On Campus Miss Representation Showing

April 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Last week I attended one of the showings of Miss Representation. The room was mostly filled by women, some of them older residents of the West Lafayette area. A thoughtful discussion of the film followed the screening.

The film addressed several interrelated issues, but was framed by the life of the filmmaker, Jennifer Newsom. It began with the explanation that having a daughter herself led her to think about how she could empower her daughter. The narrative delved into Newsom’s girlhood and the experience she had when she began an acting career later in her life . Much of the focus of the film was the ways in which women are portrayed in the media, how this affects women, and how they react to the media.

The filmmaker conducted interviews with both high school aged girls and boys. The interviews were surprisingly insightful. Some of the girls got emotional when talking about the pressures young women face to be thin and beautiful. Yet, many of them were able to articulate that images of women in the media have been altered and reflect unrealistic and unattainable ideals. One girl mentioned that films are disappointing, because females are never the protagonists. There were less interviews with boys, but one boy (running for office at his school) said sometimes girls are hard on each other and that oftentimes girls are reluctant to vote for other girls during elections.

Including interviews with Condoleezza Rice and Nancy Pelosi, the film analyzed the ways Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were portrayed in the media during the 2008 election season. What I should really say though, is how they were vilified and attacked by the media in ways that men are not. Hillary Clinton was called a bitch on radio and TV. Sarah Palin took the opposite image of Clinton. While Clinton adopted a professional and masculine looking dress, Palin wore more feminine attire. Yet, both of them were constantly attacked by the media.

Newsome interviewed a female writer and director who spoke to the difficulties of being a women in the film industry. Early in her career she wrote screenplays featuring female protagonists. No one would take her projects and no one would hire her as a director. The film highlighted that movies rarely feature female protagonists. “Chick flicks” feature women, but these women exist in a world centered around the desires of men. Some action movies, like Tomb Raider feature female protagonists but in blatantly sexualized ways, which in fact is the main draw of the films. Classic Disney movies feature women, but only women who are without agency and dependent on a knight to rescue them. Anyway, this female director eventually produced a very low-budget film on her own (because no one would hire her). That film, Thirteen, went on to the Sundance film festival. The only film this director has ever been given, was the first Twilight, and only because no one else would take the project. After its success, the subsequent films were given to male directors.

Over the weekend, I saw the film Hunger Games, and could not help but think of Miss Representation. Hunger Games is interesting in that the protagonist,Katniss, is a young woman. Katniss is thrust into the public spotlight when she and a young man from her hometown are selected for the “Hunger Games,” which is basically a reality TV show where oppressed proletariats are forced to fight each other to the death for the entertainment of the bourgeois. Also, popular contestants can win the favor of viewers and receive their help in the game. Katniss, wins instant popularity when she is forced to make a public appearance in sexy attire and perform that persona. Although she doesn’t want to take this persona, she does so because her life depends on it. I won’t say anymore about the film, so as to not spoil it for those who have not seen it. But, i found it interesting that Katniss as a female protagonist is aware of the male desires she must traverse. I would venture to say her character is a significant improvement of the portrayal of women in films.

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