Thursday, February 2, 2023

Students discuss the heroic portrayal of women of color in 'Knives Out'

January 19, 2023

Hot on the heels of the success of its predecessor, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” sees the return of gentlemen detective Benoit Blanc, played by Daniel Craig, and his over-the-top Southern drawl.

Though the sequel sends Blanc off to Greece and introduces a new eccentric crew called the Disruptors, “Glass Onion” and “Knives Out” have one thing in common: students attest they're both triumphs for women of color.

In “Glass Onion,” Helen Brand, played by Janelle Monáe, is a main protagonist seeking justice for the murder of her sister, Andi. Helen and Blanc are quickly thrown into a whirlwind of lies, blackmail and treachery as they work together to uncover the truth.

Human biology junior Ellen Kim said Monáe’s portrayal of the characters was essential to the film. 

“Andi was really strong and smart, but Helen was kind of quiet and felt like she wouldn’t have belonged in Andi’s crowd of super smart and tech-savvy people,” Kim said. “But I also think that Helen had to kind of step up and be braver than she thought she was to solve the mystery.”

Kim said Brand’s character being written as Black was purposeful and reflective of society.

“It made you understand her desperation, in a way,” Kim said. “She came to Benoit Blanc at the start of the movie, saying that, ‘I can’t get this done in courts because they won’t believe me.’ ... So I think it shows the truth about whiteness and how it’s associated with privilege.” 

Comparative culture and politics sophomore Natalie Rehkemper said the characters of “Glass Onion” provide a huge commentary on representation.

“This movie is about credit,” Rehkemper said. “And historically, women and especially women of color have not received credit for their work.”

Rehkemper added that the Disruptors’ majority make-up of white, affluent people emphasizes this social commentary, underlined by Kate Hudson’s character, Birdie Jay, being racially insensitive and ignorant. 

Nearing the end of the movie, the audience discovers genius billionaire Miles Bron is not a genius but a murderer – responsible for the deaths of Andi Brand and mens-rights Twitch streamer and fellow Disruptor Duke Cody. 

But after Bron burns the only evidence of his homicides, Brand has no choice but to send the Mona Lisa that he illicitly installed up in flames.

“I think (the ending) is extremely unfair,” Rehkemper said. “The punishments and consequences are unfair. Losing the Mona Lisa, versus murder. I think there’s a lot to say about that, in that it was some justice or no justice, which is an unfortunate truth.”

Similarly, mechanical engineering sophomore Vinay Rao said the ending of “Glass Onion,” though unfortunate, was very accurate to real life.

“All this injustice just becomes a giant spectacle, and we never get like real justice … just a little something to kind of tease the crowd,” Rao said. “It never seems like a satisfying ending or a satisfying conclusion to the story. ... Like Miles Bron … all these billionaires kind of get away with this crazy stuff.”

Compared to the abstract ending of “Knives Out,” Rao said, this one felt more accurate and grounded. 

In “Knives Out,” the main protagonist is Marta Cabrera, played by Ana de Armas. Cabrera almost single handedly solves the murder of her employer, Harlan Thrombey, while enduring threats and racist jabs from the rest of the Thrombey family. 

Ransom Drysdale, the culprit, was caught and would be prosecuted for murder.

Kim said that “Knives Out” being tied up nicely was a win for Cabrera and women of color. She pointed out that throughout the film, the other characters were accusing Cabrera of murder because she was a Hispanic immigrant.

In fact, Rehkemper said she thought the “Knives Out” ending was better than that of “Glass Onion” because it’s what people need to see. 

“There’s a big difference in there being characters of color in … Hollywood, but then when they don’t succeed, what is that really showing?” Rehkemper said. “So (for) little girls who watch ‘Knives Out’ ... if the ending was different and (Cabrera) didn’t fully win, that would be confirmation of what they kind of already know is the truth.”

However, Rao said both installments broke stereotypes associated with Black and Hispanic women. No one expected Cabrera to solve the murder because she was the housemaid, he said. And Brand, who comes off as less intelligent, proves throughout the whole movie she is as capable as her sister. 

Rao noted that Benoit’s character doesn't quite cross the line of being a white savior.

“Maybe a little bit in the first film, ... but in the second one, I feel like Helen did most of the work in solving the murder,” Rao said. “It’s not about him … it’s almost like he’s a side character.”

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