How Little Reforms The Mean Female Boss Trope

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Photo: Barry Wetcher/20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock.
Warning: Little spoilers are ahead.
Marsai Martin’s new movie Little, a body-swap comedy that finds its protagonist being wished into her 13-year-old body as a punishment for her wicked ways, is being widely praised for starring three black women (Regina Hall, Issa Rae, and Martin) and for having Martin serve as the youngest executive producer ever at only 14 years old. However, now that audiences have seen the movie, there's another key aspect of the film that deserves some attention — its message about female empowerment message goes far beyond the casting or behind-the-scenes bosses. The film's plot flips the the evil female boss narrative (the gold standard of which can be seen in The Devil Wears Prada) on its head by the end of Little, and instead of pitting big and little Jordan (Hall and Martin) against her assistant and developer-hopeful April (Rae), the two eventually come together to support each other in the workplace.
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The main conflict in Little is between Jordan and her assistant April. While scenes early on in the film show Jordan being cruel to everyone she comes in contact with (she even pushes a child to the ground), she seems to be particularly cold-blooded toward April. We see Jordan channel The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), in her adult and child form, whenever she interacts with April and her behaviour is... not great.
At one point, Jordan stops April from pitching her idea for a new app, and simply says that she doesn’t listen to proposals from assistants. She also throws her Birkin bag at April, demands that April is always awake in case she needs to call, and expects various comfort items (slippers, coffee) in spots so specific that April needs a ruler and a thermometer to get it right. In fact, the opening scene establishing their relationship seems like a direct homage to the moment in The Devil Wears Prada when Stanley Tucci tells everyone at Runway magazine to "gird your loins," except that it's all aimed at April.
It isn’t until the final few scenes of Little, when Jordan becomes an adult after learning her lesson, that the audience learns why April has received the lion's share of Jordan’s ruthlessness.
Jordan admits to April that she didn’t listen to her pitch or promote her because she was afraid that April was trying to replace her, giving context and an emotionally relevant backing to what could be blind ruthlessness (it should be noted that Miranda Priestly also has a backstory that makes her ways more understandable as well, though not one that's so relevant to contemporary professional fears). The happy ending comes when Jordan then realises that she and her company will fail without April and her fresh ideas, and ultimately gives April a promotion.
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The scene addresses a common movie and real-life misconception: that multiple women can’t succeed at the same time. There isn’t any validity in this belief (though statistics like the fact that only 17 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs were women in 2018 often help promote fears like Jordan's). And yet, films of all genres often depict powerful businesswomen as overbearing islands among a team of male executives; this is what Taraji P. Henson's sports agent in an all-male company is up against in 2019's What Men Want, and what Miranda is facing towards the end of The Devil Wears Prada when executives are deciding her fate. Little makes the solution to the problem of male-dominated workspaces and industries about lifting up other women, rather than competing to be the one woman left standing. It sends a message to young girls and women that we all succeed when we help each other, rather than subscribing to the notion that our spots are limited.
But the film doesn’t just end with April moving up the career ladder. She actually becomes friends with Jordan. The tech company owner reveals to April that she is her first real friend, and it only took her 38 years to find her. And while Jordan and April both have love interests in Little, both men take a backseat to the main storyline about their friendship. This pointed focus reevaluates how female bosses are expected to interact with their co-workers and subordinates. Gone is the Miranda Priestly attitude (after an entire 90 minutes of soul searching, of course), and in its place is a personality more similar to Jacqueline Carlyle (Melora Hardin) on The Bold Type, a boss who is demonstrably a leader, mentor, and friend. While Jordan is still a bit extra (megaphones aren't necessary when speaking to like, 15 people) and unwilling to share the spotlight (she amends the company logo to include a teensy tiny circle that says "& Associates" to celebrate April's promotion), she ends the film as a friend and mentor to Rae's character.
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These are the type of female bosses we need to see more of on television and in film. Young girls should see female leaders that can push their co-workers to strive for more and don’t need to be heartless, demanding, and, at times, terrifying in order to gain power and respect.
Little’s ability to empower its audience and highlight a diverse cast, from race to body type and beyond, make it a must see movie for everyone, but particularly young girls. Plus, while you're getting lifted up by all this girl power, you've also got Rae's perfect comedic timing, Hall's physical comedy, and Martin's range of hilarious expressions to keep you laughing along the way.
Little celebrates black women, from the actors onscreen to the team behind the camera to the costume design. Support the film, out now, with the hashtag #Ladies4Little.
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