I really enjoyed A.O. Scott’s article in this week’s New York Times Sunday magazine, and I wanted to share it with you.
He expresses a lot of my feelings about how women are represented in the movies. Some of the highlights:
-The discussion about how women’s pictures devolved into chick flicks, and “the assumption that stories about men are large, important and universal, while stories about women are particular, local and trivial.”
-Scott puts his finger on what bothers me about declarations of “year of the woman” or when a story by/about women is treated as revolutionary. This ignores a rich history of films in which mature, confident women are equal partners with men.
-Scott also zeroes in on why it’s so tempting, but problematic, to expect stories of/by women (and, I would argue, of/by people of color) to not just be stories about particular individuals but to be paradigms, “to represent, to set an example and blaze a path.” It’s an unfair expectation, but it’s a consequence of “under- and misrepresentation,” as Scott puts it.
-I also agree with Scott that historically, “the question of who a woman will be is always bound up with the questions of whom she will marry.” That’s what makes Brave so refreshing.
-And of course Scott discusses the profoundly valuable Bechdel test, according to which a film “1. has to have at least two [named] women in it 2. Who talk to each other 3. About something besides a man.”
It’s interesting to note that Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker and most of her earlier films, if I remember correctly, fail this test. I haven’t watched Zero Dark Thirty yet, but I suspect this might be true for it as well.* But our expectations about what kind of film she should make is related, I think, to the earlier point about under-representation. It also raises the question of what makes a “woman’s picture” – the story, the lead characters, the creator? You could ask the same in a literary context as well: are Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary any less/more/different women’s stories than the novels of Austen and the Brontes?
So check out A.O. Scott’s article and share your answers to these questions and any other responses you have in the comments section below. Enjoy and share!
*Note: Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Ehle’s characters, both CIA operatives, actually do have conversations about something other than a man (in a romantic context), although their longest conversation does involve Ehle’s Jessica questioning Maya about whether Maya would ever have a fling with her boss.