Stacy Wolf is a professor of theater at Princeton University and the author of “Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical.”
“Les Miserables” should have feminists like me up in arms. The musical takes the female characters from a 150-year-old novel about a French rebellion and makes them bit players — even though they figure prominently in the book (and in the marketing for the musical and movie). They exist not to drive the plot but to sacrifice for the men, the real stars of the show.
But I can’t help it: I love “Les Miz.” As a theater historian who studies gender and sexuality in the American musical, when women are abused or marginalized on stage, I notice. Yet “Les Miz” never fails to move me.
Clearly, I’m not the only one. The film raked in $18.2 million on Tuesday to become the second-biggest Christmas opener ever. The enduring affection for “Les Miz” isn’t just due to its engaging story; its popularity is also fueled by audiences’ nostalgia for the 1980s, when it became a Broadway hit. And the fact that viewers are flocking to a movie full of outdated gender roles reminds us that, though we’ve seen gains in gender equity in politics and pop culture in the past few decades, old stereotypes still persist — and, somehow, we still love them.