I actually saw this documentary when it was originally broadcast on OWN back in October 2011, but haven't written about it yet. I kept meaning to, and it's been on my to-review list. When I saw an announcement that there would be a public screening at the ShareExchange, a local shop and business incubator, I had to make it a priority to go see it again.
And I'm so glad I did. I'd originally watched it at home, alone, and while that was an acceptable way to view it, seeing in a group of at least 40 women and girls of all ages (and a few guys), it was so much more empowering.
If you haven't seen this documentary yet, you absolutely must. I cannot do it justice by quoting it here.
The documentary starts with a naration of the filmmaker, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and her concerns about media images affecting girls and women, and how they would impact her infant daughter. She interviews other filmmakers and media critics, politicians, actors, celebrities, young adults, kids, and many others to give a thorough view of the various facets of how the media works and how it is broken. And how that creates a system that harms young women (and young men).
Through the 90 minutes of the film, the discussion covers the objectification of women, how self-objectification of young women impacts political agency, and will eventually "distract them from making a difference and becoming leaders."
I am impressed that Jennifer Siebel Newsom included interviews with various female political leaders and activists, from both parties. It was wonderful seeing Condaleeza Rice tell how she and Karen Hughes made a point to stress the importance of Title IX to President Bush when there was some push to change it.
It also does a good job of analyzing the tropes that are continually presented in television shows and movies: the woman looking for love, the Bitchy Boss who needs to be taken down a peg (and usually by a male), the Sex Object who is only there as a body prop, and the Action Hero, who seems to be empowered, but is still objectified and exists only for the male view -- the fighting fuck-toy. In fact, the Action Hero trope is especially damaging because it teaches young women that their path to power is through sex.
The lack of complex roles for women, especially women over the age of 40, is disheartening. At one point, Geena Davis (whom I adore) cites the statistic that between 1937 and 2005, there were only 13 female protagonists in animated movies, but only one wasn't looking for romance. In fact, in all movies, only 16% of protagonist are female. This is why I absolutely refuse to go see yet another mediocre movie about a boy/man doing something adventurous. I just can't support this shameful imbalance. I won't support it.
But before you think the documentary is all about depressing statistics, she also features stories of women working to counter the trend. In particular, while watching this the second time, I was struck by the Minute Mentoring program, set up to give young women access to successful women to get advice and support.
The importance of media literacy is given a good deal of attention. And, in the end, that's our most powerful tool to combat these terrible media images. As Sandra, the woman who organized this viewing, said, "If it's true you are the food that you eat, it's just as true that you are the media you consume."
All in all, this is well worth viewing. Check the Miss Representation website to see if there are screenings in your area.