Bram Stoker’s Dracula, published in 1897, is an epistolary novel and the equivalent of found footage horror movies today. The protagonists, including Wilhelmina “Mina” Harker (née Murray), are tech-savvy and modern, using resources and skills such as phonographs and shorthand in their efforts to find and vanquish Dracula. As far as heroines of Victorian novels written by men go, Mina is a pretty decent heroine – smart, resourceful, (relatively) observant, and eager to protect those around her – particularly her best friend Lucy and her fiancé/husband Jonathan Harker. Mina reflects the “modern” woman of the time, as she is an employed young woman who is ambitious, determined, and an excellent archivist, gun brandisher, and coach-driver (I can’t overemphasize how big a deal that last one is!). She rightfully demands respect from her husband and the other male characters. She also treats others with respect, even the mentally ill, who were and are looked down upon by society. Due to her respectful treatment of the insane asylum inmate, Renfield (one of Dracula’s minions), he in turn gives a warning about Dracula’s plans, including the vampire’s dangerous plans for Mina.[caption id="attachment_23272" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Judi Bowker as Mina in Count Dracula (1977)[/caption]
Something not often explored in film and TV movie adaptations is that Mina and other female characters are often inadvertently endangered by the pride of the male protagonists. It is out of misguided respect for Mina that the male protagonists try so hard to protect her, and yet fail so miserably. They fail so miserably that when I first read the novel, I confused my family by laughing out loud at Bram Stoker’s (what seems to be unintended) irony (and I learned that laughing out loud at a classic horror novel tends to raise eyebrows).
Allow me to summarize one particular section of the plot:
Male protagonists: “Let’s go hunt Dracula at his house, which is right next door to where we are!”
Mina (the female lead): “Yes, let’s go!”
Male protagonists: “No, Mina! We want to protect you by leaving you all alone and vulnerable in a house right next door to Dracula’s! All of us demand that you stay here! And try not to think about the warning Renfield gave about how Dracula, a being far more powerful than any of us combined and who can literally get into a room through a crack in the floor by turning himself into mist, is going to target you!”
Mina: “Fine! Ugh!” (Curls up in bed, trying not to feel paranoid.)
(Male protagonists show up at Dracula’s house.)
Male protagonists: “Well, here we are at Dracula’s house. ‘Guess Dracula’s not home. Weird. ‘Wonder where he could be. Ah, well. Good thing we protected Mina!”
(Male protagonists return home to find an ill-looking Mina unconscious with two puncture wounds in her neck, and mist everywhere.)
Male protagonists: “Aw, look! Mina was so worried about us that she cried herself to sleep. So cute! It’s a good thing we decided to protect Mina instead of treating her like an equal.”
Thus, the male protagonists inadvertently provide Dracula with the opportunity to assault Mina – which is oh just sort of reminiscent of how everyday sexism and benevolent sexism both directly and indirectly support rape culture. The very people who claim they desire to protect (White) women are the ones contributing to the danger. They have faulty logic, which can be funny at times, and yet that faulty logic is clearly harmful.[caption id="attachment_23273" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Louis Jourdan’s Dracula encourages Judi Bowker’s Mina to “feed” from him/please herself, encouraging her to “come” (pun implied).[/caption]
The novel is heavy in racist, colonialist, and anti-immigration messages. Stoker heavily implies that Northern-European and American White people, especially if they’re Catholic (Stoker’s religion), are awesome, and they should totally be welcomed everywhere. Literally all other peoples (especially those who want to immigrate to Northern-Europe or America)? F*** those guys. (Especially if they’re “dark,” and certainly if they’re Roma.) Stoker demands that (White) men protect their (White) wives and love interests against “dark” men, particularly immigrants (in Dracula’s case, from Eastern Europe). These men are so sinisterly hedonistic in their values, they may actually corrupt a Victorian woman’s purity not only through sex, but by sexually pleasing the woman and not just themselves! (Gasp! Female orgasms?! The horror!) The chauvinism of the (White) male protagonists (three British, one Dutch, one Texan) and their masculine need to “protect” Mina nearly lead to her death, and almost result in her going full vampire.[caption id="attachment_23274" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Peta Wilson as Mina in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)[/caption]
Hollywood has a trend of attempting to make female characters seem more important to the story by making them more “badass,” and while I have no problems with the idea of seeing Mina hack up vampires, or seeing a heroic Vampire!Mina (thank you, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), another way of empowering women and combating sexism other than positive representation of women is to point out everyday and even “benevolent” chauvinism. This is exactly the kind of sexism the male characters exhibit in Dracula – even Dracula himself, to an extent, with the female vampires who live in his castle and for whom he provides.[caption id="attachment_23275" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Winona Ryder’s Mina is the reincarnated wife of Gary Oldman’s Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)[/caption]
More Mina representation seems to be on its way, with the reboot of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen evidently to be “female-centric.” Hollywood is always cranking out more Dracula adaptations, but just how many have there been that point out benevolent sexism? How many feature Mina getting frustrated with the male protagonists, delivering them an angry monologue in which she points out all the ways they’ve almost led to her death? Instead of this, Hollywood has been repeatedly attempting to make Dracula, her attacker, redeemable – a tragic anti-hero, often on a quest to find the reincarnation of his long-lost love, who is revealed to be Mina. Wait, so reincarnation is supposed to justify sexual assault? No, Hollywood. No. Nor is stalking romantic (even if it’s done through the magic of musical theatre, Frank Wildhorn).
As this book review points out, there are no films entitled with Mina’s name, while there are many with Dracula’s and at least one with Van Helsing’s. Though not the only protagonist to be left out of titles, most notably Jonathan (the leading male protagonist), Mina deserves a film completely centered on her. And hopefully this Dracula adaptation, unlike most (if not all) adaptations (I’m looking at you, Dracula Untold), finds a way to rid itself of the novel’s racist, colonialist, and anti-immigration messages.