Why Moxie Misses The Point of Feminism
As a devoted Amy Poehler fan, I was excited to hear about her directorial debut. Moxie is a coming of age story about Vivian being inspired by her mom's rebellious past and a confident new friend. This shy 16 year-old publishes an anonymous zine calling out sexism at her high school. When I read the description of the film I had two initial thoughts: 1. This should be witty and 2. This will be about white feminism. I was right about both. In Amy Poehler fashion, there were some truly redeemable and enjoyable moments about this film that were quirky, witty and overall made me chuckle due to it being relatable. However, these beautiful pockets of moments were overshadowed by my disappointment.
In 2021, Amy Poehler and the writers of this film had been given the opportunity to redefine history. A history that is riddled with black women being overshadowed by their white counterparts and the work they do being unrecognized. In my opinion, this movie opened the door for inclusivity and intersectional feminism but they only cracked open the door. Which is grossly misleading and disappointing.
The movie is based off of the novel Moxie written by Jennifer Mathieu. Throughout the film, the main character Vivian struggles with witnessing sexism and misogyny around her but her introvertedness restricts her from rebelling against this. She even witnesses a new student named Lucy, an Afro-Latina girl, get bullied by the football team quarterback Mitchell, played by Patrick Schwarzenegger, for her expressions to diversify the readings in their English class.
Eventually, Vivian captures the revolutionary spirit that her mother, played by Amy Poehler, once had in her youth and starts making feminist zines. The sexism in the film is very in your face and comes from many angles. It comes from men and women, especially the woman principal. She goes out of her way to reinforce order. From this publication, a girl group forms in their efforts to stick up for each other in ways that only get bigger as the movie progresses.
To me, it felt like Vivian capitalized on the experiences of her friends that are women of color in order to propel this movement forward. Characters like Lucy are seen as the ones truly taking a stand publicly which arguably gets even more attention for the movement. It also seems like Vivian doesn’t begin to get bothered by sexism until it begins affecting other white women, for example a young girl was sent home for wearing a tank top that broke their school’s dress code while another flat-chested girl wore a tank top and did not get in trouble. It goes to reveal the issues within white feminism. She’s only upset when it affects her and once it does, she hitches onto the wheels of the work being carried by feminists of color.
Aside from this true disgrace, one of the moments I enjoyed was the B story of the romance between Vivian and Seth, played by Nico Hiraga. It felt refreshing to me that their love story wasn’t the main plot. The story remained focused on the feminist journey while touching on this side story of a boy that is a feminist and is very supportive of the movement.
While saying this, there are a few parts that truly bugged me about this couple. The couple has a cute flirtation and natural chemistry. Their first intimate moment together is when he decides to take her to a funeral home where they pick out caskets. I have definitely never heard of this date idea but then it gets weirder. They get into one of the caskets together and listen to music side by side, sharing the headphones. This is a bold choice that is very strange and a little creepy. This intimate moment shared between them is adorable but definitely could’ve still happened without being inside of a casket. This detail was totally unnecessary to move the plot forward.
Also, the film ends without any type of closure on this couple. Vivian explodes into a feminist rant, totally projecting onto Seth without any type of apology. Seth tells her that he is bothered by this especially since he has always been supportive of her, which is totally accurate, and then it feels like nothing resolves. The characters part and they don’t have another set of dialogue again. At the end of the film, they share a look but that’s it. Maybe the ending was intended to not be a fairytale where she is swooped up by her knight in shining armor but as a viewer, I fell in love with this couple and received no pay off in the end. Do they get back together? Do they stay apart while Vivian works on saving the world, one white feminist at a time?
The supporting actresses I feel like carried the entire film. They are the ones that truly take a stand to move things along and it’s a shame that they are more interesting as fleshed out characters than the main character. They even chant “si se puede” which means yes you can. The non-white characters are huge parts of what pushes the entire movement forward and this is shown in the film but not enough.
Another plot line that was important but was left incomplete was her best friend since they were four years old named Claudia, played by Lauren Tsai. She is a first generation Asian teenager who is goal-oriented and focused on going to college since her mother immigrated to the U.S. for her to have the opportunity to do so. Claudia’s expression of feminism is more reserved due to the fact that she is limited by her fear of getting in trouble.
Claudia’s reservations to rebelling are totally valid since she is not in a position of privilege to express herself in this manner. However, Vivian doesn’t understand this. She gets upset with Claudia for her lack of support without trying to understand where Claudia is coming from. Later in the film, Claudia gets suspended from school because of her support of the movement. This causes Claudia to tell Vivian that “You don’t get what’s going on with me because you’re white.”
Vivian is appalled by this comment. I think it is because it is one of the first times that she is being questioned directly for her beliefs. This moment was crucial to the film but was once again a missed opportunity. Never does Vivian go back to apologize to Claudia and try to understand her side of things. She doesn’t even make an effort to fix her wrongs. She proceeds to cause more damage in the name of white feminism and then of course, Claudia is there to support her. It is exhausting to see women of color used in this plot as a backboard for white expression.
Overall, It maintains a lot of basic white feminism but I also have to give credit to the efforts made to include intersectionality. I just wish that the “main character” was a person of color and was at the forefront of telling this story rather than another coming of age story with a privileged white girl. The movie is well written in the way that it captures all of the awkward moments that so often occur in high school interactions.
REPORTER: Jayda Graham, The Voice
Cast: Hadley Robinson, Nico Hiraga, Amy Poehler, Alycia Pascual, Lauren Tsai, Patrick Schwarzenegger, etc. Director: Amy Poehler Screenplay: Tamara Chestna & Dylan Meyer Producers: Amy Poehler, Kim Lessing & Morgan Sackett A Netflix original initially released on March 3, 2021. 110 minutes.