Monday, April 25, 2011

Gender in Gangster Films

The gangster genre is a masculine dominated film genre. In most gangster films, the main character is typically a male. This could be due to the fact that the most popular demographic for film viewers is a male between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four. Women in most gangster films usually tend to play a small role in the film. This could be due to the fact to the time period in which the film takes place. For instance, some gangster films take place during the Prohibition Era in the United States. Unfortunately, women were of low status during this time period. Wives of gangsters tend to have less control over their husbands, but women sometimes have an impact.
In Goodfellas, Henry Hill’s wife Karen has absolutely no control over Henry's actions. In one scene, Henry comes home late and opens the door to an angry and emotion Karen. As she begins to question him about his whereabouts, he just laughs at her and leaves. However, she turns out to be the only person Henry can trust towards the end of the film. In the film Public Enemies, the girlfriend of the main character, John Dillinger, has more of a presence throughout the film.  When Dillinger was not out robbing banks, he was spending time with his girlfriend Billie. Though Dillinger was faced with being arrested multiple times, he would risk it to see Billie. He never treated Billie as an object and he never took her for granted. 
Another character from the gangster genre that had more control over her husband compared to most of the wives in gangster films is Sharon Stone’s character from the film Casino. Stone plays the character Ginger McKenna. In the film she is described as one of Las Vegas’ best female hustlers. She knew how to work people in order to get what she wants. She marries Robert De Niro’s character Sam Rothstein who is the head of the Tangier’s Casino. The two endure an intense and emotional marriage. They would constantly get into domestic disputes. On one occasion she took their child and ran away with her former low life pimp. In another scene, Sam caught her talking on the phone about killing him or wanting him dead. Even with all of these conflicts, De Niro’s character always took her back. She had some sort of power over him. De Niro’s character explains his reasonings for taking her back was the fact that she’s the mother of his child and for that reason he will always love her. Her power and control fades after she admits to being with Sam’s best friend, and mobster, Nicki. Finally, at the end of the film they separate and she ends up dying from an overdose.
Women have gone through many stages throughout the course of gangster films. From the beginning that this genre was made to the present, they have made a larger impact in the movie itself. Women are portrayed as more of a vital role to aiding their gangster husband or boyfriend. Hopefully soon there will be a movie based solely on a gangster who is a woman.

Binggeli, E. (2009). Worse than bad: Sanctuary, the hays office and the genre of abjection. Arizona quarterly: A journal of american literature, culture, and theory , 65 (3), 87-116.

Brauer, S. (2001). An aesthetics of crime. American quarterly , 53 (3), 535-547.

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