Women’s Stories Weekly

Melissa Harris-Perry Talks w/Margaret Cho & Jenn Pozner

WATCH the full discussion on the MHP Show page at MSNBC.com.

In case you missed it on Sunday of this week, professor and new politics & culture talk show host, Melissa Harris-Perry (of the show “Melissa Harris-Perry” on MSNBC) had an incredibly refreshing and of course, intelligent, conversation about feminism, bullying, young people’s & LGBT teens’ self-esteem, and unrealistic media representations with one of my long-time heroines, Margaret Cho (@margaretcho), and someone I’ve just recently come to know (via twitter &  her website) and admire, Jennifer Pozner.

In case you don’t know who Margaret Cho is, where have you been living?  She’s a brilliant comedienne, activist, writer, actress, cultural critic and dare I say, a public intellectual (in the traditional, non-academic kind of way that existed before about 1950, and not the professor-turned-pundit way we think of public intellectuals today).  Jennifer Pozner came into the discussion a bit later and lent her expertise.  She’s founder and executive director of Women in Media & News (and tweets @jennpozner).

Melissa Harris-Perry Show w/guest Margaret Cho (Pt. 1 of 2)

It was so exciting to see and listen to, and if you saw the Her Film twitter feed from Sunday, you knew I was so happy to see it that I was practically up on my couch dancing around.  Like I said then, when was the last time you saw three women sit around a table on national television and have an intelligent discussion of feminist issues?  Thank you, MSNBC, for the MHP Show, what an amazing contribution to politics and cultural discourse!  Watch it on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 10AM-12noon on MSNBC.

MHP Show w/guests Margaret Cho & Jenn Pozner (Pt. 2 of 2)


CNN Blog Gives Lengthy Attention to Miss Representation

Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s latest documentary film, Miss Representation, which premiered on OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) in November 2011 continues to pick up steam.  It has screened in dozens of venues across most U.S. states, and CNN explores the film’s content, people who’ve lent their names to it (being interviewed for the film, such as Rachel Maddow, Rosario Dawson, Jennifer Pozner, Geena Dvais, Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker, and many more people), and talks about recent screenings at Auburn University in Alabama, Emory University in Atlanta, and Sistah Cinema in Seattle.

Also mentioned is the documentary America the Beautiful and its follow-up America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments.  These films delve into the gross and offensive ways of representing girls and women in the media, and Miss Representation has a pretty stellar action and education campaign underway that includes ways to battle against negative images on a daily basis as well as mentor a girl you know to provide her with alternatives when it comes to internalizing these negative images.  You can take the pledge by clicking here.


ITVS Holds Month-Long Women and Girls Lead Online Film Fest

Thanks to The Mary Sue: a guide to girl geek culture (an awesome site), I heard of the Independent Television Service’s month-long online film festival this March, so this week we’ve landed in the middle of it but not to worry, there are still 14 days left in the month.  You can watch 11 different documentaries about women and girls by both female and male directors, including Abigail Disney’s brilliant series (recently aired on PBS), Women, War & Peace, along with We Still Live Here – Âs Nutayuneân (by Anne Makepeace) about the Massachusetts Wampanoag nation and its attempts to save their language, Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai (by Lisa Merton and Alan Dater) about the Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist who recently passed away, and several more.  Take a look at The Mary Sue’s article about two of the films, and then visit the Women and Girls Lead Online Film Festival site.


New Doc Tells Story of Women in Japan After 2011 Disaster

Filmmaker and journalist, Kyoko Gasha, will be screening her new documentary, Never Surrender at the Women Make Waves Film Festival in Taiwan this weekend, and will screen in several other countries this year.  Her documentary focuses on the strength of Japanese women during the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster and the reconstruction that’s currently happening.  Gasha understands disaster, and understands evacuation; in 2011, she had to evacuate her New York City home after the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.  After spending 10 days in northeastern Japan and interviewing 50 people, Gasha has come away with a documentary that shares something about the process of rebuilding a life.  Kyoko Gasha is planning on following the stories of these women for years to come.  Read the entire article on Focus Taiwan News Channel.


WIFT UAE Launches Short Film Fest About Muslim Women

The recently formed United Arab Emirates chapter of Women in Film and Television has partnered with Women’s Voices Now to put on a three-day short film festival called “Women’s Voices from the Muslim World.”  The festival was on this week in Abu Dhabi, UAE.  The line-up includes films from the UAE, Afghanistan, Indonesia, the U.S., Turkey, China and Iran, and screenings are followed by panels with several of the filmmakers whose shorts are screening.  For more information on WIFT UAE, check out the website here.

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.