Changed my mind; we’ll do the Christian episode later. Today I want to talk more about how the movie God’s Not Dead deals with its female characters, because last time we talked I touched briefly on one aspect of the movie–its sheer dismissiveness toward them, and their utter two-dimensionality.
Remember our premise about this movie: it is a peek into the minds and hearts of its creators, and it creates a universe where evangelical Christians can finally win all of those culture wars they started, and where people act exactly the way they imagine people act. In the world created by this movie, non-Christians and lukewarm Christians (the term is Christianese for “a Christian who isn’t quite as gung-ho and hardcore as I am”) are all evil and nasty, while TRUE CHRISTIANS™ are all wonderful and perfect. In this world, atheists especially just hate the Christian god or are otherwise in rebellion, or just too stupid or backward to know much about the religion. Nobody has a good excuse for disbelief, and nobody is let off the hook–or unpunished.
The movie actually has a pretty decent mix of male to female characters for this kind of storyline, but the male characters really carry the story. Of the subplots, only one is exclusively carried by a woman–the Muslim girl’s story. Otherwise, all other female characters bounce off male ones. So this movie distinctly flunks the Bechdel test.
Because this movie’s chosen method of characterization is either expository dialogue or over-the-top visual cues, almost all of these characters are detailed in broad strokes. They are meant to illustrate a concept, not to be real people with three-dimensional motivations. When the script requires them to be indignant, they are so; when it needs them to be weak and vulnerable, why then they are; when it needs them to be committed to their cause then they are; when it needs them to buckle and be lukewarm or wishy-washy then that’s what happens. To say that this movie insults women in general would not even do half justice to its offenses; it insults people as a whole.
So here are the women in this movie, presented in their groupings like they’re about to get on the Ark:
THE ICKIE ATHEISTS–or rather, the one ickie atheist.
1. The reporter lady.
Yes, only one woman in this movie is presented as an atheist. I think. She has bumper stickers on her car that talk about vegetarianism and humanism, and she works for a magazine or website with “liberal” in its name, so I imagine she’s supposed to be an atheist, because only atheists are liberals and only liberals are atheists. She’s the very worst kind of atheist: the straw atheist. She’s a straw feminist too, we’ll learn. She’s also disorganized with a poor work ethic and next to no idea how to be a journalist, which is a problem because she’s supposed to be a journalist. I never learned her name and nothing I’d seen up to then mentioned the secondary characters’ names, which is why I nicknamed her Cravat last time around (since then I’ve noticed the IMDB synopsis, which puts her name as “Amy”). The movie certainly treats her like an inconsequential accessory, flinging her around willy-nilly whenever it needs to collide her with some other characters or plotlines; her function is to get beaten up so much that she converts from sheer emotional self-implosion because that’s how Jesus “woos” people and oh my god that’s so creepy we’ll just move on.
Like Professor Radisson, the reporter lady has some serious issues in general but around Christianity in particular. She seems downright enraged when she meets Korie (detailed below), but she is especially furious about the idea of Korie being happy in her domestic role of Duck Dynasty cheerleader. She obviously can’t even believe that’s even possible.
She’s also a bit of a self-deluded idiot when it comes to men and relationships, a trait she will turn out to share with a good many of her comrades in this movie. She’s clearly been with her boyfriend, Dean Cain, for some time, but when he turns out to be a cad, she seems totally blindsided by this information. But that seems like something she should have guessed long ago. I mean, he won’t even give her driving directions without her jumping through hoops for him. I don’t see why she would be so shocked that he might be less than enthusiastic about emotionally supporting her in her time of greatest need.
Because this movie can’t have atheists being happy, well-adjusted people, Amy has to be kicked around numerous times. She starts the movie by waking up late for her big interview, only to discover that her car was vandalized in the night–and her expensive GPS unit stolen. Her phone gets signal enough to call Dean Cain, but not enough to run its GPS app. We see during this conversation that she’s also a little shady in that she likes to surprise her interview subjects with blitz questions, which the movie presents as a mustache-twirling attitude for her to have; clearly we are not expected to remember all the times that Christians try to “gotcha” people in exactly the same way (indeed, Josh does exactly that during his last debate scene), or how bothering people without an invitation is one of their favorite witnessing tactics. Never mind! Amy does it, so she is evil, and Christians never ever ever ever ever do.
