Monday, August 13, 2012

Miss Representation (2011)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

Well my viewing of Miss Representation has been a long time coming. A documentary about representation of women in the media is basically all I want a documentary to be about, you know? When actress Jennifer Siebel Newsom became pregnant with a girl, she found herself increasingly worried about the culture her daughter would be born into- specifically the misogynistic environment propagated by the mainstream media. She set out to interview a range of women in different media-related fields- including newscasters, politicians, professors, filmmakers, and actors- as well as current high school students to determine the types of experiences women have both as media participants and audience members. The resulting documentary also features footage of news segments, films, tv shows, and advertisements in an attempt to encapsulate how women and girls are being treated and represented in mainstream formats.

Ok so it's no secret that everything is sexist and we are always trying to fight the patriarchy/kyriarchy. We all deal with misogyny every day on some level, often through the media we're imbibing. This shouldn't be news to anyone, but sadly I'm sure it is. A lot of people are likely either unaware or simply don't care how bad it really is, and a film like Miss Representation serves as a dark reminder as well as a call to action. The statistics and personal stories told here are frankly horrifying, and the barrage of outright hatred in news videos shown in rapid succession was hard to take at times (overemotional lady wreck that I apparently am, I cried frequently during this movie). Clips of conservative political commentators like Bill O'Reilly and Glen Beck attacking Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and other female politicians on the basis of their gender were especially nasty, especially since I tend to avoid that sort of thing so I hadn't seen a lot of it before. To temper all this negativity Newsom interviews a number of middle school and high school students, many of whom display definite awareness of the power media images have over the self-esteem and actions of young girls. One high schooler showcased is basically a young Leslie Knope, and her dreams of running for public office seem easily realized given her talents and determination. Others hope to become writers or filmmakers, to put better representations of women and people of color onscreen.

I had gone into Miss Representation thinking it might focus more on women in filmmaking, which is a personal interest, but I was actually pleased to see it include so much about female newscasters and politicians, which are areas I'm less familiar with. It also gave some of the talking heads opportunities to talk specifically about women of color in these positions, which of course should be a matter of equal importance for all feminists. I would have liked a little more discussion about women of color and LGBT issues, but I recognize that this is a very broad look at a multifaceted issue, and even just narrowing down and organizing all of the material must have been a struggle. Newsom keeps her thoughts about her daughter's future as the forward thrust of the film, and while her narration is a bit stiff I think it was a good personal narrative addition that glued various segments together.

This film is so important, and I know not enough people will see it because EVERYONE should see it. Most of its viewers will probably be women like me, and it will be preaching to the choir, as it were. This needs to be seen by anyone affiliated with media production, anyone who absorbs tv, film, and online content, anyone who's a teacher, anyone who has impressionable girls (and boys) in their lives. After I watched it I felt helpless for a while, even though I already knew about much of what was said, it's rare I am hit with it all at once like that. But obviously feeling helpless and not doing anything about it is the opposite of what I should be doing, and the whole "Be the change you with to see in the world" mantra comes to mind. I will never stop pointing out sexism in the film industry, I will never stop supporting films made by women and films featuring positive representations of women, and I will use what little voice I have to try and get others to understand my point of view, so that slowly, gradually, the media will begin to rise to meet our expectations.


Pair This Movie With: One of the ways you can help improve images of women in the media is by seeking out films and televisions shows that are written/directed by women, and feature them in positive lead roles. I do this is as much as I can already, but I feel like I don't encourage others to do so. So consider this my own call to action. You should try to do this as much as you can, while avoiding those that are sexist/ageist/racist/ableist/etc. Women and Hollywood has a great list of films currently in theaters with women at the helm, so there's a start. I know depending on where you live many of these indies may not be playing, so looking into older movies might be more doable. I collect all the films I watch with women writers and directors, as well as those with great portrayals of women even if the filmmakers are male, in my "Ladies!" page, with my favorites narrowed down in an icheckmovies list. Remember that films by and/or about women are not just FOR women. I watch a shit ton of movies about dudes that I enjoy, it can definitely go the other way around. If you're looking for specific recommendations please don't hesitate to ask me!

Check out the official website for more information about screenings and what you can do to help spread the film's message.


  1. Nice write up. I watch this with my students as part of their "media literacy" unit. I had the school order it directly from the website, so the disc I've got has separate versions for k-12. I think they're all just more "family friendly" versions of the same footage.

    It totally blew their minds last year, I'm definitely going to show it again.

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  3. Excellent write-up. When you get your stomach back, see if you can stand to watch THE OTHER F WORD. This isn't a 'flip side' exactly, but socially, it's discussing all of these same consequences based on this one-dimensional, full-of-limitations existence that so-called "men" have learned to behave in. There is plenty of The F Word in this film, too, but THE OTHER F WORD ends with a great closing soliloquoy from one of those 'f'athers. Gee - there's almost hope for us yet!