Drop everything and take your kids to see ‘Divergent’

There are so many things I love about “Divergent,” I’ll go through the major points here.


The movie, in a nutshell, is about facing your fears. You get to watch a brave, smart, and compassionate female protagonist test and challenge herself again and again. You see her make choices, grow, and become her own person, a true leader. I write a lot about violence on Reel Girl, and how it is not comparable to sexualization. Narratives are metaphors, and just like in dreams, images express feelings. We, humans, experience universal emotions like fear and aggression. These are not “boy” feelings or “girl” feelings, they are just part of being alive. What is unique, or relatively unique, is what triggers these feelings in each of us. ‘Divergent’ addresses this specifically, by showing the characters go through their “fear landscapes” where they face their terrors and make choices. I loved that my daughter saw a female hero do this again and again.

Another thing that is so great about this movie is the romance. Four, the supporting male character, is in love with Tris because of her bravery. Her bravery makes her attractive. While we see so many narratives where males are celebrated for their attributes, females get defined by their “beauty.” Males have the reputation of being divorced from their feelings, but in my experience, it’s female characters– and of course, actual female people– who get a lifetime of training in experiencing their own bodies as objects and accessories, separate from who they are. ‘Divergent’ is a narrative where the heroine is integrated and unified– body, mind, and soul– and that is rare to see. When you watch the movie, you will understand, how literally Tris defies allowing herself to be fractured into separate factions.

Shailene Woodley made a comment which I loved, differentiating the love story in ‘Divergent’ from ‘Twilight:’

Twilight, I’m sorry, is about a very unhealthy, toxic relationship. [The protagonist Bella] falls in love with this guy and the second he leaves her, her life is over and she’s going to kill herself! What message are we sending to young people? That is not going to help this world evolve.”


On one of my favorite blogs, Women and Hollywood, Melissa Silverstein chided Woodley for that comment, stating without ‘Twilight’ proving movies based on YA novels with female protagonists can make money, ‘Divergent’ would not exist as a film. While that may be true, I don’t think Woodley was speaking from a business perspective, but from her heart about how different the love stories are in these two movies.

A third aspect of the movie that is great is Natalie, the mother of Tris, played by Ashley Judd.


Judd’s part is small as far as screen time, but some of my favorite scenes in the movie were watching mom and daughter work together to save the world. Again, how often do we get to see that?

Kate Winslet as the evil Jeanine is amazing. She is wickedly fun to watch.


Here’s something very cool to tell your kids: the author of the series, Veronica Roth, is 25 years old.  When they read the book– I recommend it for kids age 9 and up– make sure they see Roth’s photo. She’s an inpsiring role model. There’s a great interview with her at the end of the book. When Roth was in college, she was studying psychology, specifically phobias, and learning about a kind of therapy where you repeatedly do what you are afraid of. One day she was driving, listening to music, and she saw a scene in her head of a person jumping off a building, not for a self-destructive reason. She put hat scene together with what she was leaning about experiencing fears and boom! ‘Divergent’ was born.


When Roth is asked what characteristics she kept in mind when coming up with her main character, she responds:

I don’t think I ever sat down and thought about how Beatrice was– I just had this sense of her. I knew her. I did set myself a rule that was hard to follow, though: Beatrice is always the agent. That is, she’s always choosing, always acting, always moving the plot by her behavior.

This is exactly the advice I give my kids when they are writing a story. Of course, too often, we see male characters acting and making choices. We are so used to that gender role that as writers, just as Roth describes, its important to keep in the forefront, that the female character needs to keep making choices that drive the plot. In ‘Divergent,’ it’s beautiful to watch a female hero be a true protagonist, commanding her own film and her own story. I look forward to the day when a sentence like the one I just wrote seems ridiculously dated.

I wish Zoe Kravitz as Christina had a more interesting part/ character arc. Once again, we have the girl of color as the BFF to the white protagonist.


As we all know, marketing is its own media. Even if children don’t go to the film, they are likely to see this ridiculous butt pose poster, where Tris is positioned awkwardly to show ass and breast.



I prefer this image in the cover of Entertainment Weekly.


