Douchebag Decree: Katherine Heigl's Film Career


I have always kind of liked Katherine Heigl. Maybe it’s because I think she has pretty good comedic chops, maybe it’s because she is (a little bit) curvier than many of her counterparts, maybe it’s because I spent an inordinate amount of time watching Grey’s Anatomy on DVD whilst trying to distract myself from a breakup. Whatever the reason, my fondness for her has led me to give her decidedly douche-y taste in film roles a pass for some time now. No longer.

Heigl has played stereotype after offensive stereotype during her brief blockbuster career, and upon seeing a trailer for Killers last night I decided enough was enough. Someone needs to give Heigl a wake-up call and it looks like it’s gonna be this blog, because right now her acting career is on a one-way trip to Douche City. Time to turn it around, sister!

Let’s take this Tour de Douchebaggery in chronological order and look at Heigl’s four biggest film roles, shall we? As ever, we’ll be focusing on the representations of women to be found here. And in the beginning there was…

Knocked Up, 2007

So Heigl’s character (Allison Scott) works at E!, but when she has unprotected sex with a stranger at a bar (played by Seth Rogen), she decides to have the baby and after a rocky pregnancy she and Rogen’s character end up together in parenthood bliss. I have to admit, though this film was problematic for many obvious reasons (unprotected sex, no mention of abortion, a bikini-waxed vulva during the birth scene, weird plot holes–not just referring to genitalia there, zing!) this is probably Heigl’s best film role. She stands up for herself, demands that her partner take responsibility for his own actions, and at least attempts to show a nuanced view of a woman dealing with an unexpected pregnancy (minus the lack of either a condom or an abortion debate). It’s all downhill from here, folks. Behold:

27 Dresses, 2008

In this formulaic rom-com, Heigl plays Jane, a woman who is always the bridesmaid but never the bride. Her problem is that she selflessly works for others to be happy without ever focusing on herself! Only a man with a wedding ring can get her out of that pickle! This role reinforces every stereotype in the straight-cis-rom-com book: women are obsessed with marriage, women who focus on their careers can never be happy, younger sisters and best friends always have hinges on their heels, men who are rude usually turn out to be soulmate material, a perfect wedding equals a perfect marriage, and so on. Not exactly a giant leap for womankind. But wait! It gets worse…

The Ugly Truth, 2009

This is one of the only films that has ever caused me to have a physical hate reaction. I practically vomited from frustration while attempting to watch it. Katherine Heigl is Abby Richter, a television producer who has a somewhat feminist outlook on life (which of course is accompanied by unbelievable anal-retentiveness, because that’s how we feminists roll y’all) at the start of the film. As the plot moves forward, she meets Gerard Butler (btw, why is that dude famous?) a colossal asshole who introduces her to the world of vapid misogyny. At first she’s angry, but then she takes his advice and learns to compromise her every value and belief for the reward of male attention. They end up together at the film’s conclusion, natch. (OK, time for the barf bag. And don’t put it away yet…)

Killers, 2010

In fairness, this film isn’t out until next month so we just have the trailer to go on when examining Heigl’s character for traces of douche. Judging from these three minutes, her character Jen is an insecure stereotype–uptight, alone, and carrying a bottle of Maalox around a hotel with her parents (who, played by Tom Selleck and Catherine O’Hara, appear to be the only bright spot in this tired turd). Formulaic, derivative plot aside, Jen embodies the desperate single woman who needs a man to teach her how to loosen up. In this case, she appears to literally kill at least one other woman for the pleasure of being with him. (Still got that barf bag handy?)


So Katherine Heigl, if you’re reading this (and I’m sure you are because I know deep down you’re a feminist who wants to do better for herself and ladykind in general), cut the crap. How about instead of taking film roles that fulfill every misogynistic stereotype in the book, you use your considerable chops to play a different kind of character? One who respects herself and doesn’t need a man to solve all her problems? One who has female friends and maybe even an adorable dog? (Hey, something’s got to get the butts in the seats, folks.) Because based on your film career so far (and your upcoming role in something called Is He The One) you won’t be earning any accolades from feminist film lovers any time soon. Not unless you count this Douchebag Decree, that is.

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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28 Comments Have Been Posted

Now, where have I seen this before?

