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In the weeks since the release of Birds Of Prey And The Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn, a moment that lasts a grand total of one second has earned a lot of attention. It takes place during the big third act battle between the titular protagonists and the army controlled by Ewan McGregor's Black Mask, and is what amounts to a simple exchange between Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn and Jurnee Smollett-Bell's Black Canary. While the superpowered lounge singer is battling some goons, the psychopathic clown rolls up on her skates and hands her a hair tie.
It's a small thing, but there's a very good reason why it's garnered notice: it's a moment that purely originates from, to use a simple label, "the female perspective." It's the kind of thing that a male director isn't necessarily consider when filming an action scene (as evidenced by the many movies featuring heroines and/or villainesses with long hair flying in their faces), but it became incorporated into Birds of Prey courtesy of screenwriter Christina Hodson and director Cathy Yan – the latter recently calling it "a big middle finger" to what can be perceived as the standard.
Timed to the early digital release of Birds of Prey, which is happening due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, the New York Times had the opportunity to speak with Cathy Yan about the film, and the hair tie scene was among the subjects that came up in conversation. The filmmaker explained that the idea originated with Christina Hodson, but that she particularly loves how it exists in contrast to what we regularly see in action movies. Said the director,
Christina Hodson had gotten the idea. She and her sister were talking about, why is it that all women in every action movie can have perfectly blown-out hair, and it’s always down? I was like, you’re so right. I put my hair up just to wash my face, to brush my teeth, to do very light amounts of yoga. So we wanted to give a big middle finger to some of those expectations.
There is a solid tradition of heroines in action movies sporting shorter haircuts, from Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in Aliens to Charlize Theron's Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, but there is still something particularly special about the perspective offered by Cathy Yan with Birds of Prey.
What the director is recognizing is the fact that there is a certain expectation for sexiness when women are fighting, which can be delivered through the aesthetic of beautiful, flowing locks... but it's not exactly utilitarian. One doesn't have to think too hard to come up with a list of reasons why a woman would want to keep her hair up in a fight, from the fact that it might obscure her vision, to the fact that it might get yanked. And yet we see what Cathy Yan is describing all the time on the big screen.
It's a great moment in an awesome movie – and one that you can now watch from the comfort of your own home while practicing social distancing/in quarantine. Starting today, Birds of Prey And The Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn is available to purchase on online platforms.