This is not a post where we go on and on about the Divergent actor’s sexy physique, or his impressive acting skillz.
This is a post where we want to commend Theo James for making some important and progressive statements regarding gender equality in mainstream Hollywood films, and LGBT representation as well.
Before Divergent, you may not have known James or you may have recognized him as the Turkish diplomat who scandalously dies in Lady Mary’s bed in that one episode of Downton Abbey. I guess he was in Underworld: Awakening too. Regardless, he’s going to be the next Robert Pattinson or Josh Hutcherson now, and he’s already utilizing that spotlight. During his promotional circuit for Neil Burger‘s blockbuster adaptation, James has been outspoken about the need for a departure from the Superhero and damsel-in-distress tropes so flagrantly espoused by Hollywood again and again and again.
The Advocate recently sat down with Theo James to discuss Divergent, and some of it’s lesser publicized (but equally important) themes. The premise of Veronica Roth‘s series of books is a society where people are forced to conform along strict lines of behavior and traits and what happens when people fail to “fit in.” The Advocate took the opportunity to reexamine the Roth’s story as an LGBT allegory, specifically in terms of bisexuality. Author Jase Peebles delineating that, “Divergent’s theme of difference through the multiplicity of one’s identity… has the potential to strike a strong chord with anyone who is bisexual.”
James, though surprised by the theory, agreed. “That’s an interesting parallel to make. I hadn’t connected those dots myself, but there’s definitely truth in there…hopefully the day [we have a gay action hero] isn’t far away.” Roth’s novels are rife with circumspect reflections on society, and the actor went on to express his relief at the film’s final cut, because he was wary of how many parallels would actually make it past the screenwriters pen. “Thankfully many have,” said the actor,”and after seeing the movie a lot of people seem to be asking questions about the nature of society, the nature of being different, the nature of trying to fit in — deeper questions, which I’m pleased about. ”
Through Tris’ narrative, Roth also redefines the stereotypical teenage relationship, and confronts an important facet of rape culture by subtly reformulating specific notions of masculinity. Holding a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, it’s clear that James isn’t just in this franchise for the money. Through every promotional interview, the 29-year old actor has been eloquent and passionate about Roth’s take on the multifaceted nature of the human experience . When he spoke with Advocate, James was more than happy to draw attention to the way the film confronts gender equality. “We’re in a world where masculinity, especially with these big spectacle movies, is often pushed by rippling six packs and forcing an image down someone’s throat trying to prove masculinity,” explained the actor, “Whereas I think true masculinity comes from having a strong sense of one’s self.” James’s went on to reveal Roth’s notion of masculinity is part of what drew him to his character, Four, in the first place.
“[Four’s] concept of masculinity, specifically in how he relates to Tris and their relationship: He’s intrigued by her, but respectful of her bravery and her personality traits. He’s constantly trying to push her to be as strong as possible. Through that, she is respectful of him and thus they start to respect each other. So it’s a mutual relationship rather than one based on her fawning for a man…Her being strong doesn’t de-masculate him, and hopefully that’s pushing a more positive message about gender equality.”
For this writer, Theo James has hit on what was one of the best qualities of the series. Released at a time when Twilight was only just on the decline, and Suzanne Collins The Hunger Games was just gaining popularity, Divergent was one of the first YA fantasy/sci-fi novels to truly depict a equal relationship. No one will ever give Bella and Edward Cullen an award for representing a healthy romance (we deduct 10 points from that score every time he climbed in her window to watch her sleep). And while the media circus around Hunger Games constantly tries to create a “Team Peeta/Everlark” and “Team Gale/Everthorne” hype, the saga was far more focused on survival and alliances than romantic entanglements.
Divergent gives audiences a female heroine who is allowed to be brave, and resilient while her boyfriend, rather than being made insecure, admires her strength and pushes her to trust herself. As James said, “It’s frustrating we still don’t see more movies featuring strong women. … But it does seem like things are beginning to change with films like this and The Hunger Games.” Amen, buddy.
Summit has given the greenlight for the rest of Veronica Roth’s trilogy, confirming a March, 2015 release date for Insurgent which will be directed by Robert Schwentke. The saga’s final chapter, Allegiant, is currently slated for a March, 2016 release. Divergent made a $56 million debut at the box office opening weekend.