Wes Anderson’s use of charming stop motion and iconic symmetry shone through in his new film, Isle of Dogs. For a dog-lover like myself there is little more I could ask for in a film – beautiful mise-en-scene paired with some amazing actors including Bill Murray and Yoko Ono, and plenty of adorable canines.
Almost perfect. Almost.
I don’t think I noticed it during the film, but on the journey home it struck me – where were the strong, female characters? As the title suggests the majority of main characters are dogs, of which there are only 2 females. Both are there as the love interest for the other male dogs. Peppermint is simply there to bear puppies (I don’t think she even had more than 2 lines). The thing that annoyed me most about this was when I expressed this concern to my friends and family often the response was “yeah, but how can you prove that having more female dogs would benefit the story?”.
Many assume that by accusing Wes Anderson of this offence I am implying that he is intentionally being a ‘sexist pig’ – that I am ‘man-hating’. This is not the case. I don’t know the director’s morals sufficiently to pass this judgement and have always admired his movies. I am suggesting, however, that it is a tragedy that a film can take 4 years to make without a single person calling out this blatant sexism, especially with it being such a hot topic within the industry at the moment thanks to the #MeToo movement. The question should not be “what would having a strong, non-romantic female character add to the story?” but “how does not having a strong female character detract from the film?”. I sure as hell know that it made me feel alienated.
I then set about researching the gender ratios of wild dog packs, in the hope that science was going to prove me wrong. Was Wes Anderson inaccurate in his depiction of the pack? I found that the sex ratio of packs of wild dogs and wolves differ between species, but on no occasion were packs 100% male, such as that on Trash Island; Duke, King, Chief, Boss and Rex. For African Wild Dogs packs have males and females in a ratio of 3:1, suggesting that in the film there should have been at least one bitch. For gray wolves, mating pairs are monogamous, meaning that the bitch would instead be an alpha female. Despite all this my argument still felt silly. This is an animated PG movie aimed at children about dogs for god’s sake, there is no need for it to be scientifically correct! I thought we had progressed from the misogyny of vintage Disney films where the princess lies in a literal coma waiting for the brave prince on horseback to come and kiss her, but apparently not. If Wes is trying to instil the idea into children that the 5 main characters and heroes of a story, regardless of species, are always male then he’s doing a great job. This is where the conflict occurs. In my child-like, dog-adoring mind I had pictured myself as a brave bitch, with a dark curly coat, perhaps a Poodle or an Airedale Terrier, embarking on the dangerous mission to find the missing dog, Spots. But the movie told me otherwise, and thus my fantasy was ruined. I am a 19-year-old woman(ish), and so I know that this is bullshit; of course I could be a fantastic doggy addition to the spots rescue team. A 10-year-old girl on the other hand may not be so sure about herself.
I don’t expect any dramatic response to this surfacing sexism. I am not calling for a boycott of the film in cinema or likewise; it is undoubtedly still incredibly skilfully produced and an utterly heart-warming story. I hope that someone with a greater knowledge and understanding of film writes a raving review of the Isle of Dogs that you may read side-by-side to this. I only ask that you take your seat, along with your popcorn and bucket-sized Pepsi, with this sexism in mind and to let any young girls you know – daughters, nieces, cousins - who might go to see the film that they can be as bad-ass a bitch (literally) as Duke, King, Rex, Boss and Chief.