Ever since Suicide Squad came out back in 2016, director David Ayer has been targeted by a particular section of the audience for sexualizing Harley Quinn and showing her exclusively through the lens of the male gaze, from her short shorts to shots of her bending over while the camera focuses on her backside. While Ayer has acknowledged such charges in the past, he clapped back recently at one such comment on Twitter about having learned his lesson regarding Harley's look.
"What have I learned? Should male directors only direct women in coveralls? What if an actor wants to be depicted as a sexual being? Am I permitted to do that? What are the rules? Help!"
The response is as close as a celeb can come to snapping at their critics without actually making use of swear words. The fact that four years after the film came out, Ayer is still having to deal with this aspect of the project must irk David Ayer considerably, especially considering the sexualization of Harley is something that was an important part of her creation and has followed the character through every one of her many iterations.
Even the hugely successful animated series centering on Harley shows her dressed almost exclusively in short shorts and crop tops. But that doesn't stop her from kicking all sorts of ass. The comics from which Ayer got his inspiration for Harley's look frequently depict her in various states of undress or skimpy clothing.
Ayer's film became a particularly sore point for feminists after the release of Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey. In that movie, directed by a female filmmaker, Harley and her cohorts shied away from unnecessarily sexy clothing, and the male gaze was emphatically rejected while capturing the women in action.
But just because Birds of Prey chose to go that route does not mean it is the only possible route for a filmmaker to take, as Ayer appears to be pointing out in his tweet. The sexuality of the characters is something that both the film and its audience engages with, in one way or the other. Showing Harley walking around and beating up enemies while dressed in revealing clothes is no different than the various close-up shots of male heroes working out bare-chested that we have gotten to see in superhero movies over the years.
At the end of the day, Harley Quinn is an immensely entertaining character regardless of the type of clothes she is wearing. Now all she needs is a live-action movie that does justice to her character, and the large amounts of fun Margot Robbie is clearly having while portraying the role. And that was where both Suicide Squad and Birds of Prey fell short, to varying degrees. Hopefully, Harley will finally get her chance to shine in a movie that is as compelling as her character with the Suicide Squad sequel/reboot being helmed by James Gunn.