It is said that “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” and in the new film Promising Young Woman, Carey Mulligan plays “that woman.”
Mulligan stars alongside Laverne Cox as Cassie, a med-school drop out who lives with her parents and works at a coffee shop managed by a friendly and supportive coworker Gail (Cox). In Cassie’s free time, she plots and plans schemes to take down unassuming, yet slimy men with a grander mission of righting the wrongs of the world endured by women.
This grand mission is essentially to seek revenge for a traumatic event that happened to Cassie’s best friend during med school. The event was so traumatic that it derailed Cassie from the path of being a promising young woman and becoming a doctor.
One by one, Cassie targets men (and a few women) to bring about their demise in ways that blur ethical and moral lines.
Watching this film in a post-George Floyd era and after an alarming summer of COVID-19 pandemic-related crises and social justice uprisings, followed by what appeared to be an attempted coup d’etat by the sitting U.S. president, I couldn’t help but to see Cassie’s revenge journey as petty and mentally disturbed at best.
Cassie is a privileged white woman who has the option to go to medical school and also has the option to drop out. She has the option to live with her parents. She also has the option to take time away from the rat race (i.e. – working tirelessly to earn money to pay your bills and keep a roof over your head) to seek revenge on society, albeit misguided.
“Shenequa” on the other hand doesn’t have any of those options. In a world where more than 40 million Americans are unemployed, women of color are disproportionately affected by traumatic events such as job losses, racism and health disparities. Every day on the job and in schools, Black and Brown women experience race-related microaggressions (being ignored) and macro-aggressions (physical assaults, verbal abuse , etc) and society doesn’t seem to have the money or time to hear them out and help right their wrongs, let alone make a movie about it. Hence an officer feeling the freedom to open fire on Breonna Taylor and countless more unnamed victims of police brutality.
What would have been a more interesting movie is to see Laverne Cox and Carey Mulligan switch roles. As a transgendered woman, Cox as the main character, Cassie (encompassing all that it means to be trans and a woman of color in this world) would justifiably have a lot more to be angry about in this film. Mulligan would play the supportive friend role, a character typically cast as a Black woman. Dare I say audiences would even be more likely to root for Cox as the underdog rather than Mulligan, whose character epitomizes white privilege in the film.
Promising Young Woman is directed by actress-turned-screenwriter Emerald Fennell and is nominated for a slew of Academy Awards (including best director and best actress). But, if you must see it then take a deep breath and sigh. It’s just another tone deaf film with imperfect timing put out by an industry that lacks the diversity necessary to see that NOW IS NOT THE TIME. Don’t get me wrong: what happened to Cassie’s best friend, as slowly revealed in the film, is an atrocity and horribly wrong. But how Cassie responds is very wrong, as well.
So, I repeat, NOW IS NOT THE TIME. Now is not the time to prop up the rage of spoiled wealthy women with curly blonde ponytails and options.
So Carey… I mean Cassie… I mean Karen: stop your whining and get to work… on yourself!
This article has been updated in April 2021.