Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Changing Portrayal: An Argument for Women Representation Throughout Film

(Written in 2012)

            Ever since films such as Nosferatu, women have been in cinema. Nosferatu was one of the first films to show a woman as a partial main character, and one who became integral to the plot. According to an article from Penn State's blog on vampire movies,  "early film men were usually the heroes while the woman were damsels in distress. Nosferatu creates a female character that knows that she could be the one that saves the people from her town when she reads that a vampire can be killed by a good hearted and virtuous woman, which Ellen is" (Cramer, 1). Even today, women appear in many different kinds of roles taking on different characters. Scarlett Johansen has appeared in The Avengers, as well as Anne Hathaway playing a woman who ends up being a prostitute in the movie Les Miserables. Though the roles might be different, they both have a impression on the people who watch the films as a representation of women and their place in the world. Some of the roles that women have been given in films over the years have been controversial. Many feminist groups take offense to some of the portrayals of women in film,because it seems to show women in a negative or sexist light. Although these characters may have been written in a certain way to progress the story, the representation of women is shown to every man, woman, and child who watches the film and shapes the way they think about women as a whole.  
            The portrayal of women in these films needs to change so that people don't have a bad impression of women from these films. A child might see a movie and believe that to be a woman you have to fall in love with a handsome man and marry him. Men might believe that women are there to serve them because of some of the submissive stay-at-home women figures that they see in films. Media affects our impression of many things that we can not or have not experienced yet in life, and especially during early life These circumstantial situations portrayed by the media could cause some negative impressions to  be formed. Films need to change to reflect this idea and the problems that it may cause. Filmmakers need to keep their mind on how the characters in their films might have an impact on the audience. The portrayal of women obviously has a very negative view and something needs to be done.
            Women's portrayal in films recently has been very negative. The roles that the women are made out to be in these characters can range from being bad to just being a bad message. Sometimes, women are barely recognized in the film at all. In an article in the International Trade Herald, they talk about the different roles women have in films. One of the things they had to say about women's roles was that "the first decade of the 21st century can be viewed as a singularly male-dominated era in American cinema." (Scott, pg.1) Obviously this is still a problem within recent years. One recent film that may had some problems with the female characters in it was Django Unchained. The only female characters were either slaves or submissive, serving women.The main female character is just a simple damsel in distress. The women in the film are pushed the side to make room for the macho men and the action that they can cause. However, this leaves the women completely out of the action and does not leave a very good impression of how women are supposed to act, or is even really a good representation of how real women act. On top of that, the magazine Death and Taxes raised the point that the film does not even have the excuse of the time period to have written these characters that way. According to the article, " During slavery, many women struggled to define and to defend themselves in circumstances that sought to strip them of their humanity. Women found ways to maintain a sense of family and a belief in the possibilities of future that they could only imagine. These women do not appear in “Django Unchained” (Abrams, 1). Even in college films, the ideas and roles of women aren't necessarily reflective of actual women. There is a good example of this in the student film made by a classmate of mine. In the film, called Love Is Over, the main character is male. He is stuck in a room, after being kidnapped, with his girlfriend. During the time the film takes place, all that the girl does is scream and try and ask for help. Although this was obviously to have the girl be a love interest as well as a damsel in distress, this is not a good representation of women. The character is not strong, and if it weren't for the type of story, the character would seem completely useless and possibly even annoying. The representation of women in the film, as well as Hollywood films, is overall negative and affecting how people think of women.
            For the perception of women to change in films, filmmakers must make an effort to write more independent and strong female characters. The character of Black Widow in The Avengers is a woman amongst many super powered men. However, she still manages to hold her own against the enemies of the film and doesn't need men to look out for her. The director Joss Whedon also directed the television show Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which changed some of the gender roles and showed women in more heroic roles than normally shown. In The Avengers, Whedon obviously made a conscious effort to have her be more of a developed character than a the usual sidekick or damsel in distress. By making this decision, Joss Whedon was able to show anyone watching the film that women can defend themselves and don't always have to be saved. A writer for The New Agenda even went as far as to say that the film was a feminist film. When talking about the strong female role of Black Widow, Karrin Vasby Anderson said " She goes toe to toe with the bad guys, keeping pace with her male counterparts, fueled only by girl power" (Anderson, 1). It's obvious that this character is something that is very different for movies, especially action movies such as this. Whedon also shows that the women don't always have to be a side character. Black Widow is definitely a sidekick, but the film follows her for a good portion of time and gives her some scenes alone. This easy solution makes much of a difference to the people who watched the film, including young girls. Young girls who watched the film now have a good role model for a strong, independent woman who is also a superhero in her own right. This gives young women a pretty good person to look up to on the screen and overall creates a different character than most people see in films today.
