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Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

I saw this Youtube video a few weeks ago, and was shocked that I’d never seen it before (because it’s funny and great):

The video is called “The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies” and was created by FeministFrequency. It describes a test for all movies with three simple qualifications:

  1. Is there more than one woman in the movie who has a name?
  2. Do the women talk to each other?
  3. Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?

It then goes on to show a long list of movies that do not pass the test—and I was amazed at just how many there were, and how none of these movies are known to be particularly misogynistic. Milk? The Princess Bride? WALL·E?

It’s a funny video—the star is sassy and sarcastic—but it’s also a very depressing video. When I think about movies I’ve seen recently like Inception or The Social Network, it becomes clear just how male-centric these movies really are—the women, even independent and dynamic female characters, end up serving as props in a male-dominated plot-line. The women are not the center focus, but rather (sometimes interesting, sometimes not) sidenotes.

I think that this lack of female-centered content stems from the fact that most big-name Hollywood directors today are men. Every director nominated for a Golden Globethis year is male, fewer than 10 percent of all movies are directed by women, rarely are woman consistently hired by big movie production houses, and a woman has never won an Oscar for best director (Ed: until last year, when Katheryn Bigelow won for The Hurt Locker); these facts do not justify the fact that so many movies are solely focused on either male/male or male/female interactions, but they do help to explain it.

The thing is, though, that women went to the movies more than men in 2009. Women clearly are a market for films, and yet are not exactly treated as one—but still seem to be returning to the movies over and over again. Why is this? In an interview, Manohla Dargis, a NYT film critic, said:

There’s a reason that women go to movies like Mamma Mia. It’s a terrible movie . . . but women are starved for representation of themselves. I go back to Spike Lee and She’s Gotta Have It. I remember going to see it at the Quad in New York, surrounded by a black audience. People are starved for representations of themselves.

What she says makes a lot of sense to me—and further explains why the movie industry is caught in a self-perpetuating cycle. Men make movies about men because that’s what they know, and succeed at doing well with the few movies they make about women because women see those movies en masse. Even if movies about women aren’t quality films, the succeed because women are willing to see them. Isn’t that depressing?

So, what can we do about this? Vote with your pocket, I suppose: see movies that have women in them, but not simply because they have women—demand quality movies about women, movies that portray women as complex characters in the same way that movies portray men. And hope that the industry recognizes women as the large and powerful movie-going audience that we are.

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Ever since I saw Sex and the City 2 a week ago, I’ve been struggling to figure out what to say in this blog post. I’m a huge fan of the series, and (I won’t even try to link here, because there are so many people who disagree/agree with this statement) I do believe that it had a sense of feminism to it, from the way it portrayed strong female friendships to the way that it worked to normalize women’s sexual needs. But the first movie seemed overblown and excessive to me, and I found this to be even worse. Not just because the plot seemed to be missing, but also because I left feeling that its attempt at feminism was somewhat…offensive.

Take, for example, the portrayal of Muslim women as completely oppressed. In one scene, Carrie and the others stare (somewhat creepily) at a woman in a niqab (she is completely covered up), marveling at how she manages to eat a French fry and at how she has no freedom. Now, there are a lot of issues for women in the Muslim world—such as not being allowed to drive on public roads in Saudi Arabia. But, as this article in Salon points out, not once do the female protagonists try to engage Muslim women in conversation on these issues. The only interactions we see are at the end, when a group of Muslim women help them to run away from an angry mob of men—kind, certainly, but somewhat unrealistic. Having actual discussions with Muslim women about their society and their religious world and choices, or at least about their fashion or something would have given those women a voice, exactly what Carrie is complaining that they don’t have.

Similarly, singing “I am Woman” on karaoke and having the entire room (full of Arab men, belly-dancers, etc.) join in seems nice, but a weird juxtaposition to the extreme oppression portrayed throughout the rest of the movie. That’s another theme that runs throughout the movie—contradictions. On one hand, Samantha, as usual, demands that women be allowed to express themselves sexually by proudly holding up packs of condoms in the souk to prove that women do, in fact, have sex; this could be seen as quite the attempt at feminism. However, for me, at least, feminism also has comes hand in hand with some kind of respect. A respect of women, their bodies, and their wishes, but also a respect of other people at the same time. And while personally, I am glad to live in a country where women can wear low-cut shirts without feeling out of place or inciting a mob, going to a country where women are expected to dress modestly and blatantly doing the opposite is, well, rude. Yes, she was suffering through the hot flashes of menopause, I know, and had her medicines taken away by the government. But respect is still respect, and the other three women seemed to be able to deal with not covering up completely while still acting with more respect.

