Gender Roles – Women
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Men
Gender Roles - Women: 5 Stars
Maya is a smart and confident young CIA agent who proves to be instrumental in tracking down the most infamous terrorist in United States history. She believes in her own abilities and instincts even when those with more experience doubt her ideas. She doesn’t abandon her pursuit for justice no matter how many years pass or how many obstacles surface. And at the end of the day, her hard work and dedication lead the CIA to the front door of a man responsible for the murder of over 3,000 innocent civilians.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 3.5 Stars
Zero Dark Thirty doesn’t dwell in any way on Maya’s appearance. She’s a pale redhead who stands out against the Pakistani population - and also among her mostly male counterparts. But none of the other characters comment on her appearance or her gender. No one ever suggests she’s not up for the job, and to the contrary, they easily acknowledge her skill and intelligence. Even those who don’t much care for her tactics, at the very least, respect her determination. It’s clear from the outset that this film is about Maya’s role in the hunt for Bin Laden, and has little, if anything, to do with the fact that she’s a woman.
Plot: 5 Stars
Although this film brings to light the worldwide search for Osama Bin Laden, the plot is keenly focused on Maya’s personal involvement in tracking him down. There isn’t any time given to the public’s perception of the manhunt, and even within the CIA itself, the search for Bin Laden is no longer a top priority. Maya seems to be the only one who is still intent on finding the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks and ending this ugly chapter in American history. Her instincts and leadership are as much a part of this story as the eventual raid on Bin Laden’s compound. Clearly, Maya isn’t the one who puts the final bullet in Bin Laden’s head, but it is her work that ultimately uncovers his location and makes the raid possible.
Friendship: 5 Stars
Maya does form some loose friendships with her fellow CIA operatives, Jessica and Dan. While there isn’t much substance to these relationships, they still represent healthy connections that aren’t tainted with obnoxious stereotypes. Maya and Jessica talk to each other about history, ideology and even psychology - serious subjects that matter to both of them. They respectfully challenge each other’s viewpoints, but don’t allow their friendship to be diluted by rivalry or competition. Similarly, Maya’s friendship with Dan is one of mentorship and support. He never looks at her any differently because she’s a woman or requires her to prove herself before he trusts her. He treats her as an equal from the very beginning, without patronizing her or indicating that there’s anything disingenuous about their friendship.
Gender Roles - Men: 2 Stars
The men in Zero Dark Thirty are all in positions of power, whether in the form of political power or holding physical dominion over detainees. There’s little evidence of sensitivity or even self-doubt in these characters. Maya’s friend Dan does indicate that the abuse is beginning to wear him down and that he needs to step away from it. This conversation isn’t very long or emotional, but at the very least, it suggests that this level of violence, even if one considers it to be for a noble or just cause, isn’t normal or laudable. That over time, any good man needs to walk away from this sort of brutality if he wants to retain his humanity.
Character Development: 3 Stars
Maya isn’t given a lot of back story or much social skills. She has no family or friends and comes across as a bit deranged at times, with no past or future other than this one, unending mission. It’s possible that this is more than just a job to her. That she lost someone important to her on September 11th and that this manhunt is some form of personal revenge. But nothing of the sort is ever woven into the story, and as far as we can tell, she's just an idealistic and determined CIA agent, dead set on a stale mission that everyone around her has abandoned.
Unfortunately, Maya's lack of character development occasionally leaves us wondering if she is even someone we should root for or support. While she’s initially disturbed by the horrific abuses of CIA detainees, she quickly inures herself to these practices. She never questions the morality or even the effectiveness of torturing the men in her custody, suggesting that she subscribes to the adage that the end justifies the means. She never suffers from any sort of crisis because she fears that we’ve become just as brutal as the people we’re hunting. She remains perfect numb to everything around her, except for the end goal.