There is something really satisfying about watching coming-of-age teen movies. Being a 24 year old gremlin, teen movies always manage to successfully deliver a good dose of serotonin with its portrayal of first loves, teen angst, rebellious dreams and just a good celebration of being young.
So when I first watched the trailer of the movie Moxie on Netflix, I was hooked. Young women fighting against sexual harassment and inequality while a banging rock song blares in the background? Sign me up. Directed by Amy Poehler, the trailer draws you in with its spirit of revolution, beckoning you “to get woke” along with its teen protagonist. Unfortunately, my excitement quickly fizzled out while watching the movie.
The story revolves around Vivian (Hadley Robinson), a young, white, high school student, and her journey towards becoming a feminist. In an openly sexist school environment, Vivian and her best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) are silent participants as they fail to recognise the misogyny around them. Even when her new classmate Lucy (Alycia Pascual) is constantly harassed by the white, male football captain and her voice is suppressed by the school authorities, Vivian chooses to stay silent. She even goes so far as to advise Lucy to ignore Mitchell’s (Patrick Schwarzenegger) “annoying” antics, because boys will be boys, right?
Vivian’s feminist transformation is triggered by Lucy, who refuses to bow down to her perpetrators, and the publishing of a sexist list about the female students, including her. That is how we get ‘Moxie!’, an anonymous zine Vivian creates to call out the misogyny in her high school, kickstarting a movement among the students.
Although the movie has its heart in the right place, the way it deals with certain issues is quite problematic. Intersectionality is at the core of feminism as we know it today. Yet, the movie’s attempt at being inclusive is lacklustre. We have a strong Afro-Latina character in Lucy, who is outspoken and powerful. However, she is relegated to the sidelines, along with the other strong women of colour, in this fight for equality. What had the potential of becoming a powerful message of inclusivity became just another white girl centric movie.
When Vivian’s mom, Lisa (Poehler) tells her daughter about her high school days of being a rebel, she agrees that the protests were not “intersectional” enough and that they made a lot of “mistakes”. Vivian asks if she is glad she did it despite it all, to which Lisa responds, “Of course. What are you going to do? Nothing?” A fundamental issue seems to be highlighted in this dialogue. White woman’s feminism allows for mistakes to happen that might inadvertently cause harm to women of colour. The stakes are always much higher, and the risks much more dangerous for people of colour.
Throughout the movie, the racial differences are made quite clear. When Lucy is publicly harassed for voicing her opinions, the students fail to stand up for her. However, when a white girl gets rebuked for her outfit, the other female students are quick to protest. People of colour seem to only act as Vivian’s stepping stones in becoming the reckoning force behind the high school’s feminist movement. The movie does nothing to acknowledge Vivian’s white privilege or how it affects the people of colour around her. When Claudia, who is of Asian descent, tells Vivian, “You don’t get what’s going on with me because you’re white”, the movie does not allow Vivian to understand how race plays its part in individual experiences and struggles. Instead, she has a meltdown and makes the entire issue about herself, and the real questions are brushed under the rug.
It is truly disheartening how the movie chooses to neglect talking about real issues despite having the platform to do so. At times I felt like the movie would finally address the concerns of intersectionality that it had been avoiding since the beginning, but it chooses to play safe. Moxie would have broken barriers and truly emerged as a feminist trailblazer if only the writers had allowed the white protagonist to understand her privilege and started a dialogue about it. Moxie delivers a revolution that no one will remember the next day.
Poulami Nag is an aspiring academician and writer, who recently completed her Master’s in English Literature from Miranda House, University of Delhi. She loves all things pop culture and spends way too much time on stan Twitter for her own good.
Featured image credit: Netflix