Movie Marketing

Gender Roles in the Marketing of The Beguiled, Both Old and New

The Beguiled, director Sofia Coppola’s remake of a 1971 drama starring Clint Eastwood, opens this weekend. The story more or less remains intact: Set during the Civil War, a wounded Union soldier named John McBurney is discovered by one of the members of a reclusive all-girls school. The soldier – Colin Farrell in the new one, Eastwood in the older version – is taken in to have his injuries tended to, but being in the presence of all these beautiful, unattended young women is too much temptation and lust takes over, setting McBurney against the teacher of the school, played by Nicole Kidman this time around and Geraldine Page in 71’s original.

The world has changed a lot in the 46 years since the release of the first version of The Beguiled, gender roles and the portrayal thereof being right there at the top of that list. So this week we’re looking at how the marketing of the same basic story has changed as society shifted over more than four decades.

2017 – Powerful Women Owning Their Fate

There’s a line that’s introduced in the first teaser trailer and which became not only a hashtag used officially by Focus Features in their marketing but also a theme throughout the campaign to date: “Vengeful bitches.” It’s screamed by Farrell’s McBurney seemingly after the women who were once his saviors have turned on him because of some transgression. Watch the official trailer and those transgressions become a bit more apparent, from his seduction of some of the older girls at the school to threatening Martha with a gun. Once more, it seems, they exact their own revenge on him.

The entire campaign is one of female empowerment, of them holding the key to their own fates and not being beholden to the whims of any man. That’s clear in the trailers, which present Farrell’s McBurney as a secondary character at best, even if he’s an instigator of much of the story. It’s clear in the social media campaign, which has used cinemagraphic Tweets that overlay current phrases like “Get it girl” in bright colors over the dark, gothic images from the movie. Others have labeled Kidman’s Martha as the “Head Bitch in Charge.” Banner ads have proclaimed on June 23rd, “Good girls go bad.”

The female empowerment is so palpable it’s surprising a character isn’t wearing an “Ask me about my feminist agenda” t-shirt and that the movie hasn’t received wall-to-wall cable news condemnation for indoctrinating youth to believe men are all evil. The bright pink text used in ads, posters and social media posts are so stereotypically “girly” while the actions of the characters are anything but cute and adorable.

1971 – Man-Deprived Girls Against the Sexual Enemy

Compare that to the trailer for the original. While the premise is largely the same, the students of the school are almost immediately described by the narrator as “man-deprived” and “man-eager,” as if their sheltered lives have driven them a bit crazy, ready to devour any man who wanders into their field of vision. Eastwood’s McBurney is in the situation of being “teased” and “enticed” by the girls. Either that or he’s an aggressive man who “must love to stay alive.” He’s shown defending the school against a couple of no-good toughs but then is described as “the sexual enemy” and we see him holding a gun while making it clear he’s going to bed any girl he wants.

This isn’t about female empowerment, it’s about female cattiness. The girls of the school are shown as basically competing against each other for the sexual favors of McBurney, whose hyper-masculine presence is enough to disrupt the lonely, spinsterish lives the girls are leading. He’s so much a man, so powerful a man, that he won’t be denied. This alpha male won’t be relegated to any position of subordination, he’ll do what he wants when he wants and with whom he wants because he’s a man and that’s how this works. A similar approach is take on the poster for the original, which shows Eastwood, gun drawn, looking over his shoulder suspiciously at the women. The copy “His love…or his life” doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, but again note how the focus is on him and his point of view.

Try selling that in 2017 and you’ll…well, you’ll get Tweets.

If you view the trailer for the 1971 version of The Beguiled you’d come away feeling you were being asked to come watch a Clint Eastwood movie where he’s fighting off the advances of a group of sex-crazed harpies who will go crazy at any moment. Women, am I right? It’s so hard being a man and he will have his revenge for not being given the unquestioned run of the house.

If you view the trailer for the 2017 version of The Beguiled you’d come away feeling you were being asked to come watch a Nicole Kidman movie where she’s protecting the virtue of the girls under her care from a selfish and dangerous invader who despite their care for him is determined to disrupt a safe space. These women will not sit back and let their fate be decided by a random man. More than that, they will extract their pound of flesh from someone who tries.

More than anything, it comes back to that phrase “vengeful bitches.” It’s used by McBurney as a sexual epitaph, a curse against them. But Focus Features, Coppola and the entire cast and campaign have embraced it and taken it back, using it as a rallying cry for strong women who are not to be trifled with. That alone sets it not just apart but in a whole different solar system from the original.

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