Yesterday, I saw “Zootopia” with my three daughters (ages 6, 9, and 12) and we laughed through the whole movie. The animation is spectacular. Zootopia is a city populated by all types of animals and the details of every single species, from the curved horns of the buffalo long noses of the moles are exquisite to watch. This movie is art.
The protagonist is Judy Hopps, a rabbit who longs to leave the boonies of her farm, go to the big city, and make the world a better place. She’s forced to encounter prejudice, being labeled “a dumb bunny.” Not a predator, she’s considered too weak for the police force. Assigned meter maid duty, Judy longs for more challenging work. She overcomes her own biases to pal up with a fox and solve the mystery of a slew of animals gone missing.
Not only did I love this movie because of Judy’s actions but also her looks. We know she is female mainly because of her voice. She doesn’t have long, curly eyelashes or a hot pink bullet proof vest. Her upper uniform is truncated in a way I think they were trying to feminize it, but even so, her physical self is unusually ambiguous for an animated character in contemporary media.
Judy becomes best friends with a male fox. These two come no love each other. No romance involved. No romance in the entire movie. “Zootopia” is literally a poster for cross-gender friendships, something rarely seen in children’s media.
Judy Hopps, the protagonist, is missing from this ad campaign. WTF? I suppose she’s left out since she’s not gazellegant or always stylish. The good news is that Gazelle’s actual part in the movie is tiny, her scenes are minimal and she’s also inconsequential in the plot. If she were the only female, I’d be pissed.
Grown-ups, you’ll love the scene in the DMV office populated by sloths. I’ve rarely seen a moment so hilarious and true-to-life in animated film. Everyone, proceed to your local Metereon. I’d be surprised if there’s a kid out there of any age who doesn’t adore this movie.
Proceed immediately to the theater and go see “Inside Out” even if you have no children. Pixar’s latest may be my favorite animated movie EVER. Powerful female protagonist CHECK. Complex female characters in supporting roles CHECK meaning “Inside Out” does NOT feature Minority Feisty!!!! Spectacular animation and compelling story telling CHECK and CHECK.
I am not alone in loving “Inside Out.” I don’t think I’ve read a negative review. My daughters and I had fascinating conversations after the movie: My six year old said she was Joy and my eight year old picked Disgust to describe herself. They talked about which emotions their friends are and different members of their family. But then they also had a talk about how they are– and all people are– all of the emotions. Other emotions personified in the movie are Sadness, Anger, and Fear. My kids talked about what emotions they didn’t see in the story– Embarrassment and Meditation which I interpreted as Serenity or Calm. We talked about which emotions branch off of others, and that all emotions need to be valued and felt which happens to be the point of the movie. That conversation began in the backseat of the car going home and is still going on today.
Riley, the star and the setting for the movie (most of it takes place in her head) is an 11 year ice hockey star from Minnesota who moves to San Francisco. I appreciated the depiction of the city, where I happen to live, as foggy-gloomy and infested with broccoli covered pizza. While I have grown to love my home, I understood Riley’s experience of it as gray and depressing. I totally had those moments as a kid and still do. Riley longs for seasons that included snow. Depicting Riley as an ice hockey fan not only highlighted her aggression, joy, and skill but cleverly showed how alienated she feels in California. There is another (another!) cool female character in the movie, Riley’s BFF from home.
The two emotions with the biggest parts in the film– Joy and Sadness– are also female. Disgust is female too. Riley’s mom is also an ice hockey fan and player, though they do make the move for the busy dad’s job.
Amy Poehler who plays Joy said she was proud to be in this movie and that it makes the world a better place. I agree.
“Tomorrowland” stars not one, but two, brilliant female characters supported by (yes, supported by) the fabulous George Clooney. Frank Walker, the innovator played by Clooney, admires, respects, and loves these girls, Athena and Casey. Casey (played by Britt Robertson) is the scientist-dreamer who saves the world, but not before Athena (played by Raffey Cassidy) recruits and saves her in multiple bad-ass scenes. Just watching Athena drive the getaway truck is awesome.
