Monday, November 25, 2013

Dorothy Arzner: Looking Back

Dorothy Arzner was one of the few women to establish themselves as a director in the 1920s and 30s. She began her career in Hollywood as a typist, and within three years had progressed to screenwriter. It was her skill as an editor that earned her spot as a director. In Blood and Sand (1922), she saved Paramount Pictures thousands of dollars by seamlessly integrating stock footage with the original material. James Cruze, a director at Paramount, was impressed by this, and the two worked together on a number of films. Despite the quantity and quality of her work, becoming a director was not easy for Arzner. It was the product of an ultimatum; either Arzner was be director, or she would go to work for Paramount’s rival, Columbia.

Paramount agreed, and Arzner's first film, Fashions for Women (1927) was a success. In the following years, she was at the forefront of film technology. She directed Paramount’s first ‘talkie’ (a non-silent film), The Wild Party in 1929. In doing so, she created the first boom mike by rigging a microphone to a fishing rod. Aside from her contributions to sound technology, she introduced lesbian themes and portrayed a side of the lives of women that could not be shown in the days of the Hayes Code. (Geller)

Arzner directed a total of seventeen films between the years 1927 and 1943. One of the best remembered is Dance, Girl, Dance, which premiered in 1940. Aside from launching the career of Lucille Ball, this film is remembered for its deliberate, and poignant, refutation of what would be called ‘the male gaze.’ The main character of the film, Judy O’Brien, is heckled loudly while she performs. At first, she is flustered, and then, she is furious. She lashes out at the crowd, shaming them for their manners and describing how they look to her. “What’s it for?” she asks. “So's you can go home after the show’s over and strut before your wives and sweethearts, and play at being the stronger sex for a minute? I’m sure they see through you just like we do.”

 As in the film, this scene has largely been met with applause from critics, who largely see this scene as a classic example of women turning the gaze of the apparatus back upon the man. However, some things about this scene undermine this view. While Judith Mayne recognizes that “the effect is stunning,” she also recognizes that the audience is “predominantly male” – Judy is speaking to and looking at women as well. Mayne goes on to comment on Arzner’s role in this effect. Another important aspect of this film lies in the relationship between Judy and her dance teacher, Madame Basilova. A "queer interpretation" of this film views their relationship as akin to that of Arzner and her partner, choreographer Marion Morgan (Geller). Perhaps in the looks the two characters exchange we catch a glimpse of a lesbian gaze. 

As the director, the author, of the film, it seems that these particular contributions to feminist film should be attributed to Arzner. Mayne, drawing on the work of Roland Barthes, argues that the centrality of the author is a myth, and its perpetuation “virtually ignores the major ways in which women have been involved in the cinema: as actresses, as screenplay writers, as editors and as cutters” (39). The debate over the importance, or even existence, of the author is in this instance, and in my opinion, largely moot.  Arzner’s contribution to cinema as an early female director and author cannot, and should not, be minimized. The scene discussed above, as well as the relationship between Judy and her dance teacher, come from Arzner’s personal experience, and deliberately contradict the patriarchal constraints of Hollywood. Arzner’s films simply could not have been made by anyone else.

Geller, Theresa L. “Dorothy Arzner.” Senses of Cinema 26 (2003). Web.

Mayne, Judith. "The Woman at the Keyhole: Women's Cinema and Feminist Criticism." New German Critique 23 (1981): 27-43. Print.

Post #5 Barbara Hammer

Portrait of Barbara Hammer
Barbara Hammer is an American filmmaker in the genre of experimental films. In the late 1960s she was drawn to experimental film while studying film at San Francisco State University. During that time she came out as a lesbian, an act that helped radicalize her approach to directing. Subsequently she left her marriage, took off on a motorcycle with a Super-8 camera, she finally became America’s progenitor of lesbian filmmaking with her film Dyketactics (1974).

