The Lego Movie with a Feminist Aftertaste

A cleverly hilarious film, yet am I seeing sexism everywhere?

When I first saw the trailer, I classified The Lego Movie as not even worth my time — a small speck on my ‘movies-to-see’ radar. But then every colleague and friend came back from theaters raving about the laughs, the storyline, the animation... Even Rotten Tomatoes scored the film a 96%. How could I resist raising my expectations?

And I did end up enjoying the movie: it’s fun and funky, filled with pop culture references, quirky gags, and creative Lego innovations.

Yet, during the credits, when my boyfriend turned and expectantly looked at me, I couldn’t tell him any of the good thoughts because I had this bad aftertaste that had built up during the movie. I wasn’t even sure how to explain my iffy gut reaction, and I definitely didn’t want to try in front of our friends because I was worried that they would judge or criticize me for the way I felt.

So instead, I hope to purge the aftertaste here through Medium, by articulating my thoughts with all of you.

Just, FYI, there are definitely spoilers below…

Wyldstyle (the female sidekick) is introduced to the audience as “tough as nails”, independent and clever. Her first words, “Come with me if you wanna not die” impress upon us that she’s incredibly badass.

Or so we think.

As the movie progressed, Wyldstyle began to disappoint me in several ways. Despite her Master Builder skills, she begins to turn into more of a cheerleader than an actual leader. She has the skills and the brains to save the world, but she lacks self-confidence. And it isn’t clear why. Maybe lack of “implicit endorsement” has left Wyldstyle insecure, even though she is clearly more skilled and experienced than Emmet (the protagonist) at the beginning of the movie.

And I think this is a problem faced by a lot of young girls in our world: knowing they have the knowledge and ability, but lacking the confidence to lead.

Throughout the movie, it felt as if Wyldstyle wasn’t being taken seriously by herself or by others, even though she had a lot of value to add. For example, one of the first real conversations we see between Emmet and Wyldstyle is when she is attempting to explain why the world is in trouble. Instead of listening, Emmett zones out, seeing Wyldstyle’s face in blurry slow motion, uttering “blah blahblah blah”.

The entire audience burst out laughing — I did too — but what message is that sending to young children? That it’s okay not to pay attention because there’s a pretty face? Or that the pretty face might not have anything important to say so its okay to ignore? Even Wyldstyle’s frustration with being ignored was considered humorous, not an emotion to be taken seriously.

I think that moment may have hurt more because it hit closer to home. I always wonder if people are taking what I’m saying seriously, and I know quite often that they are not. Perhaps, part of the reason why that moment is so funny is because the audience knows that it happens in real life. But even if that is the case, I wish The Lego Movie hadn’t deemed it acceptable or attempted to make this interaction between a guy and a girl mainstream.

Lily Aldrin from ‘How I Met Your Mother’

Furthermore, Emmet converts the ‘blah blahs’ and Wyldstyle’s frustrations into “I’m so pretty. I like you… But I’m angry with you for some reason.”

But those sort of publicized thoughts are exactly what entail our current culture. Wyldstyle is angry with Emmet and as of that moment, she did not like Emmet at all. The fact that Emmet ignores how she truly feels and only hears what he wants to hear indicates that he doesn’t take Wyldstyle or her feelings seriously. And by making that into a gag, it felt to me as if we are passively condoning Emmet’s behavior. Trust me, I would’ve had just as much of an issue with the situation if it had been a woman ignoring a guy because of her attraction for him. That’s never an excuse for one’s behavior.

This interpretation might be me reading too much into what was written, but I think awareness of how that movie made me feel uncomfortable cannot be a bad thing. Also, I sincerely doubt I’m the only one who felt uncomfortable witnessing that moment in the movie.

And I can keep going with the parts that made me uneasy:

On the verge of the credits, Wyldstyle’s boyfriend Batman tells her, “He [Emmet] is the hero you deserve,” as if Wyldstyle is a “prize to be won” [ReelGirl]. As if it is universally accepted that if you are the protagonist (usually the male lead) who finishes the quest successfully, then you will get the love interest (usually the woman).

Now, I understand that Batman had to say that line, that it was a reference (I’m not ignorant and well-versed on Batman). I also realize that Wyldstyle chose Emett; he was obviously the better choice because he saw her true self. But in order to make room for Wyldstyle as Emmet’s love interest, a large portion of her screentime was focused on her relationship drama. Thus, much of Wyldstyle’s attention was focused on her love life instead of the world that she could’ve been potentially saving.

Unfortunately, these cliches about a male hero’s reward and woman’s romantic drama are continuously fed to the world’s children all the time, and I’m honestly fed up!

Just to be clear, I am not ignoring the great characteristics of Wyldstyle. She hijacks the television station, helps motivate the rest of society to begin fighting back, is a Master Builder, and shows off crazy killer fighting skills. Yet, those traits honestly just made me disappointed to find out that there was no good reason she wasn’t the hero the whole time, especially considering the prophecy ended up being fake.

So despite the great opportunity for a female hero, Wyldstyle is primarily classified as the love interest and the hero’s cheerleader.

This movie would have been the perfect opportunity for Lego to address and perhaps solve their well-publicized issues with gender representation in their toys.

Unfortunately, Wyldstyle is the strongest female character in the movie by far. And you’ve already seen how I felt about her role.

The first woman we see in the movie is Emmett’s neighbor, a “cat lady”. Next, we see a few female construction workers, about a one in four ratio. The one female construction worker that we meet (out of four) is Gale, and her descriptor is she’s “perky”. Every assistant and receptionist in the movie is female. When we reach the old west, all female characters are either performing on stage or serving in the saloon. When we meet the Master Builders, the only female characters are Cleopatra, Wonder Woman, the Statue of Liberty, a Mermaid, a flashback pirate character, and uni-kitty (if you ignore the fact that she’s a cat/unicorn more than human). Out of these characters (excluding uni-kitty), Wonder Woman only had two short lines and the mermaid had one. Meeting the Star Wars characters later, Princess Leia is absent (but then again, so is Luke).

Finally, in the live-action scenes, the mom is cooking dinner, while the father and son bond over Legos downstairs. I don’t understand why the sister couldn’t have been the one who was having the bonding moment with her father, while she orchestrated the entire operation. Or maybe her brother and her could have been building and playing together.

In addition, at the end, was the sister considered to be a destroyer of Lego fun probably because she’s young but maybe also because she is a girl? It was un-satisfingly unclear.

Why couldn’t we have seen this movie from his sister’s point of view? Why couldn’t Wyldstyle have been the hero? Why weren’t there more women in the movie? Honestly, any ONE of those choices would have made a huge impact on how I viewed the film.

While the Lego movie does have a positive message about innovation and collaboration, my above concerns kept me from fully enjoying the movie.

Hopefully, the sequel will pick up on these flaws and understand my criticism, resulting in an actual “Everything is Awesome” Lego Movie.

P.S. I wrote this article in a rush just blurting out all my thoughts and I kinda just ranted as things occurred to me. Sources below (recommended articles). I’ve only seen the movie once so I’m sure I’d be able to think of even more things if I watched it again.

P.P.S Just a general sidenote: this whole article has made me reminiscent of how sad I felt when I found out that J.K. Rowling made Harry a boy because she knew that only with a male protagonist would the books reach a wider audience. ☹

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