Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s documentary Miss Representation (2011) is a game changer. Using news clips, stock footage, commercials, interviews, and photographic images, Newsom highlights how the media often successfully objectifies women and strips them of their power. The documentary also shows how men are mistakenly taught to objectify women.
Cosmetics, diet and other beauty related industries are dependent on making women feel “less than,” and Miss Representation brings all the damage being done by these industries into the light.
One of the subjects interviewed for the documentary, Margaret Cho, reports how being told to lose weight led her to develop an eating disorder. And while she was told to lose weight, her show was canceled and replaced by The Drew Carey Show. She said she was pretty certain no one told him to lose weight. While most women don’t look like models, photoshopping creates an image that even the models themselves could never obtain.
Miss Representation should be shown (with a few sexually explicit scenes edited out) to elementary school children so they can understand the messages that are in everything they watch, but that those messages aren’t necessarily true. Age, sex and weight should not be factors in a woman’s worth, but these are the messages we get from the media. I was asked to speak on a panel of women filmmakers following a viewing of this documentary, and I had to rethink the scripts I was writing and the characters I was casting. In my directorial debut, The Last Taxi Driver, I relied on sight gags including a lot of cleavage from one of his passengers. In By Blood, two brothers spar over a beautiful woman who married one while loving the other, but the woman remained a fixture who just moved the story along. I realized that in my own work I hadn’t been featuring strong woman characters. To create art that shows the world as it should be, I must create authentic women on screen. Watching this documentary is a true eye opener of how we can control the way we’re seen and heard in the media, and take away the control society and industries have tried to impose upon us all.
Miss Representation is available to stream on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes,Netflix, and Vudu. Follow Miss Representation on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and The Representation Project website. and follow Jennifer Siebel Newsom on Twitter.