Objectifying Margot Robbie: A Highlight of the Last Decade

A few weeks ago, many film critics released their lists of favorite movies, not just from the previous twelve months, but from the previous ten years. James Berardinelli, whose reviews and commentary I read on a regular basis, catalogued eighteen cinematic highlights from the last decade. One of these films was The Wolf of Wall Street, which he thinks “may be [Scorsese’s] most enjoyable all-time production.” He goes on to say, “This is delightfully re-watchable (and not just for the Margot Robbie scenes).”

That throwaway line is revealing. For those not familiar with the movie, Margot Robbie plays the main female lead, a character who is sexualized and objectified by the screenplay, the characters in the story, and the eye of the camera itself. According to Berardinelli, the delightfulness of the movie is due, in large part, to Robbie being in various stages of undress. There is more to the movie than just that—but certainly no less.

THE “ART” OF OBJECTIFICATION

We can’t dismiss Berardinelli’s comments as representative of a small minority of basement-dwelling incels who mooch porn off their parents’ Wi-Fi, since he himself is none of those things. On the contrary, Berardinelli has one of the longest standing online review sites in cinema history. His critic’s eye led to his friendship with the late Roger Ebert, and has earned him widespread respect. Berardinelli is no uncultured swine.

Or consider the example of Rich Cohen. He interviewed Margot Robbie for a Vanity Fair cover story in 2016. During the interview, he asked Robbie about her work for The Wolf of Wall Street, where she experienced filming her very first sex scene:

“Is there any way to prepare?”

“No. Tons of people are watching you.”

“Were you worried you were not going to be able to do it?”

“There isn’t an option. It’s just like, This is what you need to do—get on with it. The sooner you do it, the sooner you can stop doing it.”

“It just seems very awkward.”

“It’s so awkward.”

Cohen followed this conversation by writing the following: “We sat for a moment in silence. She was thinking of something; I was thinking of something else.” This comment exemplifies, as one Film Rejects article puts it, “patronizing sexist ooze.”

Like Berardinelli, Rich Cohen isn’t an immature schoolboy. He is, in fact, an award-winning author and filmmaker—who, as it turns out, collaborated with Scorsese on the HBO drama Vinyl.

Comments like those from Berardinelli and Cohen represent no just their own voyeuristic glee, but another problem I’ve been pointing out for years (including here and here): the mingling of art and pornography has turned a lot of our visual stories—including mainstream and genuinely artful stories—into products with pornographic elements. And stories that objectify humans invite an audience response that echoes that objectification.

For all of Scorsese’s good intentions with The Wolf of Wall Street, Margot Robbie’s dignity and sexuality were violated, not as the result of a misuse of the film’s content, but as the direct result of the film’s content. One cannot produce hypersexualized material, even if that material is Oscar-worthy, and expect anything other than the hypersexualization of its actors.

A FAILED AVOIDANCE OF OBJECTIFICATION

I’ve written about The Wolf of Wall Street more than just about any other movie (see here and here and here). I’ve also specifically detailed some of the ways in which Margot Robbie was objectified during both the audition for and filming of this movie. What I’ve learned since then is that the objectification process began even earlier. Robbie explains the experience in her own words:

Right from the beginning of my career, I said I would never do nudity. And I’d made that clear to my team, so they all knew that from the beginning. And, like I said, when I first did my audition [for The Wolf of Wall Street], we never expected it to go any further than perhaps—perhaps—[casting director] Ellen Lewis seeing it. So we found ourselves in the predicament where Marty wanted to test me, and we then had to go back to him and say, ‘Well, look, she actually doesn’t want to do nudity, but the part requires nudity.’ And they came back to us: ‘Why did she audition?’ [We answered] ‘Honestly, we never expected you to want to see her, so we just didn’t think this was ever going to be an issue.’ . . . . And my team kind of sat me down and they were like, ‘Look, if there’s ever going to be a time in your career to do nudity, this is it. It’s this project with this director.’ . . . I was so trepidatious [sic]. And for a while, I was thinking, “Hey look, maybe it’s just not meant to be. Maybe I just shouldn’t do it.”

At the very beginning of Robbie’s career, she was pressured—by her own team, no less—to take the role of a hypersexualized character. Those who should have been most on her side, most in her corner, sabotaged her efforts from the get-go.

