not in Primary anymore

feminist filmgoer: let’s talk about movies


I am a huge film buff. I watch one almost every day, and I take them seriously as art, not just as passing entertainment. One of the greatest pleasures of my life is stepping into a movie theater, especially after having been away from one for several weeks (darn you, school!). I go to movies by myself, I read and listen to film commentary in the form of podcasts and blogs, and I have a personal collection of DVDs and Blu rays that could single-handedly resurrect Provo’s video rental industry.

The progress toward gender equality in the film industry has been as slow-moving as a Terrence Malick epic, with just as much tragedy but less beauty. In almost every way you can measure, women have had the short stick in the Hollywood game, since its inception. Some progress has been made over the years. During Christmas break, my family was struggling hard to come up with a “modern day Audrey Hepburn” — defined as someone who seems to fill the same role in the culture that she did — and I concluded that the reason we couldn’t think of one is simply that female actors now are given more to do than Audrey Hepburn was. Although she carried the films she was in, her roles rarely moved beyond that of the glamorous beauty. We had an easier time coming up with a modern day Cary Grant — George Clooney — someone who is handsome but also versatile and heroic. (Your suggestions for alternatives are welcome in the comments.)

You might say, that’s not fair. It’s Audrey Hepburn! Of course she was respected, and of course she gives great performances. But when you look at Hepburn’s films — or any film of those days and earlier — it’s really hard to miss, now, the way that women, including leading ladies, were portrayed as delicate objects, more dependent than independent. It’s no wonder Shirley Temple was not a boy — at the age of 5, she already possessed most of the qualities valued in a female lead.

One of the things I find fascinating — if sometimes disheartening — about film is the way it reflects the values of the particular period it was made. When a film does this on purpose, it can either be subtle and powerful (think: Werner Herzog, and I’m going to throw last year’s ParaNorman on the list there, too) or obnoxious and over-the-top (Spielberg, I’m lookin’ at you, kid). Inevitably, the values of a particular time seep into the making of a film without the filmmakers even realizing it. When this happens, films can be informative cultural artifacts, worthy of study in order to better understand the people who made them, and the audiences who received them.

So we introduce today a new feature to yMf: “Feminist Filmgoer.” These posts will respond directly to films — old or new — that we see. Feminist perspectives are still often absent in critical film analysis, and I’m sick of noticing something un-feminist about a film, Googling it, and finding no discussion on the subject. So we’ll start the discussion! I’ll be doing a lot of these, but we also invite all you feminist filmgoers to respond to these posts, or write your own (you can submit articles to  youngmormonfeminists at gmail dot com). Join the film-loving and feminist-thinking conversation.

Annex - Temple, Shirley (Now and Forever)_01

20 Responses to “feminist filmgoer: let’s talk about movies”

  1. Ally

    Hey! I agree with you that people don’t talk about this enough. Maybe with some discussion on specific films, we can change the way women are seen in a majority of movies. I would suggest looking up Anita Sarkeesian and “The Feminist Frequency” on YouTube. She has a lot of great information on the subject. Another helpful resource is Laura Mulvey’s essay on The Male Gaze, here:

    Also, I would love to contribute! It is definitely something that has fascinated me over the years. I used Mulvey’s essay to write a paper on “Million Dollar Baby.”

    Lastly, I would suggest Emma Watson as a possible modern-day Audrey Hepburn. At least, she’s the closest I can think of.

    • Derrick Clements

      Thanks for those resources, Ally. Interesting to suggest Emma Watson — I still see her as a teen because I haven’t seen any of her post-HP stuff, but I can see the resemblance.

  2. Jen

    Here via Brenda Chapman’s twitter–this sounds great! I’ll definitely be checking back in. Do you think you might tweet whenever you post new Feminist Filmgoer articles/discussions?

    • Derrick Clements

      Welcome Jen! I’ll definitely be tweeting when a new FF post goes up, but you can also follow the twitter account here, @youngLDSfems! Looking forward to you joining in the conversation!

  3. Manos

    The feminist message of Brave was that in order to be free to make your own choices screw your parents, turn your mother into a bear and never apologize and screw your community. As long as you never, ever have to do anything you don’t want to do then you’re doing the right thing. And for the most part that is the message of modern feminism. Which is why the movement has been abandoned by some many women.

