You might think it is slightly crazy to be forwarding cartoon character Betty Boop as a feminist figure. But if you investigate the subject just a little deeper you will end up thinking it is not so crazy. She is more than just a character who should be remembered for saying “boop oop a doop”.
Betty Boop was the first female human character in the history of animation. Also the first female character to be the star of a cartoon. From her debut in 1930, Betty Boop instantly clicked with viewers. The year 2020 was her 90th birthday and a celebration of this iconic character is in order.
Though well known the character, who was developed by cartoonist Max Fleischer, has not aged through the year, she remains eternally youthful and popular. Though famous and world renowned she is somewhat of a mystery. Superficially some or many might see her as fluff; a character just all about being cute and even sexy. If you go beneath the surface, however, you will see why she is a character who was rightly used recently by the New Yorker Magazine as the visual representation to denounce sexual harassment.
The documentary directed by Claire Duguet shows us a side of Betty Boop many might not have been aware of or recognized. Using archival footage along with interviews from the present with Jeni Mahoney (the great-granddaughter of Betty’s creator, Max Fleischer), Lili Zanuck, Chantal Thomas, Melissa Laveaux, and singer/performer Viktoria Modesta a more fleshed out version of Betty Boop comes to life.
How does today’s woman see Betty Boop? Probably, for the most part, as a sexy young woman with a little girl’s voice who used the way she looked to get where she did. Her big doe eyes, curls and that voice made her get boxed into that type of categorization. Seduced by her short, strapless dress we never really took her seriously. A parallel can be drawn straight from her to any woman through history who is seen as attractive. Yet, if you really watch her cartoons you will quickly identify Betty Boop as a feminist character.
Yes, she was harassed (sexually and otherwise) due to the way she looked. Underestimated and downright abused. But she never took it lying down. Betty Boop would fight back. In her own way. Sometimes it was by slapping the face of the boss who tried to take advantage of her. Other times it was by using her wit and brain. Besides this fire in her, she was also a character who did not depend on men. She made her own way through life. Demonstrating to all those who cared to see that women could operate independent of men.
Her entire “career” onscreen and in print is laid out here. As we movie through the doc we begin to understand her categorization as a feminist character. It is all rather comprehensive in scope and detail. We see a character who worked, voted, was active in politics, and most importantly independent. In a very clever way, she challenged the conventions of what it meant to be a woman. Showing that there is nothing wrong or degrading about being sexy. That if you have an issue with it, you are the one with the problem.
All this is laid out for us in the 53 minutes of run time of the film. We can easily see her how Betty Boop could be seen as a precursor to the #MeToo movement. That is why the New Yorker used her image in its issue about the monster that is Harvey Weinstein. Betty Boop is not a woman who was going to take being mistreated. She was a fighter and her behaviour can be categorized as inspirational for others going through the same treatment.