This weekend, moviegoers flocked to Wonder Woman, the story of a warrior princess of divine origin who leaves her island of women to help Chris Pine end World War I. DC Comics’ Diana is outspoken without being bawdy, tough without being cruel, just without being self-righteous. She is the perfect celluloid hero for an age of shattered hope and intact glass ceilings. To gild this feminist bedtime story, the film’s monster $200 million opening weekend means it’s now the highest-grossing opening weekend for a film directed by a woman. The previous record holder was Fifty Shades of Grey.
Meanwhile, far from Themyscira, another woman preceded by her own mythos tried her hand at wrangling the lasso of truth. But things didn’t go so well for her.
Megyn Kelly’s much-hyped interview with Vladimir Putin aired Sunday during the debut of her new show on NBC. It’s not fair to say the interview landed with a thud; thuds are often disruptive and occasionally important. More accurately, the interview landed with a whimper.
Feminists have long had a complicated relationship with Megyn Kelly. On one hand, she’s a woman who improbably climbed the slime-soaked ladder at Fox News, a person who isn’t afraid to confront and humiliate apoplectic men, be it on her former Fox show or on the stage of a presidential primary debate. She’s stood up for maternity leave, spoken eloquently about sexual assault victims, and working mothers. But then there was the whole “Santa was white” thing. And her strange obsession with the New Black Panthers. And her silence during the Ailes scandal, and the fact that she withheld some anecdotes about Donald Trump—anecdotes that could have been materially important to some voters—until her book was published on the day after the election.
And, of course, there’s the fact that Kelly herself has said that she doesn’t like the label “feminist.” She told Stephen Colbert that she finds it alienating. Like Kellyanne Conway and Ivanka Trump, Megyn Kelly is a great example of the benefits of feminism, but not a great example of the work of feminism.
No matter one’s opinion of her, watching the days-long pummeling that Kelly suffered at the hands of Putin was rough. On Friday, in front of a panel of gathered world leaders and members of the media at an economic forum in St. Petersburg on Friday, Putin suggested Kelly “take a pill” for her “hysteria,” reminiscent of President Trump’s famous “blood from her wherever” line in early 2016.
On Sunday, Putin continued to bat Kelly around like a bored cat. He wriggled away from some questions, and responded to others like a surly teenage boy getting chewed out by a substitute teacher. His suspiciously plump face clenched into the semi-smirk his Restylane-fat and botox habit allows. Kelly threw softballs, Putin threw fireballs. The 11-minute segment was padded with B-roll and Kelly voiceovers.
“Do you even understand what you’re asking?” the Russian president scoffed at one point, complementing Megyn Kelly’s imagination. He may as well patted her on the head. And that’s one of the bits that made the cut.
Putin’s half of the interview was a symphony of sexist condescension. Kelly’s half was rolling over and showing her belly. The whole thing left the viewer feeling both bored and discouraged. Instant ennui.
Wonder Woman evoked the opposite feeling in critics and audiences. Screenings across the country sold out. It’s well-acted, well-shot, and well-paced. It’s the sort of movie grown women wish had existed when they were little girls. Not even—gasp—male interlopers at women-only screenings of the film in New York City could ruin the festive mood. I accidentally made eye contact with a man who was waiting in line for tickets outside a theater in Manhattan this weekend. He looked at me with an expression that I’d imagine would have been aimed at women across the country on November 9 if Hillary had won the election. He was proud. He was helping.
That Kelly interviewed Putin on the same weekend that Wonder Woman opened worldwide is pure coincidence, but the juxtaposition of the two events paints an accidental picture of the aspirations of women in 2017 versus their reality. Onscreen, the camera can linger on a woman’s rippling lats (not her breasts) as she fights her way through a battalion of foes. She can elegantly flick male scorn aside with a perfect bon mot. She can slash through low expectations, her triumph over adversity that one time enough to convince her doubters that she’s worthy of respect moving forward.
Megyn Kelly’s meh-fest of an interview with Putin shows a few of things. First, that Megyn Kelly not a very good interviewer, and is probably a victim of high expectations. Second, even women who have access to every available advantage and privilege can’t expect a basic level of respect from a certain ilk. And third, that ilk is seen as aspirational for a large portion of the population, both here in the U.S. and overseas. Pop culture that feels victorious to consume doesn’t take away from that fact. It’s a real bummer.
Next Sunday, Kelly will take on another famous misogynist, Infowars’ sputtering tomato-person Alex Jones. If it goes anything like the Putin interview, audiences would be well-served to spend their time on something more valuable. Like tuning up their invisible airplanes.
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