In commenting on the above scenario, the ScholarDay blog notes the following:

When we as an audience see [Robbie] completely nude, a woman who never wanted to do a nude role in order to have a career in Hollywood, we are looking at a woman who had to take three shots of hard liquor in the morning in order to stand there naked in front of us [according to a HuffPost article]. When talking about the character she played in The Wolf of Wall Street, Robbie was tragically adding commentary on the character women are forced to play in a male-ran Hollywood:

“The whole point of Naomi is that her body is her only form of currency in this world.”

The blog continues:

What also makes Robbie’s story so tragic is how interviews and glossy mags talk about her decision to grin and bare it all as if it was the best decision she made in her career. And it is hard to argue with that, considering it was that project that catapulted her to stardom. Though, I would argue nudity had nothing to do with her rise to fame. She is an incredibly talented actor. And incredibly talented actors shouldn’t have fewer roles to choose from based on their unwillingness to let men sexualize them.

If young, aspiring actors see over and over again stories spun in this way, then it will always be the status quo. And such a norm leaves vulnerable up-and-comers all the more vulnerable.

The Wolf of Wall Street both perpetuated the status quo (by forcing an actor to violate her convictions in order to be acceptable to the project) and upped the ante (by pushing the boundaries of how much sexual content is acceptable for one movie, with over 20 sex scenes*).

AN IGNORANT DENIAL OF OBJECTIFICATION

Strangely and sadly enough, Robbie remains oblivious to her public objectification. According to a 2016 article in Metro, “Robbie says she doesn’t feel like she’s been reduced to her looks.” The article then quotes Robbie directly:

“I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve got a really good team around me. I haven’t been exploited, I don’t feel,” she explains. “I’m more concerned with being labeled as a sex symbol. That makes me feel more uncomfortable than any day-to-day interactions I have.”

Robbie’s perception, based either out of ignorance or denial, is that she hasn’t been exploited in her career. She seems unaware, or unwilling to recognize, that one of her fears—being sexualized for audiences—has become a career-defining reality.

Has it really been “career defining,” though? Well, don’t take my word for it.

According to the Film School Rejects article I previously quoted, “There’s no denying that Margot Robbie’s sex appeal has played a role in the trajectory of her acting career. . . .Robbie’s rise from ‘who?’ to bona fide movie star has featured a lot of sexual imagery, even by Hollywood standards.” The article adds that Robbie’s performance in Suicide Squad “solidified Harley Quinn’s place as second most stereotypical nerd boy fetish, after Slave Bikini Princess Leia.”

In commenting on the wardrobe choices made for Suicide Squad, a CinemaBlend video states the following: “While we do get a quick glance at Quinn in her classic jester attire, the chosen outfit for the film was definitely on the sexier side. It was inevitable, as Robbie…quickly became a sex symbol after her breakout role in The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Director and producer Kevin B. Lee produced a video essay on Robbie, for which he writes in his artist statement, “Eight of Robbie’s first ten film roles involve nudity or sex scenes. I can’t think of another A-list Hollywood actress whose career beginnings involved so much nudity, not even Sharon Stone.”

POTS AND FROGS

How is it possible that Margot Robbie remains unaware of her objectification, even as she has participated in sexualized content over the years? It appears that she is a victim of what our culture at large has experienced: the deadening of our senses to what is truly objectifying. In a pornified society like ours, we’ve become numb to much of the hypersexualized content that surrounds us.

It stands to reason that this numbness affects actors as well as audiences. It’s almost as if the pornography industry has been grooming mainstream media—and our culture as a whole—in the ways of sexual deviance, pushing the boundaries of acceptability farther and farther out. Our collective conscience is slowly being worn down, to the point that the moral decay of pornified content doesn’t register as rotten.

It’s comparable to the boiling frog fable: if a frog is placed in a pot of boiling water, he’ll jump right out—whereas, if he’s placed in a pot of tepid water, which is then heated slowly, the frog might not recognize the temperature changes until it’s too late.

Our actors are being trained and conditioned to see the sexualized content they’re filming as innocuous. As an audience, we’re being trained and conditioned to see the sexualized content of our entertainers as normal, acceptable, and even praiseworthy.

But the objectification of human beings made in the image of God is never acceptable. Not if a filmmaker says so. Not if a studio says so.

And not even if an actor says so.






To learn more about the pornification of our entertainment, you can view my training at christiansandmovies.com.



* According to the film’s PluggedIn movie review




photo credit: rocor via flickr, CC (This image has been cropped.)

Comments