Why Dungeons & Dragons movie's armpit hair is important
Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves is out in cinemas and it's really great – honest. Based on the tabletop role-playing game, the movie takes the game's universe, characters and quests as inspiration for its story.
Chief among them is Edgin, played by Chris Pine, who teams up with his former band of thieves to rescue his daughter and defeat the unsurprisingly evil conman-turned-lord Forge (Hugh Grant). Edgin's teammates are a rag-tag group of misfits, each with a particular set of skills.
There's Simon the Sorcerer (Justice Smith), whose lack of self-confidence really impacts his magic; Doric (Sophia Lillis) a tiefling druid — shapeshifter in laymen's terms; and Xenk Yendar (Regé-Jean Page), a paladin who narrowly escaped being turned totally evil.
However, Edgin's ride-or-die is Michelle Rodriguez's Holga, a barbarian exiled from her own community for falling in love with the wrong person.
Holga is a brutal warrior and heavy drinker. She doesn't pussyfoot around and while she is deeply kind and loyal, she isn't someone who trifles with societal strictures (she often says the thing Edgin doesn't want her to). She also happens to wear chest-plate-style armour with no sleeves.
While we can debate the usefulness of fantasy armour on women for days, what's interesting about Holga's outfit is that it is mostly practical – yes her arms are bare but that gives her freedom of movement – and her hair is out of her face for almost all of her fights.
Speaking of hair, she sports it in a natural but never featured spot: under her arms. It's a detail you'll miss if you're not paying very close attention to Rodriguez's arms, but it's there.
It might not seem like a detail worth noting, but it is compelling. Women are often, not to say almost always, featured without body hair in movies and TV shows where to be so makes no sense – would we bother to shave in a post-apocalyptic scenario? (Your author says probably not!)
It begs the broader question: for whom do we shave? Which in turn brings us to all sorts of questions about emancipation from the male gaze.
In Holga's case, and in the case of almost all fantasy, our real, lived experiences of patriarchy only impact upon fantasy realms because the people who make them bring those values to their created world. (We're looking at you, Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon.)
Dungeons & Dragons made a conscious decision to eschew one tenet of contemporary femininity – being hairless – and put the choice firmly in the character's hands, devoid of any societal pressures she might feel. And it isn't as if the fact that she has hair is mentioned or even subtly nodded towards, it's just there.
Is this the watershed moment of feminist equality of which we have all dreamed? No, of course not. But it is worth noting because of how rare it is to see.
Whatever your thoughts on the movie, and the other ways in which it may or may not succeed – from its profits to its critical reception – this one element within it has done something unique without needing to draw fanfare to itself for 'breaking a taboo'.
In general, it's accepted that women in fantasy worlds would still abide by our rules of the male gaze, and anything that breaks those rules is considered unattractive, unfeminine or unworthy.
In Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves, none of that matters.
Holga's worthiness as a woman, as a warrior, as a thief, or even to the audience isn't based on her 'real world' (as in, our world) feminine sex appeal, but rather her value as a courageous, unyielding friend.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves is out now in cinemas.
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