We’ve seen time and time again how mainstream media is doing a terrible job at representing women and gender roles. There are numerous studies, statistics and whiny blog posts (OK, some whiny blog posts are actually helpful!) but there are also affirmative actions being taken.
Because of the state of mainstream media and Hollywood, everyday citizens and filmmakers have taken up the case and decided to make their own films and create their own content to push through those barriers. Thanks to the power of the people via the internet, these creative industries having a monopoly over the art that is produced is soon going to be a thing of the past.
Youtube, Kickstarter, snapchat, iPhones, mark 5 cameras, high resolution point-and-shoots, and high def web cams have flooded the market, and turned amateurs into activists. Now we as ordinary people have the power and access to an insta-audience (via the web) and can bypass the big guns in Hollywood because the term ‘gatekeeper’ doesn’t have the same influence it used to.
Sure we can upload post after post about people saying how much the industry needs to change (and there is nothing wrong with that because people need to keep hearing it) but at the same time we need to have an army of creators changing how women are viewed in film and TV because of how they are representing them in their own productions.
Here are 4 new documentaries which all need to be supported, are about important topics related to women, and are largely produced by female filmmakers.
1. ‘The Illusionists‘.
This is a feature length documentary created by writer/director/producer Elena Rossini which explores how the body has become the finest consumer object, and how certain industries have successfully taken advantage of it.
“The preoccupation over physical beauty is as old as time; what is different today is the central role that the pursuit of the perfect body has taken: it has become our new religion. A beautiful body is seen today as key for personal and also, more importantly, economic success for both women and men.” says the website’s synopsis.
“Relentless propaganda reminds us that we have only one body – and that we have to enhance it. Through advertising and mass media, multi billion-dollar industries saturate our lives with images of idealized, unattainable beauty, of an “Official Body” that does not really exist in nature and that can be obtained only through cosmetic surgery… or digital retouching.”
“Flawless beauty is on display everywhere: in street ads, newspapers, magazines, TV, films… as well as in video games and pornography. The very quantity of these images makes it impossible for people not to be affected by them. Indeed, the ideal consumer is someone who is anxious, depressed and constantly dissatisfied: academic studies from the most respected institutions show that sad people are bigger spenders.”
The film examines industries from all over the world and turns the mirror on media, exposing the absurd, sometimes humorous, and shocking images that “seek to enslave us.”
We all heard Jennifer Lawrence admit that she hates the word fat and how she wants it to be “outlawed”. And she’s not the only one. While there are an army of body bullies and body shamers out there, it’s always easy to point the finger at a stranger than realize they are in fact a human being with so much more going on in their lives than just what their outward appearance looks like.
Women’s studies scholar and fat activist Lindsey Averill and filmmaker Viridiana Lieberman are currently raising money on Kickstarter for a new feature length documentary called ‘Fattitude’ fat discrimination, with the aim of educating people about their prejudices and urging them to change their behavior. The end goal is a cultural shift at how we look at and value fat bodies.
“We set out to make this film because we hated the way fat men and women were treated. We hated that fat people had to feel shame and that they were constantly at the butt end of jokes or assumed to be lazy, dirty or lacking will power. We hated that so many people felt trapped in their amazing bodies and we wanted young people to feel powerful and passionate no matter what size they were,” says their campaign page.
“Body acceptance is a war – its you against the cacophony of noise incessantly clamoring that nothing about your body will ever be good enough. We want to offer a counter argument to the current popular notions that condemn fatness in all forms, an argument that overturns notions of fat hatred in favor of body acceptance.”
They have already completed the film and they have a tonne of amazing women featured who talk about this issue from a perspective we all need to see. The filmmakers want to expose fat hatred, and break down myths such as obese and fat people are generally unhealthy. This is the kind of documentary that needs to be shown to girls from a young age, before they are bombarded by the media.
This is probably the most person out of all of the movies we are profiling. Two unlikely friends, an African guy from Tanzania, and a white girl from privileged America, who went to college together decide to embark on a journey to Mt. Kilimanjaro to the depths of an AIDS ravaged village where even the smallest children become outcasts at the mere hint of the disease and malaria is an ever-present threat.
Kristen and Venance set out to make a film that exposes the hardships, poverty, health problems and social injustices the people of Venance’s village but along the way Kristen contracts malaria and the journey turns into an unexpected light bulb moment for her.
Faced with her own mortality, she decides she wants to do something about the ever-present danger of this disease, and starts a company called ‘Malaika for Life‘ which sells bracelets made by Tanzanian women and the proceeds of which go toward life-saving treatment for children with Malaria.
Kristen told Marie Claire magazine in an interview that when she contracted Malaria while in Tanzania, the treatment that saved her life only cost $7 USD. Yet the average person who lives below the poverty line in Africa cannot afford this. This is insane! And it forced her to realize that she could easily use her resources to help change this awful situation.
“It was really shocking because I didn’t really know anything about malaria at that time and I didn’t expect to ever get something like that. I thought I was invincible. I’m from America, the western world, how can I get a life-threatening illness? But I got it, and after getting out of the hospital I knew that was my calling,” she said.
” I made it my focus to do something about this situation and the fact that malaria kills a child every minute. It’s pretty brutal. We can all make a difference for a small amount, really. That launched the “Buy a Bracelet, Save a Life” campaign.”
Since making the documentary Kristen has been back twice to Tanzania, but with the focus of working on her mission to eradicate Malaria, rather than taking a trip to a foreign country just to challenge herself. This documented story of a “stereotypical American naïve girl” whose whole perspective on the world was shaken by a life-changing trip serves as an inspiration for us all to get outside our comfort zones. A lot of the time, that is where we truly come alive, find our passion and live out our destinies. The film was released on April 25 which was also World Malaria Day.
This is a documentary written and directed by Italian filmmaker Vanessa Crocini, who was also part of the crew on The Empowerment Project. She made this film in Africa, pretty much all by herself! It documents the lives who are taken out of the slums and off the streets of Kenya, and taught how to be fashion designers. An organization called Get Together Girls created by Italian woman Grace Orsolato, who works with the girls ranging in ages from 4-18.
Filmmaker Vanessa spent a month with the girls in Kenya to capture what is being hailed as a new generation of women changing the status quo in that country.
“Because they represent the new generations of young women in Africa, the story of GtoG can give awareness and influence many other young African women bringing a message of hope for a future that sees them as protagonists in a very positive way. We also want to influence the young generations in the more civilized ad economically developed countries to show that there are ways they can improve the lives of some of their peers and that they have a responsibility to make it happen,” says the description on the Facebook page.
Kenya’s capital city Nairobi is known as one of the most violent cities in all of Africa. There aren’t many job opportunities for younger women, so this documentary and what Grace is doing is empowering a community of women to see a way forward and find hope in an otherwise dismal situation. Through the GtoG organization, they are learning that prostitution isn’t the only way to survive financially.
This film is out now and is yet another example of how the global sisterhood is being supported and given greater visibility by women from all walks of life. All of these documentaries can teach you so much more about the importance of supporting each other than any school or institution or report can.
We don’t need to wait for a movement to happen, we need to BE the movement, and BE the social change. We all have the tools at our fingertips to affect someone else’s life, and beyond that, larger communities. These are just four great examples of women rising up to change the global conversation about women. How can we add to this list?