Also because this movie can’t have a female character being a happy, well-adjusted person living on her own and handling her business in a mature and self-respecting manner, Amy is shown to be a total flutterbudget who freaks out at everything. Without exception she is always shown hopping around frantically, running late to something, or teetering on the verge of tears. She doesn’t need a boyfriend; she needs a handler, a therapist, and an accountant on retainer. It’s hard to believe that anybody who works in her field and lives on her own would be that incredibly flaky and–yes–brittle. I hate using that word because it’s used against women who seem emotionally high-strung, but Amy is brittle as hell. Also bitter, another favorite Christian slam word used for women, and catty. Amy is all the terrible stereotypes that evangelicals imagine of non-Christian women. She might be independent, but she isn’t happy, not really. She might be living by herself, but she aches and yearns to be in a loving relationship. She might be an atheist, but she is actually hurting inside with a Jesus-sized hole in her heart so she’s pursuing all these other interests trying to fill that hole.
And she is murdered for her audacity and noncompliance.
The movie’s creators give her cancer to up the stakes as much as possible, and Amy is forced to begin treatment for it alone and without any friends or loved ones at her side. Because atheists don’t have friends, I guess? Bereft of any kind of companionship, she turns to Jesus–an atheist in a foxhole, proving that when someone’s in great enough need they’ll be vulnerable enough to seriously consider Christianity’s nonsensical claims. Her reaction to her illness is exactly what evangelicals tend to imagine non-believers’ reactions to such serious diseases would be; they prey upon the vulnerable through hospital/prison/hospice outreach because they are well aware that truly desperate people will go to truly desperate lengths to try to find relief and help. By the time Amy ends up at the concert to blitz-attack the bubblegum pop group going onstage any moment now, she is like a little lost lamb, ripe for slaughter. The Newsboys pounce on her on cue, leading her through a requisite Sinner’s Prayer before taking off for their performance. Seriously, they pray with her and then run away. Hooray! A new soul for the harvest! You gonna be okay? And she nods and weakly affirms that she will, and they’re gone.
Personally, I find such Christians’ predatory behavior revolting. But in God’s Not Dead, we’ll be asked to view it as laudable and praiseworthy–though we’ll talk more about that later.
THE LUKEWARM CHRISTIANS.
1. Josh’s Girlfriend.
The IMDB synopsis says her name is Kara, but I honestly couldn’t remember what it was either. She is blonde, pretty, and incredibly simplistic in both characterization and expression. She tells us through exposition that she is intelligent and chose this second-rate college to be near Josh. She has been with Josh for six years and wears a purity ring, and apparently is one of the few young Christian women who take those pledges seriously because the extent of her affectionate gestures to Josh look more like platonic gestures–hugs, kisses on the cheek, draping herself over his knees at one point as he’s laying on a bench.
Kara is supposed to represent all the false Christians opposing the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ in the story. She exists solely to up the stakes in the debate by constantly restating and underlining just how important this debate is to Josh’s grades in Radisson’s class–and to his future law degree, and therefore to their future together. She is infuriated that he is going ahead with the debate because she’s so sure he’ll lose, and thereby fail Radisson’s class, and end up in a dumpster muttering to himself somewhere about how he coulda been a contenda. There is no rhyme or reason to her complete opposition to Josh’s plans. She’s not being a sweet submissive girlfriend, obviously, but she’s also totally overreacting to the debate itself. You’d think a girl holding herself pure for marriage and getting so excited about a Christian bubblegum pop concert would be totally behind Josh even if he lost. But she isn’t, and we are supposed to despise her and hope they break up and that Josh will go ahead anyway despite the persecution she is offering him.
