“Dune: Part One” falls short in female representation



“Dune: Part One” was released on Oct. 22. While the film boasts impressive cinematography, its female characters disappoint

For a movie that heavily advertised its star-studded cast, it is shocking that “Dune: Part One’s” principal selling point, Zendaya, barely makes an appearance in the film’s two and a half hours.

“Dune” arrived in theaters and on HBO Max on Oct. 22. Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) lives on the ocean planet Caladen with his parents, Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) of House Atreides, until they are selected to replace House Harkonnen on the desert planet Arrakis. “Houses” are different families who each rule separately, but are under command of the Emperor.

Lady Jessica trains Paul to become one of the Bene Gesserit, a group traditionally made up of only female witches. Through their training, Paul becomes the Kwisatz Haderarch, a powerful witch prophesied to “breach space and time, past and future.”

The first part of the film gives audience members the necessary information to understand the plot if they hadn’t read the “Dune” novels. The first third of the movie progresses slowly, almost to the point of boredom. It may be that the leisurely introduction to the film is intentional, but the buildup to action scenes and progress with the plot takes too long and sacrifices the audience’s attention span.

Throughout “Dune,” the most memorable scenes are those that display the environment on Arrakis. Grand mountains above the desert floor and white cascading dunes present viewers with magnificent imagery that carries the film. Without the cinematography, “Dune” would be nothing. One interesting aspect of the film is the contrast between the brightness of nature scenes and the darkness of those with the leader of the Harkonnens or inside buildings.

The Byzantine mother-son relationship between Lady Jessica and Paul is, for the majority of the film, difficult to watch. Because Lady Jessica trained Paul to become a part of the Bene Gesserit, there is considerable resentment from Paul. At one point, Paul even yells at Lady Jessica, saying that she made him a “freak.”

Lady Jessica is one of the sole female characters in the movie. She frequently appears unstable and scared of Paul. Besides her, Dr. Liet Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) is the only female character with a considerable amount of screentime. The lack of female representation limits the potential success of “Dune” by excluding a large market of female viewers.

The film seems to address Paul’s mistreatment of Lady Jessica. Paul must put his hand in a box to test his reflexes in front of the leader of the Bene Gesserit (Souad Faress). The Bene Gesserit leader says that she has to test Paul because he has power, and Paul wonders if it is because he is the son of Duke Leto. The Bene Gesserit Sister says, “because you are Jessica’s son. You have more than one birthright, boy.” This somewhat helpful reminder of Lady Jessica’s importance is an isolated example in the film that acknowledges the value and power women hold within society.

One of my favorite quotes is said by Lady Jessica while Paul is in the situation with the Bene Gesserit Sister: “Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings obliteration. And I’ll face my fear and I’ll permit it to pass over and through me.”

Adding onto the issue of representation, Chani (Zendaya) mostly appears throughout the film in the form of Paul’s dreams. The lack of screentime for Zendaya is essentially due to the fact that Chani hardly appears in the first half of the “Dune” novel, which is the focus of this film.

These dreams might be seen as visions for the possibility of different outcomes in the future. In Paul’s dreams, Chani is usually walking through the desert, looking back over her shoulder as her bright blue eyes look into that of the audience’s. These scenes remind me of a hair commercial, upon which Zendaya is attempting to sell a bottle of shampoo.

Towards the end of the film, Paul and Chani finally meet in real life. Chani tells him, “This is only the beginning,” seeming to also tell the audience that the “Dune” franchise is at its infancy and will evolve in “Dune: Part Two,” coming in 2023. Until then, audiences will have to settle for a film that’s success mostly depends on its advanced level of cinematography.