On Thursday night I had the pleasure of attending a screening of Miss Representation, a powerful documentary that elucidates how negative portrayals of women in media alter the way women and girls perceive themselves, and how these representations lead directly to the under-representation of women in positions of power in America. It provides compelling content that illustrates how the media encourages the message that a woman’s value lies in her youth, beauty, and sexuality. Though it runs just a trim 90 minutes, Miss Representation packs one hell of a punch.
The film’s strength is its comprehensiveness; it provides a well-rounded examination of women in media, from how female characters are constructed on film and TV, to the lack of female voices on the Boards of media conglomerates, to how these fictional constructs of women alter the way girls act and are perceived in the real world. Film and TV clips are interspersed with staggering statistics that illustrate how the negative portrayal of women on screen impacts a woman’s ability to attain a place of power–not just in her own life, but also in the fields of politics, business, and entertainment. These points are driven home by interviews with well-known and respected women in contemporary media and politics, from Jane Fonda and Rachel Maddow, to Condoleezza Rice and Katie Couric. There are also compelling contributions from men in these fields, particularly Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and the Lieutenant Governor of California, Gary Newsom (who is also married to the film’s director, Jennifer Siebel Newsom).
My only complaints about the film concern its structure; the narrative of the film is constructed around Siebel Newsom’s concerns as a new mother–how she fears for her daughter coming of age in this media landscape. While it’s a noble sentiment, Siebel Newsom’s presence in the film isn’t particularly necessary–yes, her voiceover helps propel the film, but the mention of her personal life and her impending motherhood is both unnecessary and distracting. It’s a directing choice that seems antithetical to the spirit of the film, particularly since it takes a film about rejecting feminine stereotypes and couches it in the rhetoric of nurturing motherhood and maternity.
Structural concerns aside, Miss Representation is a must-see documentary capable of educating and inspiring. It’s a sure conversation starter that details in stark terms the impact of the media on young girls and women in this country. It provides no easy answers to the problems it enumerates, but its existence as a documentary is itself a necessary aid in the promotion of understanding and change. This is a film that could fill a major gap in media studies programs; it would be particularly useful in middle and high schools as a part of a Media Literacy program, showing children how the media dictates what they see, how they see it, and why. It’s also the perfect film to show anyone who fails to understand the extent to which women are misrepresented and underrepresented in contemporary media.
Miss Representation is screening at universities and festivals throughout the United States and internationally; you can also request to host your own screening of the film by signing up here.