Monday, December 21, 2009

Femme Film Fest

We received some excellent film suggestions when Autumn posted a list of her favorite female directors not that long ago, and it sparked an idea: Let's actually watch some of these movies! And what's more, why not enjoy the films and the subsequent discussion with friends?

If you'd be interested in hosting your own Femme Film Fest, please respond to this posting with the movie you'd like to show from the list below:

  1. Jane Campion - (she has a number of films available through Netflix)
  2. Sophia Coppola - Lost in Translation
  3. Cheryl Dunye - Stranger Inside
  4. Patty Jenkins - Monster
  5. Deepa Mehta (she has a trilogy as well as a fourth film through Netflix)
  6. Jocelyn Moorhouse - Proof (there are two films by the same name; be sure to get Moorhouse's)
  7. Mira Nair - Monsoon Wedding
  8. Kim Pierce - Boys Don't Cry
  9. Lynne Ramsay - Ratcatcher
  10. Marjane Satrapi - Persepolis
  11. Penelope Spheeris - Wayne's World
  12. Julie Taymor - Frida; Titus Andronicus
  13. Agnes Varda - Cleo from 5 to 7

Some of the films are well known, while others are hidden gems just waiting to be discovered; I believe watching the lesser-known films will hit closer to the mark in terms of what we hope to accomplish. Afterwards, post a brief synopsis of the film you watched and your (and your friends') impressions of it.

This is a great way to practice what Autumn preached: Recognize great female directors by watching and discussing their films.

Finally, Christmas is just days away, so I suspect everyone's very busy right now. If the Femme Film Fest interests you, simply consider hosting one at this point; I'll send out a reminder via Facebook in a few weeks, at which point you can post your movie choice. The goal is to view and comment on a movie by mid to late January.

*The photo above was used without permission.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sinew: A Modern American Indian Story

Sinew: A Modern American Indian Story is a short film (28 min.) about Betty Cooper, a member of the Blackfeet Nation. The film highlights the U.S. government's impact on her life as it tried to colonize her as a child, hardships that she experienced as an adult, and her achievements--she is only 1 of 4 females elected to the Blackfeet council.

The film is being shown in the Laurel neighborhood of Oakland, California, on Friday, November 27th, at "The Space" (also known as Laurel Jujitsu), located at 4148 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, CA, 94619.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; the film starts at 7 p.m. Sinew will be preceded by a few other shorts and a break. A $5 donation is requested, but no one will be turned away. There will also be some refreshments available for purchase.

Two worthy organizations have put this together: Laurel Independent Film Exploration (LIFE--"A Salon for Women's Indie Films") and San Francisco Women's Film Festival. I encourage anyone who can make it to come and support this endeavor, as well as enjoy the film and company!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How Many Female Directors Can You Name?

I recently realized that almost all of the movies I watched were directed by men, so I turned to my favorite film critic Mick LaSalle, of the San Francisco Chronicle, and he gave me a list that started me down the path of several great films and film makers.

One of the names he listed was Jane Campion. Campion has a new film, Bright Star, and was interviewd in the Chronicle a few weeks later.

After reading the article, I realized why I knew so few female directors. As Campion states, in the 82 year history of the Academy Awards, only 3 women have been nominated for best director and none have received it.

Female directors will not receive credit unless we watch their movies, and we can't watch their movies until we know about them. Here is a short list of my favorite female directors. See how many you can come up with and write back...

  1. Jane Campion
  2. Sophia Coppola
  3. Deepa Mehta

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Top 10 Jobs According to Comcast

Let's play a game! It's called "Which gender best represents the top 10 jobs according to Comcast?"

Here's how it works: First, click on the link below (or click on the title of this posting); then as you scroll through the top 10 jobs, guess which gender represents each job.

When I played, I guessed correctly 100% of the time! This, unfortunately, means that the majority of the best jobs are filled by men (they seem to be especially adept at technology and leadership), and the few instances of women filling the best positions involve some kind of nurturing, care-taking role (but certainly not as doctors!).

I know I was often told by teachers and family members that I, as a female, should focus on English and stay away from math and science (technology had only come as far as "Oregon Trail"). And I also know that there are people who scoff at the idea that our society plays any part in the male-dominated technological and scientific fields. But there have been serious efforts lately to attract more females into these male-dominated fields as early as junior high school, suggesting that there is a general acknowledgment of society's influence on females' career choices. But Comcast's slideshow seems to be undermining these efforts and instead promoting the old "Women as Nurturers / Men as high-powered corporate executives" model.

