The Whistleblower Blows Away Expectations

by July 16, 2012
filed under Activism, Entertainment

I freaking love strong female characters. After the caricatures, the stereotypes and the flat-out lazily written stick figures that are paraded around prime time T.V and declared “realistic female characters,” it’s refreshing to see fully developed women presented in film. If you’re like me in this, check out “The Whistleblower.” It does not disappoint.

The film is based on the real life story of Kathryn Bolkovac, an American police officer turned peacekeeper and her experience with the sex trade in post-war Bosnia.

Rachel Weisz plays Kathryn, the strong, funny, straight-forward cop and mother of one. Kathryn’s character does not stumble and impale itself on the trope of the unfeeling, stoic faced, bad ass woman. Neither does it lean on the cliché of the mother whose life revolves around her child to the exclusion of everyone else. Kathryn struggles to balance the demands of her relationships with the demands of her job — just like any other woman. It’s so refreshing to see this represented in a way that isn’t trite or patronizing.

Another refreshing perk to the Whistleblower is that it passes the Bechdel test with straight As. In case you don’t know, the Bechdel test is a way of examining the representation of women in a given piece of media. To pass the test, a movie (or book, T.V show, etc) must:
1. Have at least two women in it
2. Who talk to each other
3. Be about something besides a man.

I don’t think this is actually asking a lot of a movie — these kind of conversations happen everyday in women’s lives —  but it’s surprising how many movies don’t pass this test.

Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency suggested adding another rule to the test, so that the conversation between two women must be more than a minute long. That way, no one could claim that, “can I borrow your eraser?” would count as a pass of the test. Even with that fourth addition, “The Whistleblower” still succeeds on the Bechdel front.

Much of the movie examines both the apathy of those who witness the brutalization of women, and the way in which onlookers are complicit in the violence. At one point in the movie, a bureaucrat refuses to assist Kathryn in her quest to help the trafficked girls, mentioning the company’s ironclad policy and procedure. At this point, I thought, “you’re just making this worse!” That’s one of the great ways in which the movie succeeds: By demonstrating that the silence of onlookers allows these atrocities to continue.

Aside from a few chase scenes and car crashes, this isn’t a high-octane action flick; the drama is in the humanity of the characters. The horror is in the slow build up to inevitable end of the movie and in the denial of catharsis. As we are told at the end of the film, no peacekeepers implicated in the sex trafficking scandal faced charges in their home countries. Human trafficking continues to swell with growth, as an estimated 2.5 million people are currently being trafficked. Instead of being lauded for her efforts, Kathryn Bolkovac has been shunned, unable to regain employment in the international community.

Ultimately, “The Whistleblower” is not about seeing justice served; rather it is a movie about making silenced voices heard.

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