WOW I loved loved LOVED Maleficent. From the opening to the ending, I was mesmerized and so was my husband (“she kicked ass!”) as well as my three daughters. I cannot recommend this movie more to you and your entire family.
Maleficent is so powerful and magical. She is not a Minority Feisty. Not only is Aurora AKA Sleeping Beauty also a starring part, and wonderfully played by Elle Fanning, but there are the three Fairies (formerly known as Flora, Fauna, they have different names in this movie) with big supporting roles
When Maleficent is stripped of her power, her wings are clipped. Can you imagine a more perfect metaphor for women and cinema? Her wings are incredibly done too, huge and magnificent and beautiful. She relishes flying and she relishes her power. You see that in Angelina Jolie’s face throughout the film. I was worried that Jolie would be too made up, the way Johnny Depp sometimes is, so that you couldn’t experience her great acting. But that was not the case.She doesn’t get lost in the special effects. They are done perfectly to enhance her character.
Maleficent and Aurora have a complicated, evolving relationship like nothing I’ve ever seen before in a Disney movie where, so often, women are pitted against each other, especially older and younger ones. Not only is that not the case here, but the whole dichotomy of hero/ villain is also turned on its head. One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Aurora is crowned a queen, not a princess.
I’ve always been more interested in Disney’s female villains than its one dimensional princess/ heroines. And of these villains, Maleficent was always my favorite. You can’t beat that horned, caped silouette. (Here’s a picture of my 10 year old daughter in my Disney female villain nightshirt, which is several years older than she is.)
Thank you to Angelina Jolie for getting this movie made so my children– and all children– can witness a powerful, magical female in all of her spectacular glory.
Last week, four black feminists participated in a panel discussion hosted by the New School titled: “Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body.” The talk– an in depth discussion about the influence of imagery and narrative on our culture and its role in creating our actual reality– went on for almost two hours. Yet, out of all this, the media reduced trenchant analysis into a sound byte, pitting one black woman against another: “Feminist scholar bell hooks calls Beyonce a terrorist.”
I encourage you to watch the whole talk. I know you probably won’t, because, as I wrote, it’s two hours long. I didn’t intend to sit through it all myself, but I was so excited and fascinated by what these women were saying, I couldn’t stop listening to them.
These 4 women are creating new narratives and images, beyond woman as victim, sex object, slave. The discussion about Beyonce, specifically her Time cover where she’s shown in her underwear (which totally bummed me out as well when I saw it– why, why, why, the issue is about the most influential people and she’s practically naked, do you know how few women make it to the cover of Time?) is a few minutes of a larger, important talk about women, power, and the nature of reality.
Here’s how bell hooks began the discussion:
Part of why I’m so excited and proud to be here today is that I’m up here with black women who are all about redefining and creating a different kind of image, liberating the black female body
Not a fan of “12 Years a Slave,” hooks says:
If I never see another naked, enslaved, raped black woman on the screen as long as I live, I’ll be happy.
YES! I could not agree more. I am so sick of watching women get raped. After the talk, someone in the audience challenged hooks, saying she felt conflicted about hooks’ reaction to “12 Years:’
we still need to have those conversations about rape and violence on stage…how can we have those conversations, the role of slavery and colonization on women’s bodies? Can we make space for both?
Here’s how hooks responded:
Because we have been so saturated, I mean, I think one of the big lies that’s going around is, “Oh, we never talked about slavery, oh, we don’t have images of slavery.” We had “Roots” and more “Roots,” and there’ve been all these different books and productions, so that I think of that as a kind of myth building thing when people say, “Oh, we don’t have images.” Notice I didn’t say I don’t want to see anything about slavery. I don’t want to see those same tropes over and over again.
hooks speaks about some narratives that involve slavery she’d like to see, for example, when John Wollman and the Quakers met and decided they could not support slavery and believe in the god they believed in, that in fact, they owed back wages to slaves.
that would be an interesting film for me… more interesting to me as an image, as an idea than the repetitive image of victimhood, and I think that they’re all kinds of images and stories out there that could bring us into a different level of understanding.
hooks was making exactly the same point about Beyonce. She was referring to the repetition of sexualized images of women and how the inundation is an assault on our brains, especially for kids:
I see a part of Beyonce that is, in fact, anti-feminist, that is assaulting, that is a terrorist, in especially terms of the impact on young girls. I actually feel like the major assault of feminism in our society is has come from visual media… The tirades against feminism occur so much in the image making business…What I’m concerned about constantly in my critical imagination is why is it we don’t have liberatory images that are away from, not an inversion of, what society has told us, but our own sense of: what am I looking like when I am free?
The tirades against feminism occur so much in the image making business
hooks wants new images. She says:
I would never want my child to see “12 Years a Slave” because it’s the imprint of the black, female body as victimized.
Again, totally agree. Obviously, “12 Years” isn’t a movie for kids, but I see endless books and movies, supposedly feminist ones where girls are mocked for being girls, then they rise above it and prove everyone wrong. Fuck that. I hope in children’s media I never have to read about or watch another girl dressing up as a boy, fighting or cooking “as good as a boy can,” from Mulan to Tamora Pierce to Elena’s Serenade to endless Minority Feisty. The reason this trope is awful for girls– and boys– is because before your child can understand the narrative, she needs to understand sexism. Instead of having Colette in “Ratatouille” give a whole speech about male dominated kitchens, why not make a movie with a female top chef and her best friend is a female talking-cooking rat? Audiences will buy that a rodent can run a three star restaurant but not a female? Like hooks says, we are saturated with this same old, same old. If we weren’t, it would be a different story (ha.) The slavery narrative in all its forms has its place, but we need a break. It’s too dominant. There are many other stories to tell.
By the way, hooks walks her talk. She wrote Happy to be Nappy for kids in 2001, and in this discussion, she says she includes it in her most important, favorite works.
Another speaker on the panel, Shola Lynch, is a filmmaker whose most recent production is a documentary about Angela Davis.
In referring to her film as “a political crime drama with a love story at the center,” she reframes Davis’ narrative. Next, Lynch is making a movie about Harriet Tubman, who she calls an “action heroine.” Can you believe there hasn’t been a movie about Harriet Tubman? Lynch says that even though Tubman’s story is true, people don’t “believe” it. The same phenomenon happened with the Davis movie. About selling that film, Lynch says:
So then I have conversations where somebody’s like, “Oh, it’s a great film as a documentary, but the only reason I would support it is I have to know who the main male characters are because it’ll be flipped to be a narrative, women’s stories don’t sell”… Her story is true, but not possible. People don’t believe it. But it’s all true.”
Talking about why she would rather make movies about heroes than victims, Lynch refers to “symbolic annihilation:”
Symbolic annihilation is two things: not seeing yourself, but it’s also seeing yourself only denigrated, victimized etc, and what that does to you. We can talk about all the things that denigrate us, but I’d rather shift the camera, shift my gaze, and look for the images and the people and the places that feed me. I really do think, you talk about children, the more we create our culture, our cultural images– the books you write, the films I make, the alternatives, that these are artifacts that live, and they speak to people whether we’re there or not, bodies of work, and that is critical. I want to give one example. My daughter, she’s 4. She’s never known me not working on the Angela Davis film which took 8 years. She was so excited when I could show her the trailer. ..The trailer is like 2 minutes long and she watched that trailer over and over and over again…She would point out all the characters, she loved going ‘That’s Angela’s mom.” So she created Angela’s family and a sense of community just by watching this thing over and over again. But that’s not what I wanted to share. So she’s a little girl, she wants to be a princess, I’m trying to convince her she wants to be a warrior princess, that’s blonde and poofy and glam. She woke up one morning and her hair was all out, just like, you know, big, out, out, out. Usually it’s like, “Oh mom, my hair is too puffy.” This morning, after watching the trailer over and over again, she said, “I have Angela Davis hair.” So I thought I was making this political crime drama with a love story at the center etcetera, etcetera, etcetra, but I was also making another image for young people to see and to perhaps relate to. And I was blown away, because I can tell her she’s beautiful all day long. I’m her mom, doesn’t count. The more we create the alternative universe which then becomes the universe.
Another panelist, writer Marci Blackman, echoes Lynch’s point:
My characters are the people who I grew up seeing every day who I don’t see, not just in literature, I don’t see them on TV…They weren’t there in the worlds that I was inhabiting when I would sit and go to the library and read, so I decided I wanted to write them, and I wanted to write people like me who I wasn’t seeing in the books either. I wanted to create these characters and put them out there, and I think what you say about self-representation and putting it out there to count as a counteract against these other images.
