The Star is a Biblical Movie – sort of
The donkey plot arc of The Star has some positive moral content
The star of The Star is an abused miniature donkey called Boaz who Mary and Joseph adopt when he escapes the cruel miller who has had him tied up to grind grain for his whole life.
Boaz has dreams, y’know. He and his buddy, Dave the dove, want to run away to join the Royal Caravan, full of posh horses in golden reins, and get their share of some glory.
But when they discover that Mary is in danger (more about the danger in a moment), they have to decide between glory and friendship. They make a good choice, and there’s plenty to talk about with children after the movie.
There’s also a moment near the climax that was really striking to my son, when the donkey has the opportunity to save his enemies – and does. I think that scene, and its aftermath, will be what stays with me, and hopefully my son, most from the movie. I’ll be reminding him about it tomorrow, for sure!
There’s also a plot thread about how Mary and Joseph each cope with the responsibility God has given them, which is nicely handled.
Several characters have challenges and dilemmas along the way, and make difficult, honourable choices.
Herod and his henchman are a big part of the movie, so there’s a clear set of baddies who give moral contrast.
The Star doesn’t pass the Maisy Test or even the Bechdel Test
When I was a kid, in the 80s, Smurfette was the only female character in her whole show. Can you imagine writing that show and thinking that was acceptable?
Plenty of other writers are still doing the same thing, and The Star isn’t much better.
The Bechdel Test (does the movie have two female characters who speak to each other about something other than a male) is sarcastic. It’s a pathetically low bar, and if a movie doesn’t pass it, then shame on it.
I’m sorry to tell you that The Star doesn’t pass. The only conversation between female characters I can recall in the entire movie is when Mary and Elizabeth talk about how Mary is going to break the news of her pregnancy to Joseph. For one minute.
The Star doesn’t pass the Maisy Test either:
Gender Balance: Only about a quarter of the speaking characters are female, and given that most of them are fictional, and animals, there’s just no reason at all that this should be the case (I mean apart from unconscious sexism. No good reason.)
For example, in the Herod-and-the-wise-men scenes, the speaking characters are King Herod, three male magi, some male scholars, a male henchman, two male dogs, two male camels and one female camel.
Now imagine writing that scene with gender balance in mind. Sure, a king’s a king, but he could have some female members of his family and court present, couldn’t he? Given the status of Deborah the Prophet in the history of Israel, maybe he could have had some female advisors? The henchmen and his dogs are fictional, so there’s no reason they all have to be male. The camels likewise. Why two male, one female? The Bible speaks of ‘magi’, and sure, they were most likely male, and are never enumerated (there may or may not have been three of them), but since we’re happily adding a talking donkey to the mix, I’d be tempted to have a delegation of wise men and women coming from the East, myself.
Gender Freedom: I’ll be interested to hear other people’s opinions on whether The Star should pass on this heading or not. On one hand, it’s set in a strict patriarchal society, to the extent that all women’s heads are covered. On the other, Mary and Joseph have a fairly modern relationship dynamic. He picks up dishes after their wedding party, she gives wise advice, and they generally rely on each other to get through the challenges ahead of them.
Gender Safety: I did like that Mary was a normal human being, pretty without being a princess, and with a realistic-ish figure. She’s no Disney princess, thank goodness. She’s a wise and strong woman, ready to walk to Bethlehem at nine months pregnant, with a much better attitude than I would have! But there’s a big fail, which I’ll deal with under the next heading.
Social Justice and Equality: Here’s the biggest problem: the camels are sexist, ableist bastards. There are three camels, one for each wise man. Two are male and one is female (Oprah Winfrey, no less!).
One of their schticks is that they have different guesses about what’s going on, what the star signifies, and so on. Oprah is always third to guess, and she’s always the one whose guess is – as Bible readers in the audience know – correct. The ‘funny’ bit is that after her guess, the two male camels fall over themselves laughing at her and calling her ‘crazy’ for having such ridiculous ideas.
They use ableist language, are nasty about her, and basically camelsplain her to death. It’s very frustrating to watch, and so unnecessary. She calmly carries on, like so many women are socialised to do, in the face of this provocation. It’s not what I want children to see in 20-flipping-17.