-Written by Leia Deshpande
From when the first actress, Florence Lawrence was showcased in “the taming of the shrew”, women and film have always had a tumultuous history. While the 60s saw the rise of second wave feminism, Hollywood still presented its women as submissive, daringly skinny and ready to be saved by the male lead in a flaunty flapper. Was Hollywood immune to the structural change of society? Fortunately as the new century rolled in, so did the new mindset. Movies like Legally blonde, and Oceans 8 took the stage to say women could do anything men could, including law at Harvard and the most extensive heist ever pulled off.
The most noteworthy of these new films followed plucky protagonists on their journeys of self discovery. Among them was Pixar’s commendable “Brave”. Everyone loved the classic princesses with their tales of love, but brave had a clear new message “be brave enough to take hold of your future”. Even more startling was the movies lack of prince charmings to save the day, instead the movie portrayed the fragile relationship between the protagonist, Merida, and her mother. In the film, Merida desperately wants to get out of an arranged marriage, but her mother’s stubborn stand and unwillingness to listen drives her to turn her into a bear. Merida isn’t your average princess, she rides a horse, eats more than a fly and has a gift for archery.Most people felt shivers down their spine when they watched the mind blowing scene during the competition. The bow struck with such power and precision, some could say that this scene alone earned Brenda Chapman, the director a golden globe award. Brave came up with a fresh new perspective, that girl could choose for themselves what they wanted ,to go againsts not what was expected of them.
2021 saw the release of another masterpiece. Amy Poehler’s “Moxie” confronted sexism head on with a bold riot grrrl – esque approach to the problem. The film was set in the context of a conservative high school, with terrible occurrences taken for typical events until a new girl arrives and triggers the protagonist awakening to the casual suppression she had lived everyday. This triggers a series of events that encourage the structural change and attitude of the school and [most of] its students. The guns blazing attitude that vivian took stood out, because casual sexism had been excused for far too long. Perhaps it didn’t seem like a viable solution, but it felt empowering to watch someone tear through old misogynistic ideals.
Although feminism had become a well known ideal, and gained great momentum, the deeply ingrained stereotype was an issue it failed to tackle. A subtle comment about a woman’s appearance or her preference to work over taking care of the kids was a far greater problem than it first appeared. And although Hollywood is considered progressive with such bold films, most of their productions are still littered with uncomfortable jokes and the stereotypical narratives. These subtle interactions come to affect the films to present warped views of feminism.
Legally blonde, widely acclaimed to empower women, is at its core, sexist. The plot itself revolves around the protagonist wanting to learn law, not to practise or because of interest, but to win back her ex boyfriend. This presents a partner as the only reason for women to actually accomplish something. Another classic, the devil wear prada, plays the old women against women trope instead of portraying sisterhood. The protagonist’s partner Nate turns scornful of Andrea’s career when her work increases, making her feel guilty for doing well at her job. Even something as large as one woman being swapped in for another in the “Now you see me” universe. The new horsman, Lula, hides no regard when she explains “I’m the girl horseman” when she meets the rest of the old team, as if she was put there to fill a quota.
Although there is progress, it’s slow, and more conversations need to be had about the issue of inequality. Pointing out small ill-conceived actions, references and comments. The film industry has shown considerable progress, but more needs to be made, with room for eloquence instead of an attempt to make up for past happenings.
Perhaps, the way to go about it is to constantly reexamine ourselves , however well-informed and experienced we think we are.