What Should We Call It #1: Baby Driver | Vol. 4 / No. 42.1

So this week I intended to write about Charlottesville, intersectionality, and allyship. But between what has been going on and some stuff in my personal life, I did not have enough emotional “spoons” left to continue that plan. So instead I’m going to link to the Syllabus for White People to Educate Themselves, this list of what we can do in the wake of Charlottesville, and these fundraising pages for those who were injured in the attacks:

  • Tyler’s Stroke of Genius Recovery: “Tyler Magill, vanquisher of Charlottesville nazis, suffered a stroke on August 15. This stroke was the result of blunt force trauma to his carotid artery after he was hit with a torch on Friday night.”
  • VA Youth Hospital Fund: “Some of our comrades in Virginia have taken injuries in the radical terrorist Nazi car assault into counter-Nazi-protests. We are fighting against a Nazi, KKK, and white supremacist takeover of our country, and require some funds for hospital bills for our friends.”
  • C-ville Victim Relief: “Unity Cville is a group of Charlottesville community members raising funds to help support the victims of the August 12th terrorist attack and Alt-Right demonstration events in Charlottesville, Virginia.”
  • Dre Harris: I Was Beaten By White Supremacists: “My injuries were too extensive to be treated at the scene so I was taken to the ER at Martha Jefferson Hospital. I was diagnosed with a concussion, an ulnar fracture, and had to receive eight staples in my head. I also have a laceration across my right eyebrow, abrasions on my knees & elbows, and a chipped tooth […] The funds will be used to pay for my medical bills.”

Now, instead of the traditional Feminist Friday, I’m going to use this time to introduce you to a new sporadic series on the blog, (Insert Some Clever Title About Elle Discussing Cinema Here. Seriously, I don’t know what to name it. If you comment with names I will be super grateful.) Its normal time slot will probably be Wednesdays or Saturdays, or sometimes not at all (because Elle is not as amazing as Richard and cannot reliably write two pieces a week [Editor’s note: this is very true]). Sometimes these pieces will be actual reviews, either about new movies or about whatever movie I have found on Netflix because my queue full of TV shows is still too intimidating. Sometimes it will be a rant, or a discussion of a particular point or question about the film I find interesting.

For the inaugural post, I’m exploring the question, What if Baby from Baby Driver had been female?

First, some background. I’m going to do my best to avoid spoilers, but some of this discussion will involve particular plot points, so read at your own risk.

Baby Driver is the story of a young man, Baby, who is the reluctant-yet-excellent getaway driver for Doc, a gangster played by Kevin Spacey. Baby is paying off a debt to Doc, and along the way begins to fall for a diner waitress named Debora. Of course Baby isn’t done when he thinks he is done, and gets pulled in for a final heist. Hijinks ensue.

Now I really liked this movie. (I like most Edgar Wright films). The soundtrack is awesome and the sound editing is perfectly synched, the chase scenes are amazing, and I really like what Spacey and Hamm do with their characters. In some ways, I even like how the romance feels like an afterthought—it makes it pretty clear that Baby is as in love with the idea of Debora and what she represents as he is in love with Debora. Debora teeters on the verge of Manic Pixie Dream Girl Syndrome, but is saved by how clearly puzzled she is by Baby’s attentions and how obviously Baby is projecting onto her (there are actual dream sequences.)

But it also has its problems. If you know Edgar Wright films, you know how obsessed he is with genres of film. He lovingly recreates and critiques the tropes from zombie films, cop/buddy films, etc. But the tropes do remain. So when he does a heist movie, those tropes come along, too. I’m pretty sure this film doesn’t approach passing the Bechdel test. I can only vaguely recall maybe two sentences that female characters even speak to each other but I’m pretty sure they’re about guys, and I’m not 100% that female characters actually do talk to each other and that I’m not just hallucinating. There are about four female characters who get more than two lines (one of them only in flashbacks). And the female characters fall into pretty traditional heist movie/gangster movie tropes; the sexy gun moll, the naïve, blue-collar love interest, the sainted dead mother, and the innocent victim. And out of all of them, only the moll seems to be at all complex.

So I mentally played the game I now always play when I feel like there is a dearth of significant or complex female characters: What would happen if the protagonist, with no other changes of character, was a female instead of a male?

I started playing this game after I saw Jessica Jones, and the character of Jeri Hogarth, played by Carrie-Anne Moss. In the comics this character is the male Jeryn Hogarth.  I haven’t read enough of the comics to know for sure, but it seems as if the gender switch and the decision to introduce her as an ally of Jessica Jones before revealing her connections to Iron Fist are the only significant changes they made. (And they rectify the latter in Iron Fist which is… a whole different kettle of male privilege fish.) Both Jeri and Jeryn are frighteningly competent, somewhat shady, and self-centered while still looking out for the superheroes around them. So Marvel added diversity (getting an additional prominent female character and the MCU’s first lesbian character) without otherwise having to alter the character.

I played this game with Peter Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy. And dude, I would totally watch the adventures of Petra Quill, womanizing, music-obsessed rogue and reluctant hero. And then one of the few flaws in Guardians of the Galaxy, a severe gender imbalance, would largely be resolved.

So I decided to play the same game with Baby Driver. And I think it would make the movie way better.

Up front, it would not change the major plot points. Baby could still run afoul of Doc, and could still fall in love with Debora. She could still have a crisis of conscience with the last heist.

Then there are the things it would make better, or more complex. It would deepen and complicate the discussion of Baby’s name, Baby’s past, and Baby’s connection with fellow criminals. It’s a plot point that the other gangsters express curiosity about Baby’s name, and interrogate his skills due to his youth. Imagine if Baby was both young and a girl? The increased doubt over Baby’s skills, and the increased satisfaction when Baby is able to show off her skills? There’d be increased conflict and pushback that Baby would experience and have to overcome. And yeah, probably there would be extra sexist bullshit as well, but that would also add to the satisfaction when Baby is triumphant. It would also emphasize how creepy and predatory the relationship between Doc and Baby is. Doc gave Baby his nickname at the same time he forced Baby into to his service. But we’re weirdly inured to these creepy “apprentice” criminal relationships in media. How much more obviously creepy does that become when Baby is a girl? Doc has been essentially enslaving Baby in a criminal enterprise since Baby was a child, which is kind of brushed over in the film. I feel like if Doc explained that he’s had a girl he named Baby on the hook as his getaway driver since she was a tween it would earn a second glance.

Having Baby be female would also go a long way towards weakening stereotypes regarding female drivers, and representation of female drivers in general. Though actresses such as Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster broke some barriers in the Fast and Furious movie franchise (though ironically, apparently neither of them knew how to drive prior to doing so)  the majority of drivers in action movies are still men. Hell, the majority of drivers in action movies are Jason Statham. It goes a long way towards getting rid of those “women are terrible drivers, har har” jokes when the movies are flooded with awesome lady getaway drivers.

Making Baby female would also have the potential to increase the representation of women with autism. Now, it is not officially canon that Baby has autism. But it’s become a compelling fan theory. Baby seems to use music as a method for sensory stimulation, he wears sunglasses constantly, possibly either as a result of sensitivity to light or a method of avoiding eye contact. He has a significant special interest in the form of music. He also engages in echolalia to help him in social situations, and answers sarcastic or rhetorical questions genuinely, seeming to miss the sarcastic overtones. Again, this isn’t an explicitly stated thing, and as I don’t have autism I’m relying on research and the opinions of those who do have autism to bolster my theory. But if Baby does have autism, and if Baby were made into a female character, that would actually have some pretty significant implications. It’s believed that girls and women are significantly underdiagnosed with autism, partially because (as usual) diagnosis criteria are based around the experiences of boys and men. There are also very few autistic female characters in media. Aside from a few explicitly stated characters (including a new puppet on Sesame Street,) even those who go looking for female characters with autism essentially have to “diagnose” a character who appears to exhibit signs of autism but doesn’t have an explicit diagnosis.  While the representations of men with autism in movies and TV are not always flattering, or even accurate (looking at you, Atypical), they are a lot more common. Popular representation is often a necessary step in raising awareness, so having a female character with autism as the head of a major action movie would be pretty fantastic.

So that is my case for why Baby should have been a woman. Obviously it’s a little late now, and even if Edgar Wright were to make the exact same movie only cast a woman, it wouldn’t have the same impact. But I think it’s important, especially for creators who work so intimately with tropes, to be aware of what they’re recreating, and the opportunities they are missing by not pushing boundaries.


Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not coming up with new post formats for This Week, she studies gender in popular culture.


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