The journey to freedom has also been so much about the journey of imagination, the capacity to imagine yourself differently, counter-hegemonically, and that’s why the imagination is so important because Shola imagined Angela Davis in a different way from the images we had of her. That imagination of oneself, I would like us to end on that note and people can speak about creativity, because it is striking to me and I didn’t think about this when we were putting the panel together that for each of us, creativity and the uses of imagination have been what led us into the freedom we have. It has been what enhances my life every day. To be able to think and create and leap and jump beyond where I feel like we have been told, theoretically, intellectually that we should go.
Imagination inspires reality inspires imagination in an endless loop. It’s magic. That’s the point bell hooks was making about Beyonce. If you still don’t get it, here’s one last quote from hooks and then watch the video for yourself.
We can gather strength from the diversity of people’s stories, the diversity of people’s imagination.
Last year, Esther Pearl and Zoe Boxer founded Camp Reel Stories, a media camp in the Bay Area for girls ages 13 – 18. Excited by the concept and curious about how the camp helps girls turn big dreams into practical action, I interviewed Pearl. Her responses are below. I cannot wait until my kids are old enough to experience this magical place.
What inspired you to found Camp Reel Stories?
I have worked in film and media production for 15 years, and though I really loved my work I was often disappointed in the lack of female characters on the projects I worked on and how few female colleagues I had. When I became a parent to a little girl I dug deeper into this inequity and what I found was astonishing.
From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, law, politics, or as a business leader. In these films, 80.5% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50% of the workforce. Even more staggering is the fact that this ratio, as seen in family films, is the same as it was in 1946. These statistics are enormously detrimental to young women’s impressions of themselves and their perceived value in the world. While this is disheartening, this also means there is a vast untapped market for both talent and products that represent the diversity of our society.
I look at this as a great opportunity to create change in not only the lack of equity in the industry, but a creative opportunity to create new filmmakers and producers that are excited about creating characters and storylines that interest them.
My partner and I created Camp Reel Stories (CRS) as a fun way to connect young women with professional mentors, give them story telling and production skills to tell stories that reflect their unique point of view, while incorporating media literacy and leadership workshops. CRS believes that when women and girls are better reflected behind the scenes they will be better reflected on the screen.
What do you teach the girls during the sessions? What do you think they get out of their time at the camp?
Our campers get a lot! They learn filmmaking and production from leaders in the field, they take media literacy and leadership workshops. The girls work in small teams and have an adult producer that guides them the process and in just one week they write, shoot and edit a short film. Last year we had six films completed and this year we will have even more! They also have the collaboration and creative skill building process mirrored for them as they see they professional mentors work together to create not only great short films, but a fun camp experience.
How many campers attend?
In 2013 we held our inaugural camp and we had 32 campers. This year we will have 2 summer camps and can take up to 90 girls, and those spaces are filling fast. You can apply at http://campreelstories.com/apply
What do the alumni go on to do?
Thus far we have 50% of of campers signed up again this year. We have elected 2 student board members from our first cohort to the CRS board to help grow our organization. Two of CRS films were accepted into a local film festival and were screened for a huge audience just this past Friday night and other festivals have asked me to submit their work. 100% of attendees surveyed from the CRS pilot camp said through CRS they learned how gender equity in the media affects the way women are perceived in the media, 85% now view the media more critically and 92% felt more comfortable in their leadership ability, felt their skills as filmmakers improved and plan to continue making films. 20% of our campers have made changes or created an educational plan for a career in the media.
Also many of our campers have used what they learned in camp to speak to their classes and schools about gender inequity in the media, sharing knowledge about the Bechdel test and to organize screenings of films with strong female characters.
What are some examples of media that you think promotes positive images or girls and women?
This is a tough one, because as an adult and a parent of young children I have a different lens than our campers about what a positive image is. The media has made it harder and harder to decipher between a celebrity and a role model. This is something I talk about a lot with my own kids and with our campers. There is a difference between a Kardashian and an actress, it’s important to acknowledge that.
Personally I have seen a lot of films that have really interesting characters and relationships that wouldn’t always be appropriate for a younger audience and I like complicated characters. Recently I saw and loved, Enough Said, Short Term 12, The Bling Ring, Philomena and Frances Ha.
