Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Bechdel Testing the Oscars

February 25, 2012

This week, as Oscar fever heats up and the red carpet is rolled out, and the leading ladies are donning their pretty frocks, I thought it might be a good time to have a bit of a look at the portrayal of women in Hollywood.

Over at Women and Hollywood, Melissa Silverstien asks why there is so little recognition for women working in the film industry: To the Academy: Consider the Women.

Could it be because of this? “Old white blokes get to decide who the Oscars go to”

Of the 5765 voters in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,

94 per cent were white, 77 per cent men and their average age was 62, with only 14 per cent under 50. Black and Hispanic voters accounted for only 2 per cent each.

On a similar note, Sociological Images looks at the breakdown of those who vote for the Oscars: “Who are the Oscars voters?”

And at Feminist Frequency, video-blogger Anita Sarkeesian applies the “Bechdel Test” to the 2012 Oscars:

(Transcript of the video available here)

I’ve mentioned the Bechdel Test before. It’s a fairly simple test to gauge the presence and significance of female characters in a film.
1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2. Who talk to each other,
3. About something besides a man.

Sarkeesian concludes that of the nine films nominated for Best Film, only two clearly pass the Bechdel Test. Interestingly, she then uses a modified version of the test to examine the portrayal of non-white characters in Hollywood films.

This was first devised by blogger Alaya Johnson at The Angry Black Woman: The Bechdel Test and Race in Popular Fiction.

To pass this test, a film/television series/book must meet the following simple rules:
1. It has to have two people of colour in it.
2. Who talk to each other.
3. About something other than a white person.

Not surprisingly, Sarkeesian discovers that the Oscar nominees for this year don’t fare too well. She argues that even a film such as The Help, about the civil rights movement in the 1960s, only just scrapes through. It passes the original Bechdel test, but is problematic when it comes to the modified version.

As Sarkeesian notes:

The percentage of films that pass the modified test is extremely small, even a movie like The Help which stars multiple named women of colour in prominent roles, passes by the narrowest of margins because characters are almost always talking to or about white people.

This variation of the test exposes the fact that Hollywood still basically refuses to make movies for a general audience that focuses on the lives of people of colour, unless it also stars a sympathetic white character.


Yoof revolution and the Doc Martens boot

March 7, 2011

(Docs image from redserenade's flickr)
[image source]

Long time, no write. I’ve been away for a variety of reasons but I really should get back to writing here regularly.

It’s International Women’s Day tomorrow, so there’s an awful lot I could write about regarding the state of feminism. However, I’m currently researching and writing a short piece about Dr. Martens boots (strangely enough, in relation to feminism), and I’m on a deadline, so I can’t blog much at the moment.

Just quickly, though, in the spirit of revolution, I want to share a video with you. I found it via the Dr. Martens website – so in many ways it is marketing material. But it actually traces the history of Docs in a really cool way. It’s a fantastic brief history of youth counter-cultures (working class, skinhead, punk, grunge, etc) over the last 50 years.

Check it out! (Runs for about 9 minutes):

Some thoughts on ‘The Social Network’

November 9, 2010

Last week I saw The Social Network, a film about the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. I’m currently buried under a pile of undergrad essays, so the best I can do is provide some linkylinks to articles that resonated with my interpretation of the film. There are spoilers in these pieces, be warned.


What would Buffy do?

June 20, 2010

Have you seen the Buffy vs Edward (Twilight Remixed) clip yet? If you haven’t, you’re missing out.

As a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I absolutely love this brilliantly edited six-minute video mashup. It was created by Jonathan McIntosh and cleverly merges together scenes from Buffy with scenes from Twilight to highlight just how creepy Edward’s actions are. I’ve watched it a few times, but now that I’ve actually seen the Twilight film, I feel compelled to write about it. It was odd to see Edward in the original context rather than in the mashup. I thought, perhaps, that if I saw Edward in the film I’d be able to understand the attraction. But for me, Edward is as creepy in the movie as he is in the mashup. There is one scene in the film where Bella wakes to find Edward hovering near the end of her bed. He has entered her bedroom at night, without her consent. (I think this breaks vampire-story convention, but anyway…) He goes on to tell Bella that he likes to watch her sleep. Bella doesn’t find this disturbing or stalker-y. Instead she thinks it’s incredibly romantic and later in the scene they share their first kiss.

I’d read criticisms of Twilight in relation to Edward’s possessive and stalker/abusive tendencies before, but it wasn’t until I finally saw the film that I realised how truly creepy Edward is. I think he’s actually creepier and stalkier in the film adaptation than in the novel on which it was based.