She is widely known for creating groundbreaking experimental films dealing with women's issues. She uses avant-garde strategies to explore lesbian and gay sexuality, identity, and history, along with other heretofore unrepresented voices. Hammer says, “It is a political act to work and speak as a lesbian artist in the dominant art world and to speak as an avant-garde artist to a lesbian and gay audience. My presence and voice address both issues of homophobia [and] the need for an emerging community to explore a new imagination.” 

Barbara Hammer at Jeu de Paume, Paris (2012) 

In the 1970s her films dealt with the representation of taboo subjects through performance, and in the 1980s she began using an optical printer to make films that explore perception. In the 1990s she began making documentaries about hidden aspects of queer history. According to Chuck Kleinhans, Hammer “She [Hammer] has made film and video mediations on death that are deeply personal, but also films about large issues of war and social justice.” Moreover, Hammer has made “polemical pieces on AIDS, and also challenging representations of the female body (Kleinhans, 167).”

Maggie Humm notes in Author/Auteur, “Gynocriticism is a way of assessing works of art specifically in relation to the interest and desires of women (Humm 95).” As I mentioned above, Hammer is renowned for creating the earliest and most extensive body of avant-garde films on lesbian life and sexuality, including Dyketactics (1974), Superdyke (1975) and Women I Love (1976).

Barbara Hammer, Superdyke, 1975
From Barbara Hammer's Superdyke (1975)
From Barbara Hammer's Dyketacits, 1974.
Women I Love
Barbara Hammer. Women I Love, 1976.
In Superdyke, she shows groups of women traverse a meadow carrying bows, arrows, and shields emblazoned with “Amazon” or dancing in the street in front of San Francisco’s city hall. The images are of individual women, striking in their diversity of size, shape and age, but unified by the commonality of rituals and shared experience. Also, Dyketacits is the first lesbian lovemaking film made by a lesbian; it reveals Hammer's aesthetic connecting sight and touch. The camera is not a distant voyeur or blunt close-up recorder as in so much pornography, but a living and movie presence capturing, framing, and re-framing caresses and touching. Women I Love presents a series of portraits which show women in nature or in intimate settings in an often magical way. Opening a dishwasher reveals daffodils in bloom, and the flower reappears in a plastic speculum, being actively kissed by one of the lovers. A lover appears on a motorcycle trip, another in a forest glen. Lovemaking appears not isolated, but as part of a continuum of nature and intimacy.  

Kleinhans asserts that through her films, Hammer provides empowering imagery for a group of people (lesbians) who have been denied filmic representation from their own point of view and free access to public space. (Kleinhans, 170) Barbara says in an interview with BOMB magazine, “I was lucky when I made Dyketactics I didn’t realize that it was the first lesbian film made by a lesbian. I would have been so afraid and intimidated. Instead, I just burst out and let my energy carry me through my work. In some ways being alone was great. There was a blank screen and I was filling it. That was a thrill. At the end of Dyketactics, I showed a vagina on the screen and this man screamed, AAAAAAAHHHH! All the women said, haven’t you seen that before?”

According to Kleinhans, for some feminist critics, the romanticism of Hammer’s work in the 1970s created a disturbing undercurrent. Some rejected what they viewed as her ideology of a separate mythic goddess spirituality or Amazon culture. Some found images of naked women in pastoral nature a flight from reality and her autobiographical depictions of her own body and those of her lovers a recapitulation of masculine patterns of looking (Kleinhans, 171).  As Kleinhans notes, Barbara Hammer’s evolving accomplishment in film and video art challenges the audience to new ways of thinking and feeling, new kinds of experience. Kleinhans claims, “The filmmaker faces the world and challenges it, not simply recording life but provoking the audience and changing it (Kleinhans, 183).” I believe what makes Hammer extraordinary is, as an auteur, she has made experimental films that blur the boundaries of media art, and shed new light on the women's issues. 


Humm, Maggie. Author/Auteur: Feminist Literary Theory and Feminist Film, Feminism and film. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997. Print.

Blaetz, Robin. Women's Experimental Cinema: Critical Frameworks. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007. Print.

