Last night's screening of Miss Representation at the Paley Center wasn't merely a screening. It couldn't be, in the same way watching Food Inc. or Waiting for Superman or any other film that starts by rocking your perception of how the world works and ends with a call to action can't possibly be an idle act. It was no surprise, then, that the Q&A following the film turned into an impromptu activist meeting.
Miss Representation is a documentary written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom — actress, activist and Second Lady of California (if such a position exists — she's Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom's wife) — that explores how the misrepresentation of women in mainstream media has led to an under-representation of women in power, both in politics and business, and beyond. It's created a buzz on the film festival circuit and is set to finally premiere on OWN this Thursday. [Trailer after the jump.]
Miss Representation begins with a pregnant Siebel Newsom feeling a need to make sense of this world for her unborn daughter. She looks inward, explaining how the death of her sister created a desire to be perfect, and an experience with sexual abuse weakened her self worth. After climbing out of the despair in her teen years, she entered the Hollywood acting scene, only to be told to lie about her age and remove her Stanford MBA from her resume in order to not appear too intimidating.
But the film is certainly not Siebel Newsom's life story. From this personal note springs a plethora of interviews from media moguls, politicians, activists, filmmakers and professors; the lineup including such famous names as Rachel Maddow, Gloria Steinem, Condoleezza Rice, Cory Booker, Lisa Ling and Katie Couric, along with insights from several precocious male and female high schoolers.
The segments are peppered with statistics. For example, though women make up 51% of the U.S. population, they constitute only 17% of Congress. Also, women hold only 3% of clout positions in telecommunications, entertainment, publishing and advertising, and make up only 16% of all writers, directors, producers, cinematographers and editors. This would explain, it would seem, the somewhat vicious cycle in which women are not decision-makers either in media or the government that regulates it, so how they're portrayed is largely out of their hands.
Which may further explain why only 16% of films feature female protagonists. The documentary explains that even in those movies in which female characters are more than simply objects of desire, the plotline for many female leads centers around finding romance or marriage. It asserts that worse yet, even those seemingly “empowered” characters such as the midriff-baring Laura Croft or the scantily-clad girls from Sucker Punch are actually little more than “fighting fuck toys.”
So where do we go from here? At the end of this film, both men and women are given a direct charge to create change. That charge is gaining momentum via social media, as well as on the film's website which encourages visitors to take a pledge, host screenings and donate time and money. The film has also become an education tool with age-appropriate material available for use in school.
Siebel Newsom said the most exciting and surprising part of this process has been what's happening with the film online — seeing it go from a documentary to a full-blown campaign. As she sees it, “This isn't just a women's movement, this is a human rights movement.”
Miss Representation will premiere on Thursday, October 20 at 9 p.m. on OWN.