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Why women are getting a bum deal on film posters

Film posters are addicted to showing a faceless woman from behind, with her legs framing the real hero.

Don’t panic, ladies and gentlemen. Colin Firth hasn’t shrunk. His latest film is not about a tiny besuited man and his struggle to survive in a world terrorised by gargantuan women. If you look closely you’ll see that our old friend perspective is at work, and that Firth has been pushed to the back of the picture so that in the foreground a shapely female arse and pair of legs can frame him.

In a conscious aping of the poster for the 1981 Bond film For Your Eyes Only (complete with gun held downward in right hand), the publicity department for Kingsman have solidified the towering wall of posters using this curiously popular trope: man looks on at faceless woman’s legs in tight outfit; audience is lured into cinema by promise of pert buttocks; woman straddles and opens herself up to the real hero of the film.

In one trailer, Sofia Boutella, who is the woman in question and plays a character called Gazelle, has no lines. In another she has one line. You could be forgiven for thinking her character is not crucial to the film. You could also be forgiven for thinking that a poster in which Firth faced down the film’s actual villain – Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) – with Jackson’s arse similarly photoshopped, would not have drawn in quite as many teenage males. Proving exactly this, and that the technique is one of cynical cosmetics, there is another poster in which Jackson replaces Firth and looks menacingly at Boutella’s crotch. But their characters are in allegiance; she has no need to threaten him with a gun. The publicity department seem to have written “lady’s arse in tight trousers” on a whiteboard, and decided that, once they went ahead with that, nothing else would need to make much sense.

In a great deal of posters guilty of the same cynical tactics, the woman is not only cut off at the waist but is also wearing virtually nothing. To give Kingsman’s publicity department minimal credit, they have kept Boutella comparatively covered; but, realising that doing so probably wasn’t sufficiently arousing, they have made her trousers almost obscenely tight. Marvel at the effort that has gone into artificially enhancing the curvature of Boutella’s buttocks. That is someone’s job. Someone was paid to do that.

A famously dependable way of sniffing out sexism is simply to test whether or not a situation is as applicable to one sex as it is to the other. When was the last time, in other words, you saw a film poster on which the legs and shapely arse of a faceless man loomed over the heroine of the story? Answers on the back of a postcard, please. On the rare occasions that the technique is approximately reversed, something interesting happens: rather than being relative equals, both holding guns, it is the man who wields the power – generally with a phallic weapon – over terrified, scantily-clad women.

And, when a roughly comparable film like Tomb Raider comes along, a film in which the lead character is a no-nonsense action heroine, is Angelina Jolie a serious figure in the distance, framed by a titillatingly tight male tush? No. Her breasts are artificially pronounced and she is wearing tiny shorts. If you want an action film, in other words, you’d better just get on board with the fact that women’s bodies are its currency.

Especially in light of the paucity of women in the Oscar nominations this year, it is difficult to shrug the feeling that cinema caters primarily to heterosexual men. Posters like this reinforce the impression, however accurate it may be, and give women increasing reason to think that they are better off turning their back on the industry.

ED THOMPSON / LUZ / EYEVINE
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"We’ve got things in common": why one of the EDL's original members quit

An early supporter of the group, painter-decorator Darren Carroll has had death threats since he left. But why did he change his mind about the English Defence League?

Darren Carroll is a slight man with bright blue eyes and an urgent need for redemption. A painter-decorator in his fifties, he has lived in Luton his whole life. He was one of the original members of the English Defence League (EDL), the far-right street movement founded by Carroll’s nephew Tommy Robinson.

Recently, things haven’t been easy. Four months before our meeting at a café near Luton Airport Parkway Station, Carroll had a minor stroke that affected his speech and vision. It was the delayed fallout from an attack in a pub across the road, his local. A stranger, who seemed to know a lot about him, started a conversation. “He showed me his arm. It was tattooed. There was a little bit of white skin left on the whole sleeve,” says Carroll. “He said, ‘Look at that.’ I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘White is right.’ I said, ‘Nah, mate, I know exactly where you’re coming from. There’s nothing wrong with being white but there’s nothing right with it.’”

