Emily Ratajkowski isn’t shy to female empowering roles. Between the Academy Award-nominated Gone Girl and her full frontal debut in Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” director Max Joseph should have seen her role in We Are Your Friends as an opportunity for the music industry to reconsider the way the role of women is defined.
Clearly, Max Joseph didn’t get the memo when he directed and wrote his coming-of-age tale We Are Your Friends, where Ratajkowski is only capable of being the assistant/girlfriend to a washed-up superstar DJ/producer. At one point her role is reduced to picking up groceries for the millionaire male.
Starring Zac Efron, the story follows his character Cole as he deals with the trial-and-error of making a name for himself in EDM. It’s at one of his smaller gigs where he becomes infatuated with Ratajkowski’s character, who is in the crowd. After analyzing her performance I realized that it wasn’t just Emily who was short-changed; the overall presence of positive roles of females in the film was truly lacking. Our industry, as well as the rest of the world, is in crisis in regards to gender roles and if this film did anything, it only made matters worse.
Emily’s role was three-dimensional, with her own goals and aspirations.” – Max Joseph
Earlier this week, I had a chance to watch an early screening of WAYF. I briefly spoke to the Catfish actor/producer during the afterparty on his portrayal of women in his new film. Not to my surprise, my curiosity was met with high disdain and defensiveness, with Joseph claiming, “Emily’s role was three-dimensional, with her own goals and aspirations.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. After sneering these words at me and insisting that I should “have a good night,” the director moved on to his adoring fans, hanging my inquiry up to dry. Even though I did apologize to him, ensuring that my question came with the best intentions, it was clear that I hit a sore spot on his big night.
Ratajkowski’s role is essentially the role of the atypical female: she falls in line with a number of industry stereotypes as nothing more than an assistant who flunks out of Stanford to become a trophy for James Reed, the washed out DJ/producer (played by Wes Bentley). By the end of the film, it comes full circle when she leaves this schmuck to become a waitress at a coffee shop. But don’t worry, her fate wasn’t left in vein; it’s revealed in the final moments of the film that she’s going back to school to get her degree. It was as if the team of the film realized, “Oh shit. We need to fix this,” and threw in this clip just to prevent an uproar from audiences.
Ratajkowski is no stranger to the gaze of ogling men. During her debut on the scene in Thicke’s video (NSFW), she goes full frontal, a risky move for someone trying to break into the industry. There were plenty of people who demonized and slut-shamed her, but I would have to side with her own outlook on the situation by brushing off the hate. Says Ratajkowski, “The way that I was dancing, sort of sarcastically and I felt silly, it wasn’t for men. It was for myself and other women, just like you would dance around in your apartment.”
Besides the intensions of Thicke’s record, what her performance shows us is that she’s comfortable in her skin and all women should feel free to do the same. Unfortunately, there’s this really uncomfortable moment in WAYF where she and Cole (Zac Efron) are attending a Stanford soirée, where two polo-wearing bros are loudly gossiping and slut-shaming that the entire dorm hall had seen her breasts. Clearly embarrassed by the situation, Ratajkowski turns to leave, when all of sudden the heroic Efron comes to the rescue, and punches them in the face.
Clearly she was onto something because a year after “Blurred Lines,” Ratajkowski was cast as a supporting actress in Gone Girl, arguably one of the most recent controversial portrayal of women. Led by a production company owned and operated by Reese Witherspoon, the film was met with both acclaim that women can be murderers too, but at the same time caused an uproar concerning the “myths of rape.”
As a male-driven film, WAYF easily draws a parallel to the way women are treated in EDM. Since the beginning of the electronic music industry, women have demanded equality by letting their voice be heard, taking on major roles at labels, collectives, agencies and not to mention they’re also some of the genre’s greatest artists. He could have easily made her role more significant by making slight tweaks. Why couldn’t she be in charge of James’ record label? A prominent photographer? His manager? Or even in charge of his public relations? At several points throughout the film, Cole and James both look to her for approval, meaning that her opinion on their music mattered. Her position easily could’ve been explained properly as being in charge of James’ A&R. Apparently picking up his groceries, booking hotel rooms and looking pretty is essentially all the responsibility that she could handle.
Outside of Ratajkowski, the lines from women are few and far between and when there are, it’s usually the typical image of bikini-clad super models giggling over a poolside or bottle service. For instance, there’s this breathtaking scene where a character named Sara asks Efron to play “Drunk in Love”; she later has sex with someone in his entourage because he had a “cool shirt.”
But wait… there’s more. When Efron and his crew of bros hit rock bottom, they resort to participating in a reality scheme that rips off a struggling single mother who is fighting to keep her home. The mother’s lines basically consist of pleading to keep her home from falling into foreclosure. But don’t worry — once Efron becomes a superstar, he comes to the rescue by anonymously returning the stolen money to her.
While it’s hard to say by only watching the film once, I find it difficult to recall if the film even passed the Bechdel test, which is used to measure whether or not a film has an active female presence. Even though Ratajkowski character was only a supportive role, Joseph really missed a unique opportunity to say something that breaks the mold. Films are meant to inspire, to make people open their mind and change the world, which was a huge aspect of the marketing behind WAYF. Unfortunately, through the eyes of this film, there’s only one dream: one where the men are the inspiration, and the women are left fetching their groceries.