Side note: How can they say that being a college professor is one of the best jobs right now? Furloughs, long hours, increasing expectations to both teach and publish, and diminishing funds for such basic supplies as paper--how is this job in the top 10?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Losing it All? A Feminist's Film Review of Taken (SPOILER ALERT)

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most feminists that mainstream Hollywood movies promote a fair amount of sexism, misogyny, and nasty stereotypes of both women and men, just as I’m sure it doesn’t come as a surprise to most people of color that the same pop-culture vehicle promotes racism and vicious racial stereotypes. The 2008 movie Taken, with Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace, is no exception; it’s both sexist and racist. But the specific misogyny in this movie has led me to a surprising epiphany as to how I, and perhaps other women, have allowed sexist dogma to take control of my body.

As the camera slowly pans out from Neeson holding his daughter, Grace, in her white negligee, the golden sheeted round bed, the dead non-specific-rich-Middle-Eastern-man on the floor, I was already contemplating a post-movie cigarette and the rare, “well that was a waste of time” conversation with my husband. But the credits failed to roll. The next scene shows Grace bumbling like a deer on new legs to her mother with the same smile plastered on her face as when she boarded the plane to France one hour and thirty minutes earlier--before she was sold to the sex-slave trade and nearly raped by said non-specific-rich-Middle-Eastern-man. But again, the credits failed to roll. In the final scene, Neeson gives a surprise to Grace: a music lesson with her favorite pop singer. Smiles a la carte. Problems solved. Credits roll.

My feminist verbosity was muted. Hollywood had truly outdone itself. Where was the trauma? Where was the scarring? Then, three post-movie smokes later, it hit me: there was no trauma for Grace to contend with because she had not been raped. Her body, though stolen and sold, had never been physically penetrated so, of course, she was fine.

Never before had I seen such a dramatic portrayal of the stereotype—of one of the foundations of misogyny—that the female body is a holy sacred vessel. From this ideal comes the conundrum that women still face today. We are either whores or virgins. There is no in between. In Christian mythology, Mary, Mother of God, must maintain her virginity in order to remain holy because the female body once entered physically becomes unclean, unholy. This ideal continues to affect women worldwide, from the legally mandated physical covering of the body by some Islamic groups in the Middle East, to female genital mutilation in Africa, to good old fashioned sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence epidemics here in the States. I wonder if the myth of the female body and the catch 22 it creates is the reason that Hollywood, and we as consumers of Hollywood, are so fascinated with stories of female rape and abduction? Is our collective unconscious still attempting to understand and solve the whore/ virgin conundrum? Perhaps.

And, perhaps, there is nothing revolutionary about my discovery, but it led me to a more tangible and, hopefully, more useful question: are we, as women, unconsciously allowing ourselves to be more traumatized by sexual abuse and violence than necessary because we have bought into this idea that our bodies are sacred vessels? Do we believe ourselves to be either whores or virgins?

I do not speak accusingly; I speak from experience. I am a member of the not-so-elite statistic: “1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.”[i] I know that rape, and all forms of sexual abuse, are extremely traumatic. I am not suggesting that rape is “no big deal,” and that we should all just “get over it.” On the contrary, I wonder if women could recover from the trauma of rape more quickly and, at the sake of sounding detached, more efficiently, if we realized that this misogynistic, illogical, and unreasonable stereotype/archetype is ingrained in our subconscious.

Taken made it clear to me that I have been hanging on to something intangible for too long. I have been clinging to the idea that something has been taken from me that I can never get back. But that is the virgin/ whore ideal speaking. I was a virgin. Then I became a whore, and my life was over. I have been living as if my body constitutes my entire identity, while simultaneously fighting this perception as a feminist. I have been viewing my experiences as if my body had not been violated, had I been Grace, I would not have any trauma to deal with.