With my daughter and son I find it so hard to find interesting characters in films that we all can enjoy. We all really like the Miyazaki films and we are introducing films from awhile ago since the pickings are slim currently. Some of those are Bend it like Beckham, Black Stallion, Mary Poppins. And everyone loved Brave and Despicable Me.
The campers also seem to be able to access to Netflix, Hulu and other online resources to search out media that they can relate to. I was surprised that so many teenagers were familiar with some 80 and 90s classics, such as Breakfast Club, Harold and Maude, Amelie since they can’t find a lot of current media they can relate to.
What do you do during the rest of the year? Do you plan to expand? What are your goals for the camp?
The rest of the year is spent planning the future of Camp Reel Stories. This year we will triple in size, we will offer 2 summer camps and an afterschool program in the fall. 40% of our campers are on financial aid so I am always fundraising to make sure that anyone that wants to attend can. The films from last year have been entered in several film festivals and now are being selected and screened. I also try to collaborate with as many like minded organizations as possible.
We hope to offer camps in other locations the just the Bay Area in 2015 and we are researching those opportunities now.
What is a typical day at camp like?
Each day is a little different, but we incorporate icebreaking and leadership activities into every morning. The girls are on an accelerated schedule, so they have to get to know one another AND learn filmmaking quickly so that they can get to creating their films. Everyday they learn about some part of the creative process and immediately get hands on experience in that area. On Monday morning 30-40 girls who don’t know one another walk into a room, but the end of the day the have formed a small team and have an idea of what they want to make. That process is impressive and we are amazed at how quickly the girls can set aside their differences to get on to the creative process.
Tuesday they learn storyboarding, audio and video and work with their team to finalize their story. They also take a media literacy workshop so that they can see the direct correlation to the lack of representation both behind and in front of the camera. Wednesday they shoot, Thursday they learn to edit, and they edit a rough cut of their project and then at the end of the day show it to their fellow campers and get creative feedback. Friday they fix, by either reshooting or reediting, anything that they want and on Saturday they screen it at a Camp Reel Stories film festival which 250 people attend.
It is amazing to see these young women come out of their shell in the course of the week and I can’t wait to see what this year brings. We are restructuring a bit since we got requests for both more time to shoot and more media literacy.
It sounds like a lot of work, but we also have a lot of fun. In the end we are so proud of the work that the campers have done and the community created, not only with the campers, but with our volunteers, professional mentors and families. It’s quite exciting to see everyone fired up to create media that is more interesting and reflects the diverse fabric of our lives.
Since my oldest daughter turned 10, we’ve been able to watch films for older kids, and I’m so impressed by what we’ve seen. For the most part, movies for this age group seem to have more female characters with power and agency than those in animation. I’m so psyched about some of these movies that I put together a Top 10 list for you. All the ones on this list star strong, brave, smart girls. Please remember, these movies are recommended for your daughters and sons to see. All children need to experience narratives with heroic girls. These movies are not “just for girls.”
Click on the links to read my reviews. If you want to know more details about sex or violence content in the movies, I suggest you go to commonsensemedia.org. My reviews touch on these issues, but mostly, I care about my kids seeing girls with power and agency.
Update: “Divergent” came out after this list was made. I LOVE “Divergent,” book and movie. Read my review here.
Lots of you complained about “Wrinkle in Time,” and I agree the special effects are bad, but my kids love this movie. They don’t care. I love the story, about a girl who is into and great at science who goes into space to save her father. “Wrinkle in Time” stays on the list.
“Rabbit Proof Fence” is an intense, gorgeous, inspiring film about three Aborigine girls who escape from a home for “half-castes,” walking hundreds of miles through the Australian bush to return home after being kidnapped. Based on a true story, the heroine is 14 year old Molly, the daughter of an Aborigine mother and white father, who refuses to believe giving up her home, family, and culture just because she is half-white, is the best thing for her, her sister Daisy who is 10, and cousin Gracie who is 8.
I had three daughters throwing up yesterday, and I put this movie on for my 10 year old after the younger two had passed out. My daughter and I were frozen and silent for the next two hours, totally engrossed in this story. We leaned about a different culture, a shameful history, witnessed not one but three brave heroines, and also got to see Australia’s beautiful lands. I highly recommend “Rabbit Proof Fence” and I’m adding it to Reel Girl’s list of films recommended for age 10 and up.
