Allegiant to Oppression in Cinema

Allegiant is the third film in the Divergence series, a series of films directed by Neil Burger (Divergent) and Robert Schwentke (Insurgent and Allegiant), based upon the novels by Veronica Roth. It is marketed as an action, adventure, sort of dystopian thriller, and I would say it fits the genres quite well. The city in which they reside has turned to chaos, with the factions, a sort of class system put in place to keep order, is dismantled. That, coupled with the fact that the story takes place on a scorched, post-war earth fits with the dystopian genre. The film in general is fast paced, with a lot of CGI and action going on to keep you engrossed and entertained throughout Tris’ struggles (hence action and adventure). Allegiant is the direct continuation of Insurgent, opening with trials held against those who stood with Janine, Chicago’s previous leader, and a video message from hundreds of years prior. Tris, along with Four, make the choice to leave the crumbling city of Chicago and go beyond the wall that was built by their ancestors in search of answers and a better place. With the help of their friends, Tris, Four, Peter, Caleb, and Christina stumble onto a new colonization of humans. They find out the purpose behind Chicago’s construction, the factions, and the experiment behind it all. Trust and loyalty are tested, and impossible choices must be made in order to ensure not only these teen’s survival, but the survival of everyone in Chicago as well.

Overall, the film itself wasn’t terrible, but it was by no means good as well. Although the Allegiant possesses a strong female lead, the film relied heavily on the stereotypes of race and blatant heteronormativity to drive the story. In the first twenty minutes of the film, Tris, Four, Peter, Celeb, and Tori make their escape to go over the wall surrounding the city of Chicago. In Hollinger’s piece, she quoted another author, Tania Modleski, who argued that “…when women of color have been portrayed, it has always been in stereotypical images that reduce them to their biological functions or present them only as surrogates for White women” (Hollinger, 195). Tori Wu, a character of Asian descent, is a perfect example of what Modleski was talking about. Throughout the beginning of the film, Tori’s only purpose is to help Tris and the others get over the wall to safety, a task for which she pays for with her life. She gets the transfer papers for Tris’ brother, Caleb, allowing him to pass through one of the heavily guarded security checkpoints, she was the one who gathered all of the supplies needed for the journey beyond the wall (at Tris’ request), and just when everyone is safe atop the wall about to climb over to the barren dessert before them, she is struck in the back by a bullet, thus signifying the end of her usefulness to the white characters and her own life.

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(Stills of Tori Wu’s death scene from The Divergent Series: Allegiant)

Tori Wu isn’t the only character of color mistreated within this whitewashed film. Johanna Reyes, a woman of African-American descent, the former representative of the faction Amity, and current leader of the rebel group Allegiant, was also given the short end of the representation stick. Though she is a known strong leader, she is only shown on screen a few times and never for very long. Whenever she was shown, she was ignored by, and in favor of, white characters who did as they pleased regardless of what Johanna had to say. For example, the beginning of the film opens to a series of trials being held for those “accountable” during Janine’s rule. Johanna speaks out against the violence and anger, stating that these actions were following the same road as Chicago’s previous dictator. She was then promptly booed and ignored, ending with her walking out of the scene. The erasure of her character and ideals is highly problematic, as is the way she is represented on screen. Her characterization is extremely fitting to the mammy stereotype. “The mammy stereotype reduces Black women to figures of reproduction and motherhood…” (Hollinger, 195). Johanna is, in a sense, a very motherly person. In the second film of the series, she takes in Tris and Four when they were on the run from Janine and they needed to hide out. Both Amity and Johanna take care of them, giving them clothes, making sure they had food, and protects them against the militia. The women who portray the mammy stereotype are also characterized as being overweight, dark-skinned, non-threatening, desexualized, and is usually portrayed as an older woman. Johanna Reyes fits all of the characteristics of a mammy stereotype, and it is unfortunate; especially with how strong her character tries to be in the third film.