Mina is Dean Cain’s sister, Professor Radisson’s girlfriend, and the old lady’s daughter. I know she’s supposed to go with the list of TRUE CHRISTIANS™, but she really isn’t. She’s presented as very firm in her beliefs and willing to sacrifice even love for her faith, but gang, she’s having non-marital sex and a very long-term relationship with an anti-theist atheist. She is an empty vessel in a lot of ways; she may indeed need some kind of validation, and she may indeed be seeking that validation from external sources. But she seems so genuinely floored when Pastor Dude squints at her through his very cool hair, cold-reads her and armchair psychoanalyzes her, and finally tells her that Jesus is her validation and loves her much more than a mere boyfriend ever could. It’s such a shocked reaction that I must wonder if she’s also an idiot, since that’s a message that is pushed damned near daily in Christian evangelical circles (and as we mentioned last time, she also seems totally unsure if she’s “unequally yoked” with Radisson, which isn’t something she’d ever wonder about if she was even halfway as fervent as she acts during the argument and dinner party scenes). All of that puts her firmly in the camp of lukewarm Christians by this movie’s definition.
Mina, like the other women in this piece of shit movie, changes whenever the movie needs to propel her to the next plot point. When we first see her she seems like a pretty normal person, but when she argues with her atheist boyfriend Radisson suddenly she’s a very firm Christian with resolute faith. Though utterly undermined and cowed by Radisson in the argument, she suddenly finds the strength to defend her religion later against a room full of tipsy college faculty at her dinner party, though when they insult the wine she serves, she crumples again. The movie wants us to believe that these folks are monsters because they are clearly not Christians rather than because they are boorish assholes, which is closer to reality-land, but Mina (and the movie) clearly sees the problem differently.
When she recounts the argument to Pastor Dude later on at the discount Steak and Shake, she totally mischaracterizes the reason for the argument. In fact, she totally mischaracterizes her entire relationship with Radisson. Is she really that totally out of touch and dishonest to herself? Or is the movie being lazy again? The real truth is that she chose to start an argument about a topic she knew was off-limits, then got upset when the response she got wasn’t the one she wanted (which was total and complete capitulation). I’d agree that Radisson is a terrible boyfriend and certainly guilty on all charges she makes, but the argument they had onscreen doesn’t even half look like what she tells the pastor dude later. Of course, having been in a relationship with a hardcore Christian, I can certainly remember a number of times when I was mischaracterized or something I said got distorted. But the movie wants us to forget that Christians do this too.
THE TRUE CHRISTIANS™.
Korie is the Duck Dynasty dude’s wife. She is tall, thin, and glamorous, with perfect makeup and well-styled blonde hair. She wears expensive-looking clothes and rides shotgun in her werewolf husband’s black luxury SUV. She totally supports her husband in every single respect, which extends to agreeing with all of his opinions and offering none of her own.
The movie asks us to see Korie as the perfect Christian wife, even contrasting her with Josh’s shitty girlfriend who can’t even support him in a lousy college debate with a professor. Kara has opinions and blows up about stuff, while Korie stands by her man and seems totally unflappable when pushed by the reporter lady. Kara is weirdly asexual, while Korie and her husband joke around about impregnating her. Kara is not seen as domestic in any sense of the word, but Korie is totally at ease with the idea of inhabiting her husband’s kitchen.
Korie is, in essence, a Stepford Smiler. We have no idea what inner demons she faces or how she really feels about the reporter’s sneaky leap out at her and her husband. She is “on” all the time; she is selling an image, a product. And I didn’t have to know that she’s a Duck Dynasty reality-show character to see that.
2. Mina and Dean’s mother.
She might be confined to a nursing home and totally senile, as in utterly and completely so, but she rallies at the end to deliver a huge come-to-Jesus speech to her son Dean Cain because she is a Magic Insane Person who somehow manages to say the perfect thing after an entire movie of her being totally non compos mentis. I’m sure that’s a TVTrope somewhere.
