Tag Archives: movies

Female Audiences and the Male Universal

I am immensely excited to see Gravity tomorrow night, the new science fiction movie by Alfonso Cuarón of Children of Men fame. Sandra Bullock plays the lead role in this picture, alongside George Clooney, and I am thrilled to see another sci-fi production featuring a female lead in an otherwise male-dominated genre. According to the director, however, not everyone was this excited about the prospect as I am. During a press conference in July he indicated that producers were pushing for a male lead instead, as “science fiction is a male-dominated genre, with a male audience that wants to relate to a male lead.”

image via shakesville

image via shakesville

This is funny, because the majority of Hollywood productions features male leads, and in my over twenty years of moviegoer experience as a woman I still managed to enjoy myself quite often. My preferences didn’t really matter; I had to relate to a male lead and managed to do so, sometimes more, sometimes less successfully. Though apparently this is an impossible exercise for some… Continue reading

Confessions of a Movie Fan: I’m tired of androcentrism in film

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I really like movies. A lot. I wouldn’t consider myself a nerd, because my knowledge isn’t exactly academically backed and I rarely reach outside of the mainstream (except when it comes to horror), because my interest in a film is often influenced by its potential sociological and cultural impact. And so I like to keep up to date as much as possible.

Recently, however, I haven’t seen many films that I really, really enjoyed. You could blame me for my choice in movies, of course, but I obviously wouldn’t pick anything that I wasn’t at least somewhat interested in. My boyfriend and I usually make the decision together and we also watch most films together, and on average he seems to responds to them more positively than I do. You could say that we simply have different tastes, but that still doesn’t account for the fact that he is satisfied more frequently than I am, and I certainly wouldn’t consider myself more critical than him. Or am I?

Just a few days ago we discussed the film Drive that recently came out and was lauded by many film critics and friends of ours alike. My boyfriend loved it as well, so he was taken a little aback by my hesitation to fully endorse him, and he tried his best to understand why I didn’t like it.

In fact, I had liked it, certainly more than a lot of other ones that had recently been released. After all, Drive has the full package: It is thrilling, cool, sleek, stylistically impeccable, features great actors and actresses and references the 80s – what’s not to like?

lonesome dude on a mission, 2011

In the end, I just didn’t find it that original and it didn’t leave any lasting impact on me. It’s probably not a movie I would recommend to someone several months from now – because I will most likely have forgotten about it. The boyfriend disagreed, and he came up with many wonderful arguments for why this film might be relevant in our postmodern, self-referential condition. I, on the other hand, had little else to say than “I just didn’t care that much for it” and “it just didn’t resonate with me.”

After all, focussing on content over style, what’s so special about a twenty-something white dude as the lead character, a lonesome wolf, whose emotional coldness is only briefly undermined by his feelings for a young mom and her son, and who otherwise comes off as a bad-ass violent superhero (he can drive, he can fight, he’s in control) whose only emotional conflict lies in maintaining his independence versus protecting said young family? This type of lead character has been around at least since the 1930s and it has dominated much of American cinema ever since. I’m sorry, but I can’t find anything original or progressive in this uncritical depiction of a man seemingly struggling with his masculinity, but eventually repeating all of the same clichés, and not only does that make me sad, it alienates me from the movie, as it alienates me from film in general.

lonesome dude on a mission, 1946

I’m tired. I’m tired of watching male heros. I’m tired of watching male anti-heros. I’m tired of watching men do things and women watching men do things. In fact, it bores me to death. Drive has simply been the latest example.

lonesome dude on a mission, 1976

I’m sick of having to identify with support roles. I want women to be the center of attention at last, with everything that entails, the good and the bad. When do we get to be powerful, corrupt, invincible, vulnerable, cold and rational, or criminally insane? When do we get to be mothers who fail, daughters who disappoint, lovers who disappear? I know there are wonderful cinematic examples for all of these, but they are just too rare to really have an impact.

Lead characters can sometimes develop iconic qualities. They can set the standards for idealized versions of us, for better or for worse. They can also show us how we’re wrong. But only if we are in fact represented. As a woman represented in film, I find myself reduced to fewer versions, fewer options in life. I find it hard to conceive of myself apart from my relation to a man. I find myself idealized or demonized only in relation to men. I would like to think that this didn’t impact my life in reality but I believe it does. Movies are about imagination and if we cannot imagine women as leading figures and independent personalities on film, how can we imagine them in real life?