Clip from Allegiant showing Johanna as a strong leader:

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(Johanna Reyes as shown in The Divergent Series: Insurgent, backing up the mammy stereotype)

I would say the only saving grace of this film is its portrayal of a strong female lead. Tris, along with a few other characters, by no means play into the damsel in distress trope and do well in fending for themselves. Tris is a stubborn woman; she doesn’t like to take orders from anyone and even does the rescuing when others are in trouble. However, all of that was completely ruined for me with the blatant, in-your-face romance between Tris and Four. It felt like you couldn’t go five minutes without having something suggestive or “dramatic” shoved at you. “As motion pictures evolved into mass-produced, studio-based productions, they being to emphasize fictional narratives, and normative heterosexuality became fundamental to the storytelling formula” (Bernshoff and Griffin, 6).

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(Tris and Four kissing at various moments in The Divergent Series: Allegiant)

In the beginning, the two are seen making out atop a ruined building. Throughout the film, you’re shown various tender moments mixed with bits of drama and later more heavy make out sessions. Having a romantic plot in a film is fine, but if you’re using it as a plot device and completely making your female lead dependent on that male character, then it becomes a problem. There was also very little representation or imagination in the way of the types of romances shown. Tris and Four’s romance was the only one shown or given to us: a heterosexual, straight romance between two white characters. There were no interracial couples or even a nod towards homosexuality. As stated in Bernshoff and Griffin’s piece, Allegiant is definitely a film that conforms to Hollywood’s idea of straight romance as an integral part of the film’s narrative.

The theater I went to was the Willow Creek 8 theater in Plymouth with my friend, which is one of the smaller company run theater chains with only so many locations. As in, this place is so small, they don’t do online pre-sales on Fandango. Actually, I think Plymouth is Minnesota’s only Willow Creek location. Small theaters are nice, though, in that the prices are slightly cheaper for both tickets and concessions. We went in the evening, so the ticket only cost $7.50, and their concessions offer free refills on certain sizes. I abstained from getting anything, though, because $4.50 for a small soda is still too rich for my blood. Not as bad as some places, but still a bit much. The theater itself is fairly huge, with 14 different screening rooms, a decently sized concessions stand, a small arcade, and some bathrooms scattered about. It’s clean, orderly, and the staff is very nice there. You can definitely tell it’s a theater geared towards families. The neighborhood is more industrial, due to the theater’s location on Shingle Creek Parkway and being near Kellogg Boulevard, but that doesn’t stop it from filling its seats.

As far as cinema experiences go, I supposed I had one of the luckier ones. I say this because, aside from my friend and I, there were only three other people in the entire theater, the closest one sitting three rows down from us. It was really nice and relaxing; I’m grateful we went at 7pm on a weeknight. We sat in the very back, all ready to settle in for the third installment. During the film, everyone was silent, allowing for optimum viewing pleasure in that you could really focus on what was going on on-screen without any outside distractions. Aside from a few giggles from my friend and I during certain scenes, everyone was really respectful of one another and it was a rather enjoyable experience. Usually going to movie theaters is hit or miss with the type of experience you’ll get, but I love going to them nonetheless. Sitting at home and watching a movie is nice, but there’s a certain comradery and feel you’re missing out on if you don’t go to a theater. You’re all sitting there to see a film you all have interest in. It’s why I go to midnight showings of superhero movies; to share in the experience with countless other people who have waited months to see their favorite hero on screen. That, and the conversations you can have afterwards outside the theater with fellow fans is really fun. So, yeah, I’d say you definitely react differently than if you were sitting at home watching something.

 

Sources:

Bernshoff, Harry and Sean Griffin. (2004). “Introduction,” in Queer Cinema: The Film Reader, 1-15.

Hollinger, Karen. (2012) “Feminist Film Studies and Race,” 190-204

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About littlestteacup

20-something film student. May also secretly be Batman.
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