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Violence against women is not romantic

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Sadly, many films, TV shows, novels,  and comics continue to romanticise abusive behaviour and use acts of violence against women as the “honey that traps the bear”, laments Yasmin Bathamanathan.

Life lessons from the screen continues this week with a look at the alarming trend of romanticising violence against women in films.

In Burnt, a spectacularly dull offering from The Weinstein Company, a former hard-living bad boy superstar chef Adam Jones, played to perfection by a moody Bradley Cooper, makes a comeback into the culinary scene.

He has paid due penance shucking oysters in Louisiana, giving up booze, drugs and women. His appearance in London is as splashy and dramatic as any comeback kid’s story, and his conquest, which in this case is the third Michelin star he promised his posse and himself, would seem to be inevitable.

Some minor setbacks, a romance, a little queer baiting and multiple redemptions later, he gets the third star and is rightfully back at his former reign as culinary god.

Despite Jones embarking on a path of redemption – trying to mend broken relationships and betrayals – he still behaves quite appallingly and worse, gets away with it, all on account of him being a culinary genius and bad boy super star. Yes, Jones gets away with pretty much being an a******.

But nothing is worse than his relationship with sous-chef Helene, delightfully played by Sienna Miller. He traps her into his employment, first by hounding her and when that did not work, he had her fired from her job and swept in with a sweet deal of a double-pay raise.

Taking a leaf from the infamously foul-mouthed and ill-tempered Gordon Ramsey, Jones goes on an abusive rampage, hurling abuse at his staff because the opening night did not go as planned.

Jones especially targets Helene, humiliating her in front of the almost-exclusively male staff. Not satisfied with verbally abusing her, he becomes physical – he grabs her, and for a second, it looks like he might strike her. A clearly shaken Helene quits and storms off while Jones is permitted to blow off steam.

Yet, when Jones’s lackey is sent to persuade Helene to come back, she somehow caves in and returns to work with Jones, who does not even apologise for his actions the night before. And before you know it, the two of them are in love and all is good.

Not only is Jones rewarded with the love of a highly talented chef whom he abused, he is also saved from looming death at the hands of his former drug dealers by an ex-lover who pays off his debt. He is somehow worth all that trouble.

Burnt is hardly the only film I’ve watched last year in which the protagonist or hero behaves badly towards women only to be redeemed by those women for no particular reason.

In the Indian blockbuster hit Baahubali: The Beginning, the romance plot between the hero Shiva (Prabhas) and the rebel warrior Avanthika (Tamannaah) is extremely problematic and quite frankly sickening.

Shiva one day finds a mask which someone identifies as belonging to a beautiful woman and goes as far as conjuring her up in his dreams. In his dreams, the woman – Avanthika – is virginal and sexy, demure and seductive. What he doesn’t know is that our heroin is a kickass rebel warrior who is hell-bent on defeating the villains in the movie.

But for Shiva, the woman of his dreams is the perfect mix of sexy and virginal, and super ladylike. Needless to say our hero is in love with the nameless woman of his dreams and must now conquer her, which ties neatly into the trajectory of any self-respecting hero – rescuing the damsel-in-distress.

So there Shiva goes in his hero’s quest, scaling the mountain that has seduced him and challenged him all his life. In true cinematic fashion, he succeeds because he now has love (or lust) fuelling him.

When he does find the beautiful woman, he stalks her and spies on her. Not content on being just a creep, Shiva takes his male privilege a step further to tattoo on the hand of the sleeping Avanthika.

Somehow an act that is non-consensual is painted as a romantic gesture in the film. The worst part, it happens twice, and Shiva is supposedly the redeemer the people of this universe are waiting for.

And when Shiva and Avanthika do get physical and engage in bodily combat, the scene ends with what essentially is rape.

A tug of her top here, stripping her warrior clothes, reddening her lips with dye and slowly transforming her into the vision he dreams of, the rape of Avanthika is depicted as nothing but romance complete with a song-and-dance sequence.

And because this is a male fantasy, Shiva conquers the warrior and tames her, making her the woman of his dreams. She accepts him, and all his rapey violations are now seen as romantic gestures.

Both Burnt and Baahubali were released in 2015, the former a financial flop staring an A-list Hollywood heartthrob and produced by a big-name production company and the latter one of the most expensive and lucrative Indian movies that has changed the game for Indian cinema. They could not be any more different than they are and yet the films’ treatment of women and glamorisation of violence against women is appallingly the same.

Sadly, they are not the exceptions; many films (and TV shows, novels, comics, etc.) continue to romanticise abusive behaviour and use acts of violence against women as the “honey that traps the bear”.

A culture that romanticises violence against women is a culture in which violence against women thrives, and it comes to a point that it is so normalised that we do not even bat an eyelid when it happens. In all the rave reviews I read of Baahubali: The Beginning, I did not see any mention of the violation Avanthika faced nor did I hear any gasps or outrage in the cinema when I watched the film.

The fact that these depictions of romanticised abuse is commonplace in films and so on is disturbing. It also is reflective of how we as a culture think so little of women and their value, which we see in the news every day.

Source: The Malaysian Insider

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Jill Rowan
18 Feb 2016 8.56pm

Does this really need to be pointed out?

Jill Rowan
18 Feb 2016 9.02pm

Hollywood / mainstream films promote violence, they must in order to back up the Military / NATO empire mentality.

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