“Patriarchy sucks. Rebel girls are cool,” reads Netflix’s tagline for the new film Moxie, directed by Amy Poehler. This summarizes the ethos of the movie, as well as its many problems. The film, focused on a girl who starts a movement against misogyny at her high school, presents feminism as a fun hobby, in line with making a zine or meeting new friends, and fails to fully recognize diversity in feminism.
Moxie’s protagonist, Vivian, is inspired to start a zine called Moxie after she begins noticing prevalent harassment and rape culture at her school. The film also follows various subplots, focusing on the ensemble cast involved in the movement movement, Vivian’s complicated relationship with her activist mother (played by Poehler), as well as Vivian’s budding romance with her classmate Seth.
While at times the film’s simplicity works, it also easily belittles and oversimplifies extremely complex issues. This begs a central question of Moxie — how can you educate about a mulit-faceted movement like feminism without making harsh generalizations?
Moxie is not all bad, and the portrayal of a feminist movement alongside a classic coming of age story — involving college applications, evolving friendships, and first kisses — has its upsides. While this part of the plot sometimes feels as though it would be more suited to a Netflix teen movie like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before or The Kissing Booth, it is genuinely heartwarming. It can also make other, harsher parts of the movie feel more accessible and familiar for a younger audience.
But where the romance and friendship drama is almost meant to be unrealistic, the discussion of activism falls short because of its lack of realism. The first movement the girls coordinate is for everyone to show up in school with a heart and star drawn on their hands. When someone tries to report harassment to the school’s principal, the principal ignores it so she won’t have to “do a lot of paperwork.” These moments in the film feel like cookie cutter activism, alongside cookie cutter “villains.”
The plot does not do justice to the real experience of high school students. Here at Berkeley High School (BHS), we’ve have had our fair share of feminist activism, especially arround rape culture. Parts of the film ring true, as we see male classmates dominating class conversations, and assault being overlooked by the school. But to deal with such serious subject matter, the film itself has to get serious, which it fails to do.
Additionally, Moxie still plays into stereotypes, and has been criticized for portraying an extremely white perspective on feminism. At times it feels like the attempted intersectionality is simply tacked on as an afterthought. The central character is a white girl, while Lucy, a secondary character who is Afro-Latina, experiences much more harassment than the protagonist. The activism seen in the film is kickstarted when Lucy comes to the school and finally sees the rape culture for what it is. This causes Vivian to start the Moxie zine, and the movement in general. The fact that the film still centers around Vivian rather than Lucy, and ultimately gives her the credit and the happy ending, too closely echoes real events of the feminist movement where the work and priorities of women of color have long been swept aside or comandeered by white women. For a film that includes the line “we weren’t intersectional enough” as Vivian’s mother reminisces on her highschool days, Moxie does not deliver on its promises, either of diversity or of a fresh and realistic portrayal of high school misogyny.