The man pretended to leave the pub, then walked back in and hit Carroll hard on the back of the head with his forearm. Afterwards, Carroll suffered persistent headaches. It caused a blood clot that set off the stroke. When we met, he had mostly recovered but was still unable to work.

It was not the first attack. Carroll has also had his front door kicked in. He and his children have received death threats. “This is since speaking up,” he says. “Not leaving – that’s different.”

Carroll looks uncomfortable when we discuss the early days of the EDL. “It was an organic thing,” he says. “Lots of people were involved at the very beginning for different reasons. Personally, I was not happy with the way the town was being run on a political level. Looking back, I was disenfranchised from mainstream politics.”

Luton has the dubious distinction of being a centre of both far-right and Islamist extremism. The EDL began here in 2009, in response to a demonstration organised by Anjem Choudary’s now banned extremist group al-Muhajiroun, which in turn was a reaction against an army regiment marching in Luton.

A counterprotest led to arrests and the EDL was born, with sometimes violent neo-fascist street protests spreading across the country. Robinson insisted from the outset that the EDL was not racist, but only “against the rise of radical Islam”. Carroll says it was local difficulties, rather than national issues such as immigration, that unsettled and motivated him – and he didn’t articulate the core problem as racism against white people, not even to himself. The EDL has never had a formal membership, but the think tank Demos estimated that there were between 25,000 and 35,000 active members in 2011, a loose coalition of football hooligans and far-right activists. Today, the numbers are much reduced.

Carroll’s family was closely involved and it was a while before he realised that the EDL was an extremist, racist group. He describes being at a demo in Birmingham soon after the first protest. “I looked at the other lads there and I didn’t like them. They didn’t smell right for me, as far as integrity goes. I thought, ‘I don’t want this.’” Carroll’s parents are Irish and he considers himself the child of immigrants.

It took several months for him to extricate himself from the group and stop attending demonstrations. “It’s a relationship breaker, so you’ve got to accept that things are broken for ever.” On building sites, he was known as the EDL guy. Work dried up.

Amid attempts to coerce him back into the movement, and concerned about damaging his family relationships, Carroll stayed silent for another year and a half, only starting to speak up a few years after he left the EDL. This triggered a new wave of threats. He reeled off a list of incidents: slashed tyres, smashed windows. “Last week, I got one on Facebook [saying] that I’m a ginger Muslim and I’m gonna get shot. That was someone I know privately, which I don’t take as a threat. Their particular problem seems to be that I’m on record saying I’d have a cup of tea in a mosque and sit down and talk to people.”

Carroll did so after seeing a Facebook post by a local activist, Dawood Masood. Masood had shared a video of an imam in Leicester speaking about terrorist violence, with a message saying that any EDL members were welcome to get in touch. Carroll met him and others from the Muslim community and they discussed ways to make Luton better. He told them that he wasn’t interested in religion, but invited them to what he considers his church: Luton Town FC.

“I had the idea it’s about setting precedents, because you never know who or what that affects,” he says. “I just thought, if I’m seen going to the football with them, it’s going to break a big piece of ice.”

As the EDL evolved largely from a football subculture, this was a bold step. They went to the match. “He’s Luton born and bred and he certainly don’t need his hand held. But I made him as comfortable as possible. Luton scored and he’s jumping up and down, loving it. At that point, I thought: ‘This is really Luton harmony. He’s cheering for the same thing and I’m cheering for the same thing. We’re both happy together at this moment in time. We’ve got things in common.’”

They have been to many matches since, Masood bringing his kids, Carroll his grandkids. Carroll has had a few threatening calls but remains undeterred. “The working-class Muslim lads are working-class Muslim lads. They’ve got all the same problems and social issues as us white, working-class people. It’s not just me or us. It’s everyone.” 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage