Before I saw “Rio 2,” I was holding out hope that Jewel, the bird played by Anne Hathaway, and her husband, Blu, played by Jesse Eisenberg, would be equals in the movie, meaning actual costars. I stuck with this possibility partly based on what I saw in the movie poster.
While Jewel is posed coyly with a submissive head tilt and a pink flower on her head, she’s still front and center, right there with Blu. (All the other characters pictured on this poster are male.) I checked the synopsis for “Rio 2” on imdb.com:
It’s a jungle out there for Blu, Jewel and their three kids in RIO 2, after they’re hurtled from that magical city to the wilds of the Amazon. As Blu tries to fit in, he goes beak-to-beak with the vengeful Nigel, and meets the most fearsome adversary of all – his father-in-law.
Not as promising as the poster, but still, when I counted 18 children’s movies in 2014 starring males, while just 6 star females for my annual Reel Girl’s Gallery of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies, I initially put “Rio 2” in its own category.
Well, I’m sorry to report that I’ve seen the movie with my kids and “Rio 2” is Blu’s story. He’s clearly the star with all the screen time, he goes through the transition, and it’s his wits that save the world. So make that 19 children’s movies in 2014 that star males.
I have three daughters, ages 5, 7, and 10, and they’ve seen 5 movies so far this year: The Nut Job, The Lego Movie, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Muppets Most Wanted, and Rio 2– Every single one features a male protagonist. Just in case you were wondering, only 5 children’s movies have come out so far this year. So once again, when our children go to the movies, they’re learning that males star while females belong in supporting roles. And — surprise, surprise– each children’s movie so far this year features Minority Feisty: female characters whose number are in the minority compared to males, but they’re allowed to be “strong” in these supporting roles. Usually, that means the females play a crucial part in helping the male complete his quest. That is, in kidworld, females are permitted power as long as its circumscribed. If you read Reel Girl, you know I call these female characters Minority Feisty because not only are they in the minority, but they are always referred to by critics as “feisty,” a seriously diminutive adjective. “Feisty” doesn’t describe anyone who is really strong but someone who plays at being strong. Would you ever call Superman feisty? How would he feel if you did?
To wit, in an article about Anne Hathaway in last week’s people magazine, the journalist writes:
There have been other big changes as well for the actress who reprises her role as the feisty macaw Jewel in the new animated film ‘Rio 2.’
Here it is in black and white.
I make this point because the sexism in children’s movies is a ridiculously repetitive pattern, yet hardly anyone calls it out. The sexism is so obvious that paradoxically, it’s become invisible, the pink elephant of kidworld that gets ignored. If males starring and females supporting happened just sometimes, or even half the time, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but this sexism is relentless in narratives are created for kids.
Once again, I ask: In the imaginary world, anything is possible, so why is it so sexist? Why can’t we show children a magical world where there’s gender equality?
Reel Girl rates “Rio 2” ***H***
See Reel Girl’s Galleries of Girls Gone Missing From Children’s Movies: