New Remake, Same Old (Sexist) Story
Art by Kirsten Hemrich
(Big-time Spoiler Alert -- if you don’t want to know the plot, don’t read this!)
When I heard Lady Gaga was starring as the female lead in Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star is Born, I had to go see it. Lady Gaga has always fascinated me—from her iconic 2010 meat dress to her outspoken support for sexual assault survivors, she’s a fearless star and role model for her fans. I went expecting to see Gaga dazzle--but I left disappointed by the problematic relationship between Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), a talented rock star, and Ally (Lady Gaga), a former drag performer turned next big thing, discovered by none other than Maine himself.
Don’t get me wrong--Gaga was fantastic, and the film really got to me emotionally. As Ally and Jackson’s relationship intensifies, details of Jackson’s struggle with alcoholism emerge. Jackson’s star starts to fall right as Ally’s star starts shining—he starts drinking more and spiking his drinks with pills; he stops getting asked to perform as the main act; and he fails Ally when he misses her first big performance. The plot diverges from just a romance to show the dark side of fame—Maine spirals out of control as his alcoholism controls his life. The movie stuns with pulsing concert scenes and shots of stardom, and I rooted for Jackson as he fought his addiction. So when the movie ended with Jackson committing suicide, I cried and cried—I had to blot my swelling eyes with movie theater toilet paper before I could face the outside world.
I was so upset by the ending that when I left the movie theater, I wasn’t thinking about how disturbing its tired narrative and certain scenes were. But when I went to see A Star Is Born for the second time with my sister, I had the emotional distance to realize how terribly the movie portrays its female lead, though she’s advertised as its “star.”
The morning after they meet, Jackson doesn’t just invite Ally to his show; he instructs his driver not to leave Ally’s house until Ally gets in the car to go to the show. When the show ends, Jackson and Ally kiss for the first time. Ally pulls away to go to the bathroom, and returns to find Jackson has passed out from drinking. Ally falls asleep, and the camera then pans onto Jackson touching Ally’s sleeping body later in the night. Ally stirs and wakes up a good ten seconds after Jackson has started kissing her lips. This scene was creepy and not at all consensual, especially in 2019 terms, and I was shocked it was in the movie. I was surprised that Gaga was okay with appearing in this scene, seeing as she is a sexual assault survivor herself. I’ve learned over and over that a sleeping person cannot give consent, and Cooper shouldn’t have portrayed this scene as romantic and normal.
When Ally gets signed by a major record label, she tells Jackson, who responds by smearing cake on her face. She’s shocked and calls him jealous, but then laughs at him because he’s drunk. This moment is paralleled at their wedding scene when they smear cake on each others’ faces, suggesting that his initial action was romantic. For me, it didn’t seem romantic at all—Ally’s stunned, cake-streaked face signaled that Jackson’s jealous and mean response hurt her.
I wanted to know her story, too.
Later, Ally wins her first Grammy and gives her gratitude speech alone because Jackson is not presentable enough to come on stage with her. She thanks Jackson and he, hearing his name, stumbles to the stage from the audience. He slurs his words and pees his pants in front of everyone, completely embarrassing her and derailing her career. Ally later forgives him and calls his addiction a “disease,” and while I definitely agree with her, it wasn’t as easy to forgive the movie’s misrepresentation of its female lead.
Ally continually sacrifices for Jackson; she even cancels her European tour, a career-turning point marking the beginning of her international stardom, so she can stay with Jackson while he recovers in rehab. I could have accepted her constant sacrifices if I had learned more about Ally herself so that there was a balance between the characters in the movie. Despite learning all about Jackson’s alcoholic father and how he attempted suicide when Jackson was a kid, we never learn about Ally’s past except that her father runs a limousine business, and she’s auditioned for record labels but was turned away because of her “big nose.” We never even learn her last name; she just goes by her stage name “Ally,” and later by “Ally Maine” when she takes Jackson’s last name.
The most interiority we get from the female lead is that she’s insecure about her appearance, and Maine feeds into this insecurity, calling her “f*cking ugly” during their biggest fight. If a man has to discover a woman and accept her “big nose” before she succeeds, there’s a problem with the movie. If a man starts failing right when a woman starts succeeding, this sends the message that female ascent is paired with male irrelevance.
The movie’s title misled me. I went to the movies for Gaga and got Cooper overshadowing her. Bradley Cooper, with his artistic liberty and the power that comes with being the director, had a chance to actually remake A Star is Born by focusing on Ally: showing more interiority from her and tracking how her star was born and continued to shine. Ally is ambitious, hard-working, and a talented performer and songwriter. Her character should’ve been developed on a deeper level—I wanted to know her story, too.
Cooper stuck to the narrative that a female’s success results in a man’s failure. A Star is Born has been remade four times, but each one still focuses on the man and portrays the woman as secondary, and interesting solely for being his discovery. Each remake still holds the woman responsible for saving the man from himself. I am over watching this narrative play out on the big screen. A Star is Born is one of Hollywood’s most remade dramas, but certainly did not give me any fresh insight. We should ask ourselves: why is this narrative the one that keeps being remade?
By Elizabeth Amorosi
Elizabeth Amorosi is a second year who is considering studying Political Philosophy, Policy, and Law. She is passionate about the education of girls and she loves sunsets more than sunrises. In her free time she likes to read, and her favorite book that she recently read is Less by Andrew Sean Greer.