Barbara Hammer’s Website:




Sunday, November 24, 2013

“In Living Color”

 “The personal is political…You can’t separate your activism from your art any more than you can separate your sexuality from your identity.”
-Catherine Saalfield

Considering the subordinate position bestowed upon women in American society as a whole, it is no surprise that they too would take second string when it comes to the art and media industry. As women continue to make strides, contributing to these industries by challenging normative narratives, posing provocative questions and stretching perspectives; their stories, voice and realities continue to be marginalized and devalued. This issue is further complicated when taking women of color and their contributions into account. If women as a whole have found the glass ceiling impeding their success, then women of color are often left facing (or appears to be if nothing else) a concrete ceiling, one that has the ability to be penetrated but with a much greater force and effort than that of glass.   
When assessing the plight of women in the arts and media, having a force –the energy, effort, support and resources–is necessary to penetrate any ceiling in order to improve the social position of all women. The force of which I speak can be found in the depth of alternative media sources which are often designed to bring theory to practice, art to activism and life to the living. Alternative media sources are those niche spaces in time devoted to the underrepresented and their development as socialized beings. In these spaces of creativity, the voices of the peripheral are celebrated and championed, even at hand of exploitation. Nonetheless, these voices are given a lane in the light during times when darkness seemingly prevails.
Donna Zimmerman, the executive director of Women Make Movies (, the world’s largest nonprofit distribution of films and videos made exclusively by women is an example of the force in which I speak; the one that works tirelessly to support women and serve as a resource for their artistic advancement. (Redding & Brownworth, p. 261)Women Make Movies was founded in 1972 and in 2013 it continues to serves as an essential, as well as critical, advocate for diverse female representation. Women Make Movies was “established to address the under representation and misrepresentation of women in the media industry. It is a multicultural, multiracial, non-profit media arts organization which facilitates the production, promotion, distribution and exhibition of independent films and videotapes by and about women. The organization provides services to both users and makers of film and video programs, with a special emphasis on supporting work by women of color” (Women Make Movies, 2013).
As Donna Zimmerman stands at the forefront of production, promotion and distribution, Maggie Hmm and bell hooks brings us literary and feminist theory and critique to the center, as they push the envelope and forces to society at large to question and revisit historical and contemporary binaries that limit and restrict the female experience. Hmm reminds us in her essay, “Author/Auteur: Feminist Literary Theory and Feminist Film” of the works of Josephine Donovan and her “call for a feminist aesthetic which directly addresses the experiences of women” (p. 95).  Humm highlights Donovan term “gynocriticism”, which is “a way of assessing works of art specifically in relation to the interest and desire of women” (p. 95).

“Gynocriticism involves a separate female way of thinking, and a recognition that women’s experience has been effectively silenced by a masculine culture. This response to that silencing, is a new epistemology which creates or uncovers a ‘newly visible world of female culture’ opening up and sharing this world with women readers/viewers” (p. 95).  

bell hooks, too offers analysis of literary and feminist theory, as well as critiquing  both mainstream and alternative forms of media, particularly film. She takes a stand that not only keeps the representation of women are the center of discourse but she accentuates the complexity of women of color and their realities as they can become lost even in women’s advocacy movements.  In her book, Reel to Real, she says that

“Movies make magic. They change things. They take the real and make it into something else right before our very eyes…They give the reimagined, reinvented version of the real. It may look like something familiar, but in actuality it is a different universe from the world of the real”
(p. 1).   

So as we imagine a “reimagined, reversion of the real” where does this version place women, especially those most vulnerable in a struggle for recognition? It is here where alternative media takes center stage and becomes the norm for those who have found it difficult to fit and/or embrace the status quo. Live Unchained is an alternative media source that gives voice to Black women and their fight for diverse representation that speaks to their multi-faceted lives.
            Lived Unchained is a producer, distributor, and promoter of media, representing women of African descent by focusing on the ability to “connect” and “create” through the arts and media. It works to pivot the center by giving Black woman a prime spot in artistic and media driven discourse. The website/blog ( was incorporated in 2009 by Kathryn Buford, a writer, creative consultant and sociology PhD student at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she studies under her faculty mentor and esteem scholar, Distinguished Professor Patricia Hill-Collins.  Ms. Buford’s current research explores social entrepreneurship, women’s art and emancipatory knowledge across the African diaspora and Lived Unchained serves as the global representation of her work and affords Black women around the globe the opportunity to unite and celebrate the complexity of Black female life. (Lived Unchained, 2012)

