Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hanna: A Fairy Tale About a Child Assassin and Female Empowerment

by Megan S.

Director Joe Wright with actress Saoirse Ronan
WonderCon 2011's most surprisingly interesting panel turned out to be the Hanna discussion with director Joe Wright and actress Saoires Ronan.  Opening in theaters tomorrow, the film is a dark fairy tale about a young girl named Hanna, raised to be an unstoppable assassin by her father and possibly Dr. Frankenstein-like creator played by Eric Bana.  She grew up isolated and alone in a harsh wintery climate with only Bana, an encyclopedia, and a book of Grimm's Fairy Tales for company.  Bana's character impresses upon his daughter the fact that she must kill evil CIA agent Marissa Wiegler before Wiegler has the chance to kill her.  The film focuses on Hanna's quest to take out the agent, played by Kate Blanchett, and dodge her henchmen all across Europe.

So, here's what I found so interesting...

This international trailer is more representative of the tone and story of the film than the US version.

English 30-something year old director Joe Wright guided the discussion in an unexpected direction last Saturday.  He strode on stage looking very much like the stereotypical Hollywood bad boy with sunglasses still on, a coffee in one hand and pushing back his hair with the other.  I would never have guessed he'd spend most of his time advocating for portrayals of true female empowerment in film. 

Wright spoke vehemently about the sexual objectification of little girls in the media today using the padded push-up bikini for female children available at Abercrombie and Fitch as an example.  He went to say that items like that or the Spice Girls videos weren't "girl power."  Female empowerment isn't about sex, it's about brains.  The character of Hanna, coming from such isolation, exists outside of those societal pressures that favor looks over intelligence.  Without mentioning the title, Wright compared Hanna to Sucker Punch, saying that images of girls in pig tails and tiny outfits kicking ass weren't empowering. At one point the director said, "feminism wasn't supposed to be a fad.  It was supposed to change the fucking world."

The teenage Ronan echoed Wright's assertions.  She added that characters like Hanna were good because they were not sexy. The actress went on to say that the media needs more interesting young women like Hanna because it forces the public to talk about issues like female empowerment.

The panel sneak peeks of the film didn't provide much more detail than the glimpses available in both the international and US trailers so I can't comment on how obvious the theme of female empowerment is through the story.  So, for those of you going to see it this weekend, please let me know what you think and if the theme is prevalent.  I'm hoping it is, not only because it'd be nice to have a new kick-ass heroine but also because I really like the idea of a cocky Hollywood bad boy espousing the virtues of brains over beauty.
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  1. It's hard to discuss a movie without mentioning details so consider this your spoiler warning. What's interesting is the contrast between the two main woman characters - Hanna and Marissa Wiegler. Since the central driving plot is that one of them has to die it's fair to compare them. Hanna had no real choices in her life until her father presented her with the radio switch. Weigler make several conscious choices about her life generally favoring career over personal life. Weigler is successful career-wise but apparently lives alone (not even a cat) and doesn't have any close friends. Both woman are capable of cold blooded murder when needed. Both characters are feminine without being sexed up. I'm not really sure the theme of female empowerment was prevalent (I wasn't consciously aware of it while watching) but there is certainly room for seeing it in the movie.

  2. GitM- What did you think of the difference between Hanna and her friend? I know the friend was supposed to be very much affected by societal pressures.

  3. The friend was, to me at least, supposed to be a typical western teenage girl. It was probably best that Hanna's first real socialization with a peer was someone like her. I liked how it showed that navigating through the culture and world we take for granted takes as much skill in it's own way that fighting three men simultaneously does. Unfortunately, I don't think Marissa Weigler is the type to leave loose ends so we won't get to see that friendship grow.