Reel Girl rates ‘Divergent’ ***HHH***

(I recommend the movie for ages 9 and up, but depends on the kid. If you read Reel Girl, you know I think kids desperately need to see female characters with power and agency, and I mostly rate for that. You also know, if you read this review, how I feel about violence. This movie is not gory. As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of the romance here as well. I am concerned with context when I rate (sadly, an anomaly) and I like the context of this love story very much. There are sensual scenes but not extended and no nudity. The movie is rated PG-13 if that means anything to you, though IMO the MPAA is useless and I prefer Common Sense Media if I need to look up specifics about sex/ gore aside from context, which, as noted, too few, including CSM really consider.)


Reel Girl recommends ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’

“Rabbit Proof Fence” is an intense, gorgeous, inspiring film about three Aborigine girls who escape from a home for “half-castes,” walking hundreds of miles through the Australian bush to return home after being kidnapped. Based on a true story, the heroine is 14 year old Molly, the daughter of an Aborigine mother and white father, who refuses to believe giving up her home, family, and culture just because she is half-white, is the best thing for her, her sister Daisy who is 10, and cousin Gracie who is 8.


I had three daughters throwing up yesterday, and I put this movie on for my 10 year old after the younger two had passed out. My daughter and I were frozen and silent for the next two hours, totally engrossed in this story. We leaned about a different culture, a shameful history, witnessed not one but three brave heroines, and also got to see Australia’s beautiful lands. I highly recommend “Rabbit Proof Fence” and I’m adding it to Reel Girl’s list of films recommended for age 10 and up.

Reel Girl rates “Rabbit Proof Fence” ***HHH***

Reel Girl recommends: “Bend It Like Beckham”

Could I have loved “Bend It Like Beckham” more? I saw it for the first time last Saturday night with my ten year old soccer obsessed daughter and my soccer coaching husband. All three of us were crazy about it.


The star of the movie is a smart, athletic woman of color. Her best friend in the movie is also a soccer superstar. The movie is about competition, family, and culture. It’s incredible, one of my all time favorites. Show it to your kids! I’m putting it on Reel Girl’s  list for age10 and up lbut I think younger kids would enjoy it too. Oh, I almost forgot. Kalinda from “the Good Wife” is in it as the protagonists older sister. Need I say more?

Reel Girl rates “Bend it Like Beckham” ***HHH***

Reel Girl’s Movie Picks: ‘The Last Mimzy’

You all recommended ‘The Last Mimzy’ to me, and I admit, as I started to watch it, I was nervous.


Though the movie opens with a female teacher narrator, it shifts right away to a young boy. For the first 20 minutes of the movie, or so, I was worried he would be the protagonist. He has a younger sister, and I did notice right away something truly rare: he treated his sister respectfully. You almost never see siblings get along and work together in a film. This is wonderful watch.

The sister, Emma, discovers a strange object in the water off of Whidbey, one of the San Juan Islands. It turns out the find is a message from the future. It’s up to Emma to decode the message and save the world. She does all this, though its not clear until about halfway through the movie that Emma is the “chosen one.” When a costar reads her brother’s palm, to see if he is the special child, my seven year old daughter rolled her eyes and said, “I knew it.” But our worries were unwarranted. Turns out, Emma is the gifted one, and it is up to her to save the world. An extra plus: the movie title comes from a poem from Alice in Wonderland, a story that is referenced throughout the movie. I’m adding “Last Mimzy” to my recommendations for younger kids, but everyone will love this movie.

Reel Girl rates “The Last Mimzy” ***HHH***

Reel Girl’s Movie Picks: ‘Fly Away Home’

Finally, my kids got to see a movie with a girl pilot. “Fly Away Home” is not a new movie, it’s just the first one they’ve ever seen with a girl pilot on her own flying machine.


I grew up with this famous image of “E.T” imprinted in my brain.


“E.T.” is great movie, but once again, no flying girls. I am thrilled, at the age of 45, to have finally found an alternative for my daughters. Of course, I wish it was more obvious from the poster that a 13 year old girl is the pilot, but at least, my kids and I know the story behind the image on the movie poster.

