Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020), doubles as both a fun action movie, and a fierce assertion of the female gaze in the male-dominated superhero genre.
Viewers will know Harley Quinn from David Ayer’s appallingly bad Suicide Squad (2016), in which Margot Robbie conquered the bad writing and leering male gaze to become the star of the show. After Suicide Squad cemented her star power, Robbie leveraged her influence to pitch and produce an all-female spin off, and lobby for a female director (Cathy Yan) and female writer (Christina Hodson).
Five years later, Birds of Prey arrives, chronicling Harley Quinn’s recovery from her abusive, co-dependent relationship with the Joker (as depicted by Jared Leto in Suicide Squad), and her journey to find herself and her power, independent of any man. Just as Harley strives to find her voice without the toxic presence of the Joker, so too do Yan and Hodson, firmly departing from the male-d0minated, sexist narrative of Suicide Squad, and asserting their own, distinctive female voices by telling the story of a group of women uniting against the patriarchy. You only need to compare the costume design and cinematography between the two films to note how far we’ve come. While Suicide Squad had Harley dressed in lingerie, regularly objectified in leering shots of her bum and boobs, Birds of Prey costume designer Erin Benach put Harley in bright, colourful clothes that emphasise her fiery personality, while also being practical for fighting.