Over the rainy bank holiday weekend, I decided I would go to see what I assumed was a ‘feel good’ film, Isle of Dogs, a stop-motion animated comedy. I love dogs so much that it looked like my ideal film, despite being aimed at kids. I get to see a story with a serious slant being told by cuddly canines, translated into human language. Instead, from the first five minutes, I was raging with anger about the blatant sexism at the heart of the film.
I have long been irritated with the default position many people have to refer to dogs as male and cats as female. I am always a bit bemused by people stopping me in the park when walking my dog Maisie, asking, “How old is he?” and the like. Maisie became so self-conscious at this blatant misgendering that she went through a period of cocking her leg, and running after bitches on heat.
Here is a brief précis of the storyline, without any spoilers. Cats are the supreme creatures, and dogs are being punished for past misdemeanours. It would appear that they all have some kind of flu virus, and are abandoned on a Japanese garbage island. A young boy, grieving for his dog who he knows has been dumped on the island, appears in a light aircraft, crashes, gets a bolt through his neck, survives, and goes off with the main protagonists to find Spots.
So let’s examine what made me so angry. I was literally spitting my popcorn by the time I realised that the main protagonists were all male characters. Duke (Jeff Goldblum), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), Rex (Edward Norton) and Chief (Bryan Cranston). “They are all male dogs,” I stage whispered to my viewing companion. “All these kids,” I continued, pointing to the ice cream guzzling youngsters surrounded us, “will now be fed a toxic diet of male and female sexist stereotypes.”
“We you please be quiet?” said one parent, as pious as it is possible to be while holding a giant pack of Doritos, and balancing a root beer on your lap. “Do you mind? We are trying to watch this!”
The female dogs are Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson) and Peppermint (Kara Hayward). Nutmeg is a former show dog, has long hair, and an extended breastbone made to look like large breasts, and a diamond collar. She is ridiculously feminine. Peppermint is there simply to bear puppies for one of the action dogs.
“If you don’t mind your children being indoctrinated with sexist tropes, then go ahead”, I almost shout in response to the shhhh’ers. “Let them grow up believing that girls have pink brains and boys have blue!”
I realised I had gone too far. No one gives a damn, particularly when they go to see films all the time that depict women as blonde, busty airheads, and men saving the world. Just like the Isle of Dogs, but, er, with dogs.
Whenever cats and dogs appear together in a film, the dog will almost always be male while the cat will almost always be female. The cat will occasionally be catty, vain, and self-centred, just as women are accused of being. The dog will be unkempt, task-orientated, and protective. Sexism is, literally, everywhere. Isle of Dogs could have broken this mould.
Even today, female characters in animation films have less dialogue than their male counterparts and less active roles. Appearance is far more important to them than saving the world. In Snow White and the seven dwarves, the women are all jealous of each other; Cinderella is merely out to get a man; and Sleeping Beauty is in a bedridden coma until a man kisses her awake.
As a lifelong feminist, I can process that this crap is the blatant bigotry of screenwriters, directors, and others involved in making this film. Children cannot. I have had enough of blatant, old-fashioned sexism in film, and give what should have been a brilliant movie one out of 10. Maisie has decided to start her own bitches-only group in the park, and not a moment too soon.