In a world where more and more movies are offering women substantial roles, it’s glaringly obvious when a film doesn't.
If you saw Dunkirk this weekend, you probably noticed the striking absence of female characters. (If you didn’t see Dunkirk this weekend, what are you waiting for? It’s an awesome movie, despite the sad lack of female representation.) Alongside a handsome group of leading men were only two women with speaking parts. Together, they say 47 words.
Those are some terrible stats, but there is a bright side. The fact is that no one says much of anything in Dunkirk. Set during the British retreat from Dunkirk, France, at the outset of World War Two, the film follows soldiers as they try to make it out of a hellish situation. The main character, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), is quiet for most of the movie. And one character, Gibson (Aneurin Barnard), only says four words. When you’re stranded on a beach with the enemy approaching, you’re not feeling gossipy.
Still, the movie could have added in a female character somewhere. For example, George (Barry Keoghan), a young boy who boards a ship bound for Dunkirk, could have been traded in for a young girl, and it would have added yet another inspiring layer to the story.
That's not to say women aren't actually shown in heroic roles. There are several nurses on a destroyer, directing the men and tending to their wounds. We only hear one of them speak. As soldiers file into the boat, she yells “Down you go,” and “There’s hot tea below deck.” She repeats herself several times despite being shown on camera for a split second, totaling in 44 words. If you look at it contextually, the nurses are all doing what they can for the war effort. They too, risked their lives to help save the stranded soldiers, which is probably the most fearless thing they could’ve done.
The only other woman to speak in Dunkirk travelled across the English Channel to help rescue the military. Played by Kim Hartman, she passionately waves at a lieutenant (Kenneth Branagh) at Dunkirk, letting him know that she came “Out from Dartmouth” to save the troops. A woman sailed across the widest part of the English Channel on a rescue mission. I need to hear her story!
For a film portraying a time when a woman’s duty during war is either nursing or taking care of the home, Dunkirk does a decent job. They may only have a few lines, but these women have capable roles that easily could stand alone. It’s certainly not a lot to ask for one prominent woman, but, in this movie’s case, quality is better than quantity. However, with the recent influx of strong female characters in films, we shouldn’t have to deal with this much longer.
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