    • Jen

      Yikes, dude. The reason some women (and men) abandon feminism, or have a bad opinion of it from the get-go, is because feminism is often willfully misinterpreted or twisted. People take or invent the most radical viewpoints and hold them up as indicative of the entire movement–trying to vilify feminism so they can shut down the conversation. It’s like saying the 99% movement is entirely made up of a bunch of finger-waving hippies who don’t want to work a day of their lives, so the movement’s message is as meaningless and empty as their resumes and we shouldn’t even be having this conversation–oh wait, that happened. :-/

      Feminism is about promoting equality for women, about acknowledging a social system that has historically afforded less power and agency to women than men, and continuing to acknowledge the disparities in the treatment of women and men in modern society. It’s not meant to demonize men or absolve women of responsibility–that’s ridiculous.

      Brave’s about the complicated relationship between a mother and a daughter. It’s about a kid realizing that her actions have serious consequences, and by the end of the movie she does accept responsibility and do the right thing, at great risk to herself. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie but I seem to remember her apologizing more than a few times. Brave isn’t my favorite Pixar film (I wish it’d been more coherent, less all over the place) but even I can say your read of it is pretty disingenuous.

      • Manos

        The most obvious flaw with Brave is that Merida shows now transformation despite the results of her actions. That is one reason why the film is losing in the awards. There is no point to her journey. Her mother gives in totally.

      • Jen

        I can’t reply directly to your comment so hopefully this will show up OK: I actually agree with you that Brave fails to effectively show Merida’s journey and the evolution of her relationship with her mom. I saw what they were going for–basically what I said in my comment above–and I think the execution could have been way, way better.

        I was just boggled you were ascribing the failings of one Pixar movie to the modern feminist movement.

  4. Manos

    I think Brave speaks to where the feminist movement is right now. Brave shows the struggle between Merida’s selfishness and her mother’s traditional values. Rather then deal with that, Pixar just throws the mother under the bus.

    I don’t claim to say who in Brave is right or wrong. But Pixar clearly makes that claim. They pick Merida’s values over her mother’s. Obviously they are both women and both have valid female points of view. But only one view is politically correct.

    The movie then fails to show any negative outcomes for Merida. In the real world it isn’t that easy to buck your whole family and then get their blessing. Re: unrealistic expectations.

    • Jen

      Kids bucking familial expectations with what some may consider little consequence is NOT strictly a female thing (or even a modern thing, there’s been stories about kids defying their parents and getting away with it for centuries). We’re not talking historical fiction here, we’re talking about stories we can relate to.

      I think Brave could be considered a feminist movie in that it’s a girl who doesn’t want to get married, and in the end she doesn’t get married. The biggest mistake Merida makes in the movie isn’t wanting to not be married, it’s hurting her mother to get her way–and she spends the rest of the movie working to right that wrong. Do you think the movie would have had a better message if Merida got married, in the end?

      • Manos

        I think Brave would have been more believable if Merida had found some way to compromise with her parents. As it was, the movie was about the forced transformation of her mother. But maybe her mother’s values were more realistic for their time/location. The consequences for a person of her birth not marrying for tribal allegiance could easily lead to end of her family’s rule within a generation.

  5. austin

    Perhaps better left for a whole post, but can we talk about Roman Polanski? Obviously, he did something absolutely horrid and awful and terrible–words fail here to convey the magnitude of the crime–by raping a young girl. But (in my opinion) he made (and continues to make) great movies. Is it possible to like his creative works without in some sense condoning what he did? Or should I refuse to see anything he’s involved in if I want to be a feminist at all? Is me even asking these questions a perfect/horrifying example of male privilege to begin with?

    (For the record, I’m 100% in favor of him being extradited to the US and convicted of his crime and locked away. I don’t know if that is supposed to help or something but it could be relevant.)

  6. Elden Catchpole

    Roman Polanski was imprisoned since September when he entered Switzerland’s Zuric Airport for accepting an award. He is not only accused of raping an underage girl of 13 years but also is accused of escaping from the US police since 1978. If the charges against him are proved then he might face severe penalty like extradition. The director though has escaped all charges and has moved freely in different parts of Europe like any other independent citizens, now he will have to defend himself from the charges against him if he wants to live freely rest of his life.:

    Stop by our new blog site too

  7. Anil

    I like Merida. If your chances of haivng a redhead baby are high though, I’d avoid it.My parents almost named me Ariel and I’m so glad they didn’t, since I have long red hair and would have gotten endless “Little Mermaid” teasing. Otherwise? Go for it!


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