A little while ago I read the first Twilight book in an attempt to understand the female fandom surrounding the series. I was sick of critics dissing the series on the basis that lots of women were fans of it. “Oh, those stupid women, how can they like this trash?”. (As an aside, this type of criticism is often used in relation to Sex and the City too). The first Twilight novel is pretty badly written, but despite my lack of interest in Bella as a character, I must admit, it was still a bit of a page-turner. The movie version, not so much. In fact, I didn’t hang around for the end of the film. Over an hour in and Bella’s only just figuring out that Edward is a vampire? Yawn. I might have been able to put up with the wooden acting and plodding pace, but what’s the point of a vampire love story without any blood, sex or lust?

But back to the mashup. In some ways it seems silly to compare Twilight with Buffy. Despite the presence of vampires in both stories, they really are quite different genres. Twilight is not a vampire superhero-action-horror. It is essentially a romance. It’s Mills&Boon for teenagers. Except the bad boy who comes to rescue the heroine from her boring life is not a leather-jacket-wearing, motorbike-riding, tough-guy/delinquent [insert your choice of ‘bad boy’ here], but a blood-suckin’ vampire. I can kind of see the appeal in that respect. The drama and sexual tension based around the person you can’t have, or the person you’re not supposed to have, is the basis for many of the best love stories. (But, of course, the Buffy and Spike relationship in BtVS does this waaay better).

I think what I find most problematic about the Bella-Edward relationship is that the whole thing is a metaphor for abstinence. Vampire stories are often largely about the sexual awakening of the young female character, and that’s fine, but it becomes a problem in this story because it is framed within the dangers of an ‘uncontrollable’ male sexuality. If Edward “can’t control himself”, Bella’s going to get deaded. This is quite a dangerous and unhealthy portrayal of human sexuality. Men are painted as predators, and women as helpless victims. As McIntosh (the creator of the mashup) puts it, their romance plays into “antiquated, sexist gender stereotypes”. These outdated stereotypes are not helpful for men or women.

The mashup video works so well because it uses the strength and humour of Buffy’s character to demonstrate the creep-factor of Edward. I absolutely love the part where Edward is following Buffy down a dark laneway at night, and she turns around and tells him “You know, being stalked isn’t really a big turn on for girls.” Brilliant stuff!

Jonathan McIntosh has written an interesting piece about his “Twilight remixed” project here: What would Buffy do? Notes on dusting Edward Cullen.

He writes,

Five months in the making, Buffy v. Edward is essentially an answer to the question “What Would Buffy Do?” My re-imagined story was specifically constructed as a response to Edward, and what his behavior represents in our larger social context for both men and women. More than just a showdown between The Slayer and the Sparkly Vampire, it’s also a humorous visualization of the metaphorical battle between two opposing visions of gender roles in the 21st century.

And a bit later,

We were troubled by how the main characters in Twilight seemed to embody antiquated, sexist gender stereotypes. Teenage protagonist Bella Swan is written as passive, co-dependant and perpetually the damsel in distress. Edward Cullen, her love interest, is written as over-protective, domineering and possessive.

What has always been so great about Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and I think it’s the case with True Blood as well) is that these gendered stereotypes are turned completely on their heads. The female characters may fall in love with vampires, but Buffy and Sookie are never passive, helpless victims in the story. They’re strong, independent and they know their own minds. Both series also explore death, sexuality and human relationships in much more nuanced ways than Twilight.

Related to this topic:
* A Feminist’s Guide to Curing Yourself of Twilight-Mania. I think the author of this piece makes some good points about the reasons behind the popularity of Twilight. The writer herself was caught up in the story and was reminded of the drama and intensity of being a teenaged girl. I too felt a bit like this when reading the novel. Although I cursed Bella for being so passive and un-interesting, there were elements of her character that rang true for me…particularly the sense of adolescent insecurity that Bella does so well.

* And while I’m on the theme of vampires, I recommend this article, which is not about pop cultural representations of blood-suckers, but explores some of the history behind the emergence of vampire myths: All the Dead are Vampires. (Thanks to O, song! for the link)

So to bring this to a hasty conclusion, we all know what Buffy would do.

…and then Buffy staked Edward. The End.

Fangirl feminism

June 4, 2010

Whoah, another new post. Two in the one day!! Perhaps I’m avoiding something. Like that mega pile of essays over there on my desk. The pile that contains about 160k words. But wait, this blog is for pondering feminism and pop culture. Not pondering procrastination! Right then. Here we go.