“Tomorrowland” is the movie I’ve been waiting for, the narrative I’ve been dying to show to my kids. Not only is it feminist, beyond featuring only one strong female character (the typical Minority Feisty scenario) but Casey, the protagonist, is “special” not just because of her extreme intelligence but because she’s a dreamer. Casey sees the potential for the world to be different than it is. Her courage to be optimistic, to use her world view to change the future, is depicted in multiple ways that children can easily understand. In the beginning of the movie, when Casey is arguing with her father who is worried about losing his job and becoming useless, she tells him a story he always tells her: There are two wolves who are fighting. One wolf is darkness and despair, the other wolf is light and hope. “Who wins?” Casey asks her father. He answers, “The one you feed.” At which point in the movie, I elbowed my middle daughter whose go to response when I ask her to try something new is usually: “I can’t do it. ” She will then repeat that phrase about ten times as she tries (or stops trying) to throw a bean bag into a hole, or whatever the task may be. I always tell her, “Say you can, your body believes what it hears,” and she rolls her eyes. But watching “Tomorrowland” she understood what I’ve tried to teach her, and that is seriously worth the $10 I paid for her ticket. I am totally getting her the Casey action figure. (That hat Casey is wearing is RED though it looks a little pink in this photo and the emblem reads “NASA.”)
I don’t want to spoil the movie, because you must see it and you must take your kids– but I will say I looked at the narrative as a metaphor for gender equality. The message of the movie is: If you can’t imagine it, you can’t create it. It’s really a story about the power of imagination to transform who you are and the world you live in. The evil in the film is not so much a villain but pessimism and cynicism, the idea that everything, if not already known, is knowable. One of the ways the skepticism is communicated is by broadcasting narratives– images of starvation, drought, the world exploding, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is exactly what I believe happens with girls and boys in the world today– we show them stories and toys about how different genders are, re-create sexism, and call it “natural” and fixed.
I didn’t know “Tomorrowland” would feature two incredible female characters. I saw the preview, where Casey picks up a pin that transports her to another world, but I knew nothing of Athena. It is truly rare to see two girls dominate the screen as these characters do. So why didn’t I know “Tomorrowland” would be so special? Today, before we saw the movie, I took this pic as we entered the Metreon and Tweeted:
Thought ‘Tomorrowland’ had a female protagonist so why are my 3 daughters the only girls in this picture?
I am SO sick of this bullshit sexist advertising, but this is why I created Reel Girl, so I could tell you to take your kids to this inspiring, feminist movie.
I just saw “Belle.” It is so good. I have no time to blog right now, but I’ve got to tell you how extraordinary this film is.
I’m going to list the reasons, and hopefully, I’ll have time to come back later and tell you more. It’s remarkable I saw this movie today because I just blogged about the talk where feminist scholar bell hooks said she was sick of seeing black women being raped on screen, how she was willing to see more films about slavery, but it had to be a different take than black woman as victim. At the same talk, flimmaker Shola Lynch said she wanted images that fed her. Watching “Belle” is like satisfying a craving I’ve had for my whole life. The narrative turns many stereotypes on their heads, and that is beautiful to see.
#1 Black female protagonist
Dido Belle is the star of this movie. I’m going to call her Dido from now on because that’s how she’s referred to in the film. I’m guessing “Belle” made a better title. How many films have we all seen where the black girl is the BFF of the white girl? In this movie, the blonde, blue-eyed cousin has the supporting role. Dido is the hero of this movie, she is the one with alll the screen time, who makes choices, takes risks, and goes through a transition.
#2 Female cousins are not cardboard opposites or rivals
One cousin is black, the other white but both girls are both smart, compassionate, and beautiful, there is not an “attractive” one and a “smart” one. They are complex. And, get this, are you sitting down? They are friends. They love each other. There is complexity and also conflict but not in a cookie cutter way.
#3 Class, race, and gender are all addressed brilliantly
This is the first film I’ve seen that addresses intersectionality like this. There are so many great lines and plot points that show the complexity of these issues. I’ll list a few. Dido is the daughter of a an English aristocrat and a slave. When Dido’s mother dies, her father comes to take her to his estate. A captain of the English navy, he leaves Dido with his uncle, the most powerful judge in England. Dido’s father can’t return because he is following the king’s orders, and he dies. This all happens in the first 10 minutes of the movie. The captain leaves Dido his money, 2000 pounds a year. So Dido is a rich woman, an heiress.
