Ashna’s Celluloid Scenes: Women in Pop Culture-The Devil Wears Prada

Working hard to succeed in a given career is not a concept new to people, yet why are women villainized for doing so? In a cutthroat, money-generating field such as fashion, every position demands excellence. There is no room for error as millions of dollars are on the line, yet women remain denigrated while putting in the effort to achieve preeminence. Then, when a woman does achieve perfection and attain a position of power, she is regarded as evil and devilish due to her demanding nature. A concept such as this is showcased amazingly in The Devil Wears Prada. Often regarded as THE fashion film, the movie has achieved classic cult status. Patricia Field, the costume designer, had worked previously with David Frankel on Miami Rhapsody (1995) and Sex and the City (1998-2004) and knew that the costume design would make or break the movie. With a starting budget of $100,000, Field enlisted the help of multiple high-end fashion brands, ultimately reaching a final budget of at least $1 million worth of clothing. The enormous costume budget was worthwhile, as all of the outfits have kept their excellence over 14 years. That said, there is a lot that the movie does right. The Devil Wears Prada is a 2006 film directed by David Frankel and produced by Wendy Finerman. The story originates from a 2003 book of the same name written by Laura Weisberger. The author wrote the book after a stint at Vogue Magazine, where she worked under Anna Wintour.

For those unfamiliar with the film, it begins with Andrea “Andy” Sachs landing a job at Runway magazine as the assistant to Miranda Priestly. The phrase “a million girls would kill for that job” is used several times throughout the movie to point out that Andy is not one of those girls, and she deigns to work at a superficial place like Runway. She is a self-confident woman only looking to complete one year assisting the fastidious Miranda Priestly, after which she can work at any job she desires due to all the doors that working at Runway open for her. At Runway, Andy faces many trials, including securing a work-life balance, overcoming her patronizing holier-than-thou attitude while delivering a perfunctory performance at work, and pleasing her irritable boss while being ridiculed for her looks by anyone and everyone at the magazine. The scene that kick starts a change in Andy is the iconic cerulean blue scene. The story so far has made it clear that Andy does not have an eye for detail, so she finds a situation in which two belts of similar shades of blue are being pored over funny. Miranda, of course, does not determine this situation funny as it is her life’s work to distinguish between the smallest details. She then lets Andy know that her condescending attitude towards fashion and its process is laughable, especially considering that Andy’s outfit, consisting of a cerulean blue sweater and a dull plaid skirt, was picked for her by the people in that room. This monologue was crucial in teaching Andy about how wrong she was to look down on people who devote their lives to something as “external” as fashion. 

As soon as Andy becomes conscious of her actions and lack of effort after a string of confrontations with Nigel and herself, she begins to learn quickly from Miranda and becomes increasingly more skilled at her job. Soon enough, Miranda and Andy become very similar, as both are self-confident women, incredibly hard workers, and excellent at their jobs. The journey to this point was trying for Andy, but she picked up invaluable skills such as resilience, tireless work ethic, and a commitment to go above and beyond. Additionally, Andy began to appreciate Miranda for who she was as a person and a boss.

With this new knowledge, we can talk about how the shift in Miranda’s perception reflects on the audience as well. No longer do we see a cold, evil, and impossible to please character. Instead, we see a woman who lives and breathes her job but fails to manage her time to make her husband happy at home. As mentioned previously, a “successful” woman has to master maintaining a work/life balance; therefore, the public and employees at work heavily scrutinize Miranda’s actions. We begin to understand why Miranda is the way she is and why she makes particular decisions. We realize that Miranda had to work exceptionally hard to get to her position as Editor-in-Chief, and that is why she expects excellence from her workers. Andy saw Miranda during her growth at her job. At a dinner date, she even defends Miranda and says that if a man happened to do Miranda’s work, no one would say anything. They would sincerely believe that he was solely doing his job and not think of him as unfair or mean. Funnily enough, even though Anna Wintour is supposedly the inspiration for Miranda Priestly, Meryl Streep drew inspiration from men in Hollywood. For example, Miranda never raised her voice throughout the entire film because Streep thought that it was more powerful that way. She had seen Clint Eastwood talk this way and admired how everyone else had to focus and lean in when he spoke. Streep also adopted the quick wit and “mean” humor from a previous boss, an addition that made Miranda Priestly unforgettable. 

An increasingly popular opinion is that the real antagonist in the film is not Miranda, but Nate. He and Andy’s friends make up a seriously unsupportive crowd. When Andy gets the job and has the possibility of multiple doors opening for her in the future, Nate does not support her. When Andy devotes more of her time to her work, Nate is uber disapproving and blames her for their problems when he should have backed her if he truly loved her. And the cherry on top, Nate ridiculed Andy for dressing well for her job at a fashion magazine. All of Nate’s actions throughout the movie are incredibly frustrating, and it is disheartening to see the screenwriter, Aline Brosh McKenna, defend this kind of behavior. You could say that times were different back in… 2006, but decisions like these are detrimental to the self-confidence of young viewers. This kind of message is not one that should be told to an audience: that they should sacrifice their careers because a partner is unsupportive. Had Nate had a legitimate reason to deprive Andy of support, he would be more likable. However, the only reason he gave her a hard time was because he didn’t see her around at home anymore. As for Andy’s friends, they continued to alienate her and make her feel bad for trying to perform well at work. There is a scene in which Andy brings them all exclusive designer gifts, and they thank her by stealing her phone when Miranda calls, putting Andy’s job in jeopardy. The same job that just got them those gifts. Instead of getting Andy to realize that they missed her, they were abhorrent. 

Having said all this, I do want to make it clear that I relish this film. The avant-garde fashion, the humor, the relationships between Andy, Miranda, Emily, and Nigel, it is all amazing. I did not talk about Emily and Nigel in this blog post, but their characters are quite essential to the story, and they also made the film lively and entertaining. This film also changed me by shifting my perspective on fashion via the cerulean blue scene, so I treasure the movie. The superstar cast is marvelous, and I really would recommend this movie to anyone looking to entertain themselves and learn a thing or two about the fashion world.

—Ashna Sran, Film Blogger.

Ashna’s Bio:

Ashna Sran is a senior at Lewis University, majoring in Biology and minoring in Chemistry. She was exposed to filmmaking and film criticism early on in high school and has stuck with it ever since. Currently, Ashna is involved in water remediation research in the Chemistry department and she finds it very interesting. After getting her degree, Ashna wants to attend medical school and become a physician. She has wanted to become a doctor since she was very young and she is very excited about the next stage in her life. In her spare time, she loves to watch movies and TV shows, listen to music, and spend time with her family and dog. Her favorite titles include Knives Out, The Haunting at Hill House, New Girl, and A Quiet Place. She tries not to limit herself to a genre, so she likes to watch all kinds of movies and TV shows. Ashna hopes to learn more about visual media while writing her blog and hopes to expand her taste in movies and TV shows.

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