Action films are usually depicted as masculine. The main character is generally a man who endures different sorts of violence and faces threats, before eventually being victorious in the end. Meanwhile, the women in these films are often in desperation and ultimately saved by the male characters. In Mad Max: Fury Road (Miller, 2015), however, the pursuit to victory is not exclusively led by the lead male character. George Miller allows the women in this movie to defy the stereotypical female role in this genre by letting them take on heroic characteristics. In fact, there is not just one main female character, but several that play a part in representing female power throughout the film. Each of these individual characters are able to represent one group of women trying to defeat the antagonists of the film. Miller addresses the gender issues and overpowering of masculinity that we face today in Mad Max: Fury Road with his female characters, including Imperator Furiosa, the five wives of Immortan Joe, and The Many Mothers. By giving these women masculine attributes, not over-sexualizing them, and having a female-led action film, I believe that Miller sends a feminist message throughout the film and proves that women can have strength and power equal to men.
The biggest difference between male and female characters in an action film is in the amount of strength they possess. Masculinity is very important in this type of film. The male characters are always strong and able to use violence to defeat their enemies. The women are not typically portrayed with this stamina. Yet Mad Max: Fury Road gives its female characters this masculinity. Physical strength is one important characteristic that all of the women in this film possess, which makes them stand out from the typical helpless women in action films. For example, after their first encounter, Max and Furiosa engage in a physical fight. Furiosa is the first to attack, knocking Max down and holding him down as he tries to hit her back. Her ability to fight with Max proves her physical strength to be equal to any man’s. She is then attacked by Nux, but, again, she is able to use her strength and knock him down. It is important to note that she does all this fighting while also being disabled; her bionic arm is not attached to her in this fight scene. The five wives also show their strength in this scene. Together, they were able to pull Max back so that Furiosa could get to her feet and continue to fight him. They were also successful in holding Nux back in a later part of this scene.
One wife in particular, The Splendid Angharad, provides a good representation of these women obtaining masculine characteristics. As Angharad walks back to the vehicle toward the end of the scene, Max shoots her in the leg. If this had happened to a woman in any other action film, she would have overwhelmingly showed her pain or cried for help. However, Angharad’s reaction was the stereotypical way that men react to pain in action films. She did not scream or show much sign of pain, but only said, “It hurts,” to Furiosa. She then let the other wives wrap a bandage around it later on, still without any sign of severe pain. Masculinity is very important in action films, therefore men have to portray themselves as tough, even when they are severely hurt. Women, on the other hand, are not normally seen this way. This is why Angharad’s reaction to her pain is so important; she shows that her tolerance to pain can match that of a man’s.
Another major way Miller conveys feminism in Mad Max: Fury Road is through the lack of dependence the women have on men. When we are first introduced to Furiosa and the five wives, they are on their own trying to reach “The Green Place.” When Max encounters them, he does not become the savior of the group, but is simply another character to add to the dynamic of the story. It would not matter if Max were with them or not; the women would have been capable of reaching their destination on their own. Another aspect of this independence is the fact that the women have their own vehicles which they drive themselves. Furiosa has her own truck which she uses to drive the five wives as passengers. Throughout the film, she is seen driving alongside Immortan Joe and his followers, who are all men. She is able to keep up with their speed and maneuver her way through the other vehicles in order to gain momentum and drive past them. It is an automatic assumption that the men would possess this power and independence strictly because of their gender, but Furiosa demonstrates her power by becoming a contender in this race. The Many Mothers are also shown with their own motorcycles, which allows them to have independence as well as power since they are not relying on anyone else to take them where they need to go.
In most action films, it is typical for the lead to be a man, and it is almost always the man who is the hero. The women are either in distress, or are just distractions to the main character’s goals. In Mad Max: Fury Road, these women are the opposite of helpless. Instead of needing to be saved, it is the women who do the saving. What is unique about this film is that not only is the ultimate hero a woman, she also works as a team with the lead male character. Furiosa and Max are able to combine their skills to defeat their enemies. Max and Nux are actually outnumbered by the female protagonists in the film.
In most action films, the women are sexualized or put into a romantic relationship. In this film, there is a lack of romance, especially where it is expected most, which is between Furiosa and Max. The depiction of the five wives is also very important in regards to sexualization. The wives are liberated by escaping their imprisoned life with Furiosa, and leave writing on the wall that says, “We are not things.” It is clear that they were nothing but objects to Immortan Joe, who calls Angharad in particular his “property” as she is seen using her body to shield the other wives. This could give the wives a bad connotation, but instead puts an emphasis on Immortan Joe’s oppression towards these women. Additionally, there are no scenes that contain sexual content, which puts the focus on the wives’ role in their journey to The Green Place and how they manage to get there using their own strength and teamwork. There is only one occurrence of female nudity in this film. It is when The Valkyrie is seen in the tower as Furiosa and the others are driving towards her. She is not the focus of the scene; her character is visible, but is off center and very small. She was not partaking in any type of sexual act and was only protecting the Many Mothers. Her character was not meant to be sexualized in any way even though she was nude. Instead, Miller uses this as an opportunity for the audience to understand that a woman’s body does not have to be sexualized.
Making the females the lead characters emphasizes how they can be just as strong as the male heroes in action movies. Miller did so successfully by giving his female characters masculine characteristics, not sexualizing them, and placing them in a male-dominated genre. By making both the men and women heroes of the story and giving them equal power, Miller has created a film that represents the feminist attitudes in today’s world.