Newsflash: Women are complicated! Hollywood may forget (or more likely ignore) our whole personhood but the reality is that women can inhabit the full range of human experience. We can be selfish, we can be caring mothers, we can be fiercely strong, we can make mistakes. We can do all of those things or none of them. Widows shows this range of women hood and I am HERE for it.
The star of Widows, Viola Davis is no stranger to the complex female role. From How to Get Away with Murder to Fences, (her performances earning an Emmy and Oscar respectively), Davis has shown she is amazing, an actress with a penchant for expanding narratives around what it means to be a woman and a woman of color. Her leadership on screen and off prepped her perfectly to play the grief-stricken Veronica in Widows. As Veronica, Davis is left to not only deal with her husband’s death but to settle a debt left behind by her spouse’s criminal activities (aka Liam Neeson of Taken fame). Without other options, Veronica (Davis) leads a group of women played by Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, and Cynthia Erivo to pull off a heist for their lives.
Unlike the other woman-led heist film released this year, Ocean’s 8, Widows is dramatic, gripping and somewhat terrifying. It’s disappointing yet predictable that the first female-driven Ocean’s movie would include the most stereotypical lady crime plot ever: Ocean’s 8 is held at the Met Gala and involves stealing a necklace from Anne Hathaway. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, am I right? No? K. Ocean’s 8 is just not comparable to the gritty, tension-filled narrative of Widows or any serious, male-driven action film. And while there are some comedic parts in Widows, the laughs don’t make up a significant part of the movie’s emotional pull. What I love about this choice is how the women and their actions are taken completely seriously. While their world might underestimate them, Veronica and her team are more than up to the task, using their intellect as well as physical strength to execute the heist.
The competent, complicated, multifaceted women of Widows provide a therapeutic narrative, especially for its female audiences that so rarely get a chance to see themselves on screen. This is particularly true when you contrast the women of Widows to the men. It’s nice to see the XY chromosomes be the silly, overly emotional, and corruptible characters for once. Because to be honest, if I see one more film where a woman trips during an action running scene it will be too soon. Don’t get me wrong the male characters and actors are fantastic. From Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya who plays the mob enforcer, to Atlanta‘s Brian Tyree Henry as a crime boss and politician, to Robert Duvall as a racist old mayor, the men in this film are fantastic and fun to watch.
They also portray the worst components of toxic masculinity. The male characters are quick to violence whether physical or verbal and get into trouble that the women in their lives have to get them out of. In contrast, the women in this film are the rational ones, staying calm under pressure no matter how intense things get.
As a woman who grew up loving heist action films like Ocean’s, Taken, and The Italian Job, this film shows women as the directors of their own destiny and just as dangerous as the men in this film. For too long in action films women served as the sexy sidekick at best, the object to be rescued at worst. These women characters just followed a predetermined plan set out by a male “heist mastermind” character. While Veronica does follow a plan her husband set out for her, in the end she proves she is smarter and more capable than he ever was.
Now, *SPOILER* I cannot talk about the success of the film without spoiling the final plot twist. In the end, Viola Davis’ Veronica finds out her husband was never dead to begin with – he killed his team in order to keep all the money for himself. In fact, he’s manipulating Veronica so she would plan the heist, bring him the money, and he would then leave rich to start a new life. In the final scene together, she refuses to give him the money, he hits her, and then tries to kill her. But Veronica is a badass bitch (as is her dog Olivia) and she pulls the trigger and kills him first.
To have a Black woman triumph over a series of men clearly out to get her (one of which is played by arguably one of the most notorious action stars of all time Liam Neeson) quite frankly feels amazing. Veronica gives women of color a place in the action film genre that we’ve never had before (and it comes with the best dog ever!). And if a studio out there is looking for the next star of the Taken franchise I think you found your star. Sorry, not sorry Liam Neeson.