Sexism in Adventure Films

Posted by Matt Heason on Oct 12, 2020

If I've picked up on one thing over the past few years it's the #metoo campaign. As an educated white man with the privilege of 24-hour news it'd be hard not to have tuned into the global movement. As an educated white male I've done my fair share of thinking about the matter, not to mention a good deal of soul searching. Some of the articles I've read have been beyond illuminating, and have made me downright angry. I wouldn’t for one second suggest that I am not a small part of the problem, but I am happy to know that through our championing of women in adventure at ShAFF over the last 5 years, I've certainly not had my head buried in the sand.

So it pains me time and time again to see so many otherwise amazing adventure filmmakers clearly demonstrating that that not only have they got their heads buried, but that they're clearly down there with a host of commissioning editors, sponsors, athletes and models, seemingly unaware of what they are doing wrong. And yet it is so blatant.
As director of an adventure film festival it feels risky speaking out like this, but at the same time I believe that if by doing so, we can make a difference then it is worth the risk of upsetting a few folk. Also as a father of an 11 year old boy who laps up these films on Youtube and literally idolises the athletes in question I feel like I have to say something and help put a stop to it.
First up is Fabio Wibmer's simply outstanding lockdown film 'Home Office'. When this film landed we were deep into our own lockdown and I was bowled over by the audacity of the tricks, the cinematography and the sheer playfulness of it as a production. It was almost the perfect film of the pandemic. An antidote to the times. But stop a second and ask about the gender balance in the film. I don't mean that we need parity on the bike - Danny MacAskill's films are testament to that. But to feature just two women, one doing the washing (a bra for God's sake), and the other doing yoga in tight-fitting clothes, and both looking at Fabio with longing after he's 'interrupted' them. If this wasn't bad enough, the video has racked up 14 million views and he has over 5 million subscribers. It's clear from the comments that many of them are young boys, plenty of whom snigger at the sexualisation.
Sadly the next example is another Fabio film. This time 'Fabiolous Escape 2' in which he carries out a series of outlandish bike stunts in a ski resort. All is well until he appears trapped on a busy balcony of a restaurant on the piste. Quick thinking Fabio reaches up a woman's sweater and removes her bra to use it to escape down a zip wire. How, in 2018, is it acceptable for a leading outdoor brand to promote the fact that it's OK to reach up a random women's sweater and remove her bra?
Just so it's not Fabio that gets all the flack, in Jean Baptiste Chandelier's film 'Weightless' there's a scene where he swoops in on his paraglider and unties a sunbathing woman's bikini top whilst she giggles. Once again it's referred to positively in the comments.
OK, so there's nothing in any of the above that hasn't been done to death by mainstream cinema, but that's not a robust defence. Mainstream cinema is clearly one of the biggest driving forces for the whole campaign, deep rooted sexism at the highest levels. Adventure film should be bigger and better than Hollywood, and times are most definitely a changing. I fully appreciate that all of the above will have been done with full consent from the models, and that the stunts are intended to be tongue in cheek, but again that doesn't cut it as far as I am concerned. I think that these films carry with them a great responsibility with their millions of young and impressionable followers and I think it's sad to see. Please Fabio, Jean-Baptiste, and anybody else involved in the making of these films can you look at the bigger picture. I suspect and hope that you will look back on them in years to come and cringe, from both a personal perspective and also a cultural one. 

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