Her entire subplot was superfluous to this movie, but that could be said about most of the subplots in this movie. After Dean Cain’s callous breakup with the reporter lady, the whole movie seems to be embarrassed about him and just wants to give his whole subplot a quick token ending to get him out of the way, which means he has to go pester his poor mother after hours in her nursing home or something. Did the come-to-Jesus speech have to come from the mother? No, it could have been some chance encounter with Pastor Dude or another sad white girl (see below). But that’s how inept this movie is; it throws all these characters at the wall hoping something will stick, and obviously that means it needs a crazy prophetess character to speak the truth at the perfect moment to get through to a wayward son.
And what is the great cosmic truth that Dean Cain’s mother comes up with in her sudden moment of blinding clarity? Sometimes Satan makes a person’s life very easy so that person will be less likely to be Christian.
Someone better tell all those prosperity gospel wackadoodles about this newsflash rendering their entire worldview unfalsifiable. The problem is, the people who go in for this kind of movie also go in for prosperity gospel. They think their god lavishly rewards obedience in his followers with material wealth, easy lives, true love, and all that other fun stuff. So which is it here? If someone’s having a good life, is a god making it happen? Or is a demon doing it? Josh is certainly getting beat up pretty badly for most of the movie–is that his god’s doing? Or could it be…. SAY-TAN? Or can we only be sure it’s their god’s doing if it’s happening to a Christian? (Back in my day we thought demons could do that to a Christian, but prosperity gospel’s come a long way since then.)
This movie makes less and less sense the more I think about it, seriously.
3. The secretary at the pastor dude’s office.
She’s Pastor Dude’s office receptionist or something like that at the chapel at Josh’s school. She gets one line about being there for Ayisha when the Muslim girl ends up in tears and understandable distress at the chapel’s office, but she nails that line hard. We know nothing about her except that she is very handy with tissues and very earnest.
Given that the secretary’s reaction to Ayisha’s troubles is to drag her newly-converted ass to a Christian bubblegum pop concert for some rah-rah, I question just how good these folks’ judgment is. Oh, were you surprised? So was I to realize this truth. But the secretary has to have been the one to have taken Ayisha to the concert–Pastor Dude was with the African missionary, you see. Nobody else seems to interact with Ayisha at all; we’re not privy to where the girl spent those few hours between being in that office and ending up at the concert. I refuse to believe even Pastor Dude is as frivolously oblivious as to have just dropped her off there and then left her there alone. Someone had to be there with her. I’m including her in this list because the movie wants us to see her as a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ supporting her new sister in Christ.
4. The very very sad white girl.
She only has one line as well–about being super-super-sad that Ayisha has to wear a hijab. Oh, she’s so very saaaaaad. She’s so sad that she has to walk up to a total stranger and make a judgment about her cultural preferences in clothing. Ayisha might love wearing what she does; the girl doesn’t know either way. It’s weird how people in dominant demographics think that their opinions are so incredibly necessary and valuable that they must be aired the very second they are conceived in mind.
We are meant to see the very very sad white girl as being kind and sympathetic. I saw her as offering a microaggression to someone about something that is totally not her goddamned bidniss.
And by the way, when I did the same exact thing when I was in college in the same exact way, about the same exact garment, and in much the same exact context, I got an earful from the Muslim girl in question about how she liked dressing this way, thankyewverymuch, and it felt natural and totally fine to her to cover her hair, and in addition I got some comparisons to what she thought non-Muslim women might feel like if they stepped outside without wearing, say, a brassiere. It definitely shut me up pretty danged quick. This time around, the white girl happened to run into a Muslim girl who didn’t like her hijab. But she might not have been that lucky.
We’re going to cover the movie’s treatment of non-white people in the next installment of this series, so we’re going to look at Ayisha herself next time because her story overlaps much more with that theme. If you think I sound kind of pissed off now…
So there you have it: TRUE CHRISTIAN™ women are wonderful; they support their husbands all the time no matter what and fulfill their wifely duties with a smile. Atheist women are dishonest and ickie but they will convert if “God” beats them up enough. Lukewarm Christian women are almost as bad as atheists and are not adequate mates for a proper Christian lad. Got it?