“Live Unchained was born out of the desire to preserve, share and honor the diverse voices and experiences of Black women across continents through our creative takes on art and life. We feature innovative works by Black female artists in various disciplines and genres to create dialogue around questions of freedom, women’s empowerment and solidarity across the African diaspora” (Lived Unchained, 2012).

The Live Unchained team is a collective of Black women, not only representing different walks of life but different geographically locations. From Kenya, to Spain to Washington DC, Lived Unchained is curating a space designed specifically for women of the African diaspora and through vision, voice, color, and positive energy; these women are taking the arts and media world by storm. Their tenants –Freedom, Creativity, Sisterhood, Africana Heritage & Pride, International Solidarity and Self-Reflection are reflected throughout the site and featured material. Live Unchained engages, evokes, empowers, educates and encourages Black women to share, yell, search, (re)define, (re)construct and heal through art and media. It is home for the Black girl who thought no one understood her; that she was alone in the struggle to be seen and valued. It brings the historical context of Black female bodies to the forefront and through a contemporary lens, asking who are we, have things changed, where do we go from here and how do we get there?
As Live Unchained continues to evolve it has proven to be a sustainable force within the arts and media sphere. This demonstrates that there is a need for not only alternative sources of media but those that make a conscious effort to improve the social location of marginalized communities. Live Unchained represents the Black woman and her experience, allowing her to evolve in safe space that celebrates and champions her voice.  As Black women continue to evolve, we need outlets that support our development and story. Live Unchained has and continues to be a pillar of inspiration and hope of women of the African diaspora. Live Unchained is necessary! Live Unchained is now!

“Live Unchained media and events reflect black women who went deep within themselves to produce works that are meaningful, inventive and sincere. In reading, viewing and hearing the creative expressions of black women in this collection, you will find that women have given us their best effort.  LIVE UNCHAINED” (Live Unchained, 2012)

“The logo for Live Unchained was inspired by the West African adinkra symbol Sankofa. The symbol represents a bird inverted, reflecting upon itself. The image demonstrates the importance of bringing lessons from the past into the present and future, moving forward while guided by one’s history. The word Sankofa can be interpreted as “return and retrieve it” or “go back, to go forward.” While living unchained means many things, in the spirit of our logo, we believe imagining new possibilities for black women’s freedom requires an appreciation for our shared heritage and connectedness.” (Live Unchained, 2012)

Works Cited

Buford, Kathryn. Live Unchained. 2012. Live Unchained, 2009. Web. November 23, 2013.

hooks,bell. Reel to Real: Race, Class and Sex at the Movies. New York: Routledge, 1996. Print.

Humm, Maggie. Feminism and Film. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997. Print

Redding, Judith, M. & Brownworth, Victoria, A. Film Fatales: Independent Women Directors. Seattle: Seal Press,  997. Print.

