Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Movie Images: How Much Do They Affect Us? Or Just Reflect Us?

I was just scrolling through Netflix Instant and I was struck by how few of the movie images feature a woman as the central figure (and therefore, usually, as the main character of the movie).

Granted my Netflix recommendations are not representative of all movies everywhere, but as a random sample, it's pretty disturbing. Almost every single movie image with a woman as the central figure is a romantic comedy or a drama revolving around love and relationships. In comparison, men are featured not only much more often but in a wide variety of movies and plots.

Curt pointed out some movies with three figures where two were women. Great, right? Well, no, not really. Because None of the movies in my somewhat random sample featured a woman as the central figure. There was always a man in the center with a woman at one or both shoulders, set slightly back to indicate that they are not main characters. Often they are rival love interests for the protagonists—not in a romantic comedy, but in some sort of action movie where there will be bickering between the women and Sexual Tension with the man while the man goes about his life doing cool things that form the central plot of the movie.

"Yeah, there're hot women in this but...they're not IMPORTANT. I'm the one with the gun."

We are being told (or are we telling ourselves?), that for men, romance is a side plot in their otherwise rich and varied lives while for women, romance is the only narrative in which we play the central role. And once we achieve that happy ending, that proposal, that shiny shiny ring, our story is OVER.

One of the only TV shows and movies in my sample to feature women as central figures in non romantic-focused narratives was The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
This is the image on my Netflix

But if if had been this one, it wouldn't have counted.

The others were She-Ra, Buffy, and a smattering of anime.

When I was little, I wanted to be She-Ra.

And then I grew up and wanted to be Buffy, too.

Although speaking of anime, even when a story revolves around a female main character and isn't a romance, and a woman is featured as the central figure on the poster/image, there can be problems with that too.

Wow. That's...some armor you got there. Great coverage.

Still, the wide variety of anime narratives featuring female main characters could partially explain my love of the genre. (I mean, also it's really fun and super awesome to the max.) Thank you, Sailor Moon.

The only exception to this that I've noticed is when horror films feature a woman who is often in dirty, damp, clingy clothing (why all the slips? I don't know anyone who wears slips anymore), who looks close to death and will most certainly not servive the first fifteen minutes of the film. Just to be clear: That DOES NOT COUNT.

How far does this go? How deeply has it affected all of us? Are we perpetuating these narratives without even realizing we're doing it? We're certainly consuming them without knowing it—we're hardly given alternatives to choose from.

I know this isn't new. We know this about movies and stories. And yet, I'm just now noticing the discrepancy in visual representation. The total lack of women figures in non romantic movies while I scroll through NEtflix?! I mean, I've had Netflix Instant for at least two years and this is the FIRST time I've stopped to think about that? Honestly, you guys, it freaks me the f*** out.


  1. So true!
    Another category to add - one that used to irk me when I walked the aisles of movie rental places (remember movie rental places?!):
    Woman in the foreground, flanked by two men slightly behind her, but - oh, yeah - Woman Has No Head - she's just a close-up of a bare midriff, tight Daisy Dukes, and a Barbie-proportioned chest about to burst free from its tattered cut-off T-shirt. There isn't *a* woman who is a main character in this genre, but the female form sure plays a central role... in the most passive, offensive way imaginable.

  2. I read this and was inspired to see what google images would say. In the first...we'll say 2 pages, movies featuring women on the posters are:

    Twilight, American Beauty (but just a bare torso), Pulp Fiction, something called Labor Pains, Titanic, a Grease spoof, Black Swan, The Last Song, Burlesque, For Colored Girls, something called Perfume (the woman has no face), The Broken (the top of her head is broken/missing), Black Swan again without the heavy make-up, a French version of Funny Face, a Harry Potter (Hermione behind and to the right of HP), Deception, Flight Plan, Eagle Eye, The Ghost Family (well, that's the name on the pic, but it's referring to The Others).

    19. But there are 59 movie posters total. I dunno. Just not good odds to me. I think it's linked to the trend of partial female bodies on book covers, where their heads get cut off a lot, more than men from what I've seen.