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.