discussion · Fantasy · fiction

Feminism and Pirates: How Dead Men Tell No Tales leaves no room for women

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Let me start by stating that I am not a casual Pirates of the Caribbean fan. I’ve loved the movies from the start and, yes, I even loved the fourth movie no one else ever seems to like.

Please don’t read that and immediately question my taste.

I’ve been waiting years for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Not this film, specifically, but any pirates film in which all three of the main cast members would return and fulfill all of my expectations–

Well. At least one expectation was fulfilled, and–can anything be considered a spoiler so many months after the film’s release?–that scene at the end with those two characters reuniting sort of made me feel like it made my spent money worthwhile, when I saw this in theaters.

As it was recently added to Netflix, I decided it was about time for round two.

So. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is what happens in the film industry when people know they could cobble together literally anything and other people will flood the theaters with their dollar bills. (Like Star Wars, and that last horrible Indiana Jones movie, but . . . those are beside the point.) Who needs a script that makes sense in the greater context of the film arc and general setting of the story, when you can settle for cheap laughs, Johnny Depp’s antics, and the general bad-assery of a pirate story?

DMTNT (this title is too long) follows Henry Turner (the new Will Tuner), Carina Smyth (the new Elizabeth Swann), and Jack Sparrow (the less quirky, more drunk and sad version) on a quest for the Trident of Poseidon. Basically, it’s meant to break every curse of the sea. There’s a ship of ghosts sailing after Jack Sparrow and it’s never really clear how they became cursed ghosts. There’s some witch involved for all of two scenes and they can’t even give her the benefit of fleshing her into an actual character rather than a plot device. Barbossa shows up and somehow they managed to even mess up his character.

DMTNT doesn’t really add to the mythology of the greater world of Pirates, because it’s only attempting to break down those barriers–one can only assume, so they can be rebuilt in some future planned film.

It really doesn’t do anything for the women, either.

Carina Smyth is arguably the only woman in the film. (I refuse to count the deus ex machina witch and the cameo by you know who). This kind of places a lot of pressure on her, as somehow seemingly the Pirates world can fathom ghosts, curses, krackens, tridents, and Davy Jones, but not the introduction of more women to the film. Because that would be historically inaccurate, I’m assuming they’d defend themselves by saying.

So, as a lady who really likes the Pirates franchise, it was very exciting to see the singular woman . . . pretty much play out the same role Elizabeth Swann did four films ago. Every joke and plotline seems to revolve around sexism. About how they might see her ankles beneath the dresses she needs to wear because of sexism. About how everyone believes she’s a witch because of sexism. How she’s bad luck on a ship. How she’s questioned about everything because she’s a woman, but isn’t it so great that she’s right, and smarter than all of these other men? And that makes up for her being the only woman, surely, because it isn’t so terrible if she’s the one who comes up with the plan. Which can only be executed by–you guessed it!–men.

I mean, Elizabeth ended up as pirate lord and pirate king two films previous. You’d think some of that would have rubbed off and we wouldn’t be headed backward.

Ah, but I’ve remembered two entire other women in the film! One who had no lines at all, who was presumed to have been sleeping with Jack Sparrow, and another who seemed to have been made revolting in every way possible to make it hilarious that she might be marrying Jack Sparrow . . .

Hang on a minute. And Carina Smyth . . . so much of her character arc not only focused on the sexism, but the search for her father/the final revelation of her father’s identity. So it’s almost like . . .

Almost like these women only existed to further the stories of the men surrounding them, allow for more cheap laughs, and solidify the heterosexual love interest that throws in the necessary undertones of romance.

Seems like the makings for a great, epic adventure, doesn’t it?

I’m disappointed in Pirates. I’m angry, because I had so many expectations.

Well, maybe now that I have none, I might enjoy the next movie that will inevitably be released.

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One thought on “Feminism and Pirates: How Dead Men Tell No Tales leaves no room for women

  1. W O W

    I mean… I’m not surprised? But I’m disappointed for you, and other fans, who deserved a lot better than what you’ve talked about here. It honestly sounds like they regurgitated the first movie, which is in pretty poor taste. I mean, for a franchise that is obviously still drawing in crowds (though I don’t know how) surely they can afford to write an interesting plot that doesn’t rely on the same devices we’ve seen a hundred times before AND in this franchise before? Boo. All the boo.

    I at least hope that the ending you’re talking about is Will and Elizabeth finding each other again because if not… this movie shouldn’t exist.

    Like

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