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Going Back and Forth On Representation and ‘Magic Mike XXL’

Going Back and Forth On Representation and 'Magic Mike XXL'

There’s been a lot of discussion about representation of gender and sexuality in “Magic Mike XXL” since it opened last week, but so far box office for the film has been disappointing. So /bent’s Peter Knegt and Oliver Skinner decided to throw their own conversational hat on the stage in an effort to get folks out to see “XXL” over its second weekend (what, do you really want to see “Minions” instead?). 

Oliver Skinner: So what was our initial response to the sultry odyssey that was “Magic Mike XXL”? We saw it on the opening Saturday, which proved appropriate as we stepped out from the theater with the final shot of Independence Day fireworks reflected in Mr. Tatum’s pupils as the kick-off image for our own 4th of July evenings. But I think one of the first observations that left either of our mouths was that it felt like it took place away from the present, in some kind of topsy-turvy post-world where any prejudiced social constructs we’re used to are, deliberately, hidden away behind that Florida sunset. We experience the film voyaging along with Channing Tatum and his jacked-up merry band of bros, including Matt Bomer and Joe Manganiello, but they appear hyperaware to any borderline-discriminatory personas one might typically associate with that genre of road trip. The first stop on their route is a beachside gay bar where each of the guys enthusiastically storm the stage upon the announcement of a voguing competition. It’s been their tradition as long as they’ve traveled to the massive Myrtle Beach stripper convention that is the flick’s ultimate destination. So that was a pleasant start to a surprisingly minority-sensitive adventure. 

Peter Knegt: It was a pleasant start indeed. Even knowing going into it from a few reviews that were quick to call it “revolutionary” it its themes of female pleasure and lack of queer panic, I was kind of blown away by what a strange and occasionally downright experimental film “Magic Mike XXL” is. I mean, it’s a studio-made film starring an A-list sex symbol that was released in 3,000 theaters on Fourth of July weekend. And it’s basically a plotless series of scenes where either a) hot guys talk about their feelings or b) they offer the empowered female characters whatever the fuck they want — whether via stripping or just being sensitive to their desires. All the while never once exhibiting an iota of homophobia, even implicitly. Say what you want about the state of Hollywood, but “Magic Mike XXL” goes against all ‘dem grains.

OS: It’s such a compelling but not unforeseeable phenomenon. There’s a cinema in my hometown which has been operating since way before I poked my head into the world, and it’s never produced longer lines than the ones up the street for the 2012 opening weekend of the original “Magic Mike.” In a multitude of ways it rights the wrongs of its sister film of the year, the other mega motion picture targeted at a female-dominated audience: “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which some boycotted for portraying an unhealthy relationship. The erotic flick, which was hit by a box office tidal wave not so dissimilar in scope from “Magic Mike,” appealed to womanly sexual desires in a way the mainstream rarely does — which are both of these franchise’s selling points, the reason why men and cool girls knock them down so avidly, and the reason I generally vouch for them. Although I’d safely say “Fifty Shades” more meticulously passes the Bechdel Test, Christian Grey’s commanding presence holds no wax candle to the women of “Magic Mike XXL”: Jada Pinkett Smith’s Rome, Andie MacDowell’s Nancy, and Amber Heard’s Zoe, who all manage to balance their authority with utmost respect. “XXL” also witnessed an unprecedented moviegoing gender split — a reported 96% of the opening week viewers were female, which far exceeds the Valentine’s Day release of “Fifty Shades,” which summoned a mere 68% of gals. The first “Mike” had a 73% turnout. 

PK: I hadn’t heard that number! That’s unbelievable. You’d think gay men would have at least brought that number down to the 80% region? But I get that it’s probably much less of date night material than “50 Shades” was. And as much as boyfriends and husbands could learn much more of a thing or two from Magic Mike and company than they could from Christian Grey, I do like the idea of “XXL” serving as an opportunity for group female bonding in the movie theater. I found it significantly more feminist than “Fifty Shades,” the “Sex and the City” movies or even the first “Magic Mike” (with all due respect to the latter film, which I loved — it just more about male bonding than female desire). The Jada Pinkett Smith character is just such a fucking boss, as are — to lesser degrees — pretty much every female character in the film. “Magic Mike XXL” is very much a women’s world that the male characters just live in. 

OS: You’re absolutely right, and I hope to see Hollywood venture more into that oft-unseen world from now on. There’s clearly a demographic of ticket-buyers yearning for it. As an off-shoot of the film’s attention to marginalized lust, it’s also so inclusive for what it is. The drag queen from Mad Mary’s (played by Vicky Vox) is an unflinching joinder at the boys’ post-bar campfire, and women of varying ages, shapes, races and sizes are illuminated with equal warmth. Magic Mike and his buddies are an army troop of fun and love who drop MDMA for breakfast and never devalue the force of a Backstreet Boys powerballad. They’re good guys.

PK: Definitely. And let me just say that the MDMA sequence is bizarro cinematic bliss and will probably stand as one of my favorite sequences in a film all year. I won’t ruin it, but vouch sincerely that it alone should bring ANYONE to the theater who hasn’t seen the film yet. Which brings us to one thing we haven’t talked about: People aren’t flocking to “XXL” in the manner they did with the original (or “Fifty Shades” for that matter). The film only cost $14 million so it’ll be fine either way, but it’ll be lucky to gross even half of what “Magic Mike” did.  So seriously, go this weekend if you haven’t. I want it that way, and so will you.

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