Rian Johnson is one of the most prolific directors working in the industry right now, with films like “Brick,” “The Brothers Bloom,” “Looper,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” and three of the best episodes of “Breaking Bad” under his belt. Now, he has started a franchise from scratch (or loosely inspired by the works of Agatha Christie) with the last of the gentleman sleuths, Benoit Blanc, at the helm, who is played impeccably well by Daniel Craig. But Blanc is only the audience surrogate in “Knives Out” and “Glass Onion,” while the franchise’s heart beats for the women of color in those films, i.e., Marta Cabrera, Helen and Andi Brand, and Peg. Because of their perspective, Johnson gets to paint a very accurate depiction of the situation in the United States of America at the time of the movie’s release.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Marta Cabrera From ‘Knives Out’ And Life In Trump’s America
Marta was Harlan’s nurse, and she spent the entirety of the movie thinking that she had given Harlan Thrombey the wrong dosage of medicine, thereby sending him to his death. Things got even more complicated when Harlan’s will stated that he had assigned all his assets to Marta. But the real killer turned out to be Ransom Thrombey, i.e., Harlan’s grandson, and Marta got to keep Harlan’s property as her own. That said, during this whole process, we got to see what the Thrombeys actually werel. Richard Drysdale, Donna Thrombey, and Jacob Thrombey all openly stated that they hated immigrants. Richard and Donna even defended the refugee camps, which were keeping immigrant children in literal cages. Walt Thrombey, Ransom, and Meg Thrombey actively threatened to leak the information about Marta’s mother’s illegal immigrant status so that Marta and her family could be arrested. Linda accused Marta of sexually coercing Harlan, and Joni brought up the topic of the slayer rule to accuse Marta of killing Harlan and reversing her claim over the Thrombey property. And they did all this after telling Marta to her face how much she meant to them and how they all wanted her to come to Harlan’s funeral. However, we know that wasn’t the truth, and only Harlan cared about Marta; hence, he decided to frame his death as a suicide because he knew that if Marta was accused of murder, she and her family would be thrown out of America.
Even though the name Donald J. Trump wasn’t brought up anywhere, the mention of refugee camps, red caps, and the rise of alt-right Nazis, coupled with the fact that “Knives Out” came out in 2019, made the commentary very obvious. Throughout his presidential campaign and his presidency, Trump went after immigrants to gain the votes of White Americans. He used the most disgusting words to refer to them in order to fuel the anti-immigrant sentiments that the racists strewn all over America were harboring. He blamed immigrants for taking jobs that White Americans apparently deserved as if companies were rejecting White Americans despite their infinite skills. And all this for what? Immigrants, especially immigrant women, are the backbone of the United States of America. Approximately 12.3 million immigrant women, which includes 2.4 million undocumented women, are a part of the workforce. They are largely in health care, social assistance, accommodation and food services, educational services, retail trade, and manufacturing. They ensure that America stays functional while seeing to it that their own families are well-fed and in good shape. So, to receive racism and alienation after all that must be disheartening as hell. But, through Marta, we are reminded that hatred cannot be fought with hatred. Instead, it should be fought with confidence and kindness because racism is no match for that, as proven by the ousting of the Thrombeys from the Thrombey estate (which Harlan bought in the 1980s from a Pakistani real estate billionaire) and Trump from the White House.
Andi And Helen From ‘Glass Onion’, And The Sidelining Of Black Women
Andi conceptualized the multifunctional company called Alpha, which was centered around this free app that would involve crypto management, worldwide accessibility, dark web efficacy, and crypto scalability. It (figuratively) exploded in the market, and Andi was generous enough to bring her friends, Claire, Lionel, Birdie, Duke, and her then-boyfriend, Miles, along for the ride. But when Miles wanted to expand by greenlighting a dubious hydrogen-based fuel recommended to him by a Norwegian scientist, Andi put her foot down and refused to move forward with that idea. So, Miles turned Andi’s friends against Andi, pushed Andi out of her position as the owner of Alpha, and when Andi threatened to expose Miles for lying about coming up with Alpha, he straight up killed her and framed it as a suicide. Helen, Andi’s twin sister, was blindsided by this turn of events and couldn’t fathom the fact that things in the city could’ve gone so wrong that Andi had to kill herself. So, she took matters into her own hands and not only got to the bottom of the crime but also destroyed everything that Andi had purchased with the money that rightfully belonged to Andi.
