The Only Problem With Miss Sloane Is The Movie’s Title

Photo: Courtesy of EuropaCorp.
As of this moment, Miss Sloane isn't generating a ton of Oscar buzz. No matter: I am still counting it among my favorite films of 2016. The tale of a formidable D.C. powerbroker who pulls out every trick in her arsenal to beat the nefarious "gun lobby" at its own game, this movie is a lesson in how to root for strong and "unlikeable" female characters — it's also a suspense thriller with a resonant moral takeaway. The quick-moving script will keep you on your toes. The performances — particularly from Jessica Chastain and Jake Lacy — are top-notch. The art direction makes the most of a cold, harsh landscape, playing with angles and silhouettes. The haunting score (composed by Max Richter, the brilliant pianist behind the music of The Leftovers, among other good things) is equally excellent. In fact, I have only one caveat about this movie. And while it's not one that would keep me from recommending Miss Sloane, it does merit addressing. It's the title of the film itself, specifically the usage of the word "miss." Let's back up a little bit and dig into some details about the "miss" in question. Elizabeth Sloane (Chastain) is the sort of woman you're supposed to be unable to relate to. She's seemingly bloodless, both figuratively and evidenced by the fact that her skin — pulled taut over those clifflike cheekbones — is practically the color of new snow. Elizabeth's mind moves so fast that it's nearly impossible to keep up. Of course, that's precisely the point: She's the smartest person in every room. She knows that and plays it to full advantage. She's also well compensated for her efforts, which means that she's often in the boardroom clad in thousand-dollar heels and expensive suiting, her hair pulled back in a way that only highlights her severe angles. Yet, she inspires loyalty among the acolytes nipping at her heels and taking orders — if only because she really is that good. But most relevant to my kvetch: Elizabeth Sloane friendless, unmarried, and romantically unattached.

In 2016, 'miss' has officially been outmoded.

So bestowed upon her in this film is the honorific "miss" — a word that, I would argue, smacks of condescension when used to describe a fully grown, independent, almost scarily successful woman...even if it does look good on a movie poster. The thing is, in 2016, "miss" has officially been outmoded. Originally a shortened version of "mistress," the usage of which dates back centuries, "miss" has long been a term used to connote a young woman — as in an adolescent girl. But for just as long, it's been a word meant to indicate that a woman is unmarried — as in, not a "Mrs." So Miss Sloane cues audiences to the fact that Miss Sloane is single, as though that is supposed to tell us something about who she is as a person — as though it is relevant at all to know prior to seeing the movie. What the title Miss Sloane communicates to me is that the titular character doesn't quite get the level of respect she deserves. Sadly, that's no surprise: Powerful women rarely do. So why not murder an I and an S and name the movie Ms. Sloane, instead? It would save movie-poster space and it gets to the same point without immediately informing us about Elizabeth Sloane's marital status. That's a courtesy afforded to misters from near infancy, as though they're entitled to more mystery or, at the very least, autonomy. "Ms." is a word that levels that particular playing field — one of the reasons it was adopted as the title of the feminist magazine of the same name, cofounded by Dorothy Pitman Hughes and Gloria Steinem in the early 1970s. I'll admit it. I'm nitpicking at what I would otherwise say is a nearly flawless film. To be frank, I'm mildly grateful that this was my sole quibble with a movie that puts a strong female character at its center and truly is about her cunning and complexities instead of a ring that is or is not on her left hand. But I suppose that is the point. If you're going to make a movie with an empowered, however imperfect, female character at its core, why not go all the way? A gap that is bridged isn't actually closed. Miss Sloane is in theaters now.

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