Running, sweating, climbing, fighting – pretty high energy activities we would be doing in our trainers, but Hollywood thinks we should be doing in our heels.
Some of our favourite female heroes in movies are doing hand to hand combat enemies, swinging from high platforms, even climbing up the sides of buildings, in tall heels. For example, remember that scene in Jurassic World, where Bryce Dallas Howard had to lure a T-Rex out of its enclosed habitat to fight the Indominus Rex? She ran through the park, coaxing the dinosaur with a flare, and the camera zooms down to a slow-mo shot of her sprinting feet to show her impractical beige stilettos.
Even though Bryce has defended the heel scene, saying it fit her corporate character, it feels that the movie is trying to take the image of a high heeled shoe, and turn it into an empowering-strong-woman icon. This isnâ€™t the first time itâ€™s happened.
2017â€™s Atomic Blonde had Charlize Theron play a spy with a high fashion aesthetic during the Cold War. Often she was sporting thigh-high black boots, fur coats and neon coloured dresses. During a scene in a car, Charlize used a blood red stiletto to stab her captures endlessly in the leg, chest and neck until she disarmed them and cause the car to flip over. Even James Mcavoyâ€™s character gave back the shoe as a peace offering later in the scene.Â
2012â€™s Dark Knight Rises had Anne Hathawayâ€™s Catwoman also disarm a man threatening her with a gun by stretching her leg up too high above her head, pinning his wrist painfully to the wall with the heel of her shoe, causing him to drop the gun. Another assailant even asks her if the heels make it tough for her to walk, to which she replies with a back kick, shoving the heel into his leg causing him to cry out in pain, and asks him â€œI donâ€™t know, do they?â€
Famously, when the new Wonderwoman was revealed in Batman v. Superman 2016, there was a lot of debate on her new DCU costumes. While many praised the new modern look, there was still criticism over the practicality of her shoes. She wears knee-high sandals with a wedge heel. As an Amazon warrior, raised with no male influencers, why is she wearing heeled sandals? Especially when the rest of the Amazon warriors are wearing flats.
Director Patty Jenkins did make a response for this criticism.Â
â€œItâ€™s total wish-fulfilment. I, as a woman, want Wonder Woman to be hot as hell, fight badass, and look great at the same time â€” the same way men want Superman to have huge pecs and an impractically big body. That makes them feel like the hero they want to be. And my hero, in my head, has really long legs.â€
Seeing some of these iconic female characters be badass while looking gorgeous doing it is visually stunning. But does it then bring their image and looks constantly into the limelight, rather than the heroic actions they take?
The health risks associated with wearing high heels are well known. The shoes can cause calluses, bunions and muscle spasms, and thatâ€™s from wearing heels for walking. What about when youâ€™re fighting in them? In movies involving the female to do a lot of fighting and action hero stunts, they wear these impractical shoes as a sign of strength, that if it is possible to fight in heels, sheâ€™s clearly a force of nature. Or the more likely reason, they just look sexier doing it in high heels and skin-tight outfits.
Itâ€™s embarrassing enough for the actresses who have to wear these impractical costumes. They face sexist interviewers who only want to know about their diet and how they fit into the costumes, but for the stunt doubles who perform these life-threatening action scenes, wearing these inappropriate footwear becomes dangerous.Â
Take Dayna Grant, a leading stunt woman from New Zealand. She has doubled for Charliz Theron, (in Mad Max: Fury Road and Snow White and the Huntsman) Tildia Swinton (In The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and many others. She had a serious accident caused by her shoes, ending with her in cardiac arrest.
â€œThey were very slippery, feminine shoes. I slipped on a hill and I got impaled by a dagger, through my head. I ended up going into cardiac arrest.â€ – Dayna Grant
Thankfully Grant made a full recovery and is still working as aÂ stunt woman. But questions do need to be asked if wearing heels in actions scenes like this is worth it when an actor or stunt performer’s safety is clearly at risk.
In an example where the high heel is used more practically within a fight scene, let’s take a look at Marvelâ€™s Black Panther from 2018.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, there are a lot of things this movie does right, and it stands out for many good reasons, but weâ€™re going to talk about the fight scene in the casino. When entering the scene, actresses Lupita Nyongâ€™o and Danai Gurira are decked out in gorgeous evening attire to blend into the environment. When a fight breaks out, the two female leads go into attack mode and quickly discard anything that will inhabit their fighting abilities. Daai Gurira removes her irritating wig, and Nyongâ€™o takes off her heels, uses one to hit her attacker in the face, and continues the rest of the scene barefooted, even in a car chase scene later, you see she is still barefooted.
The shoe was only used as a prop in this scene and nothing more. Nyongâ€™o completely tosses her shoes aside and never goes back to pick them up. The scene focuses on the characterâ€™s strength and quick-thinking, not looking good because a camera is pointed at her like the other examples were given.Â
For the modern female action hero, is it more about practicality, or aesthetic?