Amy, played by Anna Paquin, is 13 yr old whose mother was killed in a car accident (while talking on her cell phone!) Amy goes to live with her artist/ inventor father and his girlfriend. Alienated and alone, while wandering the grounds, Amy discovers wild geese eggs. The goose mother was killed by developers who are bulldozing the land. Amy makes the eggs a nest in a drawer, the eggs hatch, and the chicks, thinking Amy is their mother and follow her everywhere. In order teach the geese how to migrate, Amy pilots her father’s flying machine, and leads them south. She ends up not only saving the geese but the wilderness as well. “Fly Away Home” is an excellent film, and I am adding it to my list for young kids, though kids of all ages will love it.

Reel Girl rates ‘Fly Away Home’ ***HHH***

‘Catching Fire’ torches Hollywood’s gender stereotypes

I could not have loved ‘Catching Fire’ more. It’s even better than ‘Hunger Games.’ I want to see this movie again, and I never see a movie a second time when it’s still in theaters. It’s that good.


I saw ‘Catching Fire’ yesterday with my 10 year old daughter at an IMAX. I’ve never been to an IMAX before, and I felt like I was in the movie. I was stunned by the whole thing. In this installment, all the characters get more depth including two-dimensional ones from Part One like Effie, Katiniss’s mom, and Prim. It was great to see Prim grow up and use her medical skills in a crisis and also, fascinating to see Effie finally getting that the Capitol is evil.


The deadly arena design is one of my favorite parts of Catching Fire, and the movie’s rendition of it does not disappoint. My favorite scene was watching the poisonous fog creep towards Katniss. It’s hypnotizing and terrifying and gorgeous.

There are so many great female characters in ‘Catching Fire.’ Besides the ones I’ve already mentioned, tributes include Mags, who is older and courageous, Wiress, a tech-wizard, and Joanna, who is even angrier than Katniss.


Watching Joanna and Katniss walk off together, two skilled warriors, I felt like I was viewing something revolutionary in film. I was thrilled that my daughter got to witness this scene as well.



Even details of this movie, like the male tributes and the female tributes wear the same costume, black and gray– no frills, exposed midriffs, or cleavage for my kid to have to see. And still, without all that “feminine” bullshit, Katniss has two men in love with her. Those heroes love Katniss for her brain and courage, not as separate from her beauty, but they find that beautiful.

Jennifer Lawrence’s acting is top-notch, as always. All her quotes on her PR tour, about how she wasn’t going to starve herself to play Katniss , not to mention her short hair cut, make me even more grateful she’s playing this part. I could not have imagined a better role or actress to play her. (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Emma Watson, who plays Hermione, also makes empowering statements about female characters and young women. If an actress gets to play someone strong, it’s easier for her to become a role model in public. How many actresses get that chance?)

The male characters are also great. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is as believable as he always is. Lenny Karvitz’s Cinna is one of my favorite characters.

As with ‘Hunger Games,’ the violent scenes in “Catching Fire’ are brief. There is no lingering over blood, assaults, and death. Same with the kissing scenes. With this kind of stuff, as far as deciding whether its OK for younger kids, it really matters how long the camera spends on it.

“Catching Fire’ burns through gender stereotypes but not in a way that seems contrived or forced. Watching this movie, all you feel is captivated by the story of a brave girl saving the world. The narrative is a metaphor, about a protagonist facing her deepest fears and triumphing, something kids hardly get to see a girl do. My daughter is afraid of elevators, and after the movie, when she stalled in front of of one, we talked about Katniss in the arena, and she jumped right in.

Reel Girl rates ‘Catching Fire’ ***HHH****



Women pilots of WW2 gone missing: ‘They took our records and sealed them.’

So right after I post that a 3 yr old girl at my daughter’s preschool told a teacher she couldn’t be a pilot but a pilot’s wife, I see on Facebook info about the upcoming documentary “We Served Too: The Story of Women Air Force Pilots of World War II.”  So, of course I watched the trailer. My mouth dropped open.

These women flew over 60 million miles within a 2 year period…However, after a nasty and aggressive campaign by male pilots who wanted the WASPs jobs, they were the only wartime unit that was denied military status by congress…For many years the WASPs kept their achievements quiet. Their service in World War II would only be known by a few. They are not mentioned in our history books, nor is their story taught in schools.Their accomplishments of being the first women to fly in the military would even be forgotten.


One pilot says, “Such a shame that when we disbanded, they took all of our records and they sealed them, and they were stamped either classified or secret and filed away in the government archives.”


