First published by The Independent, 16th July 2015
The minions are taking over. Advertisements for the upcoming film are plastered across the side of every bus in Manchester. Minion merchandise is rampant. There are minion make-up tutorials on YouTube. I was even in a tattoo parlour and a man came in to ask the artist working on me if he could have one of the diminutive yellow creatures inked on his wrist.
The new film is set to pull in more than $100 million over its opening weekend, which means that a whole lot of people are going to see it. Roughly half of them will be female. However, all the title characters in Minions are male and voiced by male actors.
Pierre Coffin, the French animator who created the minions and co-directed the new film with Kyle Balda, told The Wrap that “seeing how dumb and stupid they often are, I just couldn’t imagine Minions being girls”.
To me, this sounds like another poor Hollywood excuse for excluding women, disguised as a compliment. Girls are just as likely to be “dumb and stupid” as boys, so that reasoning doesn’t exactly ring true. Coffin has essentially taken a bunch of jobs away from female voice actors and been insulting about boys in the same breath.
I think the reason so many children (and adults) have fallen in love with the little yellow henchmen is that they’re silly and childlike and joyful. They’re always getting into slapstick scrapes, and giggling and jabbering excitedly. None of these characteristics or actions are inherently male or female. The minions didn’t really need to be assigned a gender at all, and if they were to be gendered, there’s no reason why there couldn’t be as many female minions as male ones.
It might seem trivial to write about the gender of made-up yellow characters, but pop culture – in all its guises – reveals a lot about society. Stereotyped or non-existent portrayals of women reinforce to female viewers that they are the “other” in a world where men function as “standard”.
The minions are essentially children, and children can and do play in natural groups without being separated along gender lines. Children have no inbuilt gender prejudices. They have no natural prejudices at all. It’s a shame that the legions of little girls who will flock with their parents and grandparents and siblings to watch Minions on July 26 won’t see themselves reflected in a single bouncing yellow being.
One thing’s for certain; Minions certainly won’t be passing the Bechdel Test.