Why Do Some Critics Accuse “Jurassic World” of Sexism?


Sure, Jurassic World (2015) is one of the most financially successful films ever (already grossing approximately $1.25 billion in the opening weekend), but that hasn’t spared the summer blockbuster from its fair share of criticism. While the movie currently holds a 71% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, one aspect of the film does not seem to be sitting right with most critics. While Jurassic World certainly delivered in the dinosaur department, many agreed the movie failed miserably when it came to developing strong female characters.

The controversy began in April 2015 when Universal Pictures released a short clip from the film. In this particular scene, raptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) chats with park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). During this sequence, Claire comes across as an uptight bore while Owen is, well, like Chris Pratt—funny, cool, and totally awesome. Granted, Claire loosens up as the film unfolds, but when Joss Whedon watched the teaser, he kind of flipped out.

The beloved writer-director took to Twitter and blasted the film with 104 outraged characters. “I’m too busy wishing this clip wasn’t 70’s era sexist,” Whedon tweeted. “She’s a stiff, he’s a life-force—really? Still?” True, Whedon watched the clip out of context, and yes, he later said he was sorry for taking the movie to task on social media. (Although, he didn’t actually apologize for claiming Jurassic World was sexist.) But was the director’s initial assessment correct? What do other critics have to say about Jurassic World’s female hero?

Well, the majority of critics tend to agree with Joss Whedon. Critics from USA Today, Vulture, The Dissolve, and Refinery29 all had choice words about Bryce Dallas Howard’s character. Why? According to Marlow Stern of The Daily Beast, Claire is portrayed as an “icy-cold, selfish corporate shill” who eventually morphs “into a considerate wife and mother.” Jordan Hoffman of The Guardian was troubled by the scene where Claire’s sister (Judy Greer) shames her for not having children. And according to Manohla Dargis of The New York Times, Claire “mostly just schemes and screams, before Owen melts her like an ice cube on a hot griddle….”

Claire Dearing starts off as a successful career woman, but throughout the film, she’s mocked for being cold and uncaring. She’s constantly humiliated for her business-like attitude, and people are always putting her down for her reluctance to settle down and have kids. And as Alex Abad-Santos of Vox explains, at the end of the film, Claire “doesn’t have a job, but she does have a new boyfriend and newfound appreciation of her nephews.”

Not that wanting to have kids is anti-feminist. Action movie characters like The Bride, Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, and Elastigirl from The Incredibles (2004) all portrayed strong female heroes and dedicated moms. Even Dr. Ellie Satler from the first Jurassic Park (1993) wanted kids and a career, and she was a fantastic female character. However, Jurassic World seems to present a world where the options for women are mutually exclusive, either: you can be an independent woman (and thus you’re cold, uncaring jerk), or you can have kids (and human emotions like love, kindness, and a sense of humor). You’re either Claire or Claire’s sister, and there’s no middle ground.

Colin Trevorrow rejects this interpretation of Claire’s character. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Trevorrow explains that Claire poses as character who transforms “from being a very corporatized person who’s focused on that need for profit, to someone who becomes very human.”

It’s true that Claire has her moments in the spotlight, like when she rescues Owen from a Pterodactyl and (spoiler alert) when she takes out the big bad monster by releasing the T. rex. But as film critic Devin Faraci pointed out in an email to the L.A. Times, after Claire rescues Owen from winged death, her nephews aren’t at all impressed. Just seconds after she proves her action hero credential, the boys admit they feel safer around Chris Pratt. As Faraci puts it, “It’s like the kids are speaking for the filmmaker—no matter how cool Claire gets, Owen is always cooler because he’s a tough man.”

Of course, Claire’s character arc isn’t the only issue causing controversy. Another fossilized bone of contention is the matter of Claire’s shoes. Throughout the film, she’s sporting a pair of high heels, even while she’s hiking in the jungle. When asked about Claire’s footwear in an io9 interview, Colin Trevorrow responded, “I had that conversation with [Bryce Dallas Howard] so many times, and she insisted on wearing those heels. They meant something to her personally. She felt like, this is her talking, that those heels were her shield in a certain way as a woman.” And while some critics were aggravated by her seemingly impractical fashion sense, it turns out a few actually agreed with Ms. Howard’s decision.

Amy Nicholson of the L.A. Weekly wrote Jurassic World was less offensive than a movie like Lucy (2014)—a film where Scarlett Johansson brought stilettos to a gunfight—because “Bryce Dallas Howard’s character is just stuck wearing the professional outfit she wore to work.” She showed up for a day at the office, and suddenly she ends up in the middle of the jungle. It’s not like she had time to change.

Taking things even further, Gabrielle Moss of Slate wrote that most movies “require a heroine to drop her high heels in order to be deemed likable….” She points to other movies like Romancing the Stone (1984) where heroines must ditch their shoes as part of their character arc. But in Jurassic World, the heels are “a symbol that she isn’t going to have to change every single classically ‘feminine’ thing about herself in order to be redeemed.” Lindsay Ellis of IFC wholeheartedly agreed, encouraging Claire’s character by writing, “Good on you girl for keeping the damn symbolic shoes.”

But perhaps the weirdest interpretation (and most interesting) interpretation of Jurassic World’s sexual politics comes from Slate writer Laura Bradley. According to Bradley, there’s one female character in the movie that deserves our unwavering admiration: Blue the Velociraptor. “Blue and her squad give Grady their respect, not their blind obedience,” Bradley writes. “And Blue is the most developed of them all: As the beta to Grady’s alpha, she’s by far the sassiest of the bunch, and the one Grady consistently keeps a closer eye on.”

Not only is she second-in-command of the raptor squad, Blue also has an actual character arc. She starts off as Owen’s ally, momentarily stumbles when she joins forces with the Indominus rex, and then rights her past wrongs by coming to Owen’s aid. And when it looks like curtains for our human heroes, who’s the one who shows up for the craziest tag team match since the Showa Godzilla series? That’s right. It’s Blue, the best female character in Jurassic World.