Sealed records. WTF? Male accomplishments are celebrated and honored and women’s are hidden. ARGH. Sexist decisions of the past are affecting our kids TODAY. More stories about women’s real lives, repressed. Thank God for Jill Bond who made this film. Do you see how reality creates fiction creates reality? Do you see why we need women writers, artists, filmmakers, and on and on? Do you see who goes missing and how distorted reality and our perception of reality becomes when, for thousands of years, women have been existing in stories written by men?

Please, show this picture to your kids.


I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I hope it’s good for children. Wouldn’t it be great to make a children’s version? A book to go along with it? A computer game? An app? A LEGO set? What do you think the chances are we’ll see any of that? They are low, because still, in 2013, we live in a world where women’s stories go missing.


‘I’m not a pilot, I’m a pilot’s wife,’ says 3 yr old girl

Yesterday, a teacher at my daughter’s preschool told me that she saw two boys and a girl spinning the knobs of a play oven. Boy #1 says: “I’m a pilot! I’m flying a plane.’ Boy #2 says: “Me too!” The girl is quiet, so the teacher says to her: “What about you, are you a pilot?” The 3 year old girl replies: “I can’t be a pilot. I’m a pilot’s wife.”

So what do you think has happened in this little girl’s short life to make her believe it’s more likely that she would be a pilot’s wife than a pilot?

Could it be that in her world, those are the gender roles she sees? While books, movies, and TV shows for children are full of images of boys riding magical creatures into the sky– from “ET” to “How to Train Your Dragon” to Harry Potter — girls are stuck in the passenger seat if they get to soar at all. Here are three images repeated endlessly in the media.




I’m always on the look out for images in children’s media of girls flying, and they are few and far between. If I seek them out, I can find them, but these pictures rarely cross my children’s path, not in movies, or posters for those movies, or on most of the book covers they come across when we’re shopping at a local store. Here’s a picture from The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches that I photographed a while ago, because it’s so rare.


Today, on Facebook feed I saw that Toward the Stars is celebrating Female Flying Daredevils week, posting “We wave enthusiastically to all our girls and boys that aspire to travel above the clouds.”

Toward the Stars recommends You Can’t Do That, Amelia, Yankee Doodle Gals: Women Pilots of World War II, Fly High, the Story of Bessie Coleman, Zephyr Takes Flight, and Violet the Pilot.




We also have Angela’s Airplane which my 4 year old daughter loves.


You may not have seen these books around. They may not have been made into major motion pictures for kids or toys or LEGO sets, but, please click on the links. Stock your libraries. Read these books to your kids, and that includes your sons. All children need to see far more female daredevils.

Keep watching Toward the Stars all week for more recommendations of fearless females flying the skies.

Update: So right after I post this, I see on Facebook info about the documentary:”We Served Too: The Story of Women Air Force Pilots of World War II.” You’ve got to watch this trailer.

These women flew over 60 million miles within a 2 year period…However, after a nasty and aggressive campaign by male pilots who wanted the WASPs jobs, they were the only wartime unit that was denied military status by congress…For many years the WASPs kept their achievements quiet. Their service in World War II would only be known by a few. They are not mentioned in our history books, nor is their story taught in schools.Their accomplishments of being the first women to fly in the military would even be forgotten.

One pilot says, “Such a shame that when we disbanded, they took all of our records and they sealed them, and they were stamped either classified or secret and filed away in the government archives.”


Sealed records! I am so mad about this. Again, women’s stories are repressed and hidden, affecting a new generation of kids. I haven’t seen the film yet, so don’t know if it’s good for young kids. Wouldn’t it be great to make a children’s version? A book to go along with it? A computer game? App? A LEGO set? What do you think the chances are we’ll see any of that? They’re low, because in 2013, we still live in a world where women’s stories go missing.


‘A Wrinkle in Time’ rarer than unicorn: 5 females mentor female protag

I just finished A Wrinkle in Time, and I have chills. This is the book I have been waiting to read. Not only do I love the story and the characters, but it’s beautifully written.



The protagonist, Meg, is not a Minority Feisty.