I have a lot more to say about this movie. I chose to write about respect and religion because I think it relates to from the rib and the way that Judaism also struggles to balance respect for people’s beliefs with more modern ideas. But, briefly another topic, here is an interesting defense of the movie for allowing women to complain about how hard marriage is, for allowing women to talk about not always loving the responsibilities of parenting, and for what it is—a movie about luxury. I found the consumerism and blatant excess to be much, much too much, but I knew that it would be going into the movie, and I even knew that from watching the series, so I think it is something to get past. I also do agree that the movie did provide for some interesting female dialogue—some dialogue that would have been better served had it been in a different movie.

I knew I would go see this movie, and if there’s a third one, I’ll see it again. That’s the kind of fan I am. But I miss the series and the way that I walked away from each episode thinking that while these women had problems to deal with (because that’s life), they also knew how to take care of themselves and each other. This time, I walked away feeling that the characters who I had grown to love were kind of pathetic. And that is a sad feeling to have.

PS: Did no one else find it weird that the solution to Carrie’s cheating was to give her an engagement ring two years after their wedding? Because the trials of marriage, love, and commitment can be solved by having a man put his mark on a woman with a sparkly ring…?

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<b>Off</b> <b>and</b> <b>Running</b> Jewishness is often associated with whiteness. Statistically speaking, this association makes sense, seeing as over 99 percent of American Jews are identified as white. This was not the case half a century ago when Jews were being barred from universities and “white” required the addendum of “Anglo-Saxon Protestant.”

Judaism is a culture for some. It is a religion for all who identify as Jews. Judaism is not – in my opinion (and many disagree with me) – a race. When Judaism is confined to a race, especially when that race is white, many Jews are excluded and discriminated against. Judaism is an aspect of one’s identity – a choice rather than a racial obligation. When individuals are told they have to “look Jewish” to “be Jewish,” they lose the chance to claim their own identity.

In American Jewry, this is especially pertinent concerning trans-racial adoption. Avery Klein-Cloud, an African American Jew, co-wrote Off and Running, a documentary of her search for personal identity that opens today in Manhattan.

The Times reviews,

All Avery understands, by her own admission, is how to be white and Jewish. Raised in an observant household in Brooklyn by Tova Klein and Travis Cloud, a lesbian couple with two other adopted, nonwhite children, Avery is a gifted athlete and a loving sister. But when she reaches out to her birth mother in Texas, her need to connect with the past jeopardizes her future and distances her from the only family she has ever known.

I will definitely be seeing this documentary, seeing as a text that depicts “the complexities of transracial adoption without forcing [the] film into a predetermined, inspirational box” is crucial to the development of Jewish identity and acceptance.

And how is this a Jewish feminist issue?, you might ask. Adoption is a manifestation of reproductive choice. Reproductive choice is a feminist issue. This film is a manifestation of women in the movie industry, which is a feat seeing as – according to WAM – only 15 percent of movie producers, writers, and directors are women. This documentary is written, directed, and produced 100% by women!

Last, but most definitely not least, this is a coming of age story about choice, identity, and equality. I’d say Jewish feminism is totally behind that.

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I became a fan of Natalie Portman first when I swooned at her eclectic performance in Garden State and her adorable on-screen chemistry with costar Zach Braff. I became an even bigger fan after reading about how much we have in common (i.e. Judaism and vegetarianism) even though deep down I know it’s not much, but it’s still pretty cool to identify with Princess Leia.

And her new movie gets me seriously pumped because never before have her fans seen Portman in a role like this – a young Hasidic woman in New York, I Love You, a film on finding and keeping love in my favorite city.

And this after Portman’s casting vow in Elle that she would never play a Jewish woman. Yo Yenta! rightly points out,

Natalie’s always been big on Hebrew pride, so it can’t be that she’d refuse a Jewish role out of spite for her peeps; I’m guessing it’s just high time someone created a female Jewish character who isn’t a bony, mean Mrs. Ari or a concentration camp survivor.

Why can’t Jewish women be free of social stereotypes?

I for one need to see this latest creation, but I will have to satisfy myself with the trailer below:

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