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Catwoman

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September 1, 2004 by Chris Woo

Directed by Pitof (aka Jean-Christophe Comar)

Catwoman. Here is another cinematic epiphenomenon that follows the tradition of textual poaching. Why invent floundering narratives and creatively challenged plots such as M Night Shyamalan's The Village when stealing is the rule of the capital game since Superman in 1978? The multimillion dollar box-office hits of X-Men, X-Men 2, Spider-man, Spider-man 2, Hulk, Hellboy, and The Punisher are prime examples of Marvel Heroes and DC Comic success. Fandom is a very profitable market and it just so happens that postfeminism sells.

Halle Berry plays Patience Philips, a Black woman struggling in the capitalist world of advertising where the masculine dictatorship of White men in suits is no longer tolerable and even less sexy. The opening bedraggled hair-do and make-up-less Patience is a representative style of second wave feminism that could no longer withstand the onslaught of patriarchal oppression, postfeminist suave and poisonous Hedare Beauty cosmetics. Patience must die.

Caught in the conspiracy of an anti-aging product that disintegrates the skin over time, Patience is eventually (and literally) flushed-out and drowned. By this time, the audience knows that Bast — the goddess of pleasure, music, dancing and joy — has had her eye on Patience since the pseudo-suicidal incident in the exposition of the film. Bast's messenger, Midnight the cat, eventually finds her corpse and breathes life back into her ragged body.

Fusions between animal and human have always been a frequent motif in fantasy texts. The resurrection of Patience embodied in a hybridity of cat-like instincts and human corporeality invokes the supernatural Other. She is now Catwoman (a name that lacks any subtlety) and conjures the monstrous femme that slices men with rhinestone nails, kicks patriarchy with four-inch stilettos, and whips porcelain Whiteness (Sharon Stone — who plays Laurel, wife of the head of Hedare Beauty), which struggles to maintain discursive dominance in the ephemeral and superficial world of beauty. Goddess revived and powers restored, the new woman is not only impatient, free and wilful as a cat, but is also an inexplicable paradox. She is at once anti-capitalistic but still needs occasional mascara and rouge lipstick; she cracks men's noses and ruptures their testicles yet has occasional wild, heterosexual sex; she represents the freedom of femininity unconstrained by the dictate of men but always within the intimate shadows of the jet-ink mask — the closet of Black women's empowerment.

Catwoman may be an additional challenge to the few comic heroes that criticises male hypermasculinity and steroid-pumped testosterone. But the ppositional, ideological dyad is not effective when it advocates hyperfemininity and boob-enhancing oestrogen. The antipodal binary is performative of the suffocating representations of postfeminist women who are Wu Shu trained but must be big-breasted and at the same time on a low-calorie fish diet. We now have femme heroes that no longer suffer suicidal or murderous fatalities but they must still follow the emaciated models of acceptable body image. I wait patiently for a day when Queen Latifa plays Catwoman.

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