to what successful women wear, or who they date, instead of celebrating their work? Why does this still resonate in 2020 as much as it did in earlier times?

The fact that films like Radioactive and The Dancer bring about such important topics and questions regarding women’s lives and experiences are why the female gaze is important. As feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey puts it, the female gaze must exist as a response to the male gaze, which appeals to the male viewer by depicting the world through the male protagonist. In other words, films like Radioactive and The Dancer are both must-sees and very much needed in order to understand the experiences and emotions of women through female storylines and characters, as we have been accustomed to doing through male characters.

© Farah Elattar (08/18/2020) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Stephanie Sokolinski in The Dancer.

Middle Photo: Poster for The Dancer.

Bottom Photo: Rosamund Pike as Marie Curie in Radioactive.

Photo Credits: Pacific Northwest Pictures (2017) (The Dancer), Amazon Studios (2020) (Radioactive)

Q: Do Radioactive and The Dancer pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

Yes! Both films include scenes where the female protagonists discuss their careers and futures.

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