I haven't seen any of Heigl's films (unless you count <i>My Father the Hero,</i> which I only vaguely remember) but from what I can see, this, ahem, <i>honor</i> is well deserved. I declined largely for the same reason you didn't like them -- misogyny ahoy! -- but the other main reason is that they look just plain boring. I can stomach a film with female characters who are pure stereotypes, though it still bothers me, if it's interesting or good in other ways. (See also: <i>Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.</i>) The movies above, though, seem not only offensive, but tired and predictable in every regard.
As for "physical hate reaction[s]," I think I had that watching the <i>Ugly Truth</i> trailer alone. Not only is it an a boring antifeminist movie; it looks virtually identical to a PREVIOUS boring antifeminist movie, <i>Amy's O.</i> I doubt it even has that film's few bright spots, though.

Heigl's career

You left out "The Ringer", but that was before she was "The Katherine Heigl". However, it is a perfect example of her work on film. She needs to do something provocative and eye-getting to save her career.

The Ringer

Oh jeeeez, the Ringer! When that came out i was a sophormore in high school, but i still remember being physically ill at the mere idea of that movie. I honestly don't understand how that could have even made it onto the big screen. *vomit*
I didn't know KH was in that. All I remember is that's the day i stopped crushing on Johnny Knoxville. ;)


Your post does a remarkable job of tracking down a good number of the movies with misogyny laced characters, plots and premises movie that Katherine Heigle has wound up playing a leading role in.... or should i say a being lead role in. i had heard of typecasting before. Now i'm starting to wonder whether there are books handed around amongst casting directors with lists of actors who do certain kinds of rolls. That probably gives away my age. These days it probably zips from one casting director's computer to another via Bluetooth. It has long seemed that actors had a tendency to get stuck in one kind of role once they had played one well. Perhaps once Katherine Heigl played in one kind of douchey scenario she got typcast, or in this instace Douchecast. Maybe there's a casting director's list for actors that do doucebag movie roles well. As writers get less of the bottom line in order to maximize profit, wouldn't it only make sense that there would be more douchey (sp?) movies and movie rolls? What do you think? Has douchecasting gone big time?

Maybe it's just me

but one of my biggest problems with Knocked Up was the whole "demands her partner take responsibility for his own actions" thing. Not because there's anything wrong with that! In real life, it's the right thing to do! HOWEVER, in the context of the movie, her character's SUCH the humorless straightman, with impossibly opaque motivations. Why DID she boink Rogen? (Not that I wouldn't. I'm just saying.) Why DID she decide to keep the baby? (Note that abortion is discussed, VERY circuitously, with a nearly-breaking-the-fourth-wall nod to the fact that We Don't Use That Word in Movies, ever.) Why DID she decide to include Rogen in the decision making process? Hell, what made her decide to work at E! in the first place, and why does she take celebrities so seriously, while also being fairly clueless about pop culture?

I thought Knocked Up was unbelievably funny, and it broke my heart that Heigl's character never once makes or laughs at a joke herself. Nor do any of the other women in the movie. Except Kristen Wiig! Who gets like five total minutes of screen time, during which she cemented her status as one of my imaginary celebrity BFFs! Oh, and Charlene Yi was very briefly hilarious as well.

Real women have unprotected sex sometimes, sometimes with total strangers who are sort of nowhere near attractive or ambitious enough to be worth 20 minutes of awkward breakfasting. Sometimes they decide to have babies when all signs point to it being a terrible idea. Sometimes that works out. I've seen all of that happen in real life, and it doesn't bother me. I, personally, don't need female characters to be role models in order that a silly sex comedy not get my feminist hackles up. I just need them to be relatable.

By the way, Heigl DOES identify as a feminist, somewhat outspokenly. After Knocked Up came out, she told Vanity Fair she'd enjoyed making it but was unhappy with the final product, as it "paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys" - and she took a certain amount of heat for criticizing Apatow's vision. That, to my view, makes her subsequent choices harder to stomach -- but it also makes me wonder how much of it has to do with bigger issues in the studio system, etc.

I know, right?

