Much like its 1974 predecessor, 2019’s ‘Black Christmas’ has a lot to say about the world women live in, feminism, and toxic masculinity.
Through its nuanced and rightful rage, April Wolfe and Sophia Takal give Black Christmas 1974 a worthy successor. My wish for the new year is that, whatever you may think of the film itself, you take its core messages to heart.
It’s already been long established that Bob Clark’s original Black Christmas is extremely unsubtle in its feminist messages. It would only make sense that a 2019 version of Black Christmas would be a primal and rage filled scream at society that has done little to change how it views women.
April Wolfe and Sophia Takal take all the pent up frustration that was presented in Clark’s film and modify and mold it into their own version of Black Christmas. Unsurprisingly, they have received backlash for it, with people who so violently dedicated themselves to willfully misunderstand the messages of the movie.
From here forward will be heavy spoilers for the 2019 Black Christmas. Proceed with caution.
The 2019 Black Christmas takes rape culture and toxic masculinity to task.
From the start the film is loud and not afraid to step on the toes of those who possess fragile masculinity. It very much has the idea of sisterhood and friendship at the heart of it, much like its predecessor before it. This time we are introduced to a group of sisters who are just as loud and unapologetic as Jess, Barb, and Phyl.
One of the main characters, Riley, has shied away from life due to a prior sexual assault. Riley reported her assault and wasn’t believed and thus has gained the ridicule of not only the frat which her rapist belonged to but others on campus. She’s been branded a liar and ostracized, while her rapist is still viewed as a prince among his peers and the college as a whole. It’s a stark and realistic picture of how society has been groomed to view victims of sexual assault with more scrutiny than those that are accused.
Riley was once an active member of her sorority and campus life, but gone are the days where Riley could move through the complex hierarchy of college life. Riley is a pariah because she spoke up, speaking to why so many sexual assaults go unreported.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center, NSVRC, states that in the United States one in five women and one in seventy one men will be raped in their lifetime. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, RAINN, reports that 3 out of 4 sexual assaults go unreported and those who perpetrate sexual assault are less likely to go to jail that perpetrators of any other crime.
Riley’s story reflects these painful statistics.
RAINN also notes that only 20% of female college students report their assaults. Riley would be among those 20%. She reported and didn’t see the justice that she so deserved, much like many real life survivors of sexual assault. Riley is a painful mirroring of society’s enabling of rape culture by failing to take sexual assault seriously. She is not only a victim of rape when we first meet her but also a victim of unrelenting victim blaming.
Throughout the film, it becomes clearer and clearer that Riley is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. She often finds herself in situations that cause her to have flashbacks to her assault, and those flashbacks paralyze her. The American Psychiatric Association reports that 20 to 50 percent of survivors of assault or rape will go on to develop PTSD.
In contrast to Riley’s withdrawn nature is Kris, who rivals the original’s Barb in her defiant ways. Kris is unafraid to hold people accountable for their wrongdoings and call them out. She and Riley share one of the most profound bonds in the film, both leaning on and uplifting one another. It’s a loving and realistic dynamic. At the start of the film Kris’s outspoken nature has already seen the dismantling of the bust of the college’s famously misogynistic and racist founder. When the audience meets Kris she is passing around a petition calling for the firing of Professor Gelson.
Kris is as intelligent as she is fiery and she refuses to be silenced. She has long went toe to toe with Gelson for his syllabi that contain the works of mainly white men, an action that he shrewdly defends early in the film. Kris represents students who are largely fed up with how racism and misogyny are often slyly condoned in higher education.
Kris is a part of a vital movement in academia that seeks to include the writings of people of color and women.
It’s no secret that academia has been largely white washed and the writings of people of color and women largely ignored in favor of a more traditionally acceptable white colonial tinged curriculum. Kris isn’t having any part of it, and she shouldn’t. She’s not going silently on that matter or the matter of Riley’s sexual assault. At one point she even throws water in the face of a fraternity pledge who insinuates Riley was a liar.
Rounding out Riley and Kris’s close circle are Marty and Jesse. Marty and Jesse help take part in a talent show act that Kris has staged to call out the fraternity brothers and their bad behavior. Riley aided Kris in this, but did not intend to be part of the show until Helena, one of the younger sorority sisters, is too inebriated to perform. Kris talks Riley into taking Helena’s place in the act, which is a witty song that parodies the song “Up on the Housetop.”
The lyrics are about frat brothers sexually assaulting girls and deliberately calls out the fraternity and the college for their lack of action in Riley’s case. It’s a powerful statement for the girls to do this in general, but it makes it even more powerful that the talent show is held at the fraternity and is one of their traditions. It’s also important that one of the other sororities on campus has openly boycotted the talent show due to Riley’s assault, standing in solidarity with Riley and her sisters.
Much like the 1974 version of Black Christmas, sisterhood is the centerpiece of this film and the power of women standing together and for one another.
The sisters find themselves at the center of a misogynist conspiracy where the fraternity is more like a woman-hating cult that is headed by Professor Gelson, in a bid to “restore order” and put the women of the world “in their places.” The men of the fraternity are so desperate to take dominion over women that they have turned to black magic, much like the founder of the college was rumored to have.
While facing the murderous frat boys, the sisters have to fight not just for themselves but for each other. Sacrifices are harrowingly made, one being when a wounded and defiant Marty lays her life down without another thought in order to give Riley and Kris the opportunity to run and hide. It’s a deliberate act of love. These girls aren’t afraid to die for one another if it means that they can protect what they love.
Helena is one sister that sides with the fraternity in the end, claiming that she will be taken care of. She worked as a double agent and betrays her sister, thinking herself safe by doing their bidding and taking a submissive place in their nefarious plot to beat the women on campus — and in the world at large — into submission. Helena makes a plea to Riley to take her natural place as a “good woman.”
A good woman of course is one that is quiet and pliable to the wills of men, one who exemplifies the sexist patriarchy’s ideal woman.
Helena is largely symbolic of women in real life who position themselves as mouthpieces for the patriarchy. The ones who claim that they can’t be feminists because they’re “good women” and because they “don’t hate men.” They erroneously equate feminism to misandry and act like it’s dirty and wrong to