The gasps were audible from the small, all female audience gathered in Atlas 100. A statistic ripples onto the screen, claiming cosmetic surgeries performed on females 19 and younger has tripled in 10 years. Beside me, my roommate breathed, “Oh my God.”
This was a reaction I would experience more than once throughout the documentary “Miss Representation,” hosted by the Women’s Resource Center in Atlas 100 on Wednesday. The center has hosted multiple screenings of the movie since its release on the Oprah Winfrey Network in 2011.
(Courtesy of Miss Representation)
Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, “Miss Representation” shines light on the often-ignored portrayal of women in the mainstream media, particularly women in power positions. The movie was an official selection at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and has garnered special attention at the Denver Film Festival, the New Zealand Film Festival and more.
Perhaps the most refreshing element to the documentary was its invitation of men into the conversation on what is commonly viewed as a strictly female problem. Paul Haggis, screenwriter of “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash,” talked about what he sees in the film industry as a tendency for high-ranking men to brush off complex female characters, simply because they do not understand, nor want to understand, the life of a woman.
When focusing on the issue of women sexualized in popular media, it can be easy to blame the male figureheads of media and move on. Providing one of Hollywood’s most successful writers a voice on the debate gave a perspective that allowed blame to be gently nudged to all corners of the game, instead of demonizing a single group of people. It also lent an invitation to explore the effect of sexism on men, too.
Newsom weaved a documentary that combines elements of interview, media footage and hard statistics that has the potential to introduce a wide and diverse audience to a social problem without ever coming off as preachy. Though the 90-minute documentary never gets stale, it can sometimes feel unfocused. Without a single clear narrative to follow in the film, an audience member can feel completely bombarded with facts and figures.
The documentary briefly follows Devanshi Patel, a young Indian woman trying to break into the world of youth politics, but completely drops her story within a few minutes. The same kind of narrative abandonment happens later when Jessica Shambora, a journalist for Fortune Magazine, is introduced as a driving force behind a female professionals mentorship program.
By the end of the film, the sighs in the audience felt disheartened. With the roll of the credits, however, there came a surprising burst of applause, followed by a short reel with empowering advice to viewers by the interviewees.
Overall, the movie did what a good documentary should — it served to begin conversations as the audience members filed outside for a long-awaited smoke. “Miss Representation” is a sometimes uncomfortable film that presents the serious problem of sexism in a way that simply cannot be ignored or forgotten.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sarah Elsea at Sarah.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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