Is ‘Moxie’ Really Radical?

Originally published on Iridescent Women.

When I chose the assignment to write a review on the Netflix Original Movie “Moxie” that came out today, March 3rd, I watched the trailer and expected an easy movie. I figured the most radical it would get would be with the issue of dress code. Although I do have many critiques for the way the story centered white feminism, ignored the anti-capitalist sides of the riot grrl movement, and seemed to tokenize the struggles of women of color and women with disabilities. Still, this movie was far more feminist than I’d ever seen in a movie mass-marketed for teenagers.

The story centers around sixteen-year-old Vivian, played by Hadley Robinson. She publishes an anonymous zine inspired by her own mother’s zine collection from her teenage years. Throughout the movie, Vivian becomes slightly radicalized by her new friend group that comprises of Lucy, a queer Afro-Latina new girl played by Alycia Pascual-Peña, Kiera, the half-Black, half-Korean women’s soccer team captain played by Sydney Park, CJ, a white trans girl played by Josie Totah (who is actually trans), and Claudia, her Chinese life-long best friend played by Lauren Tsai, among a few others.

Here is your spoiler alert for those who want to watch the movie before finishing this article.

Despite the opening scene depicting a nightmare, the movie eases you in with loving mother-daughter bickering, the typical clique introduction scene during her first day of eleventh grade, and good old-fashioned internalized misogyny in the form of “the list” before slowly diving deeper and deeper into softcore riot grrl views. For reference, ‘Riot Grrl’ began as a subcultural movement that combines feminism, punk music, and politics.

What is “the list”? Put simply, the list is terribly sexist, made by students of Rockport High School, and it lists categories like “Best Ass,” “Best Rack,” and “Most Bangable,” among others. The moment Vivian and Claudia talked about “the list,” I remembered my own high school’s list, which included “Best Ass,” “Best Rack,” “most likely to marry for money,” and “sluttiest”, which I was nominated for while still a minor (and a virgin).

The movie nails the sexist douchebag character with Mitchel Willson, played by Patrick Schwarzenegger, and the enabling male teacher character with Ike Barinholtz playing Mr. Davies. Mitchel Willson becomes the central antagonist, although it becomes clear that there are far more antagonists than Vivian had noticed before this year. However, Lucy Hernandez quickly identifies that Mitchell Wilson is much more than just annoying.

Lucy faces the incredibly real struggle of having to stand up to sexism that has been normalized.

Within her first scene, Lucy is harassed by Mitchel Willson. When she reports it to Principal Shelly, played by Marcia Gay Harden, she is gaslit, and her very real issues are minimized and eventually dismissed. Mitchel Willson quickly notices that Lucy isn’t making herself smaller to avoid his attacks, as she is advised to do by Vivian, which results in him threatening her. Although this is an experience that many women can relate to, regardless of race, the dismissal of Lucy’s harassment does remind me of the fact that this happens more often to women of color. This is especially true with Afro-Latinas, who are often dismissed because of the stereotype that they are all feisty and slutty (in their Latinness) and aggressive (in their Blackness).

However, Lucy’s issues aren’t just dismissed by the principal and her teacher, Mr. Davies. They are also rejected by Vivian, who tells her he’s just annoying, but Lucy states that she doesn’t think he’s just irritating, alluding to the fact that she perceives him as a threat. This was too scarily reminiscent of a boy in my high school who was always bothering girls but was dismissed as annoying and funny. The year after I graduated high school, a few girls revealed that they had been sexually assaulted or harassed by him. Many adults tend to want to censor the world to children without realizing that awareness of what is not okay (and why it’s not okay) could help fight rape culture since it affects minors so often.

Regardless of how heavy the topics in this movie are, well-placed jokes and moments of silly, carefree female friendships allow the movie to remain digestible and teen-friendly.

For the most part, the dialogue is rather accurate to the way teenagers speak today, which makes the movie overall feel more realistic. Although there are many predictable parts of the movie, the predictability reinforces the idea that misogyny is so obvious and toxic when you bother to push against it.

So, what does Vivian do to push back? Inspired by Lucy, “the list” and Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl,” Vivian writes a zine and makes fifty copies which she leaves in one of her school’s bathrooms. In it, she includes her own list, which includes Mitchel Willson as “most awful.” A copy makes its way to him, and he uses it as an opportunity to mock and harass Lucy again since he assumes she wrote it. The zine encourages readers to draw hearts and stars on their hands to show support.

