Set Off the Patriarchy

I had planned on doing a close-reading on Set It Off, but ended up doing one on The Long Kiss Goodnight instead. But since I did have a plan for the former, I thought it would be good to write my thoughts down here.

In the beginning of Set It Off, we learn that Stony’s brother, Stevie, was accepted into college but doesn’t have enough money to attend. We see Stony attempt to procure the money for her brother’s education by having an older man pay to sleep with her, only to later find out that her brother actually didn’t get into college at all. Instead of using the money for herself, Stony rips up the check. The four friends discuss robbing a bank to make money, but only after Stevie dies and only after T.T.’s son is taken by Child Protective Services do they act. Frankie and Cleo have their own motives, but they also want to help T.T. get her son back, as she needs money for the court date. After the stakes become too high and Stony doesn’t want to rob banks anymore, she agrees to one last heist to help T.T. get the money that she needs for the court date. But even so, she calls her banker boyfriend and asks him to meet her at a restaurant so that he won’t be at the bank during the time that they rob it.

Although the film, Set It Off, can easily be seen as a girl power film, my argument is that the women do not do anything for themselves until there are no longer any men to further. Though the women would likely need money with or without the men in their lives, the men serve as a catalyst for the bank robberies. Initially, the friends decided that they would not rob a bank without all of them being involved. T.T. was the one who was the most reluctant, but after her son was taken, she decided that she was in. It has been academically established by thinkers such as Kimberlé Crenshaw that anti-racist discourses often focus on black men and anti-sexist discourses often focus on white women. This often leaves black women at the margins of both discourses. For this reason, I think it is significant that Stony has a brother, rather than a sister, and that T.T. has a son, rather than a daughter. It may be inadvertent, but it seems that through using men as the catalyst, although the main characters are women, Set It Off is still placing men as the center.

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One thought on “Set Off the Patriarchy

  1. I did my close reading on “Set It Off” and had similar misgivings with its “girlpower” label. The movie’s narrative could not have functioned without men serving as “catalyst” (as you say) to women’s action. I believe that movie narratives all to often place a woman’s interaction with men as the thing that drives her to change herself, her outlook, and/or her goals.

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