Dido’s white cousin gets no money from her family because her father is a “scoundrel” who, after her mother died, married another woman. All his money is going to his new family. The cousin must marry wealth, she has no income of her own and British law forbids inheriting from her grandfather because– do you watch Downton Abbey– she’s female.
So great lines ensue when the cousin says to Dido, this is not an exact quote “I envy you, you are free. I must marry money, and I’m forbidden from making any on my own. I am my future husband’s property.”
That line is there to remind the audience that women were slaves. Women’s bodies belonged to men. Women were not allowed to have their own income. I’ve had so many debates with people, and I have since high school, where I’m told “Women were never slaves.” Huh? Not only are women descended from slaves fairly recently in human history– think about laws about property, income, the vote which in the USA we’ve only had for 94 years– but in much of the world in 2014 women are still slaves.
There are more great plot points. The cousins get in an argument and the white one calls the black one illegitimate. Dido says, “My father loved me. You are the one who was abandoned by your father and that is why you are in the financial state you are in.” It’s clear the cousin agrees, she’s the “illegitimate” one.
#4 Role of art in passing down narrative
There are many points in the movie where paintings are shown. When Dido first goes to the estate, as a little girl, she looks at a painting of her grandafther with a black boy servant/ slave.
At another point, Dido sees a painting of a slave bowing down worshipfully to a white man and remarks how paintings are like reality.
The movie makes clear how we are all affected and influenced by the “media” of the day, at that time, black people shown in repetitive images as inferior to whites.
In contrast, Dido and her cousin are painted together as equals. In the movie, they are the same size, right next to each other. In this painting, the real one, the white girl is more prominent, but it was radical at the time. I am glad in the actual movie both figures are the same prominence. The painting is commissioned by the uncle and at the end of the movie, whe nthey show the real painting. I cried. I didn’t know it existed.
Art creates reality and reality creates art. I love how “Belle” makes this truth a central theme of the movie.
I’ve got to research this movie, but I’m curious what role that painting had in inspiring the fillmmaker and keeping Dido’s story alive.
#5 Role of capitalism is race/ gender/ class
The movie addresses how the slave trade was crucial to the British economy. That is the reason so many people supported slavery. This brings to light how entrenched industries are today in our culture– the billion dollar beauty business for one– and how people benefit financially on all kinds of levels by maintaining inequality.
#6 Great roles for FIVE women in this movie!
There are many strong female characters. All the acting is great– Miranda Richardson, Emily Watson are in the movie. (Tom Wilkinson is amazing, as always, playing the uncle.)
“Belle” is loved and adored by a man for her brilliance and strength. There is no sex and one kiss but you feel the heat between the characters, rare indeed. In fact, this movie is so sqeaky clean, I wonder if the director and producers etc wanted parents to feel comfortable bringing their children to it. It’s not a “children’s movie” but I think it’s a great one for kids to see. I’m going to take my 10 year old daughter. As I just wrote, there is no sex/ nudity, and I would take my 8 year old to see it as well, except that you need to understand sex/ reproduction to get the whole white blood/ black blood legal issue. I have not had “the talk” with my 8 year old yet, so I’m not going to bring her.
Also, in order to understand the movie, your child will need to understand the concept of insurance. The central debate of the narrative is that a slave trade boat threw its “cargo” overboard because there was a lack of water and they were going to die anyway. The insurance company argues it doesn’t have to pay because the “cargo” could have been saved, that diseased slaves were thrown overboard because the insurance was worth more than the humans.
With those caveats (if they know about sex and if they can understand the basic concept of insurance) I’m recommending “Belle” for kids 8 years old and up.
The screenwriter has said that “Belle” was initially inspired by her seeing the painting of Dido and Elizabeth at Scone Palace in Scotland. The painting, worth seeking out online, gets more beautiful the more you look at it. In the ease of their postures and the warm and confident expressions of their faces, one can see that those young women knew something – their own worth and each other’s.
While she was an undergraduate at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland in the 1990s, Misan Sagay visited the nearby Scone Palace, where a rare double portrait caught her eye. Painted in the Gainsborough style of aristocratic figures in an Arcadian landscape, the canvas showed two young women swathed in lustrous satin, gleaming pearls circling their swan necks. The vivacious one on the left is biracial; her unhurried companion is white.
Ms. Sagay, who is Anglo-Nigerian, studied the wall label. It read: “Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Murray, circa 1778.”
Naturally, Ms. Sagay was curious. What of the woman on the left, whose forearm Elizabeth clasps so fondly?
In 2009 Amma Asante, a British-born filmmaker of Ghanaian parentage, received a screenplay written by Ms. Sagay. Attached was a postcard reproduction of the painting. Even before reading the script, Ms. Asante recalled, “I was inspired by the image.” She said that in European paintings of the late 18th century, blacks were often depicted as lower-class figures to affirm the higher status of the white subject. “I knew how unique it was,” she said, “that the black woman was not looking with adoration at the white woman, and that the white woman was tenderly touching her companion.”
Did you see that line? “I was inspired by the image.”
As of this posting, Camp Reel Stories, a summer camp in the Bay Area that teaches girls to create media, has raised $17,350 of their $20,000 goal. They have 59 hours to raise the rest of the funds. Please help. I donated money and I hope you, too, take this opportunity to help a girl tell her story.
Camp Reel Stories believes that when women are better represented behind the scenes in the media, they will be better reflected on the screen. Camp Reel Stories is a non-profit summer program designed to empower 13-18 year old women with the skills to create their own media, to view current media critically and thoughtfully, and to aspire to leadership in their field.
Here’s a repost of my interview with Camp Reel Stories founder, Esther Pearl.
Bay Area’s Camp Reel Stories teaches girls to make movies
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.
The Internet spreads all kinds of social ills, from cyberbullying to mainstreaming hardcore pornography, but for me, the good far outweighs the bad, because I’ve “met” people like the excellent and amazing author of Redefining Girly, Melissa Wardy. Melissa’s blog and online community are a truly invaluable resource that support protecting childhood and raising healthy kids. Now, lucky you– she’s written a book.
From author Melissa Wardy: Hi Margot and hello to all of your Reel Girl readers. I’m so thrilled to be making a stop on the Redefining Girly Blog Tour at one of the blogs that I personally really love. I hope all of you enjoy reading Margot’s thoughts on my new book Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween and at the end of the post find out how you can win one of two Redefine Girly t-shirt gift packs.
Melissa started her children’s clothing company, Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies, not long after her daughter was born, because she couldn’t find a single onesie that showed a girl with an airplane. Really not cool, especially when she named her child after Amelia Earhart. On her site, Melissa writes:
Pigtail Pals was born in May 2009 with the mission to Redefine Girly! I believe girls need to see messages in early childhood that show females being smart, daring, and adventurous. As the saying goes, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
What I love about Melissa is that she walks her talk. A mom can tell her daughters all day long that pretty isn’t the most important thing about them, but if she’s obsessed with her appearance and dieting, what is she showing her kids about her values? The sad truth of parenting is that actions matter more than words, and kids learn from what they experience, not from what they hear you talk at them. That, in my opinion, is the hardest thing about being a mom: trying not to be a hypocrite. Notice I write trying, which brings me to why I value Melissa’s book and believe it’s essential reading for every parent. She helps me to not be a hypocrite and– this is super important– to be kind as well. I know how to be reactive, to tell the truth and be angry about it (as Gloria Steinem famously said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.)” I’m not always sure how to effectively handle a sweet teacher who tells my daughter every morning how pretty she is, a “princess party” birthday invitation sent by a best friend, or a proposed “playdate” to the mall.
