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How ‘Birds Of Prey: Harley Quinn’ Embraces Female Empowerment

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UC Irvine chapter.

Birds Of Prey: Harley Quinn directed by Cathy Yan is a phenomenal film that embraces the true meaning of female empowerment. This film illustrates female empowerment because we see an entire new revelation with Harley Quinn’s character and she fights alongside a strong female squad. Harley Quinn was played by Margot Robbie, who did a fantastic job in portraying the role of the mistress of mayhem. 

Unfortunately, in Robbie’s first appearance in the film Suicide Squad, her character was sexually exploited to appeal to the male gaze. The male gaze is defined as a feminist theory in the essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” written by Laura Mulvey. Mulvey’s feminist theory shows how women are represented as mere sexual objects for the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer. The film Suicide Squad shows many medium-close up shots that focus on Harley Quinn’s chest, long pigtails and the rest of her body instead of framing her face. The male gaze has become a worldwide trend in the way characters are shown in most popular mainstream films like the portrayal of female leads from Transformers and Spring Breakers. Sadly, many male directors are choosing to sexually expose many of these women for profit instead elevating them to the next level—Hollywood, please do better. 

pile of comic books
Photo by tunechick83 from Pixabay
Another problem that I had with Harley Quinn’s character in Suicide Squad is she is fully dependent (and even shows a lack of agency) in her romantic relationship with the Joker and she will consistently obey all of his commands instead of following her own path. Obviously, their on-screen relationship was depicted from the original comics, but they had the opportunity to create a new voice for Harley Quinn. Robbie’s portrayal of Harley Quinn proves that she is an iconic villain on her own, so she does not need constant reassurance from or to rely on her relationship with her puddin’, the Joker. Quinn’s dependency on the Joker also proves how many female roles in mainstream movies are sexually exploited as the “hot side-kick characters” to appeal to the male gaze instead of showcased as the actual main characters. Unfortunately, Harley Quinn’s character in Suicide Squad was massively underdeveloped because she was too focused on her toxic relationship with the Joker rather than on discovering herself. Quinn’s identity through the Suicide Squad film was illustrated as the Joker’s sexually explicit sidekick, but nothing beyond that, and this decision resulted in a lack of depth within the film. The mainstream film productions need to hire more female directors like Cathy Yan who are going to empower women and cast them for better roles. The public needs to see and support female writers who are not going to dehumanize, humiliate or sexually objectify women on the big screen. 

The film Birds Of Prey: Harley Quinn is more empowering for women because it  negates all beauty standards and gives the maiden of mischief an opportunity to tell her story from her own female voice. Quinn cuts off her pigtails and wears less seductive clothing to perform more badass action sequences. Harley Quinn’s bangs depict a less seductive frame and strategically creates a less sexist role. The camera shifts its focal point from her chest to more full body shots to break free from the male gaze. In the beginning, Harley Quinn explains her breakup with the Joker was heart-wrenching but it was overall a necessity to develop her own agency. Throughout the film, Harley Quinn deconstructs social barriers and stereotypical gender roles because she proves that she does not need the Joker nor a relationship to give her happiness or fulfillment. Harley Quinn’s character is more fully developed in Birds Of Prey because the audience sees a new side of Quinn expressing her fearlessness and independence, which becomes an overall depiction of feminism. Many people should go watch and support these types of films to continue the progression of female empowerment worldwide. 

Hello Everyone, My name is Victoria Hernandez. I am a fourth-year English major with a specialization in Education. I aspire to become a high school teacher because I want to help students prepare for their future, and show them that anything is possible if you believe in yourself. I have a passion for writing slam poetry, performing rap lyrics, and film editing. I am also a HUGE Disney fanatic. If it is at all possible to live at Disneyland then sign me up. I hope that my future writings will make you smile or will make your day shine brighter because it's a great feeling to spread kindness wherever you go.