The reality: In the United States, women make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes. For African-American women, it’s 64 cents. For Latinas, 56 cents.
The fantasy in the movie “Magic Mike XXL,” is that women hold all the dollars, and the dollar really stretches. Ladies – of all colors, sizes and ages -- rain dollar bills on stripping men in wads, or like falling confetti, like it’s nothing, while men strip without command, without any extra urging from those waving singles. (In what is one particularly unsexy scene at the Myrtle Beach male stripper convention, women wait in line to get single-dollar bill change for the $20 or $100 dollar bills, in delicious modular stacks.)
The reality is that money is power. By proxy, a film whose core demo is women (and gay men) that rakes in a lot of money means that the woman’s dollar has power -- why we have a “Magic Mike” sequel to begin with. If a film has a successful box office run, women’s dollar-power in Hollywood can be further recognized if not augmented, even if it appeals specifically to straight women’s normalized sexual proclivities.
A fantasy is that films for women, and films about power reversal via the almighty dollar – without question – would be financed and released anyway.
The reality is that men and women both have to struggle to make their dreams to come true. Mike (Channing Tatum) is having a hard time getting his small business off the ground. Tarzan (Kevin Nash) wants to be an artist and Ken (Matt Bomer) wants to be an actor and a singer; Tito (Adam Rodriguez) is trying to start an artisanal frozen yogurt food truck. Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) just wants to settle down with a nice girl whose vagina can handle his genital girth. Rome – Jada Pinkett Smith in a role that was originally penned to be male -- built her “subscription-based” strip joint from the ground up after paying her dues. Zoe (Amber Heard) is a fledgling young photographer who would rather live homeless than have to return to her job as a stripper - a parallel that the career of a female stripper is vastly different than that of a male stripper.
But it’s a fantasy that achieving one’s dreams is equally hard-fought between genders. Look at the filmmakers and crew for “Magic Mike XXL”: in a phrase often used ironically, the struggle is real. One of six “Magic Mike XXL” producers is a woman. Of 160 credited crew members, less than one-third of them are women. Only one female made the cut on the music soundtrack, and she’s a featured guest on a Jeremih song. Rome’s character was written as a woman instead of a man, but her role is partly contingent on having romantic ties to a man. Zoe’s dream of “making it” as a New York photographer was contingent on the financing from a man who was mostly only interested in her for sex.
The reality is that anyone woman watching “Magic Mike XXL” doesn’t see have to see themselves as any one woman in the film. We can all be a little Zoe: misanthropic, flirtatious, artistic, sarcastic. Or Rome: powerful, independent, masculine, wounded. Or Andie McDowell’s Nancy: middle-aged, divorced, moneyed, liberated. Or Mae (Jane McNeill): sexually unsatisfied, romantic, trapped. Or any number of convention-goers, strip club attendees or drag barflies: thick, thin, black, white, queer, cis, working class, filthy rich.
The fantasy is that any one of these female roles is actually a complete “character.” Rome bats close, but loses her moxy when Magic Mike dances for her on-command, which is apparently action enough to let bygones to be bygones. She saves the day in order to push the males’ plot forward. (Rome, baby, he ghosted you: you CAN tell your ex “no.”)
Speaking of “no,” there’s a fantasy, the grand finale at the convention. Manganiello’s routine is playing house by “marrying” an audience member and then strapping her in a sex swing to the strains of Trent Reznor’s romantic prose “I want to f*ck you like an animal.” Rome preaches that opposites attract: hot goes with cold, and “yes” can be met with “a little no.” After a particularly spirited performance, a woman is heard shouting “ravage me,” the operative term synonymous with violence, destruction and sometimes even rape. This isn’t to say all women prefer sexual play involving dominance, cockteasing or rape-fantasy. To the contrary, “Magic Mike XXL” is one of the few movies to positively frame those fantasies as a specifically female fantasy in a “safe” communal space.
The reality is that no woman has a single fantasy that can be fulfilled by fictional, chiseled men who are eager only to render a smile on her face.
The fantasy is that all these men are all so comfortable with their sexuality that they can vogue in a drag club like champs; that they believe in equality of body hair maintainence; that they know all the words to Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” and Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way”; that they want to watch “Downton Abbey” on the weekends and grow fat and old with you; that they will “worship you” as a “goddess” (and that God “is a her”); that they are ogling cars and punching each other in the dick to settle arguments when women aren’t around; that birth control is “grown woman sh*t”; that the dude “who stole your smile" is an a**hole; and that stripping for you – even if you’re a frumpy gas station attendant -- is super fun (if not a little messy… bottled water and Cheetos, who’s gonna have to clean that up?).
The reality is that – as pandering as all that may be – “Magic Mike XXL” is as good-natured a film, that one can laugh at it, chide it or smile during it as one sees fit. Manganiello -- an actor whose rise to fame originated with his role on a vampire TV show -- plays a character who later scoffs at a “Twilight”-themed strip routine. Rome is a black woman in a fedora who effectively gentrifies the term “queen” -- slang with origins in gay and black communities. Zoe isn’t in a “boy phase” right now, and Magic Mike respects it; but Rome is apparently bisexual and Magic Mike – her ex – didn’t even know, and reacts with shock. There is room for irony as much as there is for simple pleasures.
The fantasy is that for under two hours, an audience that is knowingly being pandered to, that “Magic Mike XXL” is for women, the woman’s and the gay male’s gaze.
The reality is, “empowering” is a word someone uses when they’re trying to sell you something. “Magic Mike XXL” isn’t a non-profit. The film isn’t in the reality business; it’s in the fantasy business.