I recently stumbled across a wonderful woman on Teh Intertubes. Her name’s Anita Sarkeesian.

You can find her work at Conversations with Pop Culture. An ongoing series of videoblog commentaries from a fangirl/feminist perspective.

I haven’t had time to check out all of her stuff yet, but she’s getting my vote for “feminist of the week” because two of her videoblogs (embedded below) are simply fabulous. They align so neatly with both my academic and fangirl interests that I just have to share!

(The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies)

One of my students discussed the Bechdel Test in class the other day. I had not heard of it before. You may not have either. This short 2-min clip neatly describes what the Bechdel Test is. Watch it, if you haven’t already!

Basically, to pass the Bechdel Test (or the Mo Movie Measure, as it is sometimes referred) a film has to meet these three very simple criteria.

1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2. Who talk to each other,
3. About something besides a man.

It is incredibly eye-opening to realise how many films don’t make the cut. A film might meet one or two of the points, but it cannot pass the test unless all three points are met. As pointed out in the video, the Bechdel test highlights systemic problems with the way women are portrayed in movies.

The maker of this fantastic videoblog won my heart and cemented herself as this month’s “feminist of the week” after I watched another of her clips: “Why we need you Veronica Mars”!!

Just this week I have started (re)watching Season 2 of Veronica Mars in all its funny, sassy, feminist brilliance. And then I happened upon this gorgeous youtube clip offering brilliant and insightful commentary about Veronica, popular culture and feminism. What’s not to love?

(Why we need you Veronica Mars)

Like, Anita, I urge you to get your hands on some Veronica. It’s brilliant television.

Sex and the Critic

June 4, 2010

Well, the word on the street* seems to be that the latest Sex and the City film is atrocious. This makes me sad. The first film was disappointing enough. I’m sad that the next one is reportedly even worse.** And apparently, there isn’t even much of beautiful Manhattan to perve at.

The good thing about a sequel is that it helps keep my thesis research topical. Thanks Carrie! Unfortunately, the films are such a reversal of the first season of the television series***, that the argument I made about the way SatC reflects (some) feminist themes is made kinda redundant. Well, not completely redundant. It’s just that now, whenever I mention that part of my PhD research was about Sex and the City, I’m going to get people rolling their eyes and telling me how awful it became.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Sex and the City, but I grew to like it after researching it. The first season was relatively progressive television. And it was funny. It first screened in the late-1990s. Television with four strong, assertive, wise-cracking female characters had not been seen before. They talked about sex. They discussed topics that had previously been absolutely taboo on the small screen (vibrators, bisexuality, anal sex, female friendship? Whoah, watch out America). Hell, the title even had the word “sex” in it. That in itself was somehow a bit of a breakthrough.

And while I don’t particularly want to see the sequel, as someone who spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking and writing about the TV series, I feel somewhat obliged to check it out. I wonder if I can sneak in to a cinema and watch it for free? I don’t really want to pay money because I don’t want to encourage a tre-quel.

I don’t really know where I stand on SatC 2. I think I’m strangely caught somewhere in between these two fantastic Australian commentaries:

* Sex and the City 2: A Letter to Feminism’s Snuff Film (Helen Razer at badhostess)

* Hating on Sex and the City is soooo 2006 (Rachel Hills at musings of an inappropriate woman)

On the one hand I’m furious that the new film is a racist, misogynistic, ageist piece of crap with un-ironic product placement. And on the other, having not seen it yet myself, I’m tempted to wonder how audiences will receive and interpret the flick. Most of the women I spoke to during my fieldwork, whether they were fans or not, were critical of aspects of the TV series. Interestingly, they tended to make the same kinds of criticisms that film reviewers and feminist bloggers are making about the current film!

I’d love to do a quick exit-poll outside cinemas to gauge audiences reactions. Part of me suspects that fandom might still win out here. These four characters – as flawed as they are – have been in some people’s lives for about twelve years now. Twelve years! Even if the film versions have “jumped the shark“, Carrie Bradshaw and Co. will have a place in the hearts of many.

disclaimery things:

* The street, in this case, being twitter, facebook and various blogs that I read. 🙂
** No, I have not seen it yet. But I probably will. Soon. Dendy, want to shout me a ticket? I’ll pay for my own cosmo.
*** For my thesis, I analysed only the first season (of SatC and Desperate Housewives) rather than the every episode ever made, because alongside my interviews and focus groups I’d have had way too much data to work with.