So many books I love with strong female protagonists like The Wizard of Oz, Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Alice and Wonderland, The Golden Compass, surround the girl with males, males, males. So many writers seem comfortable allowing a female be powerful as long as her gender is resresented by a minority of characters in the book. Not so with Wrinkle. Not only do we have Meg, but also Meg’s mother, a scientist. Wrinkle is, in fact, all about science. How cool is that?

Besides Meg’s mother, there is a trio of powerful and magical females: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. That’s not all. Near the end of the book we meet another amazing female, the incredible Aunt Beast. In Wrinkle in Time, readers see five powerful females mentor a female protagonist. Does anyone know of another narrative on earth where we see this? If so, please tell me, because from my experience, this scenario is like seeing a unicorn in the real world.

Here’s the passage where Aunt Beast names herself for Meg:

“What should I call you, please?” Meg asked.


“Well, now. First, try not to say any words for a moment. Think within your own mind. Think of all the things you call people, different kinds of people.”


While Meg thought, the beast murmured to her gently. “No, mother is a special,a one-name; and a father you have here. Not just friend, nor teacher, nor brother, nor sister. What is acquaintance? What a funny, hard word. Aunt. Maybe. Yes, perhaps that will do. And you think of such odd words about me. Thing, and monster! Monster, what a horrid sort of word. I really do not think I a am a monster. Beast. That will do. Aunt Beast.

Part of what I love about this passage is that every writer goes through a similar process as she thinks of how to name a character. So often, a writer will assign this kind of powerful character the male gender, but the character could be any gender as this writing shows.

For much of Wrinkle, there is the typical one female (Meg) to two male (Charles Wallace and Calvin) trio. But given all the female characters in the book, Meg is still, not a Minority Feisty.

Meg saves the world alone.

Every hero gets to a point where she realizes that she, and only she, can save the world and she must do it alone. (That premise was hilariously mocked by the ‘one man’ video. If you haven’t watched it yet, you should. What I liked about the video was how clearly it demonstrated the repetition of one MAN.)

Narratives mimic real life and real life mimics narratives, it’s all the same thing really. If we are willing to recognize it, we all get to the point where we realize we must do it alone. Sometimes that thing is dramatic,  when we give birth or it could be when we write a novel or when we confront someone we’ve been afraid to. But it can also be something like cleaning your house or making your bed. If you live your life heroically, realizing only you can do it, happens all the time, without resentment but with a sense of destiny. It is this revelation upon which endless narratives are based, but so often, in fiction, this human situation is assigned to males. I just wrote about an exception to this rule in Land of Stories. Here it is in Wrinkle the whole sequence: Someone else do it, I can’t; okay, I will. I must be me, here I go. Resistance, choice, action:

Meg could no longer stand it,and she cried out desparingly, “Then what are you going to do? Are you just going to throw Charles Wallace away?”


Mrs Which’s voice rolled formidably across the hall. “Ssilencce cchilldd.”


But Meg could not be silent. She pressed closely against Aunt Beast, but Aunt Beast did not put the protecting tentacles around her. “I can’t go!” Meg cried. “I can’t! You know I can’t.”


“Did annybbodyy ask yyou ttoo?” The grim voice made Meg’s skin prickle into gooseflesh.


She burst into tears. She started beating at Aunt Beast like a small child having a tantrum. Her tears rained down her face and spattered Aunt Beast’s fur. Aunt Beast stood quietly against the assault.


“All right, I’ll go!” Meg sobbed. “I know you want me to go!”

“We want nothing from you that you do without grace,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “or that you do without understanding.”

Meg’s tears stopped as abruptly as they had started. “But I do understand.” She felt tired and unexpectedly peaceful. Now the coldness that, under Aunt Beast’s ministrations, had left her body had also left her mind. She looked toward her father and her confused anger was gone and she felt only love and pride. She smiled at him, asking forgiveness, and then pressed up against Aunt Beast. This time Aunt Beast’s arms  went around her.


Mrs. Which’s voice was grave. “Whatt ddoo yyou unnnddersstanndd?”


“That it has to be me. It can’t be anyone else. I don’t understand Charles, but he understands me. I’m the one who’s closets to him. Father’s been away for so long, since Charles Wallace was a baby. They don’t know each other. And Calvin’s only known Charles for such a little time. If it had been longer, then he would have been the one, but–oh, I see, I understand. It has to be me. There isn’t anyone else.”


