'Blade Runner 2049' Director Defends The Film's Treatment Of Women

After seeing director Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi sequel Blade Runner 2049, some viewers took issue with the movie's depiction of its female characters. The main story revolves around a male Replicant (Ryan Gosling's Agent K) and his quest for another (Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard) to learn the truth about his origins, and the movie's women are often relegated to minor supporting players, holograms, or sex workers.

Now the filmmaker has responded to critiques of the way he portrayed women in the movie. Is his response good enough to change your mind?

Speaking with Vanity Fair, Villeneuve spoke about his movie's treatment of its female characters:

I am very sensitive to how I portray women in movies. This is my ninth feature film and six of them have women in the lead role. The first Blade Runner was quite rough on the women; something about the film noir aesthetic. But I tried to bring depth to all the characters. For Joi, the holographic character, you see how she evolves. It's interesting, I think.

What is cinema? Cinema is a mirror on society. Blade Runner is not about tomorrow; it's about today. And I'm sorry, but the world is not kind on women.

There's a sense in American cinema: you want to portray an ideal world. You want to portray a utopia. That's good—dreams for a better world, to advocate for something better, yes. But if you look at my movies, they are exploring today's shadows. The first Blade Runner is the biggest dystopian statement of the last half century. I did the follow-up to that, so yes, it's a dystopian vision of today. Which magnifies all the faults. That's what I'll say about that.

He raises some good points there. He did inherit a cinematic world in which the original movie's main character was awfully rapey toward a Replicant in a key sequence, so it's not exactly a cheery outlook for women decades later in that universe. Robin Wright's slick, no-nonsense Lt. Joshi is a fine example of a female character who felt like a person with agency and her own inner life in the sequel, although she wasn't given much to do overall. The most significant complaints seem to be around Joi, the hologram character played by Ana De Armas, and Mackenzie Davis's Mariette, who is used as a sex surrogate in a scene with Gosling's K. Sylvia Hoeks plays Jared Leto's right-hand woman, who is a far more interesting character than Leto and has much more to do than he does. And remember, the heart of the film is about a father being reunited with his daughter. (To say more would  spoil things.)

When I saw it in theaters, I didn't have too many objections to the way the Blade Runner 2049 women characters were treated. But I'm always up for hearing multiple interpretations, and much of the criticism of the film that I've read since has pointed at that as a significant downside to the movie. I look forward to watching it again through that lens, but I do think Villeneuve brings up some fascinating points. As civilized society becomes more and more woke, what responsibility does a filmmaker have to depict women (or minorities, or oppressed people, etc.) in an idealized way? Where is the cultural line between depiction and endorsement? Ultimately, I think the fact that we're still talking about this at all, months after the movie's release, is a testament to Blade Runner 2049's legacy: it's a movie that gives us plenty to think about.