I have been saying this re: Katherine Heigl for a while now. It started out as annoying in Knocked Up, then went to pure "is she kidding right now" with 27 Dresses. Then I stopped watching her stupid movies. Obviously she is playing a role written by someone else. I looked it up thinking they would be men, but The Ugly Truth and 27 Dresses are both written by women. Get it together screenwriting sisters!

Also, to give a shout out where a shout out is due, Heigl did take a lot of heat for saying Knocked Up was "a little sexist." Of course that was after she did it and cashed the paycheck. But apparently she didn't mind enough to avoid the "a lot sexist" movies that came her way.

Knocked Up

What about Leslie Mann's character in Knocked Up? When I saw the movie in theaters, I was extremely annoyed at the precedent her character sets. Mann consistently makes poor, unfair decisions and suspicions about the totally amiable Paul Rudd character that drove me nuts. So he lies about fantasy baseball. Lying isn't good, but the movie seems to think he's in the wrong when she literally follows him across town and enters a stranger's house without permission because she thinks he's cheating on her, and then still gets to be "right" when it's just some stupid online game.

Heigl's character is better, but there are still times, I think, when she's meaner than is necessary to the Rogen character in times when the Rogen character is making an effort to be more adult. Standing up for herself and demanding he take responsibility is one thing, but when he tries it needs to become more of a give-and-take.

Only a man with a wedding

<i>Only a man with a wedding ring can get her out of that pickle!</i>

Laughed out loud at this!

I think it's interesting how Heigl's publicly knocked her least sexist role as sexist (rightfully) and then continues to make this crap.

Ger- arrrggghhhhhh!!!

Although this douchebag decree is meant for Katherine Heigl, I'm glad you mentioned that Gerard Butler butthead. He makes the most craptacular movies, and yet he is a famous heartthrob! His films are not only sexist, but just plain dumb. The guy drives me nuts. (I pay too much attention to this stuff.)

27 Dresses

I haven't seen "Knocked Up" or "The Ugly Truth" (and don't really plan to) but I have seen "27 Dresses" and I think Heigel did a good job as the female lead in that one. I realize there are some anti-feminist messages in this as well (Women have to get married, center their lives around men, all the marriages are between heterosexual couples, etc). Still, I think Heigel's character is a strong woman in that she learns to assert herself over the course of the film.

Shouldn't Katherine Heigl be

Shouldn't Katherine Heigl be free to make whatever kind of movie she wants to? If you, as a feminist, don't like a certain genre of film (in this case cookie-cutter rom-coms) then don't spend your money watching them. But to pit the blame on Heigl seems not unlike blaming a restaurant's menu on the server.

Heigl is a successful actress. But her critics seem to think that successful actresses/actors have a smorgesboard of scripts to choose from. That might be true the year they win an Oscar, but even successful actresses have to actually audition. This blog is essentially asking Heigl to risk her career with no real change resulting from the risk.

The people we should be directing our criticism at are the producers, writers, and directors who create the movies for which Heigl (or some other actress) is then hired to act in. There are a hundred thousand women standing behind every working actress in Hollywood, willing to play absoultely any role they are offered. That has an effect on all the actresses currently working, including Heigl.

If these are the roles Heigl wants to play, then more power to her. I personally don't care for this genre, so I don't pay any attention to it. It's up to us if we want to support her movies, or if we want to support films that promote a more progressive world-view. But why are we dumping on one actress when the industry itself is sexist? If Katherine Heigl starts turning down roles (and thus risking her career) these movies will still be made.

But isn't it interesting that we've managed to once again heap the blame on a woman who's power in the industry is negligible (compared to those who sign her paycheck)? She makes a nice scapegoat. But as feminists shouldn't we respect Heigl's choice to take on roles of her choice? Even if publicly ganging up on one actress actually affected her career decisions, it also fosters an environment of hostility against women. It nurtures the ideology that women must police the behavior of other women and if they do not tow the party line they deserve a public shaming (which is all the Douchebag Decree is). That doesn't seem very feminist to me. In fact, it seems like quite the opposite.




@Anonymous, you are right that Heigl didn't write these films, nor did she produce or direct them. Of course she isn't the only one to blame for their misogyny, and perhaps I should have made that clearer in my post (which was meant to be more tongue-in-cheek than your typical "public shaming").

