With its over the top premise and mining of dementia for “comedy”, I could never get into Raising Hope, but there's one thing I do appreciate about the sitcom: it’s one of very few successful shows to feature a working-class single dad.
It centers on Jimmy Chance (Garret Dillahunt), who is 25 when he finds out that a former one-night stand has become a serial killer, been sentenced to death, and left him with sole custody of their baby girl, Hope. As he still lives at home, his haphazard family helps him out as best they can.
Similarly, in Ugly Betty, sisters Betty and Hilda Suarez both lived at home, where their dad Ignacio acted as a surrogate father to Hilda’s adolescent son Justin, helping to take care of him both practically (including cooking and housework) and emotionally. These shows highlight the fact that for many working-class single parents, a support system which provides affordable childcare is essential. They also illustrate that single parents may have to move in (or never move out) from the family home for financial reasons, a fact rarely explored in discussions (or statistics) about homelessness.
I’d read conflicting accounts of What to Expect When You’re Expecting: while Bitch's own Andi and Kelsey previously pointed out many of its flaws, Bitchflicks called it an “unexpected gem”. Having watched it, I understand the conflicting feminist opinions: the movie's so tonally inconsistent and stuffed full of characters, it’s open to a range of interpretations. There’s a lot to hate about it, from its heteronormativity (gay people and single people have babies too!) to its racial troping (a minor character calls Latino couple Holly and Alex “spicy”; Vic (Chris Rock) and his wife have more children than everyone else, and they’re all named after professional athletes...). A subplot pitting Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) against her younger, more glamorous stepmother Skyler (Brooklyn Decker), who is also pregnant, felt hackneyed: why not subvert the idea that women are all jealous of models by having them support each other, instead?
But the film has some surprisingly realistic moments, especially compared to traditional romantic comedies where pregnancy and labor are portrayed as a breeze. After Rosie (Anna Kendrick) becomes unexpectedly pregnant, she had Marco (Chace Crawford), who she's barely started dating, become a cozy couple. But then she miscarries, is sunk into depression, and their too-much too-soon relationship falls apart; all of which felt surprising and pretty revolutionary for a big-budget (alleged) comedy.
There are lots of films where single men act as surrogate fathers, from the John Wayne flick 3 Godfathers to Annie, Curly Sue, Fred Claus, About a Boy, Role Models, Happythankyoumoreplease [yep], Kindergarten Cop, Big Daddy, and (kinda) True Grit. It’s also a common trope on TV, in shows where the non-dad “dad” is related to the children in question, like Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, Party of Five, Full House, or Gilmore Girls, and also where a lone man rescues a needy stranger (and himself in the process), as in Punky Brewster.
In the 2005 Disney movie The Pacifier, Vin Diesel plays Shane Wolfe, a Navy Seal–turned–temporary child minder. After failing to protect a government scientist working on a top-secret program that prevents other countries from deploying nuclear weapons, he’s sent to protect the man’s family as they’ve experienced some attempted break-ins, presumably in search of the secret program (which Wolfe needs to find before they do). After the scientist’s widow leaves for Switzerland to open a newly discovered safety-deposit box belonging to her husband and the hopelessly negligent nanny quits, Wolfe is left in sole control of five children aged from baby to teenager. Hijinks ensue.
2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness [sic] is one of a handful of movies that bucks the trend — as well as a rare example of a single dad of color. Based on the rags-to-riches story of Chris Gardner, it stars Will Smith as a down-on-his luck striver, struggling in his business selling bone density scanners to hospitals, while taking care of his five year old son following his wife’s departure. He lands a prestigious stockbroker internship with a 1 in 20 chance of leading to a job, but it’s six months of grueling, unpaid work (plus studying for an exam) leaving him to fit all his sales calls into the weekend, when he doesn’t have childcare.
But even before he becomes a single parent, he plays an active role in his son’s care, drilling Chris Jr. on spelling and math, and asking him about his day. Contrast this with 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer, where Dustin Hoffman’s Ted Kramer has little insight into his son Billy's daily life before his wife leaves them. When he cooks breakfast for Billy for the first time, he doesn't know where anything is kept, and keeps saying that not only does he bring home the bacon but: “I gotta cook it, too!”. (He'd clearly quite like a medal.)
