“We see a refreshing gender role-reversal, where Louise’s male science partner is a support character used as a device to deepen her own storyline.”
Title: Arrival (2016)
Director: Denis Villeneuve 👨🏼🇨🇦
Writers: Eric Heisserer (screenplay, 👨🏼🇺🇸), Ted Chiang (book author, 👨🏻🇺🇸)
Reviewed by Angie 👩🏻🇺🇸🌈 and Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Arrival is a methodical film that you discover, slowly and deliberately, through the eyes of the main character, Louise (Amy Adams). This is not a story about aliens invading the earth, but a mirror held up to the human individual.
I’d score this 5/5 but I’m removing half a point to compromise with average critics’ scores: 8.4/10 at Rotten Tomatoes and 81 at Metacritic.
This film is helmed by a strong female lead. That’s just the tip of the iceberg though; how is she portrayed? Are there women in the supporting cast? Arrival does a great job navigating these gender issues, especially considering its male director and writers.
Things they get right:
The character of Louise is strong: she outsmarts the flawed, short-sighted men running the First Contact program.
She displays multiple identities as all humans do, portrayed in equal parts as a sharp linguist, a loving mother, a woman in grief, etc.
We see a refreshing gender role-reversal, where Ian (Jeremy Renner), Louise’s science partner, is a less complex character used as a device to deepen her own storyline.
There are almost no women in the supporting cast. However, Arrival has a military setting so the context is accurate.
Director Villeneuve has an interesting tendency to employ women as witnesses upon which extreme circumstances are exerted; in particular, I am thinking of Emily Blunt’s character in Sicario, who represents humanity and how it can get engulfed in the horrors of the drug trade. In Arrival, Louise assumes a similar and almost stereotypical role, of the woman being the conscience who has to overcome masculine folly. That being said, I appreciated how Villeneuve’s “woman as witness” character has evolved from a helpless one in Sicario to one with agency in Arrival.
Finally, Arrival impresses with its strong share of female speaking time, especially considering the military setting of this film: 46% Female vs 54% Male (16:39mins vs 19:42mins). Beyond Louise, her daughter supplemented the airwaves while news coverage on TV sets made up a significant amount of speaking time, where the split was roughly 50/50 between male and female reporters.
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 12% of creative decision-makers were POC
As with any film about aliens, Arrival has rote appearances of other countries and their heads of state. While that should be a given, what’s more impressive was the presence of complex people of color (POC) in important roles: Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker) has the most visibility, and his character is well-developed, serving as the straight man to Louise’s unconventional actions but backing her up when it matters most.
A second, well-scripted POC is Chinese general Shang (Tzi Ma). As a background character, I appreciate the complexity with which he was written; it would’ve been easy to cast him as an immature, trigger-happy foreigner. However, as the film continues we see that he is, in fact, a round character with multiple motivations and a desire to do the right thing for the world.
Overall though, Arrival is still a predominantly white film if we go by numbers. There are a few racially ambiguous or POC service people floating around the military site which I appreciate, but the omission of any overt Hispanic characters is worth half a point to me, considering that they make up fully 18% of the U.S. population.
Mediaversity Grade: A- 4.67/5
This movie is not for everyone; viewers expecting explosions and action scenes will be disappointed. Instead, Arrival strives to explore emotional, philosophical themes, and does that exceedingly well. As for inclusiveness, Arrival features complex characters of both genders and various ethnicities. Well done to Villeneuve and his team!