However, I don't think it's anti-feminist to call a woman's choices into question, especially when those choices perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Should we not question Heigl's motives or call for her (however ineffectively) to play more feminist roles just because she is a woman? That would be like me saying you shouldn't call this blog post anti-feminist because I myself am a woman and therefore you are fostering an environment of hostility against women in this comment space. (I wouldn't say that, btw.)

To me, not every decision made by a woman is feminist just because she's a woman. Sure, Heigl doesn't have all of the power in this situation, but she does have the power to decide which roles she'll play and which she'll turn down, and I just wish she'd choose to play more progressive characters (which, as I point out in the post, is because I like her as an actress so I wish I liked her movies more as a feminist). As far as her being a scapegoat, I never blamed the misogynistic state of rom coms on her, I just said I don't like the roles she plays. Maybe it's a matter of personal taste.

To be fair to Heigl (who probably won't read this but you never know!) the Douchebag Decree was for her acting choices, not her as a person. I don't know her as a person, but she seems pretty cool.

Kelsey Wallace, Web Editor

Just Some Thoughts

I agree with almost all of what @Anonymous has said and fail to see how Kelsey's response to it has helped to justify the somewhat mean spirited blog. Fair enough that you've clarified that the blog was intended more as a tongue-in-cheek effort, although it doesn't particularly come off that way. I have absolutely zero interest in Katherine Heigl, her movies (although I did manage to sit through Knocked Up) or what she might be like a person but the debate that arises from this post does interest me a little. I have very little time to watch movies, especially what appear to be nothing more than a pile of flaming turds like the ones Ms. Heigl seems to specialize in. But that is beside the point.

Anonymous is right when he or she states that Ms. Heigl has little or even no say with regard to the content of the movies that she works in. To suggest that she should turn down these roles because they don't meet your standard of how women should be portrayed in movies is a little absurd. I'm not at all suggesting that I think the way women are portrayed in these movies is realistic, fair or healthy. "Should we not question Heigl's motives or call for her (however ineffectively) to play more feminist roles just because she is a woman?" But why should we really? In this statement you are essentially suggesting that the act of being an actress and being a feminist ought to automatically overlap, but it won't surprise you if I tell you that not all (and perhaps very few) actresses are feminists, right? So why should the responsibility of upholding feminist views be thrust upon a woman who, to my knowledge, never claimed to be a feminist in the first place? I don't blame my lawyer for not being able to make a tasty pizza! If Ms. Heigl at any time had said outright that she was a feminist or was trying to assist in making movies that reflected a feminist train of thought, and continued to make movies (which I would personally not call movies, but torture) of this variety, then we could say unanimously that she deserves to be called a Douchebag and moreover a hypocrite.

And to say that "...the Douchebag Decree was for her acting choices, not her as a person" doesn't actually make any sense. So you've declared her "acting choices" to "be a Douchebag"? If anyone can actually get that to make proper sense, I'd love to hear about it.

The fact that she passingly said in an interview one time that her role in Knocked Up was "a little sexist" is neither here nor there as we have no idea what might have motivated her to say that. Maybe she said it because she really believed it or maybe she was aiming to please a certain group of people who might be listening in on her interview. No way to say for sure really. Maybe Ms. Heigl does have some feminist views and wishes she had a way to reflect them more in the roles that she chooses. Maybe one day she will have more say in the material that she contributes to. In an ideal world everyone would perform work everyday that was a proper reflection of their true values and beliefs. A relatively small percentage of the population is actually able to do this and to these people I extend a sincere congratulations. But I don't work at a desk staring at a computer all day because I have a deep heart-felt belief that staring at a computer all day will promote human rights awareness or stop third world starvation. Much like Ms. Heigl, I am paid for a certain function and I perform it and it seems reasonable to me. If a drastic social overhaul encompasses the world tomorrow and all of us are able to do work that reflects our true belief systems, we'll have a world full of human rights lawyers and conservationists, and no one left to pour coffee, check me into a hotel or make these vapid movies like the ones that Ms. Heigl makes, that so many people seem to enjoy so much.

This is my first time ever replying to such a post, so I'd like to make clear that I've posted this reply for the purpose of continuing healthy debate and it is strictly not my intention to "call out" or shame any one here on their beliefs. I try to respect everyone's opinion equally, unless you are a blatant misogynist or rat-bastard racist.

