With the release of Suicide Squad, the portrayal of Harley Quinn by Margot Robbie has grown increasingly popular. Women and men all over the country have started cosplaying the character, who is obsessively in love with Joker, but is used as a mere pawn by him.
In the comics and cartoons, she is a victim of manipulation and abuse, which is conveniently ignored for the sake of glorifying her madness. Does the craze for Harley inappropriately normalise her circumstances and over-sexualise her character? Or, is it too harsh to judge youngsters who immerse themselves in the latest pop-culture fads and are merely fans of Margot Robbie’s addictive portrayal?
Most of all, after ages,fans of films and comics were pleased that a female character took the lead in a movie populated with other male superheroes and egos... so perhaps, Harley Quinn’s iconic rise to fame in the last two weeks should be celebrated.
Sameena Anwar, a freelance event manager from Chennai, celebrated the release of the movie by donning a different avatar of Harley’s from the movies. “I love her because she’s crazy. In the movie, she’s a badass who is in control. She’s being who she really is and owning it. I don’t think the sexualisation of the character took away any aspect of her at all. If you think about it, both she and Joker come from an abusive background, and they’ve both been glorified.”
Student, vocalist, and cosplayer Kelly Gabrielle from Bengaluru dressed up as the movie version of Harley Quinn for a Suicide Squad night. She says, “I chose Harley because she’s a slightly more kooky version of me! I think people are enamoured by her for different reasons — she’s beautiful, crazy, and hilarious to a fault.” She adds, “Of course, the movie toned down the aspect of domestic abuse and that the Joker treated her like his favourite piece of property. She was also a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. The movie has turned her into a glorified ditz with a penchant for murder and people are cosplaying her because she’s a hot commodity now. They don’t realize how damaged she is.”
Nabil Khan, who dressed up as Dr Octavius from the Spiderman series and won the Indian Champion of Cosplay recently, also cosplayed a gender-bender Harley Quinn. Speaking about her, he says, “I like how everyone is under the impression that she is a fragile doll. But she’s the most demented of them all. I connect with that aspect. But, I do find the Harley-Joker relationship demeaning because they’re portrayed as a couple that would kill for each other, whereas in the comic-verse she is a mere pawn.”
When asked if cosplay glorifies the character, he says, “Cosplay does glorify her, but the cosplayers also research their characters. Every good cosplayer knows the need to know the character — their story and personality. So, they cosplay her knowing her past as well. “ He adds, “Despite the sexualisation of Harley, I think Margot Robbie played her character really well. The costume change for both Joker and her was also done well.”
“Today, all female comic characters are, unfortunately, objectified. Good or bad, they all look like they’ve popped out of Sports Illustrated. Most of their costumes don’t even make sense but I guess sex sells across all genres,” says comic artist Abhijeet Kini.
He concludes by saying, “If it’s bad for women to take up Harley as a role model then people shouldn’t be dressing up like Joker or Batman — after all, he’s a nutjob too! Pop culture today has become about showcasing the bad as cool.”