DIR: Jennifer Siebel Newsom | Nonfiction Features of 2011 USA | 2011 | 90 mins
English | PG
Sun, Oct 9th 6:40pm Empire Granville 7
Fri, Oct 14th 1:15pm Empire Granville 7
As Vancouver will soon profit from a team of underwear-clad and unpaid women running around for spectacle under the guise of "sport" in the expanding Lingerie Football League, the message of the VIFF documentary Miss Representation couldn't be any more urgent for our city and our world.
Actress, activist, and documentary filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom makes a compelling case in Miss Representation: the future of our global governance is doomed if we continue to sit back and let commercial media continue stripping women of their power and their clothes. Siebel Newsom argues that women need more substantial role models to look up to.
The film opens on a personal note, as Siebel Newsom shares her fears as an expectant mother of a baby girl. She worries about the world her daughter's generation will be born into.
As a teenage athlete, Siebel Newsom suffered sexual assault, an eating disorder and intense pressure to be beautiful. She excelled at Stanford University, but when she later turned to acting her agents told her to remove her hard-earned MBA credentials from her resume. She wouldn't get hired if she appeared too smart, they said.
Through her acting career, Siebel Newsom saw firsthand how few characters are written for women, and the pressures actresses are under to conform in order to get cast in the few cookie cutter roles.
A rapid-fire montage of media messages hit the screen. The film juxtaposes images of big-breasted and bouncing music video dancers, action figures and - of all sad things - newscasters, with those of political conference rooms dominated by men and misogynistic press coverage slamming ambitious women in politics.
The argument is clear: girls can't base their self-worth on winning beauty pageants.
That, and people will not vote for someone they'd rather shag or—as one politician was told—hire as a babysitter.
Siebel Newsom's voice isn't alone in this message. The film is packed with powerful women who share their stories and reflections from the frontlines in the battle for equal representation: Condoleeza Rice, Katie Couric, Nancy Pelosi, Geena Davis, Lisa Ling, Jane Fonda, Margaret Cho, Rosario Dawson, Rachel Maddow, Jean Kilbourne, Gloria Steinem and others.
Daphne Zuniga, former Melrose Place actress talks about ditching television acting after being required to undergo painful Botox injections in order to land her next role. While Jane Fonda says that in order to get her first film she was instructed to pull out her back teeth.
Comedienne Margaret Cho laughs while telling her story, though it's no less disturbing. She recalls how her television show was cancelled when producers deemed her average-sized body too fat to remain on air, and replaced her sitcom with The Drew Carey Show. "You know, because he's so thin!" Cho quips.
These celebrity voices are balanced with interviews of unknown high school students, both boys and girls, who react candidly about the pressures they're under. And note: Siebel Newsom's film is motivated by her concern not just for her daughter, but for her "daughter's generation." That includes the boys.
The film doesn't miss the negative effects this is all having on boys. Men are taught to be "emotionally constipated" and burdened with an expectation that they should seek high-paying jobs.
"We can't turn a blind eye to how the media harms our daughters and our sons," Siebel Newsom says.
You might be thinking: Don't we already know the media's harmful? Hasn't this all been said before? (In fact, you're probably thinking: "Of course I know mainstream media's biased! That's exactly why I'm reading Schema Magazine!")
But this isn't old news. This is our world today. And Miss Representation succeeds in keeping fresh and current.
Mainstream television news discussion about Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin are two recent examples of the media's unbalanced portrayal of women, especially those in high profile positions. Many of the rape and sexual assault reports are dated February 2011. The stats tell us that depression among young women is higher than it's ever been. So is sexual assault. And teens now consume 10 hours and 45 minutes of mass media every day.
North America is scrutinized in the film in a way we've never seen before. This isn't about the fact that women in Saudi Arabia still cannot vote, or that the Congo is still the rape capital of the world. The film doesn't go global. It fixes its lens tightly on American politics and media, exposing the "patriarchy within the American Dream" and on the airwaves.
And it resonates for us up here in Canada too.
The film's motto is: "You can't be what you can't see."
So if we look around and see our men in boardrooms and our women in lingerie, what can our kids expect to see in themselves?
At least there's one thing we can see right now. And that's this film.
Kate Adach is a freelance journalist, radio producer and videographer. She wants people to think critically about the media. And be good to each other. That's all.
Stalk follow her on Twitter @katemedia.