I am not asking to always show women as fully developed characters in positions of power and responsibility, who only make good and healthy decisions, because that’s not what all women do, that’s not what all men do. I simply demand to exist in film as a group of individuals that make up half of the population and not as the inevitable trope, supporting the image of a system that puts us in the passenger seat. I want to see women Drive.

I’d watch that movie. And I might even like it.


Invisible Racism

Racism exists. Surely, no one would deny that, except perhaps right-wing extremists and, um, GOP presidential canditate Herman Cain. People of color are the victims of hate crimes, hate speech, discrimination in the labor market, discrimination in the housing market, harmful stereotypes etc. The list is long and outrageous, and I am going to add to it.

This rant is about another kind of racism, that I am going to call invisible racism. It is invisible in two ways:

1. It renders people of color invisible.

2. White people are often unaware of it, meaning they just don’t see it. In fact, some PoC might even be unaware of it; Herman Cain, for example.

Here is what I mean: not all forms of racism directly harm people. Racism can work a lot more subtly than that. Because it is so deeply embedded in our daily lives, it has become normalized.

But how can this be normal? In European countries where the population of people of color continues to grow, how is it normal that characters in popular movies are almost exclusively white? Most of mainstream cinema stems from the United States, so this shortcoming on their part is just as sad, if not sadder. But even in Europe the national productions largely favor white actors and actresses. In Germany, for example, the top 100 movies watched in 2010 include 14 German productions, none of which seems to feature more than one person of color among the leading characters.

But this is just one example. We all consume hundreds of advertisements and commercials on a daily basis (whether we want to or not) and the large majority of them feature white people. This has very little to do with proper marketing, but a lot more with racism and race erasure. After all, it’s not like people of color aren’t consumers and don’t need to be considered as a potential customer base. Rather, their wishes and desires are supposed to be implied in the white lifestyles the ads represent, and the white characters are considered universal templates for identification. Just like man is the default sex, white is the default race. As a woman, I have at least a slight idea of the schizophrenia these circumstances produce.

Then again, sometimes other races are in fact excluded as customers, which becomes obvious when walking into the cosmetics section of any old supermarket chain. All the products on offer are for white people: make-up items for light skin, hair products for white people’s hair. As a white person who doesn’t need any other products, you will never know that something is missing. And people of color open up their own specialty stores, food markets, hair salons and barbers, and in the end they get accused of not assimilating enough.

"make-up for every skin tone" - or not.

This is normalized racism which we all partake in without questioning or criticizing. Adequate representation is more than just minority quotas in political parties etc. We have to focus on the everyday things we take for granted. We have to look for the invisible and paint it in signal colors. Only then will we begin to fathom what constitutes racism and how to effectively fight it.

Feminist Tools Revisited: The Bechdel Test

Everybody loves watching movies and so do I, but unlike most people I cannot fully enjoy the experience without thoroughly judging the movie according to my feminist standards. Fact is, most movies don’t meet these standards which doesn’t mean that they’re bad, just reflective of the society we live in. So instead of hopelessly searching for truly feminist movies I should perhaps take a step back and find movies that are not sexist.

Unfortunately, there is no surefire test to prove one or the other. However, there is a rule concerning the role of women to which movies and TV series can be subjected to, with quite unfortunate results. The rule is called Bechdel Test, and refers to Alison Bechdel, author of the blog Dykes to Watch Out For and artist of the eponymous cartoon The Rule which already appeared in 1985! Though the idea is not new at all, it is shocking to see that nothing has changed during these last 25 years!

So what is this test?

Applying the rule to any movie is simple; you just have to check for three criteria:

  1. The movie has to have at least two female characters (ideally with names)…
  2. …who talk to each other…
  3. …about something other than a man.

If you can’t be bothered watching a whole movie just to find out it doesn’t pass this simple test, you can probably find its rating here. On this page you can see that Sex and the City 2 and Vicky Christina Barcelona, both of which I would consider decidedly non-feminist, pass the test. So what does this test actually prove? Well, considering that ca. 50 % of all the movies rated on bechdeltest.com don’t pass these simple requirements, it proves that half of the movie world does not offer accurate representations of our lived realities! While I agree that movies have more to offer than just realist depictions of every-day life, the majority of them claim at least some authenticity and realism in order to engage the viewer. What these movies, which fail the test, do is construct a reality in which women will always be accessories and can never be conceived of as leaders, heroes, or simply multi-dimensional characters with minds of their own. I’m certain similar rules can be applied to the presence of people of colour. How tragic that an entire industry devoted to showing us all kinds of worlds, real and imagined, all too often fails to address, deal with or even consider half of the world’s population…