Here is my long and overdue review of the semi-newly released film Moxie, directed and produced by Amy Poehler. Originally based on Jennifer Mathieu’s 2017 novel, Netflix’s new “feminist” movie falls short, as usual.
The movie begins with Vivian, a sheltered cis-gender white girl applying to college. She is struggling to answer the essay question on her college application, “Reflect on a cause you feel passionate about. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took to make a change.” Relatively oblivious to the ongoing issues at her school, she blends in with the shadows along with her friend Claudia.
A new girl Lucy joins the school, and Mitchell, one of the popular jocks, begins harassing her. He talks over her in class and sexualizes Lucy’s looks. Vivian reaches a breaking point when she sees him stand too close to Lucy, invading her space and spitting in her soda. Vivan’s white savior mentality kicks in thinking she can help Lucy. She creates feminist zines and puts them in the girls’ bathrooms titled “Moxie.” The title inspired by her own mom’s feminist group in the 80s. This encourages her young peers, especially girls of color, femme presenting individuals, disabled kids, and trans kids to take stands against the misogynistic behavior exhibited by their male classmates.
Vivian’s character flaws
While there certainly is a diverse cast, the film still centers around a white cis girl trying to find her way in a world that largely benefits her. The whole reason she started these feminist zines was hoping to prevent the harassment Lucy was facing. This white savior narrative of thinking she could save Lucy without even asking how she could support her is an example of what often happens within the feminist community. Vivian’s whiteness protects her from the target of major harassment at her school. Which allowed her to create these zines and go unnoticed.
As soon as news of the zines spread, everyone immediately blamed Lucy. Because she is outspoken and bold, people assumed she created them. No one ever suspected someone as quiet and sweet as Vivian would be responsible for them. This plays into how white women portray themselves as meek and kind. They hold an “innocence” to them that is often weaponized against marginalized people. Note white women’s tears. Our privilege is accepting the image of goodness which can translate into “powerlessness.” The moment a Black woman or any woman of color defends herself by calling out inappropriate behavior towards them is when they are labeled as “difficult” or “making a big deal.” White women historically can get away with countless harmful actions.
This is why Moxie may be a poor example of intersectional feminism not only for this forced narrative. However, it calls out toxic white feminism for what it is. A white savior complex with inherent “goodness” indoctrinated into it. I am honestly not sure if this is what Amy Poehler was aiming for, exposing the hypocrisy of “woke feminists,” or if she actually thought this was a good example of intersectional feminism today. As a whole Vivian lacks depth and understanding of her peers’ experiences. Especially her friends who do not benefit from the system rooted in white supremacy and white privilege.
Accountability and performative activism
It is not until the end of the movie that Vivian realizes what she did wrong. However, she does not acknowledge the advantages she has as a white woman. It does not feel as though she has overcome that savior attitude. For instance, Claudia, Vivian’s Asian-American best friend does not have access to the same advantages or freedom of expression as she does. Vivian learned from her mom how to become a feminist through her mom’s old punk collection of zines, leather jackets, and pins. Essentially, involved in “performative activism.” This type of activism is vocal but certainly not impactful. For instance, the zines have actions to take each day to stand up for change in school.
On one day, students would draw stars and hearts on their hands to support the cause. Those who are “sick of the status quo.” While the need for change is there, I can’t help but think of the performative activism done during the height of the Black Lives Matter Movement with posting Black squares on social media. Sure, you support the movement and want to make a change, but what other actions are you willing to take? It is not enough to make a genuine change or even encourage any.
Varying socioeconomic backgrounds
The school cites a student for a dress code violation because of her exposed cleavage. The group wears tank tops in protest of the dress code. When Claudia shows up without a tank top it upset Vivian. Wondering why Claudia would not support their classmate, a victim of the oppressive school standards. The issue here is she failed to consider Claudia’s strict home life. When Claudia attempts to leave the house in a tank top her mom yells at her forcing her to take it off.
It is certainly not a lack of trying, but simply a difference in socioeconomic backgrounds between the two girls. However, Vivian does not understand this. She thinks Claudia does not believe in what she is doing. She becomes hostile towards Claudia without considering the privilege she has. I would like to say we cannot blame Vivian for being a new feminist with a lack of experience. However, I want to highlight this action was in fact performative. The discriminatory dress code policies did not magically change. Support could follow appealing to the school board or principal with actions to change these rules. Not bullying your friend into something they could not do.
When the principal grills Claudia on who the leader of Moxie was, she ends up taking the fall for it. She is suspended from school. When Vivian finds out she visits Claudia, upset she took the fall for her. Claudia says “You made me feel bad when I wasn’t doing enough. You don’t get it Viv, you don’t get what’s going on with me because you’re white.” Vivian immediately becomes defensive due to her white feminist mentality. Her meager apology at the end of the movie is not enough to hold herself accountable. She never acknowledges her white privilege.
In the end
Let’s talk about the poorly executed queer scene. The part where Lucy kisses one of the girls on the sports team. As a queer person myself, the scene felt forced and generated with a lack of effort. Lunging at a girl for a kiss without consent? Expecting her to automatically like it?
While the characters are desperately trying to make a change within their school, and unapologetically radical and bold, I don’t think this is a good movie to influence young feminists. While we all have made our fair share of mistakes as activists and unlearning certain behaviors requires growth, we do not want young feminists starting off on the wrong foot. Especially one that promotes toxic and harmful behavior. Many feminists are still trying to unlearn their own prejudices. The last thing we need is to influence young feminists in believing most behavior exhibited in this movie is acceptable.
Perhaps Amy Pholer was simply pointing ot the hypocrisies of white feminism that may not be so apparent to younger audiences. This is why this movie can become a problem.
If you are a young feminist or someone who is starting their activism within the movement, I suggest watching timeless classics like Legally Blonde, Miss Congeniality, She’s Gotta Have It, Set It Off, and Paris is Burning (documentary). Just to name a few. These provide an intersectional outlook on feminism and staying true to yourself. If anything, Moxie is an excellent blueprint on what not to do as a feminist.