In 2014, the world our children live in is horribly sexist, a place where teachers, doctors, and family, often the people your children love and respect, indoctrinate them to expect and accept all kinds of gender stereotypes. But thanks to Melissa, you don’t have to cave in or isolate. You actually have choices in how you respond and act. Knowing this is liberating and calming. Melissa helps families transition from victims of gender stereotyping to creative heroes who are redefining a nd restoring childhood for our kids. For example, Melissa teaches you how to redefine girly in your own home, again by showing kids a new way with, for example, a hands on dad in the family who does laundry, by encouraging her son to play with dolls, by being a mom who uses tools and fixes things (along with cooking and cleaning), by eating desert with her kids and enjoying it. She gives advice on what to do if a friend or family member gives you hand me down clothes or toys that don’t fit with your ideal:
We’ll say “Thank you so much for thinking of us” and then politely decline or donate away items that carry messages that don’t fit with our family morals.
Simple, right? Yet, so many of us get tongue tied. Melissa’s book is full of useable, practical advice. With her signature combination of compassion and unflinching directness, Melissa gives tips for how to get friends and family on board. First, she reminds you: what you are doing is important. You are not insane. If you care about redefining girly, have no doubt that people will tell you the sexism that you see hurting children is trivial or doesn’t exist at all. Melissa writes:
Remember that you are not alone or crazy for seeing problems with the emotionally toxic ways our culture treats girls. The Resources section at the end of this book is full of alternatives, information, and the names of experts who can help. Our daughters deserve a girlhood free of harm and limitations.
Melissa lists specific tips on how to deal with criticism of your views:
Have a prepared team response you and your parenting partner will use that lets family know this is an issue you take seriously and that you want to have your wishes respected. My husband and I use “We want Amelia to be healthy and happy and we feel this is the best path to achieve that.” (We use the same message for our son.)
Have fun alternatives ready to suggest to family and friends who bring media into your home that you feel are unhealthy. This way you are not just saying no to their media, you are saying yes to healthier choices.
Have a secret signal for your kids to use so they can communicate to you that they need to ask you a question or talk to you about something later (like a baseball coach signal– helpful when a gift is given or a comment is made that your kids know goes against what you teach in your home.)
Melissa also has great one-liners that come in handy including: colors are for everyone, pretty’s got nothing to do with it, toys are made for kids not genders, there are many ways to be a boy/ girl.
Excellent sections in the book include: Encouraging kids at play– the Diverse Toy Box, Around the Kitchen Table– Fat Talk and Body Image, Using Your Voice and Consumer Power To Fight the Companies Making Major Missteps, and my favorite– Becoming the Media You Want to See.
I can’t recommend this book more. Not only will it help you redefine girly, but it shows you how to have fun and be happy while you’re changing the world. I’ve been trying to blog about this book since it came out in January and I tore through it, but it was too damn hard because I wanted to quote the entire thing. Today, I set myself a time limit and my time is up. (I only got through my notes on the first couple chapters.) So I’ll end with THANK YOU MELISSA. I think you’re about 10 years younger than me, but you’re my role model. I can’t wait to see what you do next.
From author Melissa Wardy: Thank you Margot for those wonderful words about my book. It is an honor to receive accolades from such a well-versed writer in this area but also from a woman and mom whom I highly respect. I would love to hear from your audience now and have them share either something they have learned from Redefining Girly if they have already read it, or have them describe an issue/concern they have currently with their daughter that they are hoping to learn more about when they do read the book. I’ll pick two winners to receive a Redefining Girly t-shirt gift pack (two tees + shipping). Winners will be chosen Friday May 30 at 8pm PST so make sure to get a comment in before then! Okay Reel Girl readers, what are your thoughts on Redefining Girly?”
There are so many things I love about “Divergent,” I’ll go through the major points here.
The movie, in a nutshell, is about facing your fears. You get to watch a brave, smart, and compassionate female protagonist test and challenge herself again and again. You see her make choices, grow, and become her own person, a true leader. I write a lot about violence on Reel Girl, and how it is not comparable to sexualization. Narratives are metaphors, and just like in dreams, images express feelings. We, humans, experience universal emotions like fear and aggression. These are not “boy” feelings or “girl” feelings, they are just part of being alive. What is unique, or relatively unique, is what triggers these feelings in each of us. ‘Divergent’ addresses this specifically, by showing the characters go through their “fear landscapes” where they face their terrors and make choices. I loved that my daughter saw a female hero do this again and again.
