The Worst Female Images In A Movie


Did you know that there’s a group known as The Women Film Critics Circle and, much like the DFW Film Critics, I am not a member despite being 1) a woman, 2) a film critic, and 3) a feminist?  I swear, I am feeling so rejected right about now…

Then again, looking over their 2010 movie awards, I’m not sure I would want to be a member.  Check out their selections and then see if you can guess which one has got me all annoyed and profane.

BEST MOVIE ABOUT WOMEN
Mother And Child

BEST MOVIE BY A WOMAN
Winter’s Bone

BEST WOMAN STORYTELLER [Screenwriting Award]
The Kids Are All Right: Lisa Cholodenko

BEST ACTRESS
Annette Bening/The Kids Are All Right

BEST ACTOR
Colin Firth/The King’s Speech

BEST YOUNG ACTRESS
Jennifer Lawrence/Winter’s Bone

BEST COMEDIC ACTRESS
Annette Bening/The Kids Are All Right
BEST FOREIGN FILM BY OR ABOUT WOMEN: *TIE*
Mother
Women Without Men

BEST FEMALE IMAGES IN A MOVIE
Conviction

WORST FEMALE IMAGES IN A MOVIE
Black Swan

BEST MALE IMAGES IN A MOVIE: *TIE*
Another Year
The King’s Speech

WORST MALE IMAGES IN A MOVIE
Jackass 3D

BEST THEATRICALLY UNRELEASED MOVIE BY OR ABOUT WOMEN
Temple Grandin

BEST EQUALITY OF THE SEXES: *TIE
Another Year
Fair Game

BEST ANIMATED FEMALES
Despicable Me

BEST FAMILY FILM
Toy Story 3

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Helen Mirren

ACTING AND ACTIVISM
Lena Horne [posthumous]

*ADRIENNE SHELLY AWARD: For a film that most passionately opposes violence against women:
Winter’s Bone

*JOSEPHINE BAKER AWARD: For best expressing the woman of color experience in America
For Colored Girls

*KAREN MORLEY AWARD: For best exemplifying a woman’s place in history or society, and a courageous search for identity
Fair Game

COURAGE IN ACTING [Taking on unconventional roles that radically redefine the images of women on screen]
Helen Mirren/The Tempest

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN AWARD [Performance by a woman whose exceptional impact on the film dramatically, socially or historically, has been ignored]
Q’Orianka Kilcher/Princess Kaiulani

BEST DOCUMENTARY BY A WOMAN
A Film Unfinished

WOMEN’S WORK: BEST ENSEMBLE
Mother And Child

BEST SCREEN COUPLE
Another Year: Jim Broadbent/Ruth Sheen as Tom and Gerri

Did you catch it?  Yes, that’s right.  With all of the demeaning, insulting, sexist crap that both the mainstream and the independent film industries have released this year, Black Swan wins the award for “Worst Female Images In A Film.”

Uhmm, really?

Yes, Natalie Portman dealing with a society that forces an unrealistic expectation of perfection on young women — this is a far more negative image than every female  character in The Social Network turning out to either be a bitch, a whore, or an idiot.  Natalie Portman suffering from bulimia because she knows the consequences if she doesn’t maintain the right body type — this is a far more insulting image than Anne Hathaway being charmed by Jack Gyllenhaal pretending to be a doctor while leering at her exposed breast in Love and Other Drugs.  This was the year that Rebecca Hall fell in love with a man who kidnapped her in The Town while The Killer Inside Me lingered lovingly on scenes of Casey Affleck beating both Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson to death.  But no, out of all this, Black Swan featured the worst images of women on screen.

What utter and total bullshit.

I am a feminist and I am proud to be fiercely pro-woman (though never blindly anti-male).  I have always been very aware of the fact that, regardless of intent, most movies are basically sexist fantasies.  And, like a lot of women, I’ve come to accept that as the price I pay for loving movies.  It’s something that I’m more likely to laugh at than to get outraged over.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes get tired of it, that I don’t sometimes wish that just for once, I could see a movie where the female lead didn’t need to be rescued by a man or where she wasn’t expected to epitomize some sort of stereotype.

To be honest, male filmmakers are not solely to blame.  Some of the most demeaning images of women have come from films that were directed by women and which were advertised as being “feminist” films.  Sometimes it seems like movies are either so busy trying to either keep women down or to build women up that they forget that most of us just want to be seen as human beings.

So no, Natalie Portman is not some sort of “feminist ideal” in Black Swan.  She cuts herself, she’s bulimic, she fears her own sexual desires, she’s too hard on herself, and she’s manipulated by the men around her.  And you know what?  That’s not a sexist fantasy.  For far too many women, present and past, that’s the life that has been forced upon them by an inherently sexist society.  If anything, that’s the type of life that feminism was supposed to provide an escape from. 

Instead, the stridency and judgmental attitudes of far too many so-called “feminists” has simply turned into another way to trap us into that life of guilt and shame and idealized demands of perfection.

The female images in Black Swan are not negative.  They’re honest and that’s why Black Swan meant more to me, as a woman, than every single self-conscious, strident “feminist” film ever made. 

As for the worst female image in a movie — give that award to Eat Pray Love for being yet another movie that basically gives us a spoiled, immature, rich, elitist lead character and then insults women everywhere by trying to present her as some sort of practical model for liberation. 

Julia Roberts traveling across the world without once waking up with dark circles under her eyes might be the ideal but Natalie Portman being leered at by an old pervert on the subway is the reality.

For once, this has been a good year for strong women on American film screens.  Whether it was Noomi Rapace as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone, Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank, or even Angelina Jolie as Salt, this has been a year of strong female images.  This has been a year of films that left me feeling empowered — not in the wishy-washy way that so many insultingly condescending films claim to empower but in an honest way that made me feel, for once, that I didn’t have to accept the idea of any limitations on my own dreams or desires. 

It wasn’t just a good year to be a girl who loves movies.  It was a great year.

And Black Swan was the best part of a great year.

(You can read my original review of Black Swan here.)