The first time we see Bill Sanford in Coyote Ugly, his daughter Violet is cooking him egg whites and urging him to stick to his diet. The first time we see Mel Horowitz in Clueless, his daughter Cher is telling him to drink his orange juice and reminding him about his doctor's appointment that afternoon. At different times, both of these men act like overprotective fathers uncomfortable with their daughters’ sexuality, but that isn’t the primary dynamic in either of these stories.
No, these young women are daughter-wives, or maybe daughter-moms. Each young woman's relationship with her father is based around the idea that (releatively healthy, able-bodied) men need looking after by their daughters. Sure, Clueless is satirical, but so are 10 Things I Hate About You and Suburgatory, both of which feature girls of around the same age, and fathers who act like an actual parents.
In its heyday, Dazzled by Twilight operated two stores, a performance space, and a tour of Twilight-related sites around Forks, Washington (population 3,175 and 8.5 Vampires), the former logging town–turned–Twilight fan mecca. Amidst fake conifers (including one carved with “Bella loves Edward” on the trunk), an Astroturf grass floor, and fountains, frenzied fans swooped up shirts emblazoned with slogans like "Bite Me" and "Vampires Only, Please," as well as posters, mugs, bumper stickers, and jewelry. On Oct 29th, the entire store was demolished in a fire. However, Dazzled had already shuttered its doors the previous January.
At the peak of Twlight mania, in 2010, there were close to 73,000 pilgrimages to Forks; by the following year, the numbers dwindled to half that amount. With Breaking Dawn – Part 2, the final film in the series, opening later tonight, Forks is a bleak reminder of what the end of Twilight mania portends. During the boom years, longtime residents were alternately bemused and resentful by the spotlight on their town, but the attention of fans—and their money—enabled Forks to survive a brutal recession. One t-shirt designed by a local featured a logger bearing an axe in one hand and a struggling vampire writhing in the other.
Three Men and a Baby isn’t the first pop cultural example of a male primary caregiver, but it is arguably the most iconic and definitely one of the most successful. Released in 1987, it was the first Walt Disney Studios production to gross over $100 million domestically, taking $168 million worldwide and making men with kids a hot proposition. I loved the movie as a kid, but I dreaded re-watching it.
I imagined it to be rife with gender stereotyping, goofy gags demonstrating that men can’t cope with babies, and jokes about the how emasculating being a father can be. Turns out, I was way off. Three Men and a Baby is a lot of fun, and more progressive than you might expect.
As you might have noticed, there have been a lot of primary caregiver dads in pop culture (no pun intended) lately. In addition to populating long-running shows like Two and a Half Men, Castle, and Dexter, we’ve seen single dads on Raising Hope, Louie, and Suburgatory, plus Will Arnett as a sensitive stay-at-home-dad (SAHD) on Up All Night. This year, though, we’ve hit the father lode.
This weekend will see the takeoff of Robert Zemeckis's new movie, Flight, which stars Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, and John Goodman. Washington plays a pretty conflicted character: Whip, a star pilot who also happens to be an alcoholic with a cocaine problem. He parties hard with one of his flight attendants before going up in the air one morning, and of course, shit gets unfortunately real with a crash landing. He's a hero for a minute, but that all changes wtih the investigation into the emergency landing.
It's a great performance from Washington, but, as with nearly all Hollywood products, it toes the line on negative racial stereotypes: in this case, the black substance abuser and absent father. In the name of Sydney Poitier, these challenging roles have got to be out there for people of color. But how do we determine if a movie is actually doing justice to its representation of members of a marginalized group? I'm going to share a few rules I've developed to help explain whether or not a character is more than just a stereotype.
The tenderness of black women growing in self-love and self-possession is rare in modern cinema. If we are young, we are exploited (see: Precious) if we are grown and in love, black female characters are consumed with body-racking pain (see: For Colored Girls, Monster’s Ball, Beloved). Caricatures of us usually dim our personal transformation from one moment to the next. On screen, the fullness of black womanhood has been flattened to a one-dimensional trope – she is rarely funny without bitterness, or lonely and sad without letting her emotions bleed into histrionics or melodrama.