            Along with this, there are also different ways of writing characters to make them stronger. Though the female character in a film may not be an independent heroine, there are still things that filmmakers can consider. They don't always need to make the women look like they need to be saved. One of the biggest problems that feminists seem to have with the portrayal of women in films is that they need to be saved by a strong man. There are very few independent women throughout film, and the few there are still might fall into the stereotype of being saved by a man in some way throughout the film they appear in. One example is Anne Hathaway's character in Les Miserables. Fontaine is a worker at the beginning of the film. She is mostly strong for herself, and she stands up against the shift manager in the film. Afterwards, she gets fired and has to fend for herself as well as try to get money for her child. She ends up falling into prostitution to get more money. She seems to be a strong character who takes care of herself throughout the film, but then she gets saved by the main character, a man named Jean Valjean. The character who seems to be strong and independent still falls into the cliche of being saved by a male character. According to an article from the site, " in Les Mis, the women are depicted as minor characters, only there to move the struggle forward for the main characters, the men." (Tavaras, 1). To fix this, the filmmaker could have taken this idea and had her stand up for herself some more, and Valjean just could have supported her. Women don't always have to be saved, but the filmmakers don't have to completely make it so that they are independent either. They just need to make it a realistic interpretation of a woman and try not to represent women in a negative light.
            Another solution to this problem is that arts programs in schools could teach kids at an earlier age how to deal with these topics. When you are a young kid, you don't exactly understand much of the world, and what you do know you seem to gather from the movies you watch. If there were programs at schools to teach kids how to react to certain kinds of representations of women in films, then this could help with making kids understand what filmmakers do and also help them not take everything in movies as pure fact. This program could consist of watching movies and discussing as a class what is right or wrong about the characters and if they could happen in real life. This could also give the students a chance to figure out what kind of people they want to be, and know that they don't have to base themselves off of characters in a movie when that movie might not represent them or a group they belong in very well. This would also have another benefit that future filmmakers might have better ideas about what to do and how to represent women in their films in the future.
            Future filmmakers also usually end up getting their training from a university of some sort. There could also be more education, on a college level to people who make these films. There can be more courses on women and women's history throughout cinema to help promote women's roles in cinema and show that women might not always be the role that you find them. Professors in college classes can also concentrate on enforcing the importance of writing female characters as they would actually act in real life. Teaching these things and setting rules for the films that people make will make the filmmakers have more of an active mind on the issue and will make them think more about the roles they write or film in the future. These classes should also offer a history on women in cinema to show what great things women have done in film, to maybe convince some people that it is a good idea to have women in their films be strong. This would also be a great opportunity to offer a class for upcoming filmmakers to learn about portrayals of women and how the media as well as the consumer views these representations. This class could show the differences in characters over the years in film and which ones had the greatest impact. One of the films that could be used as a good example is Silence of The Lambs. The main character is a strong woman who is able to hold her own mentally with a criminally insane cannibal named Hannibal. This was a different example of a woman character at the time, and definitely was a very well-written strong character. She was very much the hero throughout most of the movie. According to an article from the feminist magazine Camera Obscura, The main character, Clarice " risks being victimized and psychologically raped by Lecter, she does not fully assume the role of victim-hero until she enters Bill's lair, and even then she does so only briefly." (Schopp, 2). This is obviously something that was not seen much before this movie.
