This week on Feminist Flashback Friday, we reunite with a character who isn’t quite a feminist, per se, but whose actions are very much driven by modern feminism even though the film is set in the mid-‘70s. The character is Sonny Wortzik and the film is 1975’s crime classic Dog Day Afternoon.
Who Is He?
Sonny (Al Pacino) is a first-time bank robber who decides, along with two of his pals, to rob a Brooklyn bank. Unfortunately, the time they choose for their heist is the after the vault has been emptied for the daily cash pickup and contains only a little over a thousand dollars. Inexperienced and floundering at what to do next, what was supposed to be a quick bank robbery ends up with Sonny being the ringleader of a tense hostage situation with the eyes of all of New York City on him.
Why Is He A Badass?
I’m in no way a supporter of illegal activities and believe there rarely ever a justification for breaking the law, but the reason why Sonny decided to rob a bank is what makes him special: he needed money for his transgendered wife’s sex change.
Leon Shermer (Chris Sarandon) is Sonny’s wife and is a pre-operative transwoman. It’s for her gender reassignment surgery that Sonny risks his life (and the lives of many innocents) because that’s what she wants. Clearly Sonny is happy with Leon in her pre-op state, but he goes out to get the large amount of money needed for a surgery like that in order to make her happy.
At one point during the hostage situation, Leon gets a chance to talk to Sonny to try to talk some sense into him and admits that she had been hospitalized for trying to commit suicide in order to get away from Sonny. It’s likely that Sonny knew of Leon’s feelings and the robbing of the bank to get the money for her surgery was a last-ditch attempt to convince her to stay with him. Still, the fact that in 1975 there was a character whose only reason for breaking the law was to bring forth the happiness of his transgendered wife is impressive. (n.b. equally impressive is that Dog Day Afternoon is actually based on the true story of John Wojtowicz who held up a Chase bank in Brooklyn in order to get money for the sex reassignment surgery of his wife, Elizabeth Eden.)
Why Does He Still Matter Today?
With Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner making headlines for being transfolk and still facing backlash, it’s interesting to point out that transpeople are not a new fad that was borne of the 21st century. Transfolk have always been around and they’ve always faced the same sort of trials. The fact that there is a movie—an older movie at that—which respectfully handles the issue of transwomen (even though it’s not as much of a major detail) is faith-restoring. It shows that there were always people who were intersectional in their feminism and that there are hopefully many, many more of us now. And that, in this day and age, no one will need to resort to such drastic measures in order to give a transperson the same rights, privileges and opportunities as any other human being.