Women Make Movie. Women Make Movies. Web. November 23, 2013.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Enigma That is Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907, to Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón in Coyocoan, Mexico City, Mexico.  She grew up in the family’s house where she was born – later known as the blue house or Casa Azul. Her father was a German photographer; she had two older sisters named Matilde and Adriana, and later a younger one known as Cristina. Around the age of 6 she contracted polio, which caused her to be bedridden for nine months. She recovered with the encouragement from her father to stay active. In 1922 she enrolled at the renowned National Preparatory School. She was one of the few female students to attend the school, and she became known for her jovial spirit. That same year, she became interested in the works of Diego Rivera, and would often watch him work on a project. Here is a video with a short Biography of Frida's life.
         Three years later on September 17, she and her boyfriend at the time Alejandro Gomez Arias were traveling together on a bus when a vehicle collided with a train. As a result Kahlo was impaled by a steel handrail, which went straight through her pelvis.  She suffered several serious injuries, including fractures in her spine and pelvis. Though tragic, this is when she began painting. It was during her recovery that she created her first self portrait; with she gave to Gomez Arias. Later she married Diego Rivera. She moved around with him, were commissions fro, his work was received. In 1930 they lived in San Francisco.  In 1932, Kahlo incorporated more graphic and surrealistic elements on her work. In her painting Henry Ford Hospital (1932):
           Her development of all of her works always come from some type of mishap in her life. Like anyone, she showed and coped with her issues through her art. It was that, that made her famous. She never sugar coated her work and let it be as it was. Like her painting of her accident, she showed everything without you having to look for it. Which is why I like her. Many artist today are obsessed with what is beautiful by appearance, and fail to appreciate the raw arts. Frida, in all of the self portraits that I have seen of her, never altered her appearance. She kept the uni - brow that many people today would view as unattractive.

Art, Personalities, pic: circa 1930''s, Frida Kahlo, Mexican born artist/painter (c1907-1954)

 Frida Kahlo and Self Portraits

 All in all she was her own woman. When her marriage took a turn for the worst she stood up from it and proved she didn't need a man in her life. She traveled and made her own choses and made sure she was not condemned to being a housewife. Sadly in 1954 Frida died. her paintings left for people to remember her by. She is one to be known and I hope this has made you curious of her legacy.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Alice Austen: Victorian Rebel

For this post were throwin' it back to 1866, the year Alice Austen was born. The name might not ring a bell in most minds, because her memory seemes to have suffered the same fate as the place she hailed from: Staten Island, New York. "Mentioned briefly in survey, but often overlooked," Austen, like the borough does not receive the recognition it deserves.  (Gonzalez, New York Times)

Alice was a photographer, the first of her kind. Although many regard her as a documentarian, she had a clear aesthetic and artistry to her work. Austen's first encounter with a camera came around 10 years old when her uncle Oswald allowed her to use his. Her other uncle, Peter, a chemistry professor at Rutgers showed her how to develop the photos she took. She became attached to it immediately, using it in unconventional ways like on moving trains and sail boats. (New York Times.) Her work reflected her as an artist and women in society. She would make tounge and cheek photos, commenting on women's place in Victorian society. Trude & I (Below) depicts two women in their underwear smoking cigarettes late at night; this about checks off everything a victorian women was not supposed to do. 

She was known most for her documentary photographs, which consisted of street scenes from New York City. Yet these were more than just tourist keepsake photos. She had an eye for social change, trying to map out the cities evolving diversity with the rise of immigration in New York. "Alice always photographed the people and places of her world as they actually appeared, giving us a beautiful visual window on 19th century America." (

   Alice Austen, and her dog Punch, 1891

Alice was prolific beyond her art. Besides being one of the earliest female photographers, she was the first women on staten island to own a car. She also never married, and instead spent 50 years cohabiting with Gertrude Tate. "A rebel who broke away from the ties of her Victorian environment, Alice Austen created her own independent life."(

Her house on the North Shore of Staten Island is now a landmark, with a gallery showcasing her work, as well as various up and coming and contemporary photographers work. There is a fund in her name that contributes to photography and the arts and aims to educate young photographers and artists. 

If you'd like to visit it's located at 2 Hylan Blvd, Staten Island, NY 10304 and is open 6 days a week. 

"Trude & I" 1891
(Women were arrested for smoking during this time)
Austen and two female friends in drag.