The next day, not only do some girls draw hearts and stars on their hands but so does Vivian’s love interest Seth, played by Nico Hiraga. Seth is another incredible character. He plays the role of the classic “woke” guy. Although he does seem to genuinely care about the issues addressed in the zine and even offers to help distribute it, he isn’t actually willing to put in that much work. Instead, Seth uses his “feminism” as a shield from real criticism and growth and as a tool to get in Vivian’s pants. The movie doesn’t seem to put much focus on his flaws, though. He makes comments like “you aren’t just a cute girl,” as well as continuing a friendship with Mitchel even after Vivian expresses her concerns about him.

Unfortunately, Seth is framed as “the good guy” for drawing stars and hearts on his hand and mostly just standing next to Vivian. Still, he is unwilling to actually put in an effort to deconstruct his own internalized misogyny. There’s even a point where Vivian gets upset with him for telling her to calm down. He makes himself the victim and makes it obvious that he expects to be rewarded for not being outwardly sexist in just six annoying words: “I’ve done nothing but support you.”

I’ve met many “Seths” in my life. “Seths” tend to be “Mitchells” who are better at keeping their sexism a secret, sometimes even from themselves. In the same way, white people must work to deconstruct their internalized racism, men need to be willing to put work into deconstructing internalized misogyny.

There is nothing heroic about seeing women as your equal.

Although the movie addresses many important issues relevant to white teens today, there are huge and obvious gaps in terms of racism, ableism, and transphobia. There are two characters that were written in a very racist way. The first, Amaya, played by Anjelika Washington, is an almost too stereotypical depiction of the “sassy Black girl.” She is given almost no dialogue except for when she has a sassy side comment to add, and her character has practically no depth.

The character of Lucy shows that the writers are capable of writing complex Black characters but chose a lazy, tired stereotype for Amaya. The same is true for the second character, written in a very racist way: Claudia’s mom, Liu, played by Eon Song. Not only does she only speak in one scene in Mandarin even though she understands English, but she is an ultra-strict mom. She has no personality other than yelling at Claudia for wanting to wear a tank top.

Beyond the racist characters, the fact that Vivian was the main character even though, arguably, the plot depends far more on Lucy is yet another place where the film has missed the mark. The fact that it is the great white savior, Vivian, who publishes the zines — which gets Lucy harassed more and gets Claudia suspended from school — made it obvious that the movie centered around white feminism and virtue signaling. Even when Lucy gives her only big feminist speech, the camera pans away from it quickly to show how Vivian and Seth get back together and a song starts playing, completely blocking out what Lucy is saying. Additionally, CJ, the one trans girl, and Meg, the one girl in a wheelchair, seem to only exist as tokens written for virtue-signaling points.

Yes, Black characters use AAVE (African-American Vernacular English) in a way that isn’t intended to be funny. Yes, Vivian pushes back against her mom’s boyfriend, played by Clark Gregg, for having a sticker of the American flag on his car. Yes, this movie encourages girls to break some rules to make a point. And yes, there are many great feminist songs in the movie’s soundtrack.

But at the end of the day, this movie is a Netflix Original. There is only so much Netflix is willing to encourage, especially in a movie targeted towards young girls.

‘Moxie’ unfairly gives characters like Mr. Davies a faux redemption arc that absolve him of supporting sexism in the classroom and refusing to make any real statement because he drew a heart and star on his hands on the day of the final big feminist demonstration. The movie also seems to conclude with sexism mostly fixed since Mitchell Wilson gets taken to the office after Emma Johnson comes forward and announces that Mitchell raped her.

It is important and great that the movie doesn’t end immediately after the girls come together to fight the patriarchy. Instead, it shows how they work together to solve issues in their community. This serves as an excellent introduction to the riot grrrl movement for young girls. But it is just that, an introduction. There is so much more to the riot grrrl movement, especially the riot grrrl movement today that is not addressed in the movie. It is no surprise that this movement’s deepest and most radical views aren’t shown. Netflix is too smart to expose that many people to these ideas since they go against a lot of what Netflix stands for.

All things considered, there is no way to know if this movie was written by a lazy team who did not care to do their research but just wanted to make money off of the market of social justice or intelligent riot grrrls who knew how to encourage people to rock the boat without risking their jobs. ‘Moxie’ might not be radical, but it will likely be a strong gateway of radicalization for future riot grrrls everywhere.

Mexican senior at The King’s College.