I can’t tell you how excited I was for my daughter to experience this narrative while she was going through something similar in her own life. “Akeelah,” like “Beckham” is about competition and family and culture. “Akeelah” also stars a girl of color. This movie made me cry, and it’s about a spelling bee! If your kids have not seen it, please show it to them ASAP. It’s on Reel Girl’s 10 and up list.
Could I have loved “Bend It Like Beckham” more? I saw it for the first time last Saturday night with my ten year old soccer obsessed daughter and my soccer coaching husband. All three of us were crazy about it.
The star of the movie is a smart, athletic woman of color. Her best friend in the movie is also a soccer superstar. The movie is about competition, family, and culture. It’s incredible, one of my all time favorites. Show it to your kids! I’m putting it on Reel Girl’s list for age10 and up lbut I think younger kids would enjoy it too. Oh, I almost forgot. Kalinda from “the Good Wife” is in it as the protagonists older sister. Need I say more?
You all recommended ‘The Last Mimzy’ to me, and I admit, as I started to watch it, I was nervous.
Though the movie opens with a female teacher narrator, it shifts right away to a young boy. For the first 20 minutes of the movie, or so, I was worried he would be the protagonist. He has a younger sister, and I did notice right away something truly rare: he treated his sister respectfully. You almost never see siblings get along and work together in a film. This is wonderful watch.
The sister, Emma, discovers a strange object in the water off of Whidbey, one of the San Juan Islands. It turns out the find is a message from the future. It’s up to Emma to decode the message and save the world. She does all this, though its not clear until about halfway through the movie that Emma is the “chosen one.” When a costar reads her brother’s palm, to see if he is the special child, my seven year old daughter rolled her eyes and said, “I knew it.” But our worries were unwarranted. Turns out, Emma is the gifted one, and it is up to her to save the world. An extra plus: the movie title comes from a poem from Alice in Wonderland, a story that is referenced throughout the movie. I’m adding “Last Mimzy” to my recommendations for younger kids, but everyone will love this movie.
Finally, my kids got to see a movie with a girl pilot. “Fly Away Home” is not a new movie, it’s just the first one they’ve ever seen with a girl pilot on her own flying machine.
I grew up with this famous image of “E.T” imprinted in my brain.
“E.T.” is great movie, but once again, no flying girls. I am thrilled, at the age of 45, to have finally found an alternative for my daughters. Of course, I wish it was more obvious from the poster that a 13 year old girl is the pilot, but at least, my kids and I know the story behind the image on the movie poster.
Amy, played by Anna Paquin, is 13 yr old whose mother was killed in a car accident (while talking on her cell phone!) Amy goes to live with her artist/ inventor father and his girlfriend. Alienated and alone, while wandering the grounds, Amy discovers wild geese eggs. The goose mother was killed by developers who are bulldozing the land. Amy makes the eggs a nest in a drawer, the eggs hatch, and the chicks, thinking Amy is their mother and follow her everywhere. In order teach the geese how to migrate, Amy pilots her father’s flying machine, and leads them south. She ends up not only saving the geese but the wilderness as well. “Fly Away Home” is an excellent film, and I am adding it to my list for young kids, though kids of all ages will love it.
I am so into “Hanna.” This movie has everything I look for.
(1) Powerful girl protagonist Hanna, played by Saorise Ronan, is a 16 year old girl who lives with her father, a former spy, out in the wilderness. He has trained her to be a killer in order to protect herself as powerful people would assassinate her on sight.
(2) Evil female villain The bad guy in this movie, another killer, is a girl, played marvelously by Cate Blanchett.
(3) Great acting I already told you the movie stars Ronan and Blanchett. Need I say more? OK, the dad is Eric Bana.
(4) Great story Usually, on Reel Girl, I don’t mind spoiling stories. I analyze them so I can’t help it. But, I’m not going to tell you this one because so few people have seen the movie. I’ll just say that I love how the narrative is interwoven with Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The symbolism and the filming is beautiful.
(5) Female friendship Hanna makes a friend and their relationship is complex and real.
This movie is violent. More violent than “Hunger Games.” Like “Hunger Games” the camera doesn’t linger over the gore. I let my 10 year old watch it and it’s on my list of recs for 10 and up, but as I’ve written a lot here, I want my daughter to see females with power and agency. If your kid gets scared in movies, this is not the film for her.