— Warner Bros. Pictures

2023 was a banner year for off-beat, unorthodox sci-fi. , Yorgos Lanthimos’ biting comedy about sexual agency filtered through a Frankenstein-esque fairy tale. It’s a stunning film in every regard, with a transformative performance from Emma Stone at its center and a delectably dirty script from The Great’s Tony McNamara calling the shots. It also makes some great points about control and infantilization, but its unfettered optimism makes Poor Things more of a statement of joy than a dismal condemnation of the patriarchy. That it’s also remixing classical science fiction through the modern gaze makes it all the more exciting.

It too has been lauded as a feminist masterpiece. But therein lies the trap: Poor Things still fails to tell a truly intersectional story. It is, again, a story about a white woman’s liberation. Her quest for knowledge, autonomy, and the perfect orgasm could resonate with anyone — but it’s in the film’s disregard for the people of color in her orbit that turns this sweet message sour. That’s not to say that Poor Things is a bad film, or that Barbie shouldn’t be celebrated for the unicorn it is. Both Barbie and Poor Things can be feminist to someone, but it’s a mistake to expect them to represent everyone. That’s too much pressure for any one story to bear.

White female characters have long been selected as the baseline for the female experience — but speculative genres like sci-fi are designed, in a way, to challenge that notion. Not everything has to connect with every audience demographic, and it does a disservice to films like Poor Things and Barbie when they’re expected to. Instead, why not adjust our expectations to include a wider palate of protagonists? No film should have to tailor its message to the widest audience possible. Specific stories have always been the ones that come out on top, and that’s what allows the year’s most surprising sci-fi films exist on their own terms.

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