This week in podcapping brings another episode of “Overdue” and a new film podcast. Weekly podcaps will now focus on “The Bechdel Cast,” a film podcast in the same vein as “The Rewatchables,” but centered on the female perspective with the intention of illuminating women’s voices. This week, “Overdue” tackles serious racial themes with “Native Son,” while “The Bechdel Cast” works through the issues of “What Women Want.”
Richard Wright’s 1940 novel “Native Son” follows Bigger, a 20-year-old Black man living in poverty in Chicago in the 1930s. As the story progresses, Bigger becomes involved in a life of crime, ultimately leading him to commit heinous acts.
Right away, Andrew addresses the severity of the novel’s topics, noting that this episode will not be as comedic as usual, so as to not make light of these issues. He then explains to Craig the different layers of discussing this book: “There’s, ‘Here’s what actually happens,’ there’s ‘Here are the points Wright wants to get across’ . . . then, ‘Here’s how those two things interact . . . how it does or does not succeed as a work of fiction.’ ”
Craig provides context for the book, including the divisive nature of the novel’s reception. Many notable authors of the time, including James Baldwin, heavily critiqued “Native Son.” Baldwin labeled it merely a “protest novel,” which, he argued, is often comforting to white readers because their fears of Black people as violent are confirmed and not challenged. Baldwin described Bigger as stereotypically Black in that he becomes a monstrous criminal — one whom the other characters (including the white woman whom he is assumed to have attempted to rape and then murder) have to fear.
Andrew and Craig don’t explicitly agree or disagree with Baldwin’s argument but, instead, use it as a jumping off point for a more effective discussion on the complex race relations that do work within the novel. Namely, Craig points toward the exploration of how victims are treated differently based on race in “Native Son.” Bigger ultimately kills both a white woman, Mary, and his Black girlfriend, Bessie. While Mary’s death is taken seriously and covered widely by the media in the book, Bessie’s death is merely used to further the case against Bigger in the trial for Mary’s death.
While researching the author, Craig found that one of Wright’s hopes was that the novel would trigger anger instead of sadness. This came after a book of Wright’s short stories, “Uncle Tom’s Children,” was received with audiences “weeping over” it and then feeling good about feeling sad about the struggles of Black people. Here, Andrew jokes that, through these stories, Wright “accidentally wrote ‘The Help.’ ”
This is one of the few jokes in the entire episode, as Andrew and Craig deliver on their promise to respect the serious issues in question while still having a productive and engaging discussion. Andrew concludes that the novel is worth reading and provides a “slightly different angle” on many racial themes he has seen before. Readers of the novel, or of Baldwin’s criticism, will likely feel the same about this “Overdue” episode.
“The Bechdel Cast”
“The Bechdel Cast” is hosted by Caitlin Durante and Jamie Loftus, with a rotating third guest host each week. For each episode, they watch a film and then discuss the representation of women in it, using the Bechdel Test as a jumping-off point. The Bechdel Test requires that films have at least two female characters with names who talk to each other about something other than men. As the hosts discuss, many films do not pass this test, or if they do, it’s only marginally.
This week’s film is one of the former instances. Caitlin and Jamie, joined by actor Laci Mosley, discuss “What Women Want,” the 2000 romantic comedy directed by Nancy Meyers and starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. The film follows Nick (Gibson), who, after accidentally electrocuting himself with a hairdryer in the bathtub, finds himself capable of reading the minds of women.
The discussion kicks off with Caitlin declaring, “ ‘What Women Want’ is a movie I hate.” Jamie and Laci agree, and all three hosts establish immediately that this film is laced with representational problems for women. What follows is an extensive discussion on how each element of this film is working against women. The hosts are successful in laying out their early declaration of this being a film worth hating, at least in regard to the role women play in it.
To start with, the entire concept of the film is skewed in its representation of women, as the thoughts they are depicted as having are extremely problematic. The women whom he passes on the streets only think of stereotypically female things, such as child-rearing or calories. Meanwhile, the women in his office only think about the character of Nick, not even men in general — solely the protagonist of the film is taking up their thoughts.
The hosts then discuss h—ow the film’s central romance — in which Nick pursues Darcy (Hunt), a woman promoted instead of him — is dependent on manipulation. Their relationship depicts an extremely uneven power dynamic, with Nick able to know Darcy’s every thought and adjust his behavior accordingly. While, in the outside world, Darcy holds power over him as his boss, Nick shows no respect for her as such.
To conclude the episode, Caitlin, Jamie and Laci discuss whether or not the film passed the Bechdel Test — unsurprisingly, it does not. There are only a handful of scenes of women interacting together, and of the few that are not about a man, one or more of the conversation participants are not named. And just as the women of the office only think about Nick, they only interact with him as well.
The cast regards “What Women Want” as one of the instances in which even media created or directed by women can fall flat in representation. As Caitlin says, “We all, as people, need to wake up, and hopefully, Nancy Meyers will too.” And, as Laci responds, “Nancy, stop hitting snooze!”
Contact Nikki Munoz at [email protected].