Women’s stories this week

“Peace Unveiled,” the third in the five-part Women, War and Peace series aired Tuesday on PBS in the U.S.  This film focused on the work of three particular Afghan women to reestablish their rights and participate in the peace process to have a voice and a place at the table.  The details about the realities of life as a woman in Afghanistan were sobering indeed, many absolutely shocking, and there was a lot that I think most women (at least in the U.S.) would have no idea had happened or was still happening:  women risking their lives to run for political office, death threats against women teachers, routine death threats against women’s children — women who refused to become slaves of the Taliban (“cut off your children’s heads and burn your daughter” types of threats).

The role of the U.S. government in the peace talks was fascinating to hear about, especially as the reality is not something that mainstream media in the U.S. shares with the populace.  The media is called the Fourth Estate for a reason, and is supposed to support democracy and the free flow of information, not suppress it.  Watch Democracy Now! on LinkTV hosted by Amy Goodman if you want to hear more accurate information and hear and see women who are involved in peace movements and political and direct action. Abigail Disney, the Executive Producer of the Women, War and Peace series, was interviewed by Amy Goodman on Tuesday.  Watch the interview here (9m 50s).

Many quotes from the film were shared through the #wwplive tag as we live tweeted during the broadcast.  Prolific tweets abounded, with some of the most active people being Women, War and Peace @womenwarpeace (with the director of the episode, Gini Reticker, leaving her comments labeled with “- GR, ” so we could tell it was her), The White House Project @TWHP, The Opinioness @OpinionessWorld, Katherine Mullen @MullenKat, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon @gaylelemmon, Peace Is Loud @peaceisloud (I LOVE this handle!), all of whom are very much worth following if you don’t already.

Next week will be “The War We Are Living,” the fourth film in the series.  If you are in the U.S., please check here for local listings to see what time the film airs your PBS affiliate.  Come live tweet with us, too, if you can!  Just tag your posts with #wwplive.

If you have missed the other episodes, you can watch the first two online, and each episode is made available for viewing online several days after the original air date.


The 24th Tokyo International Women’s Film Festival ran from October 23-26.  The official selections and directors are:

Angeles Gonzales-Sinde (One Word from You), Leena Manimekalai (Sengadal, The Dead Sea), Yim Soon-rye (Rolling Home with a Bull), Akane Yamada (All to the Sea), Michal Aviad (Invisible), Celine Sciamma (Tomboy), Yen Lan-Chuan (Hand In Hand), Yui Miyatake (Jazz Jii Men), Juana Macias (Plans for Tomorrow), Sumiko Haneda (Nuclear Power Generation Now and The Life of Hiratsuka Raicho)*, Kyoko Gasha (3.11 We Live Here), Carin Black (100!) 

*The film’s subject, Raicho Hiratsuka, was a pioneer Japanese feminist and the film’s director, Sumiko Haneda, is one of Japan’s leading women documentary filmmakers.


Women In Film and Television has launched a chapter in the United Arab Emirates (WIFT UAE), to focus on women in the Middle East and North Africa.  This is very exciting news and I will be following WIFT UAE’s developments!  They’ve partnered with Final Draft for a short script competition.  Read the article here: “Women in Film and Television, UAE joins global film community.”  The organization states, “We endeavor to become a vibrant, productive force in the UAE and to support, educate, mentor and inspire our members.”  Visit the website to read about the mission and much more.  (They launched in August of this year, but I just found out about it this week and couldn’t be happier to know it’s happened.  Where were you in August, google alerts?!)


The 2011 Film Independent Producers Lab Fellows were announced early Monday on indieWIRE and good news: five of the eleven fellows are women.  This is darn near gender parity we’re witnessing, people!  With nine projects in total, two of them had two-person producing teams and four of them had women as sole producers.  The list of women recipients and their projects are:

  • A Day with Dandekar (Megha Kadakia)
  • Lee (Angela C. Lee)
  • Pit (Rikki Jarrett)
  • Raw (Stacy Haskin w/Gil Kofman)
  • Three (Anna Kerrigan)

The Association of Black Women Historians has issued a critique of The Help, giving us an alternative and more historically correct view and understanding of the context of the story.  The newly released The Help is based on Kathryn Stockett’s book of the same name.  The ABWH states that: “Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.”  The statement goes on to say: “Portraying the most dangerous racists in 1960s Mississippi as a group of attractive, well dressed, society women, while ignoring the reign of terror perpetuated by the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council, limits racial injustice to individual acts of meanness,” and ends with “The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women’s lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment.” (Source: An Open Statement to Fans of The Help. ABWH.)

Read the ABWH’s Open Statement and the story in the Kansas City Star.

I say hear, hear.  While I wanted to see the film based on hearing about the book, I’m bothered by this concern over the historical inaccuracies and distortions present in both the book and film according to this statement.  We all know that Hollywood misrepresents history and the lives of racial and ethnic minority groups and women, and often disinforms us (not just misinforms us — see Black Hawk Down as an egregious example of this.)  Have any of you seen the film or read the book — or better, both?

I really appreciate the criticisms of the ABWH.  To add to the critique, I find the poster in itself embraces regressive thinking, i.e. the “Black women as conspirators and gossips”  stereotype, the young “White girl as the go-between” stereotype, and more, but I think I’ll leave that for another day.  I can’t be the only person who thinks this is a terrible poster (from a socially conscious point of view.)


Last week, Monika Bartyzel of Girls On Film wrote a too-true piece attacking the use of the insidiously disempowering “for women” phrase in movie marketing.  She states, “It’s not about catering to women. It’s about setting up a stereotypical dichotomy between the sexes and catering to the most reductive common denominators.”  Read Bartyzel’s article “The ‘For Women’ Fallacy.”

