Birds of Prey Director Cathy Yan Talks About “Rejecting the Male Gaze”

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) hit theaters last month and is currently the third-highest rated movie in the latest batch of DC films on Rotten Tomatoes. The new movie stars Margot Robbie in the titular role and follows the character as she navigates her newfound independence after breaking up with the Joker. An important part of the character's transformation includes the costumes, which were much less "male gaze-y" than what Robbie previously wore in Suicide Squad. Birds of Prey was very clearly made by women for women, and director Cathy Yan definitely put a lot of thought into the way Harley Quinn and the other women would be perceived onscreen. In a recent New York Times article, multiple women directors explained how they rejected the male gaze in their films, including Yan.

The New York Times mentions the scene that features Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) forcing a woman in his club to get on a table and strip. Here's what Yan had to say about the moment: "We were pretty conscious not to muddy what the scene was meant to be about, by not offering anything remotely vulnerable or titillating," she explained. "There are choices like that which felt very deliberate; we were making sure we were protecting our female actors, even in a scene that was about humiliation." She added that other choices were more intuitive, saying, "It was less, 'I'm going to unpack and reject the male gaze of every director who's come before me' and more of an unconscious, innate reaction about what feels right." It was important to Yan to keep the camera on her actors' faces. "That's where you tell the story," Yan said. "'Look up here! I'm talking to you!'"

In a recent interview with The New Yorker, Yan spoke about the "sizzle reel" she made to pitch her vision for the film, which she assures was "not your typical sizzle reel". The montage was set to a homemade remix of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" (a song that ultimately made it into one of Birds of Prey's most memorable sequences), and tried to illustrate "the worst of modern womanhood."

"Like, scenes from Bachelor proposals, the De Beers diamond commercial, Kim Kardashian's vampire facial, Fox anchors talking about women, Trump saying 'Grab 'em by the p*ssy'," Yan explained. "After I showed the video, there was just silence."

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is in theaters now. Other upcoming DC movies include Wonder Woman 1984 on June 5th, The Batman on June 25, 2021, The Suicide Squad on August 6, 2021, Black Adam on December 22, 2021, Shazam! 2 on April 1, 2022, The Flash on July 1, 2022, and Aquaman 2 on December 16, 2022.