September 16, 2019
Brad Pitt’s saga is the latest sci-fi film to fall back on stereotypes of heroic men and emotional women
Fly men to the moon: Ad Astra and the toxic masculinity of space films
Brad Pitt has not minced his words while talking about his new space epic Ad Astra, in which he plays a stoic, closed-off astronaut with daddy issues. “What we were really digging at … was this definition of masculinity,” he recently stated, and lamented “having grown up in an era where we were taught to be strong, not show weakness, don’t be disrespected”. That is bang on-message with #MeToo Hollywood, but Ad Astra also brings home how gendered the space film has always been.
Factually minded films from this genre – The Right Stuff, Apollo 13, First Man – have had little choice but to reflect the male-dominated reality, but men have also dominated the more far-fetched solo missions (Moon, The Martian) and team efforts such as 2001 or Space Cowboys. The latter hit the nail on the head. The final frontier was an extension of the wild western one: a realm of macho ruggedness, where any hint of emotion could jeopardise the mission. This was man’s work; Women could make do with “concerned wife back on Earth” roles. And if this made for somewhat dull heroes, blame Nasa’s psychological screening programme. Women in space have often been overstated counters to all this testosterone: emotional, intuitive, vulnerable; more likely to be found in their underwear. Think of Sandra Bullock and her zero-gravity tears in Gravity, or Jodie Foster in Contact. Even Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley started off as a vulnerable female (in her underwear) in Alien.
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