This started me wondering if there is a positive way to spin the “for women” phrase.  Can it be positive instead of negative, meaning that the issues dealt with, or themes presented, in a film relate to women and help to cast women in a non-objectified light?  Can “for women” only be understood as a reductive, essentialist phrase? What do you think?  I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this, especially as if something’s “for women,” shouldn’t that mean it’s for everyone?  Doesn’t everyone need to see positive images of women and hear positive dialogue about and between women as well as between men and women?  Do you find yourself affected by “for women” marketing?  Do you use it or reject it when it comes to your own projects?  Check out the Bechdel Test if you haven’t yet heard of it.


Veteran director Brian DePalma is quoted in a story in the McClatchy News that about how he “has also been blasted for constantly placing women in danger. ‘I’ve been asked that question for many years and my stock answer is that when you make a thriller I think it’s more interesting to me to photograph women rather than men. But nobody ever accepted that. That’s one of those things like smoking — it went out (of fashion). You can’t do that anymore. Forget about it. Basically you cannot put women in jeopardy anymore. But I think it’s more interesting to put a woman in jeopardy or certainly a child.”

Uh, what?  I’m a bit disturbed by this because it seems as if  he feels it’s inherently more interesting to put a woman or child in danger.  I think that DePalma’s position is completely transparent, and that the vulnerability — or perceived vulnerability — of a woman or child character in a film somehow adds to the entertainment factor.  Is that what we want from movies, though, if we’re being honest with ourselves as (hopefully) discerning viewers?  Do we really want to see some of the most vulnerable members of our society being portrayed as potential victims, targets of danger or even “collateral damage” of violence?  I can’t imagine another argument wherein the vulnerability of a woman or child isn’t the main reason why DePalma — or anyone else — feels that the thrill is heightened.  Is there one?  What do you think?  Read the story “Best horror stories tap into universal dreams and fears, filmmakers say” in the Calgary Herald yesterday.


Christy Jones of the AAUW Dialog Blog cross-posted a great piece by Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals (“dedicated to changing the way we think about girls”) about the repugnant treatment of women by ChapStick which has chosen wrongly to use the backside of a woman to advertise lip balm.  What?  That’s right.  Read Wardy’s open letter to the company, “Dear ChapStick, We’re Through.”  This isn’t exclusive to ChapStick, as we all know, and is an issue that is discussed in Miss Representation, a documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsom which premiered on OWN last week. Read my post on the film and the Miss Representation pledge.

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5 thoughts on “Women’s stories this week

  1. Great article. I love reading what crititics think of the message of films. I hate that I miss Women, War & Peace bc I teach an ESL class that night but I love I can watch online later. I did see The Help twice and thought it was a really good story. I don’t think the message of the film was to show the true KKK or that negative behavior from the time. I thought the film wanted to show black women taking a stand against racism and working together to tell their story. Yes some of it seems unrealistic but the thought was a good one. I have noticed more ads for women seem to show naked women and their backside for almost all women centered products. It is getting out of control. I really like being able to catch up on the world of women in the media on here. As always love http://www.womenaregamechangers.com.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment, Vernetta. I’m sorry you have to miss Women, War & Peace, too! It’s an amazing and informative series. By the way, I taught ESL for a bit and did some tutoring (another thing we have in common!) Thanks for your thoughts about The Help. I haven’t seen it yet, nor read it, and have tried to make time for both, but it hasn’t worked out. It’s fascinating how people’s views of the same creative work can vary so drastically. I really need to see it so I can form my own opinions, too. I can’t depend on hearing about it. (And I’ll try not to go in with any preconceived notions on either end of the spectrum!) Thanks for the compliment about catching up on the news here!

    • Oh I agree because I have friends on both sides of the arguement about the movie. But I can’t read the book then watch the film. The book is always better for me. The film misses too many details. Yes, I hate missing it but I do watch online when it’s up. So I’m all caught up now. The first one made me upset that the men didn’t get more time. The second one was amazing how powerful those women were during the entire war. The third one upset me because the peace talks ended and now those women have little to no hope. Can’t wait for next week’s. I love PBS documentaries. Did you see Black in Latin America? Very eye opening.

  3. Ha! I can’t believe you mentioned Black in Latin America — that was one I missed and REALLY wanted to see! I even stuck up post-it notes in my apartment to remind me and ended up having something to do and missing it completely. I’d like to check that one out. Oftentimes the Black populations of Latin American countries (including others in the region like Brazil, Guyana, Belize, etc.) are forgotten or ignored. Or, it’s the reverse here in the States, for example, many people would refer to Zoe Saldana as Black. Well, she is, but she’s also Dominican. Even Mexico has a Black population but no one talks about them! (Check out: http://www.theroot.com/views/mexicos-hidden-black-history) Even less attention is paid to the indigenous people of Latin America, sadly, and I just recently read a piece on the multi-generational Korean community in Mexico (some have been there for at least three generations!)

    Years ago I lived in Miami where one of the local stations broadcast an old series from the 70’s & 80’s called “Que Pasa, USA?” and on one episode the son in a Cuban family brought an African American friend home. The friend heard the kid talking to one of his Black Cuban friends and later when the guy left, the African American friend asked the Cuban kid basically “why are you cool with him? He’s Black” (because there was a weirdness between the Cuban kid and his African American friend). But the kid responded: “Oh, he’s not Black, he’s Cuban!” I always thought that was funny how culture trumps race (at least in that instance). Cuban first, Black second. Interesting….

    • Black in Latin America was really good. I wonder if it’s still on pbs.org. ha at the story from the show. Yes in that series it stated that you didn’t want to be black in latin america. you would do anything to hide that truth. I’ll check out that article. Thanks for sharing.

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