An egg stand on Hester Street in Manhattan, 1895

Alice and her partner Gertrude, 1950's

Works Cited:
Gonzalez, David. "Alice Austen’s Type of Town." New York Times. New York Times 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Penelope Spheeris

Penelope Spheeris is arguably one of the coolest women in Hollywood.  She’s a director/writer/producer whose major works include:

The Decline of Western Civilization Series
Wayne’s World
We Sold Our Souls for Rock n’ Roll

Here’s a little bit about her:

1.  She’s a woman thriving in a man’s world in more ways than one.

               We know very well that is hard to be a women in the man-dominated world of filmmaking. Lack of interest, respect and funding are all hurdles women face when trying to get their stories out there.  Penelope, although she has faced some of these issues, has done pretty damn well for herself and has been able to more or less rise above these roadblocks.  She has spoken about how lack of funding has hindered the distribution of her documentary films, but the irony is that the shortage of money needed for mass distribution (married with her artistic style) has made her early documentary work highly sought after, even achieving cult classic status (  She may not be a household name like Spielberg or Aronosfky, but she has earned a tremendous amount of respect and a significantly large underground fanbase for her ability to tell a story.  She recounts to release of her first documentary film:

             “In 1980 when I made The Decline of Western Civilization, it was impossible to get distribution. The theater owners said no one cared about punk rock, no one would come to theaters to see a documentary. I finally convinced one unsuspecting Hollywood Boulevard theater owner to give us a single midnight showing. So many punks showed up that the LAPD sent out what appeared to be the entire force. Edward Colver, a brilliant photographer that had himself documented the scene in still frames, captured the moment as proof. Had he not no one would have believed it — hundreds of cops… astounded and bewildered by the sea of Mohawks, leathers and studs. I soon received a letter from Police Chief, Daryl Gates, requesting that I not show the film ever again in Los Angeles.”

You could say that from there, she was golden-- the underground world loved this incredibly honest, brave, cool woman for telling the story of those whom society left behind.  

Since she’s developed an impressive career, spanning 30+ years, she’s also recognized by Hollywood an expert in her field, and even produced a segment for 75th Oscars, dedicated to documentary film (    

So, she may have had a hard time with funding, but she's got respect and public interest-- and as Meatloaf says, two out of three ain't bad.

But it gets better!  The majority of her writing and directorial work is about music culture.  And not just any music, but punk and heavy metal-- both territories usually considered too aggressive for a woman to understand or be a part of.  She managed to insert herself into that world and gain the trust of a group of people who aren’t exactly overflowing with it.   

2.  She takes pride in being a female in film, but doesn’t want be know as a “woman filmmaker”-- she has other interests.

              We did a bunch of readings on why it’s important for female authors and auteurs to tell women's stories.  And yes, it's important to have a feminist’s point of view in film to start a discussion and create an understanding of the lives of women across the globe.  But this doesn't have to be the only role for female filmmakers.  As I mentioned before, the majority of her documentary film work has been in exposing the lifestyles surround certain music scenes.  Her specialty is giving the public an understanding of the disenfranchised youth who form and keep punk culture alive.  We tend to see punks as defiant societal outcasts, but we don't stop to think of how and why these kids became so rebellious.  In Decline..., Penelope interviews these misunderstood people, getting into the heart and sole of why they use this form of music as an outlet for their aggression, and enter into the lifestyle that often accompanies it.  This is the main theme in all three films within this series, as well as her narrative film, Suburbia.  She likes to expose the humanity behind “the monster, giving these “others” a voice.

3.  She has range.

            Just when you think she's this uber-serious documentary filmmaker, she goes and directs a major motion picture comedy-- Wayne's World.  And then she does a kid’s movie-- The Little Rascals. And then a stoner movie-- Black Sheep. And after doing that, she can still effortlessly go back to making award-winning documentary films.

               So is she a filmmaker for women?  No.  But she’s a woman in the industry who can serve as a model for other women who see their dreams of big, Hollywood success as out of reach.