            Some people might view this problem in a different light. Some people believe that films are a story, and that even though the character might not be realistic, the characters themselves are just a vessel for the story to move through. Therefore, the characters themselves are not representative of anyone in the world, and they do not even necessarily represent the ideas or stereotypes of the people who may be put in the same situation as the movie. However, this is not necessarily true. One film that clearly has some problems with the portrayal of a female character in it is Dead Calm. In the film, there is a lot of odd sexual mix-ups, and even a part where the woman seduces a man just to knock him out. Some of this seems to imply that a woman can only get something through sex, and that sex is a woman's only weapon. Along with that, there seems to be a hint that the female character might have desires other than her husband. Another article in the Camera Obscura states that, "What Dead Calm depicts is the force of Rae's divided drives projected out into a world in which events repeatedly entrap her between the competing demands of two loves" (Schwartz, 4). What this entails is that this woman on the screen, although she is played by an actress and not actually a person making decisions, makes the audience believe, through the power of the movie, that this is what a woman would do in this situation. Indeed, it shows that she has chosen a love triangle of some sort of her own volition. This sends a message to women, as well as men, that women are more likely to cheat, or want to pursue a relationship with another man. Although this might not be true, the film makes it clear to the audience that it is a possibility. Just because the film writes the character this way, it makes the audience believe that perhaps this is a way a woman such as Rae would react in this situation. The film is basing the character's motivations on reality, at least partially, which makes an impression on the people viewing of how the events would actually play out. Overall, the ideas shown in this movie are actually a terrible representation of women. Women aren't all wanting to have a relationship with a man other than their husband, and neither do they use sex as a weapon. This film might show some women who watch it that to get what they want they need to use sex as a weapon. This is, of course, not a good lesson for women, young or old. Of course, this also helps reinforce the stereotype that women are sexual beings. Some men might see this film and believe that women should be seen as sexual objects, since Rae in the film obviously wanted to be thought of that way. Whether the filmmakers meant to or not, they made a film that shows many bad sides of women, and some might say that this does not represent any women at all. Many women in this situation would not do these sorts of these, like use sex as a weapon. The actions of the character are not a good representation, and are therefore still a problem even if the character is just written a certain way to move the story along.
            Filmmakers need to be more conscientious  about what kind of things they put in their movies. They need to be aware that they are representing women in the films they make. As well, there needs to be more awareness in the world that the people shown on screen don't necessarily represent the gender they are showing. Overall, for the negative impression of women to change, there needs to be change with how people see movies as well as how they make them. People need a better understanding of what characters mean. This needs to be taught in different ways all throughout life. There are many different ways of doing this, and although it might not seem like a big enough issue to warrant this, it definitely is. There needs to be things done to make the representation of these women characters much better. People will always take ideas about certain groups that they don't know a lot about from films. This needs to be fixed so that people will have more accurate views on groups, especially women, since they have notoriously been seen in certain negative lights over the years.
            If these solutions are put into action, we can expect to see a lot of change over the years. As more kids grow up knowing what movies tell us isn't necessarily truthful to how women actually are, they will not take it as a representation of women. Also, they will not end up thinking a certain way just because a character in the movie thought that way. Also, the filmmakers would be a little more focused on making sure that the female characters they write are accurate, or at least react similarly to an actual woman. Hopefully this will lead to more women getting jobs in the industry, as it would become a more important issue to make sure that women are represented well in films. As time goes on, the kids who learned about how women actually are and how women are shown in films might go on to make films. Films will just become more and more accurate to the depiction of women, and the film industry as a whole will hopefully become more inclusive and diverse. This will lead to women breaking new barriers in everyday life as well, as people will not judge women based on what they have seen in movies. This would be a very great thing in the world if these solutions were put forth.
            In conclusion, there are many things wrong with film's portrayal of women today. This has been around for some time, but it's obviously starting to change. If this change progresses, along with more teaching about representations of women in schools as well as to filmmakers, the world will become a better place.

Works Cited

Abrams, Brian. "Historian Criticizes Depiction of Women In 'Django Unchained'" Death and     Taxes. January 24, 2013. Web. February 25, 2013.  

Anderson, Karrin. "Why 'The Avengers' Is A Feminist Film" The New Agenda .May 9, 2012:   Web. February 25, 2013.

Love Is Over. By Dominque Williams. 6 Shot Productions. 2013.

Nosferatu. Vampire Cinema. PSU Education blog,  2012.

Schopp, Andrew. "The Practice and Politics of 'Freeing the Look': Jonathan Demme's The        Silence Of The Lambs." Camera Obscura Sep. 22, 2003: 125-152. Print.

Scott, A.O. " Princess? Witch? Sidekick? Object? Star?; Women's roles on film mirror their      times, and these times are confused" International Trade Herald December 8, 2011. Print.

Schwartz, Nina. "Itsy-Bitsy Spiders and Other Pieces Of the Real in Dead Calm." Camera       Obscura Mar. 26 2002: 149-180. Print.

Tavaras, Tye. "Les Miserables Movie: Should Feminists Be Angry About It?" Policymic. Web.             February 26, 2013.

No comments:

Post a Comment