Last week, after the Alamo Drafthouse theater in Austin, Texas announced that it would host a screening of Wonder Woman limited to women (with proceeds benefiting Planned Parenthood), the men’s-rights types of the world lost it. The screening, just one of dozens of Wonder Woman screenings scheduled at the Drafthouse, was deemed “sexist,” “illegal,” “tacky,” and “bigoted.” After New York City’s Drafthouse location announced similar screenings, one man filed a civil rights complaint against Alamo Drafthouse. (And, for vague reasons, Carson Daly.)
It’s a run-of-the-mill misogynist hissy fit, similar to those we saw around Paul Feig’s women-led Ghostbusters last summer, or George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road — centered on Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa instead of Max — the summer before. But this time, instead of once again picking up a metaphorical machete and attempting to hack through male rage with appeals based in empathy, logic, or historical context, the unified response to the Wonder Woman backlash has so far been “U mad, bro?” It feels like a collective relaxation of muscles we really do need for more important things, and it feels good.
Alamo Drafthouse pointed out in one Facebook comment that they often host group-specific screenings for veterans and active military, but beyond that, did not offer explanation or apology. In fact, whoever’s running the Austin theater’s social-media accounts taunted the trolls. Asked why the theater hasn’t hosted a men-only screening of a film, the theater’s Facebook account answered, “We’ve never done a showing where you had to be a man to get in, but we *did* show the Entourage movie a few years ago.” The New York City branch tweeted GIFs of Wonder Woman dancing after the first showing sold out, and rubbed it in with a popular meme from Fury Road: Imperator Furiosa rolling her eyes, over the closed caption label “Men Yelling Indistinctly.”
The mayor of Austin joined in the day before the film’s release, responding to an angry email from a constituent sarcastically: “I am writing to alert you that your email account has been hacked by an unfortunate and unusually hostile individual. Please remedy your account’s security right away, lest this person’s uninformed and sexist rantings give you a bad name.” A few hours later, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced a fundraiser in which donors (of any amount) would be entered to win an afternoon with her at a private Wonder Woman screening set up to “celebrate strong women and girls.”
The same day, Broadly’s Bethy Squires published a faux-apology from Alamo Drafthouse, which is meant as a joke, but doesn’t much depart from the theater’s official response: “We at the Alamo Drafthouse would like to officially apologize for our role in the end of mankind as we knew it, and the ascendant Gynocracy that followed.”
It’s a sharp break from the reactions to previous controversies. When The Force Awakens star Rey (Daisy Ridley) was derided online by misogynists as a “Mary Sue” — a thinly written wish-fulfillment character who is overly talented and beyond reproach in every way — the well-intentioned lined up to explain all the ways in which she wasn’t. They were rebutting an argument that drew most of its lifeblood from a corner of the internet that frankly didn’t give a shit either way, and was going to hate the movie regardless. To be fair, I’m guilty of this time-sucking argumentation, too, and even wrote a “How to talk about the new Ghostbusters movie with friends, family, and commenters” guide last year, in which I laboriously walked through the illogical arguments against the movie’s existence.
When a tiny fringe group of MRAs threatened to boycott Mad Max: Fury Road, major newspapers and trade publications covered it seriously, as a legitimate threat, rather than the deranged ranting of some really dumb bloggers. “Anti-Feminists Call for Boycott of Mad Max: Fury Road, Citing Feminist Agenda,” The Hollywood Reporter stated solemnly, echoed by CNN. (Compare that to The Washington Post this week: “Men flip out over women-only Wonder Woman screenings”) Fury Road made $379 million that summer, and won six Academy Awards the following year. MRAs later claimed to have robbed The Force Awakens of $4.2 million in gross box office… based on a Twitter poll with 565 respondents. Online outlets reported extensively on that assertion, with some sneers, but with lengthy, meticulous arguments nonetheless.
Acknowledging tantrums like this at all is dicey, especially when most of what any troll wants is oxygen and a megaphone. But denying them the headlines that make them sound powerful, and the pleading responses that make them feel catered to, is a start. Sure, laughing might make them angrier, but this is the rare situation in which it’s possible to argue that male rage matters less and less.
The fact that Wonder Woman is the most expensive movie ever made by a woman, and that it stars a woman as its sole lead superhero, is not irrelevant. Men who work themselves into a frothing fury at perceived film industry slights lean on the only piece of leverage they have — their wallets. Throughout the age of the blockbuster, Hollywood has catered to dollars earned and spent by men. For the better part of two decades, it felt like nobody remembered that Titanic was the top-grossing film of the 1990s with a take of $659 million. Or that Nora Ephron made four shoestring-budget movies grossing $90 million or more that decade. Or that Julia Roberts was, in that same period, the most bankable movie star in the world.
Somehow, it’s only in the last few years that studio heads have experienced the epiphany that, yes, women have and spend money, too. Blockbusters attended by majority-women audiences — the Fifty Shades trilogy, the Magic Mike movies, Bridesmaids (famously billed with the tagline “chick flicks don’t have to suck”), and its children — have recently made a comeback.
men aren’t the only people with wallets to use as leverage
Though it’s unfair that so much is riding on Patty Jenkins and her $150 million budget, which The Hollywood Reporter went so far as to refer to as a “gamble,” it’s a fair assumption that Warner Bros. has chosen to pursue an audience it didn’t really notice before. When men threatened to take their money away from Mad Max: Fury Road or Star Wars: The Force Awakens, despite the ridiculous math propping up claims that these online boycotts could even make a dent in those ticket sales, the media indulged the questions: could they really do it? Would there be cold, hard cash consequences for the slightest tinge of progressivism?
That response is missing this time, in part because prior outrage gave us evidence that financial consequences aren’t actually going to materialize. The chokehold these men have had on the film industry is being pulled off, one finger at a time.
You don’t have to personally enjoy superhero movies. I don’t. But this type of controversy has the power to stir something in anyone who cares about seeing cinema reflect and entertain a broader swathe of the population than it used to. (I bought an opening-day ticket to Wonder Woman.) There’s a heavily retweeted joke making the rounds on dozens of copycat Twitter accounts right now, saying that Alamo Drafthouse did more than Warner Bros. to promote Wonder Woman. That isn’t true, but with a handful of women-only screenings, Drafthouse obviously did something — which would have been a minor note in the story of this film’s release, if not for the people it enraged.
So in an ironic twist, the trolls are, for once, the party accidentally feeding the side they can’t fathom and actively despise, instead of the other way around. May they starve.