by Elena Arida
The Wolf of Wall Street has been slammed by various groups for its portrayal of female degradation. Are these aspects of the film offensive? By my standards, yes. But do they accurately depict the attitude towards women on Wall Street in the 1980s? Absolutely. The movie’s portrayal of women should be seen as a statement about the inequalities and mistreatment of working women in this era and not as a reflection on the views and beliefs of the production team.
In the first hour and fifteen minutes of the film, audiences see two orgies, a woman giving oral sex to protagonist Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, while he drives along the highway, full frontal nudity and a detailed description of the different types of prostitutes Belfort and his coworkers employ in their office. The atmosphere lacks any sort of professionalism, and female workers are only shown on screen if they are being demeaned or sexualized. In the film, there is a lot of empty, loveless and surprisingly passionless sex that’s both offensive and unnerving.
The most common criticism of the film is that its director, script and portrayal of women are sexist. This accusation, however, is misguided. While the male characters in the film are sexist and the female characters act crudely, that does not reflect on the attitudes of the production team. Said DiCaprio, “I hope people understand we’re not condoning this behavior—that we’re indicting it,” according to telegraph.co.uk.
If you doubt it, consider works like The Sopranos or even Macbeth. Those directors/playwrights weren’t branded as mobsters or murderers, and neither should The Wolf of Wall Street Director Martin Scorsese.
The film is over the top in many ways, but apart from the orgy on the trading floor which for no apparent reason features a marching band, the film is unsettlingly close to the atmosphere on Wall Street in the time period. In a reaction to the film, Joanne Lipman, then a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, describes a time during an interview when she was locked in a businessman’s office while he began to undress himself, according to entertainment.time.com. Lipman also describes her female friend being coerced into cocaine runs with her boss. While the cocaine use in the movie may seem over the top, it was a common part of the work day for many on Wall Street. According to
entertainment.time.com, these women saw these experiences as part of their work.
While the film shouldn’t necessarily be praised for its depiction of such behavior to the public under a 17+ rating, it certainly shouldn’t be demonized for portraying the ugly truth.