And yet...

...your response is pretty disrespectful. You make a point to say that you don't watch movies or care about Heigel's career, yet you're pretty sure that responding to her films is a useless pursuit. That seems like an effort to discredit the entire of act of responding to popular culture. This means you've found your way to a blog dedicated to seriously responding to popular culture from a feminist perspective (does the subject of response necessarily need to be self-identified feminist in order to merit feminist response? I'd argue no.), and you're basically dissing that whole enterprise...and you don't think you're being disrespectful? Really? (Shout out to Seth Myers and Amy Poehler.) Really?


Thanks, @jordanb!

@Gerald C, I think we can agree to disagree on some of what you have to say, but I do want to point out that a) as the web editor of a pop culture blog I most certainly do think responding to the portrayal of women in movies is useful, b) that I refuse to believe that Heigl and other actors aren't responsible in any way for the film roles they choose, and c) the pizza-making lawyer analogy doesn't work because your lawyer's pizzas do nothing to perpetuate negative gender stereotypes (I don't think), whereas an actor playing a stereotypical role in a blockbuster film does.

If you don't think that an actor playing a role in a film viewed by millions of people can have a cultural impact or is worthy of criticism, then I think you might be commenting on the wrong blog.

Kelsey Wallace, Web Editor

Thanks to you

Thanks to you Kelsey and jordanb for responding to my post. I'm not being sarcastic at all and I want you to know that I appreciate you taking the time to analyze it. After reading your comments and taking into consideration what I had said and just as importantly how I had said it, I'm convinced that you have some very valid points that successfully counter some of my points. I promise you that I'm here to participate and learn and I am sorry if some of the stuff I said came off as disrespectful as that was not my intention. However, opinions being what they are, they will offend someone. Sometimes a few people and sometimes allot.

One thing I'd like to clarify though is that I never said or even suggested that the act of commenting on movies/media or responding to blogs is a useless pursuit. In fact, I said exactly the opposite..."the debate that arises from this post does interest me". Somehow it was read that because I don't feel that Ms. Heigl or her choice of roles is outright worthy of holding up to a feminist ideal, that this is all a waste of time. Not true! I was simply trying to say that scolding her (or her choice in roles, which I personally see as inseparable) for not reflecting any kind of belief system, feminist or otherwise, doesn't seem entirely fair.

And to say that this Douchebag Decree is for her choice in roles and not her personally suggests that you can separate the woman from the deed. It seems like me saying that I hate that guy's job as a pimp, but the guy himself is an OK guy! Sure that might be a heavy-handed comparison, but the point is the same. Does a person's deeds not define the person? Is it really possible to take issue with the fact that Ms. Heigl assists in perpetuating misogynist stereotypes and not take issue with her personally?

Anyway, thanks to you again and for helping me see clearer on these issues. I can only assume that your favorite movie of all time was Shallow Hal? Just Kidding!!!!

Since you asked...

I feel your comment has been responded to effectively, Gerald C, but I wanted to address a question you raised:

<i>And to say that "...the Douchebag Decree was for her acting choices, not her as a person" doesn't actually make any sense. So you've declared her "acting choices" to "be a Douchebag"? If anyone can actually get that to make proper sense, I'd love to hear about it.</i>

Well, this post is titled "Douchebag Decree: Katherine Heigl's Film Career," so I think it had already been established that the, ahem, *award* was not for her as a person. As to how one's acting choices can be a douchebag, you're right that it doesn't make literal sense, but neither does calling a *person* a douchebag. It's an expression, in this context, that means "force that is harmful to women," which makes perfect sense to me.

You like her as an actress?

Personally I can't stand Katherine Heigl because of her role in Grey's Anatomy; her film choices are the last nail in the coffin. She's probably a lovely woman in person but less so on film.

I have this dream that Gerard Butler is doing terrible rom-coms to pay the bills while he works on something awesome. It's the only way I could forgive him for P.S. I Love You. That film was just evil.

