In her latest movie, Halle Berry plays a character type that is becoming all too familiar in Hollywood: the bad mother.
In “Kidnap,” Berry is a single mom whose son has been abducted by two men. It’s the typical “you picked the wrong kid” and “the wrong single mother” action flick, complete with a plot line that has become normalized in Hollywood: Parents leave a trail of bodies in their wake in their efforts to save their child.
The Los Angeles Times is unsparing in its review of the film. The publication described Berry as the “bad mother in the inept chase thriller,” said the “extremely dumb script should have been thrown directly into the trash,” and quipped the film should have been called “Hysteria: The Movie” with all of Berry’s wailing and crying throughout its 81-minute runtime.
Yes, the plot is improbable. Yes, it is predictable. And yes, she’s not alone among parents in being willing to save her child in a bullet-filled blaze of glory.
But what the newspaper did like about the film is also troubling. The LA Times review called Berry’s character a “bad mother.” And by this, the publication didn’t mean neglectful or mean to her children — but “bad” in the sense of formidable, admirable, and uncommonly tough.
Hollywood has seen a market for this notion and has embraced it as a box-office selling point for a variety of films. The message to moms is this: Don’t strive for perfection or worry if you don’t achieve it — in fact, go ahead and embrace your “bad mom-ness.”
The film “Bad Moms” made more than $100 million at the box office last year because it became a beacon for stressed-out mothers to feel vindicated for their bad parenting choices, excessive drinking, slothfulness, swearing, and other forms of juvenile behavior. In recent years, there have been a lot more bad moms out there in Hollywood movies than good moms.
Hollywood’s point is that society can no longer judge good or bad parents. The notion of what makes moms good is fluid — the goal posts move every day. Calling out what we clearly know to be destructive behaviors for parents is itself now taboo as well.
Today, it’s OK — even encouraged — in films for single parents to go on rampages for their children or to lovingly conform to transgender social agendas in films such as “Three Generations.”
Where we once had sassy but generally responsible moms — such as Roseanne Conner (Roseanne Barr) in the sitcom “Roseanne” or Peggy Bundy (Katey Sagal) in “Married with Children” — we now have characters like Katie Otto (Katy Mixon) of the ABC show “American Housewife,” who celebrates her imperfect and often neglectful parenting. So the mom who unconditionally loves her kids and devotes herself to raising them properly and with bedrock values is now in the minority.
Researchers at San Diego State University recently studied the roles of female characters in movies and found that women are increasingly becoming the protagonist in films — which is good — but the “Rambo single mother” tends to be pervasive. Scripts often feature single women struggling to deal with their cruel male counterparts. That is not so good.
It’s becoming cliché to constantly depict single moms as “the bad mother” fighting for her missing kids. In real life, it’s possible to be a good mother and not be constantly consumed with the emotional scars of male oppression — or be in search of missing children.
In PC Hollywood, positive representations of good moms are sorely lacking, while the marketing push of “bad mothers” is beyond trite.