The Adjustment Bureau: sexism, racism and terrible writing

Reblogged from with permission.

This movie was such an incredible disappointment. We’re off to a bad start, I know. Maybe I shouldn’t have had such high hopes for The Adjustment Bureau, but I couldn’t help it! Matt Damon plays a young and charismatic politician who accidentally stumbles on the world behind the curtain where he finds out that he and everyone else have no free will, but are merely pawns controlled by The Chairman and the workers at The Adjustment Bureau. It’s like The Matrix meets Stranger Than Fiction meets The Truman Show!

Doesn’t that sound totally awesome? Unfortunately the film falls victim to tired tropes and heaps of sexism and racism. Where do I even begin? First, it fails the Bechdel Test by a LONG shot. If you’re unfamiliar with the Bechdel Test, all a film needs to pass is at least two female characters with names who talk to each other about something other than a man (watch this video about the Bechdel Test, it’s shocking how many movies fail).

Second, the film makes use of the “Black Angel” trope, where a black character is given impossible magic powers which she or he uses only to help a white character. In this film, the black member of The Adjustment Bureau (played by Anthony Mackie) betrays his supervisor and uses his powers to help Matt Damon get to Emma Blunt, the female lead. Hilariously, Matt Damon asks him at one point “are you an angel?”

Other films that use this trope are The Legend of Bagger Vance (Matt Damon is saved again!), The Green Mile, and The Matrix. If you want to learn more about the use of this trope in American films, I strongly suggest you read chapter 5 of Black Magic: White Hollywood and African American Culture by Krin Gabbard. You can download the chapter here.

Third, the film makes use of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” trope. Anita Sarkesian made a great video about this trope so I’m just going to send you there to watch that.

And then there’s the rest of the sexism. Ok, first of all, The Adjustment Bureau is staffed entirely by men. There wasn’t even a female extra hanging around the bureau. That means that the world in this film is literally run by men. It’s hard to interpret that any other way. Then, there’s a point where Matt Damon is told he must choose between being with Emily Blunt (the manic pixie dream girl) and becoming the president. He is told that if he stays with Emily that she will “rub off on him” and that “a loose cannon can’t be president.” Never mind the fact that Emily Blunt’s character has a successful career as an artist and a dancer which requires years of discipline and training, she’s too emotional to be president. Curse this lady-brain!

And there’s the rest of the racism. This movie brutally tokenizes people of all colours. While there are many different races working at the Bureau, it’s always a white guy in charge, and it’s a white guy who is our main point of contact to the bureau. Just look at that screen shot from the movie above! Also, not surprisingly considering this movie’s track record, women of colour are completely absent.

The craziest thing about all of this is how obviously they tried to cover their butts. It’s as if they cast a bunch of white guys for the Bureau members and then were like, “oh, we should probably throw in some people who aren’t white to even things out.” Also, at the end of the film when Mackie is talking about God The Chairman he slips in, “you’ve met him… or her.” I must admit I did crack a smile at the thought of a lady Chairman overseeing all the dudes who run the world in The Adjustment Bureau.

Wow, that was a really long review. Thanks for sticking with me there. I’d love to hear your thoughts on The Adjustment Bureau. Did you see it? Did you like it? Tell me about it in the comments.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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