Harley Quinn's Suicide Squad hot pants have been an intensely debated topic. When actor Margot Robbie was asked about the costume again recently she said it made sense for the character but she wasn't always comfortable in it. Her words bring up the larger issues still surrounding women in Hollywood.
From a profile in the New York Times:
As Harley Quinn, Ms. Robbie once again had to put much of her body on display: The character almost always wears tiny shorts and is seen, in one trailer, changing into a tight T-shirt. Ms. Robbie said she could justify the wardrobe: Her character is “wearing hot pants because they”re sparkly and fun,” she said, not because “she wanted guys to look at her ass.”
But, she added: “As Margot, no, I don”t like wearing that. I”m eating burgers at lunchtime, and then you go do a scene where you”re hosed down and soaking wet in a white T-shirt, it”s so clingy and you”re self-conscious about it.”
The Australian actor is definitely aware of what she's dealing with when it comes to Hollywood. When discussing her work on Martin Scorsese”s The Wolf of Wall Street in 2014 with The Telegraph (You may recall Olivia Wilde was passed over for the role that went to Robbie because they thought she was too old, another bad trend in the business.), Robbie said:
“I think nudity for the sake of nudity is shameful. If they”ve put it in just so that a girl gets her top off, then that”s disgusting. And you can always tell…The whole point of Naomi is that her body is her only form of currency in this world. So when Marty was trying to help me out, and said in the scene where she seduces Jordan perhaps I could have a robe on, I said she wouldn”t. She has to be naked. She”s laying her cards on the table.”
But Robbie wasn't really ok with the idea of being nude on screen at all, even if it made sense for the character. In the NY Times piece, she makes sure to point out it's a give-and-take for her. “The sacrifice I have to make is that I have to do this nudity thing that I don”t really want to do. But I get to work with Scorsese, which I really want to do. O.K., what outweighs what?”
Doing things you don't want to do is an unfortunate reality for many women in Hollywood. Something many are struggling against constantly. It's not until you've made a name for yourself that you can feel comfortable saying no to things like nude scenes (Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke can attest to this.). Sometimes it even takes creating your own production company (something Robbie is doing with LuckyChap Entertainment to develop her own projects) or getting executive producer credits to your name as well.
Suicide Squad director David Ayer said to the NY Times of Harley's look, “I didn”t think denim overalls would be appropriate for that character” and Robbie got that it's “part of the iconography.”
Speaking to HelloGiggles earlier this year Robbie mentioned they did try Harley's original costume:
Oh, we tried on every variation of the costume. I cannot emphasis enough how many outfits, and how many variations of the Harley Quinn costume we tried. We tried the court jester costume, we tried the corset and skirt, we tried leather pants, we tried literally every type of costume possible for her. I really love where we ended up. And who knows, maybe in the sequels we”ll go with the court jester one.
So why didn't the creators go for a fuller costume, one that pays homage to her original depiction? What it likely boils down to is this: Hollywood and the heterosexual male gaze. Would Harley wear those shorts? Abso-freaking-lutely. (However, Ayer's “that”s part of the iconography” doesn't work for Enchantress, a DC Comics character who has never dressed in so little as Cara Delevingne is in Suicide Squad.) But again, Harley's not supposed to be doing it for the audience, right? That's debatable, as one particular scene from the Suicide Squad trailer got our own Donna Dickens discussing how it looks to the audience to focus a camera on Robbie's buttocks as she bends over dramatically.
It's the sexy vs. sexually objectified argument. A lot of people love sexy (myself included), it's when a fictional character (or sometimes a real person) is sexually objectified that some people take issue, particularly when the subject has no agency. And the difference between the two is harder for a lot of people to grasp than you'd expect. But hell, 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit was way ahead of its time having Jessica Rabbit utter the line, “I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way.”
The creator has control of the image.
It's why some comic book covers featuring female characters are often critiqued. The majority of superhero comics are drawn for the heterosexual male gaze leading powerful female characters to be reduced to eye candy while male characters are depicted as the male power fantasy. The guys aren't depicted in costumes showing off every muscle because it's sexy to heterosexual women, they're meant to appeal to men who are drawn into the idea that being strong makes you a man.
While Robbie's words say a lot about the continued state of the industry, there's another important part of the NY Times profile to consider:
Should there be a “Suicide Squad” sequel, she said, half-jokingly and half not, “I”m not wearing hot pants next time.”