04 October 2010

Sexism, woo!

So there's a Newsweek article that says family films are sexist. According to the article, the Annenberg study says most lead characters in G, PG and PG-13 movies are male. Of the few female leads, most are overglamored sex-objects. Girls are left without viable role models and boys become more sexist themselves watching this fare.

Bear in mind I'm a guy here, so unless I undergo a sudden, major hormonal-chromosonal upheaval, I'm not ever going to the get the full perspective, but here's my two cents.

I think the implications of this article are somewhat misleading, as with a lot of children's fare, the lead characters are fairly androgynous.

for instance, Miline's Pooh stories feature an almost uniformly male cast (the only female is Kanga), but I find the sexual ambiguity has become even more confusing over time thanks largely to Disney and it's marketing division.

All man, baby!

The Annenberg study has only focused on recent "family films". Remember, with the advent of home video, the 100 + years of world cinema are available, through video stores, netflix and even the local library. Which means to a modern child, Singin in the Rain is just as available as Wall-E.

Over the years, many children's and "family" fare have starred a variety of female protagonists from tough to tender, smart to plain dumb ("It's a magic wishing apple."), characters either as an unchangeable paragon of an ideal or real and vulnerable with flaws to counterpoint their strengths.

I never get tired of using this image.

Here it seems that "family films" means "children's films", which to me, includes movies that children actually watch, even if kids weren't or aren't in the original "target audience".

One of my favorite film protagonists, period, is Mrs. Brisby from the 1982 feature "The Secret of NIMH" directed by Don Bluth.

At first, it seems like this cutesy mouse gal is nothing more than a standard homemaker-mother type. She doesn't even have a first name for chrissakes!

Brisby is doesn't want to find true love or get home from a magical land, but to save her kid, Timmy, from a plow.

Why isn't he in this picture? Because nobody gives a damn about Timmy.

Oh yeah, and she pretty much has to go through hell to do it.

All through the movie, she dogdges one-eyed cats, a raging plow, psycho rats with electro-shock rods, tarantulas, owls and Dom DeLuise.

Even when Brisby finds a bunch of genetically-engineered-but-for-all-practical-purposes-magic rats to solve her problem for her, they totally fail!

Useless Magical-Science Rat!

Brisby saves her family through sheer guts, not "movie" courage where the hero's not afraid of anything, but acting despite overwhelming fear and panic, which I find to ring a bit more true. Growing up, Mrs. Brisby was one of my heroes.
At least until some Furry posts fan-art that makes me want to vomit.

Even taking target-audience adjustment and "legacy" movies into account, the majority of "Family Film" protagonists are going to be male. Mainly because the majority of film protagonists in general are men. It' not fair, but it's not an issue isolated to children's movies.

Sure, you could start pumping movies full of female role models to fit the ideal of a "strong female character", however I think that'd be just as flat and a cookie-cutter stereotype as much as "damsel in distress". The most unique, real, human and ultimately strong icons of cinema, from Scarlet O'Hara to Mrs. Brisby, weren't designed as "heroes" or "role models" so much as characters: believable people. Which is a huge part why people watch movies in the first place.

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