After being released this past June, Wonder Woman was met with headlines such as “‘Wonder Woman’ is a Beautiful Reminder of what Feminism has to Offer Women — and Men” and “‘Wonder Woman’ Is the Feminist Hero We’ve Been Waiting For.” Hyped as the progressive masterpiece of our generation, I was excited to see how the character of Wonder Woman was portrayed. I spent my life watching movies in which the female characters were portrayed as the same stereotype. From Cinderella to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, women have been shown to be some combination of overly emotional, dependent on others, irrational, and weak. I was excited to see Princess Diana, the strong, independent Amazon, but was surprised to find the hysterical heroine.
In other headlines, I saw “Watching The Emoji Movie is Like Staring into an Abyss” and “‘The Emoji Movie’ is not Actually a Movie at All.” My friend jokingly dragged me to the theater on July 28th to see The Emoji Movie. While I did not see a movie that deserved a perfect score from every movie critic, I was amazed to see a movie that delivered on the type of character development I expected from Wonder Woman. Jailbreak, the main female character of The Emoji Movie, defied that stereotypes that I had grown accustomed to.
Before looking at The Emoji Movie’s female lead, let us first examine Princess Diana of Themyscira. In the opening section of Wonder Woman, the protagonist is portrayed as a powerful warrior with a drive to learn to fight from an early age. The first 20 minutes of the movie were well done in terms of character development, but unfortunately, it takes a turn for the worse once Steve Trevor appears on the island. The male lead, and romantic interest of Diana, spends the remainder of the film leading around our heroine, as she is portrayed as almost childlike with her understanding of social norms and interpersonal communication.
From storming the enemy bunker, to speaking up against the misogynistic ways of life in the early 1900’s, she is portrayed as a strong woman, but is lacking basic logic skills. While she may be a capable fighter, she is unable to follow simple instructions or develop a plan. It is this character model that she fits up until the climax of the film, where she remains equally irrational, but loses all credibility as a capable fighter in the process.
When Hades reveals himself for a final collision, it becomes clear that Wonder Woman is far outmatched by the antagonist. She cannot seem to do anything substantial to counter her foe, that is, until her love, and rational counterpart, Steve Trevor makes a heroic sacrifice to save the lives of many. It is this moment that the film cements Wonder Woman into the stereotype of the emotional, irrational, and weak female. Only once she is consumed by love and grief does our female hero find herself victorious in the battle. In the closing scenes, the modern day Diana tells the audience through narration that she still, 80 years after the fact, draws upon love to fuel her faith in humanity, as well as push her to continue to protect Earth.
After portraying her as socially incapable from early on, the film goes on to demonstrate that she is also irrational, emotional, and impulsive. Then, in the climax, she is stripped of her capability to be a threat in battle, and fueled solely by her love for a man. Having a female lead and a female director are truly milestones in cinema, but having a woman on both sides of the camera does not necessitate that the product is a progressive masterpiece. In that same vein, just because a movies main protagonist is a meh emoji, it is not necessarily mute on social issues.
The Emoji Movie begins in Textopolis, with the protagonist Gene, a meh emoji. When it is discovered that Gene has a malfunction that allows him to display emotions other than solely Meh, he goes on the run with his friend, Hi-5, who is, you guessed it, a Hi-5 emoji. The two of them meet Jailbreak, our female character. She agrees to help Gene when she discovers that he can get her to the Cloud, where she wants to start a new life off of the phone. Within a matter of minutes, she is portrayed as significantly smarter than Gene and Hi-5, as well as capable of keeping her cool under pressure.
After establishing her as both the brains and the muscle of the operation, it is revealed that Jailbreak is secretly a princess emoji hoping to escape the phone. She explains that she wants to reach the cloud so that she can escape her current life, feeling bogged down by stereotypes as a princess. In the original emoji pack, the only females were the princess and a dancer. She wants to move to a place where a woman can be more than just the princess who can call birds with her whistle and needs a prince to come save her.
In a reveal that had the potential to make Jailbreak lose all credibility as a strong female, the movie framed it in a way that added depth to the character. She went from being only smart and rational to someone who has a deep understanding of her society’s framework. This pivotal moment in the movie is backed up when Gene admits his love for Jailbreak.
Despite showing affection for Gene in previous scenes, Jailbreak tells him that she cannot be with him. She has goals and aspirations, and, in her words, she isn’t waiting for her prince to come rescue her. She embodies the idea of the strong independent woman in this scene, demonstrating that she is in control of her emotions, rather than the other way around.
To put it in perspective, Wonder Woman, who was lauded for her progressive portrayal, relied on her love interest for rational planning, as well emotional motivation, while Jailbreak, the character listed 3rd in the credits, was a confident and strong female who understood her emotions and intentions without fault throughout the movie.
What seems to be misunderstood in the mainstream is that it takes more than simply putting a female in the spotlight to be considered a feminist masterpiece, and it was a film about emojis that finally realized this.