The Oscars and the White Male Gaze

// 25 February 2009

Campbell has a great post up about the effect of mainstream cinema’s white male bias, and the general lack of women directors:

Cinema is a way for people to get lost in a fantasy world. A way to experience life through others eyes, a way of reviewing history, or a way of re-learning our cultures. Film is accessible and visual so has a far reach because any person who has functioning vision or hearing can participate in the magic that is cinema.

But whose world are we re-visioning? It would seem to me that what has crept up on us all, is a view of the world through Eurocentric male eyes. This is somehow being presented to us via mainstream cinema as benign, neutral, and universal entertainment. Meaning that although the themes represented are universal to all humans – love, betrayal, greed, power etc these stories are projected to us through the lens that is instrument of the white male gaze.

What we are being shown in wonderful close up is men’s lives, men’s stories. It is so blatant that even when a White male vision is transported on to an Indian story as in Slumdog Millionaire there is no comment on the erasing through the non-mention of the contribution of the Asian female co-director Loveleen Tandan. This somehow leaves a nasty memory of cinema from back in the day when in certain movies the white actresses singing voice was actually provided by non credited African American singers like Etta Moten. Plus ca change?

Is it that women are just really bad at directing great films which is why their names rarely come up for directing awards? Are they really crap at writing screenplays? I am referring to films that the majority of us have easy access to and will have no barriers to viewing. There is not a single female name in any of directing and writing categories for the BAFTAs. Would Jane Austen have gotten a film break in 21st Century Britain? The statistics do not look encouraging.

Meanwhile, Renee points out that the Oscars were happy to honour homophobe Jerry Lewis, and 300 million viewers saw a censored version of speeches by Sean Penn and Dustin Lance Black, as the sound went quiet at all mentions of the words “gay” and “lesbian”.

Of course, we’re just coming up to the Birds Eye View Film Festival here in London – let’s try and redress the balance when we can, by supporting the work of women film-makers.

Comments From You

Madeleine // Posted 26 February 2009 at 2:09 pm

The last great ‘female’ film I can remember was ‘Thelma and Louise’, which as one reviewer put it, was the only film she’d ever seen which ‘told the damn truth’. Apart from that, the film got such a vitriolic bashing for its perceived anti-male bias (can you imagine the opposite ever happening?!) that doubt was expressed if the writer, Callie Khouri (hope I’ve spelled her name correctly) would ever dare to write anything so brave again. The film was also bashed for justifying shooting (of a lorry driver shouting insults) and drunk driving. When you think of the things ‘male’ films have justified and continue to justify, that’s only to laugh at.

I had no idea there had been an Asian co-director of Slumdog Millionaire. All I saw was the white male director hugging the child stars at the Oscars. I hope Loveleen Tandan will get more credit for her work in future!

I would love to enjoy the ‘magic that is cinema’ a lot more often, but I most films are either just men’s stories or women whose main focus in life is a man. By reinforcing such stupid, unrepresentative and cliched, boring stereotypes, the film industry is missing out on a huge potential audience.

Ledh // Posted 26 February 2009 at 4:38 pm

How about The Hours? didn’t Nicole Kidman get an Oscar for that? that’s -something- I guess?

Beth // Posted 26 February 2009 at 4:48 pm

I dont know… I think there have been some great ‘female’ films since then. Take the recent ‘Rachel Getting Married’ which focused on the relationship between two sisters, earned Anne Hathaway a best actress nomination and was written by a woman.

I think the trouble is that these kind of films ARE seen as being less important and possibly more trivial than films from a male point of view eg. Benjamin Button which I thought was pretty crappy (just an opinion).

In some ways it seems like Hollywood has gone backwards: in 1950 the ‘woman’s’ film, All About Eve was praised and revered, winning countless awards. It starred a mainly female cast with Bette Davis as a strong yet flawed woman.

The Oscars ought to acknowlede a good story or a well written character regardless of gender. But they simply dont.

Kez // Posted 26 February 2009 at 5:15 pm

Anyone else see this Observer article on a depressing trend in (so-called) romantic comedies?

Anne Onne // Posted 26 February 2009 at 10:01 pm

Heh. When I read somewhere that people considered ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ a chick flick, I stopped being surprised. Seriously, anything with more than one woman in it is supposed to be some frothy inconsequential film that we’re all supposed to feel guilty for watching, so frivolous and girly they are.

I genuinely believe that writing good, complex female characters (and progressive character portrayal in general) results in overall better quality of films. At the very least it’s less cliche than the ‘average Joe lusts after hot chick, goes for a beer with buddies, gets the girl and has a whole plot around how even the plainest guy deserves a nymphomaniac supermodel.’ It’s refreshing to show films from a new perspective, and everybody deserves representation on screen, and films aimed at them and about them.

What annoys me is that even films traditionally considered aimed at women (romcoms, chick flicks, whatever) have been aimed more and more obviously at men, with all the objectification and ‘humour’ that entails. They’ve always been problematic and all about how love is the only thing that matters, but it’s just getting worse. It’s like they’re only half-assedly trying to churn out the odd movie that they think might appeal to women, though they don’t care much whether it attracts them or not, since producing even more films for men is obviously more important.

Madeleine // Posted 27 February 2009 at 1:25 pm

Beth mentions “All About Eve” which I think is a terrific film; I got a dvd of it. I also love Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” Bette Davis as Baby Jane in bizarre clothes and makeup, slouching around the house boozing, and screaming ‘whaddaya-WAAANT?’ at her sister when she rings! Not a man in sight except for a minor character who the deranged Baby Jane thinks can help her make a comeback in her singing career. There was another actor called Barbara Stanwyck, who also played strong female roles.

But yes, those were made in the 1940’s/50’s. What about NOW?

Jess McCabe // Posted 27 February 2009 at 2:43 pm

Just to say, I think it’s really important to talk about the extreme limitations of cinema, but at the same time celebrate women’s film making and feminist film making that is going on. Like I mentioned, I really do recommend people go to the Birds Eye View festival…

Clare // Posted 10 March 2009 at 10:39 am

Maybe it’s worth doing a more in depth post about the Bird’s Eye View Film Festival currently happening in London as it will be touring too! It seems to me that we need to invest as much time, energy and space into promoting and celebrating women’s contribution in cinema as we do critiquing the male bias. I think the First Weekenders club is something we should really support too where there’s a conscious effort to spread the word about female created films and supporting them on their opening weekend.

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