Miles closely resembles Elon Musk’s antics. Musk’s Tesla has been accused of racial discrimination. His takeover of Twitter has led to a spike in anti-Black hate speech. Even though Musk claimed that hate speech was down, he openly mocked company T-shirts with the #StayWoke hashtag (which was created by Twitter’s Black employee resource group to support the Black Lives Matter movement) printed on them. And although these are recent developments, Miles sidelining Andi is emblematic of White men taking credit for the hard work done by Black women for generations. It also refers to the mistreatment and downright dehumanizing of Black women that takes in various sectors of U.S. culture and society, which has been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is when “Glass Onion” is set in. Reports have stated that although the U.S. economy has bounced back, it has left Black women behind because the situation is way worse for them than anyone else, especially in corporate spheres. There are hiring discrimination and policy issues when it comes to childcare, and they’re more prone to being fired. Helen seems to be the antidote, albeit susceptible to being shot at, as her down-to-earth profession and proximity to her hometown give her the kind of grit that’s necessary to take on White men like Miles. It’s not a long-lasting or fair solution because life shouldn’t be this hard for Black women. However, this is a sad reality.
Peg From ‘Glass Onion’ And The Issue With “Assisting” The Privileged
Peg was the almost-obsolete fashionista Birdie Jay’s assistant. Her job profile included putting out fires created by Birdie in her living room and on social media. She had to pull her weight while also carrying Birdie’s luggage. And most importantly, she had to discourage Miles from having Birdie issue a statement to the press about Bangladesh, which would potentially destroy Birdie’s career and Peg’s as well. Why was the statement so damning? Well, because it’d mean that Birdie was admitting that she approved the use of sweatshops in Bangladesh to make sweatpants for her designer-yet-comfortable clothing brand, Sweetie Pants. Now, while Birdie would get a $30 million cut from Miles for doing this (because he was already bankrolling her company), Peg’s career would be ruined because she’d be associated with someone who was not only known for racism and antisemitism but also supporting illegal factories. Thankfully, it didn’t come down to that in the film, as Miles’s reputation went up in flames, and Birdie came to the realization that she didn’t need to abide by Miles’s rules. However, the reality isn’t that sympathetic when it comes to celebrity assistants.
The “dumb Blonde” has been a stereotype in American cinema for ages. But they’ve usually been portrayed as innocent, airheaded, and promiscuous for no reason at all. Rian Johnson kind of revives the trope to address the popularity of dumb Blondes on mainstream and social media and associates it with their privilege and the assistants they hire. Because it’s people like Peg who make them look presentable, and without them, they’ll come off as the concoction of tone-deafness, racism, antisemitism, and classism that they are. Recent studies show that Asian American workers face the longest periods of joblessness, in addition to other challenges, despite having the lowest employment rate amongst every racial or ethnic group in the U.S. Even if they are 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants, they aren’t able to switch jobs whenever they feel like it because getting rehired is an issue. Peg points out that Birdie was the only employer who hired her back after she left for her brief stint in retail because no one else would hire her, and no one wanted to manage Birdie. And this very real dilemma is presented perfectly as she’s turned into a laughing-stock for being smarter and more educated than the rest while also dealing with the crippling fear and constant anxiety of being unemployed in this economy.