I think it's unfair to say

I think it's unfair to say that Heigl has no power in her role as an actress. of course, everyone is correct in saying that she doesn't write or direct or produce these films, but in her function as an actress she has the ultimate decision to participate in these misogynistic portrayals. yes, she has an agent, etc, but let's not assume that she is entirely controlled by a bevy of industry-people, because to do so insults her autonomy. whether or not she explicitly identifies as a feminist, her decisions regarding film roles do have repercussions (among them the perpetuation of stereotypes); it's our responsibility as people who DO explicitly identify as feminists and as consumers of popular culture to hold Heigl and others responsible for their choices and, if necessary, constructively criticize their actions. while it is unrealistic to expect her or anyone else to establish a consistently flawless body of work (in any respect), that cannot serve as an excuse to downplay the abhorrence of the roles she has thus taken, nor can it serve as an excuse to dismiss altogether her influence as an entertainer.

I actually didn't have a

I actually didn't have a problem with "Knocked Up" or even "27 Dresses" ... whether or not the story was entirely feminist friendly, they were primarily entertaining love stories. I HATED HATED HATED "The Ugly Truth" because the whole POINT of the movie was to say "aren't chauvinistic men cute and adorable and actually sensitive and sweet creatures waiting to be discovered by a woman?"

The romance wasn't there, there was no dynamic storytelling. I felt like the whole objective of the movie was offensive.

But, the other two I had absolutely no problem with.

My first thought when seeing

My first thought when seeing the killers trailer was of the tragedy in Southern Ontario, the murders of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy. While Karla Homolka played a significant role in the murders of three young women with her then partner Paul Benardo, it just brings that image of control that some men seem to have over some women, being able to turn them into their sidekicks for unspeakable acts. It turned my stomach and brought all those sad memories. Say a little prayer for the reminder of these victims.

the term douche bag is sexist

I wish this site would stop using the term "douche bag". It is a very sexist term as it connotes that hygiene products and practices are some how bad, nasty, or unimportant. I like the site but this is definitely a very problematic section of the website:(


The <i>Bitch</i> ladies have covered the term and why they use it in many places, including this one:
They are completely aware of its history as a sexist pejorative and have revamped it to mean "bad for women" (because, y'know, literal DBs *are.*)

My tolerance for Katherine

My tolerance for Katherine Heigl movies went out the window when she called <i>Knocked Up</i> "a little sexist" after the fact, and then went on to do even more sexist movies. I too wanted to physically hurl when I was forced to sit through <i>The Ugly Truth</i> with a friend.

However, I do think it's worth mentioning that the woman Heigl's character appears to kill in her latest trailer seems to be spy/double agent/etc and not a romantic rival. So while she does technically kill another woman to be with Kutcher's character, she's also protecting her husband from someone who is trying to kill him. He was clearly losing, given the strangle chord around his neck.

Maybe I'm just way too accustomed to comedic violence but my problem is less the act itself and more with the way she does it. If the character could successfully save her husband's ass in a way that isn't accidental, I would have less of an issue. Then again, watching the scene and the movie in it's entirety will probably change quite a few things but that would require actually watching the movie. And after a two minute trailer, I'm already sick of her "girly" squeals of panic.

Gun Violence is funny?

My husband and I have seen the trailers, several times now, for The Killers, and have been appalled. Not because of sexism but for the violent gun play that appears to be central to the plot. It is a Rom-Com with big guns shot off all over the place-- killing-- in the name of comedy, done for a laugh, providing punch lines for the jokes. haha. I find that offensive and I ain't no prude --believe me.
You know that scene in Pulp Fiction, when Travolta and Jackson are driving in their car with the only survivor of the famous "Burger Royale," scene in the back seat, the car hits a bump causing Jackson' s gun to go off and blow the head off of the (former) survivor. And then they get in a big argument. It is done for laughs--it is a joke . hahaha, real funny.
It appears that this movie is based on that same type of humor. I fail to see how this is funny. When I saw the trailer that was the salient feature that leaped out at me.
So I say shame on Katherine and Ashton --both-- for making this movie!

On set antics

It goes beyond her roles. A family member who worked on set with her told me she required that no one look at her when the camera wasn't running. Really, she's a c lister at best and she tells people don't look at me. Ok, I got ya Katherine I won't look at you and I won't watch any of your movies lol what a raging moron.

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