The reality of what happened to me, and to many other women, is not sexual or even physical. What happened to me was about power. Rape is an abuse of power; it is the physical representation of the male power that exists in our society. That is what has lingered. That is what hurts. My body is just my body, and it has healed. What I am left to deal with is my position as a woman in a society where men have power over me. The root of this problem lies in unequal power dynamics, not sexuality. That is why Taken is so shockingly unrealistic. Everything is taken from Grace, except her virginity. Had it not been for her father’s divine intervention, she might have lost it all…but thanks to Grace, and the movie Taken, I have come to realize that I haven’t lost anything, except, perhaps, time.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Rejecting the Male Gaze: Comments on an NPR Interview with Lisa Kudrow

NPR’s Fresh Air recently played a montage of past interviews with some of their more well-known guests, including a surprisingly insightful one with actor Lisa Kudrow from April 30, 2004.[i] I describe her interview as surprising because her comments unexpectedly turn on the subject of the sexualization of females before the lens of a camera.

Best known for her role as Phoebe on the sitcom Friends, the interview begins with NPR’s Terry Gross noting that Kudrow depicted the least-sexualized female character on the show: her character was the silly, guitar-playing free spirit with “sexy phlegm.”

But Kudrow rejects the assertion that her character was not sexual, noting that Phoebe discussed her sexual conquests in a number of episodes. Kudrow as a person, the actor counters, is not sexual, in that she is not comfortable exhibiting that part of her personality outside of the bedroom. Phoebe, therefore, did not come across as “sexy” as her onscreen female friends did. In essence, Kudrow makes a distinction between being perceived as sexual and being sexually active; in other words, being “sexual” is not limited to dressing and/or behaving provocatively.

Kudrow contrasts her character’s lack of overt sexuality with an über-sexy photo shoot she did along with her other female cast mates that landed them on the cover of a magazine. It is the subject of this photo shoot on which the focal point of Kudrow’s interview turns. What at first seems to be a fairly blasé interview suddenly becomes fascinating when she describes her photo shoot as “unnatural.”

Posing for “sexy” shoots, she says, means posing in unnatural positions and making a “crazy face”: open mouth, pursed lips, and wide eyes. True to her natural comedic tendencies, Kudrow punctuates her description with laughter and humorous adjectives such as the aforementioned “crazy face.” But underlying it all is an uncharacteristically serious Kudrow.

“It felt awful,” she states candidly, “like being taken advantage of.” In a world where it is quotidian to wait in line at the grocery store surrounded by half-dressed females posed provocatively on the covers of magazines, I am unsettled by Kudrow’s startling confession that she felt like she was “putting on a sex show” when asked by the photographer to unbutton her shirt a little.

Her discomfort was not, as Kudrow preemptively states, a sign of prudishness. She simply did not understand why she, as a female actor, should be expected to undress before a roomful of strangers to promote a product.

Perhaps it is her matter-of-fact tone as she describes how she felt being presented by the media as a sex object that is so unnerving. It makes me wonder: Would I feel comfortable unbuttoning my shirt, one button at a time, to maintain a coveted place in the winner’s circle of my craft?

Kudrow continued unbuttoning in professional deference to the male photographer, demanding of herself to “get comfortable!”—up to a point. Then her level of discomfort and her inner voice told her to stop. As she describes it, her refusal to further unbutton her blouse was an act of self-preservation. She felt an overwhelming need to protect herself from the will of another. Her sense of self was at stake.

Is Kudrow’s reaction to the photographer a self-aware instance of Laura Mulvey’s psychoanalytical exploration of “woman as image”?[ii] I would argue that the actor’s refusal to further unbutton her blouse was a rejection of the “determining male gaze project[ing] its fantasy onto the female figure”; moreover, she rejected the dichotomized “active/male and passive/female” power structure by setting boundaries with which she was more comfortable both personally and professionally (ibid).

Earlier in the interview, Kudrow refers to the poses and facial expressions that women are expected to do as conscious acts of “contortion.” She concedes that sexy poses are natural for some, but not all, including herself. So instead of forcing herself to be someone she’s not, she buttoned up her shirt.[iii]

[i] To listen to the audiofile, check out this link:
[ii] Laura Mulvey. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Visual and Other Pleasures. Indiana UP: Bloomington, 1989.
[iii] I’d like to note that Kudrow has been featured on a number of magazine covers—“crazy face” and all—but I believe that it’s possible to view her more recent refusal as perhaps new-found assertiveness rather than hypocrisy.