Benoit Blanc Teaches Us About Allyship In ‘Knives Out’ And ‘Glass Onion’
The world is patriarchal, and every nook and cranny is male dominated. So, the onus is always on men to change the status quo. Since men are too lazy to do that, they shift the blame to whatever or whoever they can to avoid taking responsibility for being the oppressor, historically speaking. The very existence of Benoit Blanc is an education in what a man’s role in society should be. Blanc is on the side of facts and figures, yes. But he is also aware of the subjective experiences of women. In both films, the one who has been wronged is a woman. And we’ve seen on social media and in real life that when there are White people and the affluent on one side and a woman on the other, the court of public opinion usually sides with the former and rarely with the latter. However, Blanc never judges Marta or Helen (because he technically never meets Andi) based on their appearance, their background, or what they claim has happened to them. He empathizes with their plight and does his best to give them the benefit of the doubt instead of giving his undivided attention to those who are more likely to be criminals.
Now, Blanc’s approach to life can be attributed to a number of things, ranging from his education to his upbringing to the fact that he might’ve faced a certain level of discrimination for being a gay man from the southern region of the USA. But one doesn’t necessarily need all that to be an ally to women, especially women of color. You do need to be conscious of your place in society as a man and wield it responsibly instead of channeling the years of toxic masculinity and heteronormativity that gender has been synonymous with. You have to listen to the women around you and realize that you probably don’t have a firm grasp of what a woman faces on a daily basis. It’s great if you can use your privilege to delve into gender studies, but if you don’t have the time for that, at least read the news. That’ll definitely make you empathize with women in general. And when the time comes, pass on the mic to the women around you so that they can tell their stories. Yes, this requires a lot of unlearning and education. However, it’s the least men can do to make this world a better place for women.
A Note Of Appreciation For Ana de Armas, Janelle Monáe, And Jessica Henwick’s Performances In ‘Knives Out’ And ‘Glass Onion’
I absolutely love Ana de Armas, Janelle Monáe, and Jessica Henwick and the performances they’ve delivered in these films. Ana has received her fair share of appreciation for her turn as Marta. But she truly deserves more because, upon every rewatch, you get to see her range as an actress. She portrays Marta as a ball of constant anxiety and despair. However, when the time comes, she switches it up so beautifully to show the underlying resilience. Kindness and goodness seem like easy traits to portray on screen, but they can easily seem fake and disingenuous. From the first frame to the last, Ana ensures that that’s not the case with Marta, thereby making the villains of the film (the Thrombeys) seem all the more heinous and vile. In addition to all that, she gets to be the face of one of the greatest final shots in a movie.
Janelle Monáe is so good as the real Andi and the fake Andi that when she shows up as Helen, she gives you whiplash. The accent and the makeup play a huge role. But it’s also what Monáe brings physically that separates Andi from Helen. Even at her angriest, Andi remains seated and expresses her anger. Helen, while being high on kombucha, is much more animated and borderline theatrical. When the rush of adrenaline dies down, she aptly expresses the mix of fear and determination she’s feeling during this twisted revenge quest. Monáe’s comic timing is excellent as well. Every single time she exclaimed in shock or anger, or because she accidentally snorted hot sauce, she had me cackling. And then there are the climactic moments of the film, where she gets to trash Miles’ art gallery, i.e., the most intricate set built for the film (I guess) and turns into a full-blown action hero. A tad bit unrealistic? Yes. However, Monáe’s Mona Lisa pose more than makes up for it.
Last but not least, we have Jessica Henwick. The way she walks the line between completely giving up on Birdie and remembering that this is her only avenue for employment is darkly hilarious. Her reaction to the revelation that Birdie thought sweatshops made sweatpants made my stomach drop because she accurately channeled the disappointment I feel when I see rich, White folks getting so much money and so much attention despite saying and doing the stupidest things imaginable. Her mini reactions to Birdie asking about Philip Glass, Miles handing her a red cup with some kind of alcohol instead of a custom drink like the others have received, or when she hears Benoit say “consensual cuckolding for cable news assignments” are truly priceless. But the one scene that truly stuck with me is when she gleefully looks at Helen while gladly holding onto her bottle of kombucha, as she hears her say everything that she wants to say to that group of rich degenerates. So, in conclusion, Jessica Henwick, Janelle Monáe, and Ana de Armas are awesome, and they deserve all the applause and all the roles in the world.