Here’s why “The Addams Family” was one of the most progressive and feminist films of the ‘90s
In Addams Family Values, the eccentric family pays a visit to a love-struck, manipulated Fester and his psychotic, serial-killer wife Debbie in their grandiose, pastel estate. Morticia Addams, played by the spellbinding Anjelica Huston, says to Deb: “You have enslaved him. You have placed Fester under some strange sexual spell.” She then quips, “I respect that. But please, may we see him?”
First brought to life by cartoonist Charles Addams, Morticia is the soft-spoken, put-together matriarch of the Addams clan whose wit and grace prove sharper than her enviable cheekbones. In the first film, the self-titled The Addams Family, she finds herself in a damsel-in-distress situation where she’s tied up and tortured on a wooden canvas until husband Gomez sweeps in. Only, prior to this, she’s thoroughly enjoying the situation — flirtatiously saying, “You’ve done this before,” to her timid torturer.
Morticia’s rendering of her own sexuality — including a fairly kinky relationship with Gomez — illustrates feminist undertones otherwise progressive for its time. Consider other family films of the same period, the Home Alones or the Mrs. Doubtfires, all undeniably iconic in their own right but retaining reinforced tropes of mothers or ex-wives that are shrill or overbearing. Morticia and Gomez’s unwavering love for each other (and horniness, so much horniness) challenge these norms.
One could even argue the presence of role reversal, as the enduringly comical Gomez is often more shrill in comparison to the unruffled, always-composed Morticia. Whether faced with suspicions of fraudulence in the first film or murderous black widows in the second, Morticia remained collected as her husband frantically balked at police officers or underwent hysterics over false brotherhood relations.
Morticia’s unfaltering sense of self is also reflected in her daughter Wednesday Addams, whose cleverness and wit both captivate and provoke envy. Played by the brilliant Christina Ricci, Wednesday challenges how young girls and women are governed when they are told to smile (to appear non-threatening, because God forbid we appear aloof) or conform to antiquated expectations of how girls should be. Her disinterest in the trivial is the “I don’t give a shit, and I don’t owe anyone shit” persona of our dreams.
The hilarious scenes at Camp Chippewa (“America’s foremost facility for privileged young adults!”) also proves the film was socially conscious for its time — indifferently mocking the advantaged, predominantly-white demographic of camp kids and acknowledging systematic racism in Wednesday’s sabotage of the Thanksgiving play (“My people will have pain and degradation, and your people will have stick shifts”). Also, let’s not forget the gem of a scene where the camp director goes through roll call of the misfits, struggling with pronunciation of the names Consuela and Jamal: “Ja… mil? Jae… mul? Whatever…”
Between Morticia’s resolute sense of her sexual self and Wednesday’s no-nonsense wokeness, The Addams Family remains a progressive and feminist classic for the masses.