I have to be honest, I didn't actually start watching any of the Mad Max films until a few months before Fury Road came out. But my husband is a huge fan, so just before Fury Road hit theaters last year, I purchased the first three movies off of Amazon, and went on a movie binge, just so I'd be caught up on the story of Max. There was something oddly different and pleasant about the movies, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
Opening day, we went to go see Fury Road, amid various masculine ads and posters. There were images of exploding cars and violent slaughtering, all the makings of a truthfully man-heavy film, so I thought. But as the movie drew to a close, I began to figure out what makes the Mad Max series stand out so much more than all of the other so-called “dude” flicks.
The series is sprinkled with gender equality, without it being a major deal. But none more-so than Fury Road, which is actually a pro-feminist, estrogen chick flick, disguised as a testosterone laden car show.
Which is why I am deeply disappointed that most of the feminist movement missed this gem of a film, as has the Academy, who may have bestowed the film with a few well deserved technical Oscars, but not the larger wins it cleanly deserved. In fact, feminists who admitted later to not having watched the film, lied, accusing it of being anti-woman, when it's arguably the most empowering movie a young woman could have seen in 2015.
The movie is centered around Furiosa, a handicapped soldier who was kidnapped as a child, and brought to the Citadel, under the leadership of the movie's main villain, Immortan Joe. Just after the introduction of The Citadel, we find Furiosa has kidnapped Joe's concubines and favored wives, and is on a race against the elements to get the women to safety, via The War Rig, a giant, spiked and deadly truck, which is loaded up with breast milk. Using quick wits and a large assortment of stolen weapons, Furiosa defies the odds by proving to be a very fast and capable bodyguard to the frightened slaves. Along the way, Furiosa finds her way through the desert to her original homeland, and has to come to grips with the grim fate of her family, while also helping the last remaining survivors of her all female tribe suit up for one last grand stand against Joe's fleet. As if this isn't enough, Furiosa also finds herself indirectly finding a way to free an entire race of people who live beneath the Citadel.
And what about Max you ask? Well… he's there, but more as an accessory. Outside of the first twenty minutes of the film, where we see him tortured by nightmares and being attached as a living IV pole to a half-life named Nux, Max is used as more of a background prop, and takes a literal backseat to the story of Furiosa. He isn't weak by any means, and has retained all of the action smarts of the original, Mel Gibson character, but his character exists as a sidekick who finds different ways to aid Furiosa and to fight off Joe's forces without taking over as leader.
But what really surprised me was the treatment of the women from the get-go. Yes, they're slaves. Yes, like the rest of the cast, the slaves are wearing precious more than a blanket. And yes, many of the women were used sexually. And yet, at no point in the film do Joe, or any of the other villains, address the females by slur terms, nor do they ever crack any jokes based on gender. In the entire film, I never once heard a “back in the kitchen” joke or even a sexual comment. Not once is any of the women degraded to being less than human, despite their status as sex slaves.
In fact, in one of the most powerful points of the epic, when Angharad, the favorite wife of Joe who is severely pregnant with their son, sacrifices herself to save Max during a race, the film stops and becomes self aware. We see Joe, frantically begging an on-board doctor to do what he can to save her and the infant, but when both die during an emergency cesarean section, Joe actually grieves. He mourns her loss and the loss of the baby boy, and all of the villains bow their heads in memorial. The only bit of discernible dialogue comes from Joe's half-life adult son, who begins telling the grieving villains “I had a baby brother, he was perfect in every way!” For as evil as Joe is, to see such sorrow and compassion in his eyes was an unexpected twist when compared to the average movie villain, and even to the bitter end, he never tries to degrade Furiosa or diminish her power. He views her as on his level, and in some segments, even wants her to return to his army. As twisted as this sounds, this abusive cretin actually seems to care about the women he's enslaved, and not just because they offer him children or sex.
Another great thing about this movie was that it was stewing in an overwhelming sense of hope, something usually left on the cutting room floor for most post-apocalyptic films. Even after Furiosa discovers the truth about her homeland, her tribe convinces her to keep hope alive. The whole film long, the slaves are encouraged to not give up on their future, and it's that drive for hope that not only saves the day, but also gives the women the courage they need to take up the weapons and start protecting themselves as well. Unlike most of today's Hollywood approved films, Fury Road never felt “emo” or whiny, a breath of fresh air amid a slue of movies and TV shows that are steeped in drama.
Mad Max Fury Road shook up the landscape for aggressive films. It wasn't overtly masculine, and it held strong to the theme of gender equality, without making it seem abnormal. It's a secret pro-feminist movie surrounded by a thought provoking cast of characters, and deserves a higher honor than Hollywood is willing to give.
Koriander Bullard is an author, cartoonist and human rights advocate. Keep up with her on Facebook!