As a child, I loved playing with Barbies. And not just doing their hair or dressing them in the latest Mattel fashions; I constructed entire cinematic universes. It was truly the catalyst for my love of filmmaking. Only hindsight and perspective taught me just how it not only entertained me, but served as a salve for wounds borne from childhood trauma in years to come.
In that sense, I can wholly relate to Welcome to Marwen’s protagonist Mark “Hogie” Hogancamp (Steve Carell), who crafts a miniature World War II-era village to ease the trauma resulting from a vicious, hate-fueled assault. He finds inspiration in the people within his waking life and designs tiny action figures from their respective likenesses.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis (who gave us fucking Forrest Gump—you’re welcome), the film also stars Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger, Eiza González, Gwendoline Christie, Leslie Zemeckis, Merritt Wever, Neil Jackson, and of course, Janelle Monáe, who portrays G.I. Jane, a disabled veteran who becomes Hogie’s friend and muse in rehab.
I dug the concept, and it was certainly nothing like I’d seen before. Plus, it made me interested to learn more about the man behind the action figures, as this film is based on the 2010 documentary Marwencol. While I had issues with the overly-saccharine third act (it was a stark, yet obvious contrast to the brutal visuals in the first), I appreciated the careful exploration into sexual and gender identity.
One important thing to highlight is that Hogie’s posse is made up of women. Femininity, in general, colors his compassion and wardrobe, right down to his appreciation of heels—both in their visual beauty and the way it makes him feel when he wears them.
Speaking with The Root about her role in the film, Monáe explained that unmatched comfort of a femme squad is in her blood.
“I have a lot of incredible black women around me,” she told The Root. “My mother, who was a young mother who did not have to have me, had me and she protects me; she continues to protect me. My grandmother, who had 11... 12 children. I have over 49 first cousins. I’m one of 50. So being in that tribe of mostly women taught me responsibility, taught me sisterhood, and I’m so thankful for my friends that I have now who just challenge my ideas, who help me become a better person, who celebrate me when I’m doing a great job. And I do the same for them. I try my best to do that.”
In asking Janelle about the excitement of portraying G.I. Jane, she primarily focused on the fact that her character was able to fuck up some Nazis. Portraying a badass woman who protected someone who was bullied for simply being who they are was significant to her.
“Do you feel a responsibility to take care of folks who are being bullied? Do you feel a responsibility to take care of people to take care of people who may not be as privileged as you?” she asked. “[M]y answer is always ‘yes.’”
Welcome to Marwen releases in theaters Friday, December 21.