In the passage where Meg fights IT, just as Harry Potter with Voledemort, she wins by using love over hate. This is the scene I was longing for in kidlit while reading all 7 of the Harry Potter series. Reading ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ felt, to me, like a starving person getting food.

Though Wrinkle is not without sexism. Here’s a scene from the planet Camazotz:

She walked along the quiet street. It was dark and the street was deserted. No children playing ball or skipping rope. No mother figures at the doors. No father figures returning from work.

There are other instances like that one, but there is so much positive here. Wrinkle is a writer’s book, too. I’ll leave you with one last passage that is one of the most beautiful metaphors for creativity, God, raising children, life, that I’ve ever read. Here’s Mrs Whatsit explaining a sonnet to Calvin.


“It is a very strict form of poetry, is it not?”


“There are fourteen lines, I believe, all in iambic pentameter. That’s a very strict rhythm or meter, yes?”

“Yes,” Calvin nodded.

“And each line has to end with a rigid rhyme pattern. And if the poet does not do it exactly this way, it is not a sonnet, is it?”


“But within this strict form, the poet has complete freedom to say whatever he wants, doesn’t he?”

“Yes,” Calvin nodded again.

The trick here, for me anyway, is figuring out what the form is. Sometimes, we believe that the “rules” are the rule, that they are “natural.” For example, in so many narratives for kids, not to mention adults, like Ratatouille, have seen a Minority Feisty complain about sexism, instead of getting to see a female hero. That is “rule” that desperately needs to be broken. The resistance, choice, action is a rule I believe in.

Many of you have asked me to clarify what ages books are appropriate for. It’s hard for me to say that.  We get different things about books at different times.

When I look at books or movies for my kids, the number one offensive thing is sexism. I would rather my kids hear swear words than see Cinderella any day. I’ve also written quite a lot of Reel Girl about violence. I don’t like gore, but much of violence in stories is metaphorical, it raises the stakes to depict visually what we, as humans, feel. Can you imagine dreams without violence? My daughter whipped through Wrinkle in Time. She just turned 7.  I’m 44 and I’m blogging about it. I could tell my daughter really liked it, and she read a lot of it by herself.  I’m not sure what she ‘got.’ I remember being confused by parts of this book as a kid. I do know that while reading this book, my daughter saw many females being brave and heroic, respected, admired, and loved my the males in their lives.

Reel Girl rates Wrinkle in Time  ***HHH***





Reel Girl’s pick of the week: The Doll People

Before I write about Reel Girl’s pick of the week, I’ll come clean on two issues: I never do this feature once a week, and I have not read The Doll People in full. I have read enough to know the book is charming and stars no less than three adventurous female characters. My six year old daughter is obsessed with the book, and finished it without me. I just bought her the two sequels. I’m inspired to tell you about now, because I just looked at her book report and it looks like a report made for Reel Girl. Here it Alice’s homework verbatim, worksheet questions in bold.


Title: The Doll People

Author: Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin

How many pages? 256

Main characters? Anabelle, Tiffany, Auntie Sarah

The Best Part: is when they found Auntie Sarah. She was in the attic but her dress was stuck under a suite case. So Tiffany and Annabelle had to try to get her dress unstuck.

Did you enjoy the story? Yes

Why? Annabelle and Tiffany. They were brave a lot. They were very smart and read a lot of books.

Because I am one to judge a book by its cover, I probably wouldn’t have chosen this one. It’s about dolls and the one shown here has a pink skirt and a pink bow. This book came into our house because my older daughter’s friend, Calvin, gave it to her for her birthday when she was in first grade. I’m glad it found a way in past my prejudice.

What I love most about this book is that Auntie Sarah disappeared because she was so adventurous, she couldn’t stay safe, confined in her dollshouse home. Sarah’s niece, Annabelle, has the same spirit and this story is about how she gets the courage to follow her heart and how her family also comes to accept and admire her rebellious nature.

Based on Alice’s review along with sections I read, Reel Girl rates The Doll People ***HHH***

Someone commented on Reel Girl’s Facebook page: please note what age books are appropriate for. My daughter is almost seven. She loved it. It’s a chapter book. I think 6 – 10 would be ideal. Let me know if your kids have read it.