Another thing that is so great about this movie is the romance. Four, the supporting male character, is in love with Tris because of her bravery. Her bravery makes her attractive. While we see so many narratives where males are celebrated for their attributes, females get defined by their “beauty.” Males have the reputation of being divorced from their feelings, but in my experience, it’s female characters– and of course, actual female people– who get a lifetime of training in experiencing their own bodies as objects and accessories, separate from who they are. ‘Divergent’ is a narrative where the heroine is integrated and unified– body, mind, and soul– and that is rare to see. When you watch the movie, you will understand, how literally Tris defies allowing herself to be fractured into separate factions.
Shailene Woodley made a comment which I loved, differentiating the love story in ‘Divergent’ from ‘Twilight:’
Twilight, I’m sorry, is about a very unhealthy, toxic relationship. [The protagonist Bella] falls in love with this guy and the second he leaves her, her life is over and she’s going to kill herself! What message are we sending to young people? That is not going to help this world evolve.”
On one of my favorite blogs, Women and Hollywood, Melissa Silverstein chided Woodley for that comment, stating without ‘Twilight’ proving movies based on YA novels with female protagonists can make money, ‘Divergent’ would not exist as a film. While that may be true, I don’t think Woodley was speaking from a business perspective, but from her heart about how different the love stories are in these two movies.
A third aspect of the movie that is great is Natalie, the mother of Tris, played by Ashley Judd.
Judd’s part is small as far as screen time, but some of my favorite scenes in the movie were watching mom and daughter work together to save the world. Again, how often do we get to see that?
Kate Winslet as the evil Jeanine is amazing. She is wickedly fun to watch.
Here’s something very cool to tell your kids: the author of the series, Veronica Roth, is 25 years old. When they read the book– I recommend it for kids age 9 and up– make sure they see Roth’s photo. She’s an inpsiring role model. There’s a great interview with her at the end of the book. When Roth was in college, she was studying psychology, specifically phobias, and learning about a kind of therapy where you repeatedly do what you are afraid of. One day she was driving, listening to music, and she saw a scene in her head of a person jumping off a building, not for a self-destructive reason. She put hat scene together with what she was leaning about experiencing fears and boom! ‘Divergent’ was born.
When Roth is asked what characteristics she kept in mind when coming up with her main character, she responds:
I don’t think I ever sat down and thought about how Beatrice was– I just had this sense of her. I knew her. I did set myself a rule that was hard to follow, though: Beatrice is always the agent. That is, she’s always choosing, always acting, always moving the plot by her behavior.
This is exactly the advice I give my kids when they are writing a story. Of course, too often, we see male characters acting and making choices. We are so used to that gender role that as writers, just as Roth describes, its important to keep in the forefront, that the female character needs to keep making choices that drive the plot. In ‘Divergent,’ it’s beautiful to watch a female hero be a true protagonist, commanding her own film and her own story. I look forward to the day when a sentence like the one I just wrote seems ridiculously dated.
I wish Zoe Kravitz as Christina had a more interesting part/ character arc. Once again, we have the girl of color as the BFF to the white protagonist.
As we all know, marketing is its own media. Even if children don’t go to the film, they are likely to see this ridiculous butt pose poster, where Tris is positioned awkwardly to show ass and breast.
I prefer this image in the cover of Entertainment Weekly.
Reel Girl rates ‘Divergent’ ***HHH***
(I recommend the movie for ages 9 and up, but depends on the kid. If you read Reel Girl, you know I think kids desperately need to see female characters with power and agency, and I mostly rate for that. You also know, if you read this review, how I feel about violence. This movie is not gory. As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of the romance here as well. I am concerned with context when I rate (sadly, an anomaly) and I like the context of this love story very much. There are sensual scenes but not extended and no nudity. The movie is rated PG-13 if that means anything to you, though IMO the MPAA is useless and I prefer Common Sense Media if I need to look up specifics about sex/ gore aside from context, which, as noted, too few, including CSM really consider.)
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.