In 2012 Magic Mike altered the cinematic firmament forever through the might of thrusting hips, quivering thighs and that knee slide thing alone. Audiences flocked to swoon, box offices bulged and a whole new way to patronise women was born: the notion of The Female Gaze. Ostensibly used as a smirk, the female gaze – in some quarters – mansplained  the popularity of erotic or sexual content in mainstream lady-centric media. A nod to the ‘silly woman’ habit of falling for vampires, strippers and stalker billionaires.

Certainly that incarnation of TFG had potential to engorge ticket sales but male critics were not alone in stifling a snigger at these base arts. Most of us have this year, to some extent, attributed a certain hen night silliness to the gaggles of girls lining up for a glimpse of Christian Grey and those jeans, hanging from those hips, in that way. Yet for increasing numbers of influential women the female gaze does not equate to its male counterpart – a chest pan, a flank appraisal or lingering glance behind. It represents more.Magic Mike

In an article for Indiewire this summer Melissa Silverstein wrote: “The female gaze to me is not about pleasure or even power; it is about presence. The female gaze is about women storytellers planting their feet down and shouting with a camera: I AM HERE. I AM PRESENT. I MATTER.” In the same article she cites director Ava DuVernay’s position that having and using a voice and perspective outside the male default “is a radical act in itself“. Powerful feminist films like The Day I Became a Woman and Vagabond ARE essential to the evolution of cinema but every time a woman tells a tale she changes the world a little.

Aspiring actress Julie Robert, cursed with a distinctive name and a flaccid career, is one such world-changing voice. She is the creation of comedienne Sarah Warren who writes directs and stars in MLE. Canadian native Julie is a fish out of water in sarcastic, snippy London. When her final chance for stardom, in a dubious B-movie, is snatched away she stumbles into espionage as an accidental sideline.


You can read our 5 star review of MLE here but the reason it resonated so strongly with me began with a single perfect line…

In reply to the presumption of a pair of Guardian geezers – that she and her actress friend aspire to be like Lena Dunham (ironically cited as an influence in some reviews) or Brit Marling – Julie sharply retorts: “Personally I just want to tell fun stories and eat cake.” And she really does. Not in an ironic way, not because she isn’t young or hip enough, nor for a saccharine rom com reason but because that desire is part of the make-up of this living breathing character. She games, she has an inner puppet dialogue about the state of her life, she is baffled by the singular rudeness of English men and she really likes cake.

On the surface it might not appear to be a radical act of feminism to make a black comedy about an accidental spy. Yet MLE effortlessly passes both the Bechdel and Mako Mori tests without being anything but smart, daft and likeable. To again cite Ava DuVernay, Julie Robert’s very existence is a political statement. The love/like story is a sub-sub plot buried beneath the intricate tangles of Julie’s predicament. Her friendships are frustrating and complex, her ties to her family complicated by guilt, obligation and little white lies. In short, she is a person first and a woman second. In 2015 that still feels a wee bit radical.

Pitch Perfect 5MLE is a film in the vein of Kissing Jessica Stein, In a World…, Wild and Pitch Perfect. In that they don’t feel wildly revolutionary but they do feel different. The beauty of the legitimate female gaze is that glorious sense of “me too”. Something straight men may experience as a matter of course but those identifying as female are too often left to extrapolate from flimsy characters and lazy tropes. This purely female POV has potential to change hearts and minds in Hollywood and beyond, allowing projects like Appropriate Behavior and Tangerine to break through. It is unflinching and will not be stared down.

Natalie Portman spoke out in September about having her perception of Sam – the archetypal Manic Pixie Dream Girl she played in Garden State – challenged. She managed to thoughtfully address the notion of troubling tropes without dismissing her own journey. On screen Zoe Kazan did the same thing with Ruby Sparks. She wrote an affectionate and barbed ‘What If?’ that played out as a conversation about the convention rather than an attack on the MPDGs of yore. We too play our part in continuing the conversation by supporting films like MLE as earnestly as worthier fare. In so doing we reply to Melissa Silverstein’s shout. We say we’re there with you. We say you matter. We say “me too”.

MLE has its UK theatrical premiere at The Ritzy and Hackney Picturehouse on Sunday 4th October.