For pretty much anyone born before 1990, Baywatch is an iconic TV series: the dreamy Los Angeles beach setting and the gorgeous, blonde—and mostly white—women diving into the surf. The show, which first aired in 1989, gave the public permission to ogle perfectly bronzed bodies while mildly paying attention to a lacklustre (but entirely addictive) plot of gorgeous lifeguards helping solve local crimes. Talk about a pitch!
Even if you’ve never seen the series, you likely have seen the show’s lasting influence on pop culture (see every slow-mo beach run ever). While even David Hasselhoff acknowledged that the OG Baywatch was widely perceived as sexist, the new movie remake *could* have refreshed the show’s franchise by moving away from its dated tropes. With Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (as Mitch Buchannon) and Zac Efron (as Matt Brody) on board, we had high hopes for a Baywatch facelift. Here, we break down all the ways the movie and its all-male screenwriting crew tried—and mostly failed—to bring us a woke reboot of Baywatch.
The new cast is more racially diverse than the original, but the characters are underdeveloped
I was super excited to hear that Bollywood star (and former FLARE cover goddess) Priyanka Chopra would make her big-screen Hollywood debut with Baywatch. She grew up watching the show with her mom in her hometown of Jamshedpur, India, and is a successful actress who refuses to hide her roots. Her Baywatch character, Victoria Leeds—a role that was originally written for a man—is a power-hungry villain. Her character isn’t defined by her sexuality and beauty; it’s a sidebar to her strong personality.
Among the lineup of nearly-naked lifeguards is another woman of colour, up-and-coming actor Ilfenesh Hadera as Stephanie Holden. While Holden was a main character in the show, she wasn’t given enough screen time, IMO, which left me fuming. Like Chopra, her character is tough as hell, and I wanted to see both of these women’s characters further developed in the film. Instead, it felt like the filmmakers were just ticking off the diversity box.
The script is both homophobic and transphobic at times
I’m rarely surprised—but grossed out all the same—when men use sexual orientation to make “jokes.” But to see this punchline used so obtusely in a major Hollywood production? And in multiple scenes? That. Was. Shocking. In one scene, Efron is tricked into examining the scrotum of a cadaver so a photo can be taken for future blackmail purposes. (It’s funny because they both have penises, get it? Nah, me neither). Later on, in an effort to disguise himself during an undercover investigation, Efron emerges in drag, for no purpose other than to laugh at a hyper-masculine man dressed as a woman. In another scene, Efron accidentally kisses Johnson—and promptly freaks out. Johnson smiles cheekily, having caught Efron in a moment of accidental bisexuality.
I dream of the day when sexual orientation is not the butt of a joke.
It perpetuates sexual harassment
Some dudes just don’t know when to take “no” for an answer. As young women, we’re often taught to be flattered by guys who harass us with unsolicited attention. Baywatch, unfortunately, contributes to this harmful notion. There are a couple of awkwardly long scenes where Efron stares at his love interest’s (Alexandra Daddario as Summer Quinn) breasts—letting her know that his gawking is a compliment—even after she calls him out for doing it. Later, Efron peeps on Daddario through a pair of binoculars, and Johnson points out just how creepy that actually is. And somehow, through all of these pervy moments, Daddario ends up growing fond of her creeper. Efron basically annoys her until she dates him. Sound familiar? It’s only the plot line of every single romantic comedy ever.
The original Baywatch series wasn’t exactly the picture of gender equality—and neither is this film
Leading up to its release, Chopra spent a lot of time talking about what it means to play a strong female character. She promised her fans that the new Baywatch would turn female objectification on its head, by switching the gaze onto men’s bodies—which is not at all better, duh. Clearly, she was eager for the film to make waves (pun definitely intended). Although Johnson and Efron’s bodies are on display, it’s the female characters’ bouncing breasts and booty slaps that are constantly in your face.
In the only feminist scene, a character calls Chopra’s character “crazy” and she responds, “If I was a man, you’d call me driven.” Her drive, as explained in the movie, comes from not being trusted to run her family’s business because of her gender. At this point, I’m internally screaming, “YASSS!”—but that was basically the only yasss-inspiring moment in the entire film. Womp, womp.
If you’re trying to make a movie that’s more 2017 and less 1989, try giving women of colour more meaningful dialogue and writing hunky men woke enough to be against the “no homo” culture. Because, believe it or not, women can be sexy as hell and smart (like Chopra and Hadera’s characters are), and men can be ripped feminists. Just because body objectification and hyper-masculinity were the foundation of the Baywatch TV series doesn’t mean they had to be the crux of the movie. If we aren’t able to rewrite history, at least, for the love of red high-cut one-pieces and sand between your butt cheeks, we should change it.