                                             An in-depth interview with Penelope

Why Sofia Coppola Is Not Invited (Post#5)

Copyright 2010 Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
     Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarantino – when talking about famous directors, these names come up in mind. And they all have one thing in common: they are all male. Whether it be scy-fy blockbusters, action films or even romantic comedies, there’s not a lot of women with director credit in mainstream film industry. And even though today we live in a world where women changed their aprons for business suits, the director’s chair still belongs to men. This is very well illustrated by the representation of women at the Academy Awards - only four women have ever been nominated for Best Director since 1929 when first Oscars were given: Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties (1976), Jane Campion for The Piano (1993), Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation (2003), and Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (2009). Surprisingly, except for Campion, these women directors are not included in the WomenMakeMovies database of films by and about women which is supposed to address the under representation and misrepresentation of women in the media industry. To me, this hints at the fundamental juxtaposition of movies made by women for mainstream audiences versus those made by women as feminist statements. By analyzing films of Sofia Coppola, I will discuss potential reasons for why she was not invited to the feminist party.
      Sofia Coppola has a privilege of being the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, the acclaimed director of The Godfather, which, of course, carries some benefits to a young female movie-maker, such as well-known actors and a rock-star producer (her father). In her recent interview with Tim Teeman, she says, “I work really hard, but I’m definitely lucky to have the connection with the industry I do. I knew how to get a good sound designer. I definitely had advantages but was disadvantaged too that people could dismiss me.” Nonetheless, she doesn’t feel a desperate need to counter these charges. “You can’t please everybody. I just get on with my work.” As I write, Coppola has made five feature films, The Virgin SuicidesLost in TranslationMarie AntoinetteSomewhere and The Bling Ring and I've seen them all. All of them are written and directed by her and reflect her personal creative vision, making Coppola the auteur with a distinct set of easily-identifiable traits of authorship. A signature style of her films includes the aesthetically beautiful picture, soft lighting, attention to feminine details. In Coppola’s films there is not a lot of dialogue, and the characters are complicated. Most of her protagonists are women, often with many "vices" and negative attributes, on which Coppola deliberately focuses the viewers' attention. Arguably, in this way she explores the way society and show business often treat young women, placing them on pedestals and surrounding them with unattainable expectations. Her protagonists may be viewed as a social commentary on the way women are objectified in the media industry since very young age. On the other hand, maybe she just doesn't like women and thinks that we are all sluts?
     The Virgin Suicides is a story about 5 sisters living under the roof of their  strict, religious mother and a pussy-whipped father. The film explores the rottenness of the white suburban affluent lifestyle. The sisters are highly idealized through stereotypical representations of their innocence and dirtiness at the same time - crumbled panties in the bedroom, red lipstick, and the many scenes of Lux's promiscuity. This reinforces sexist representation of women found throughout various media. The mother, on the other hand, is depicted as a sex-less woman who holds the entire family in an iron fist, which similarly is not a very likable character.
     In Lost in Translation, an aging white man in an exotic and non-white location engages in a romantic affair with a married white woman also visiting the exotic location.  Not only is the female protagonist a "manic pixie dream girl" but this film scores very poorly on the Bechdel Test.  Maybe the Bechdel Test is not a scientific standard for whether or not a movie is feminist, but it is a good start––and Lost In Translation's orientalism and precocious-white-women-in-love-with-older-white-man obsession does not really provide the movie with anything else that would prove Coppola is a critical and daring feminist film-maker.
     Similarly, female characters of Marie Anoinette are mostly over-privileged young women who refuse to speak in full sentences or really at all. Their main worries are occupied with dresses, parties, and men. Coppola depicts the queen as a lonely and unhappy woman valued only for her reproductive abilities, who finds escape in conspicuous consumption of the material pleasures a royal life has to offer.
     In Coppola's next film, Somewhere,  it is not a single protagonist but rather the totality of women in episodic roles that is problematic. I’m giving away very little about the movie by pointing out that there is barely one woman who isn’t easily bedded by Johnny Marco, the male protagonist. The women in  Coppola’s Hollywood world flash their breasts, bare any and all other parts of their bodies, and sleep with Johnny without so much as one word. Coppola says she wanted to show a side of the movie-star lifestyle that people don't normally get to see.
"I wanted to show what happens in between the more public moments [of an actor's life,]" she says. "When I was writing the script, there were a few stories in the news about a couple of really successful actors and performers having personal crises, and it looked like they were having this fun party lifestyle — and from there, I tried to imagine what [Marco's] life would be like the next morning."
     Finally, The Bling Ring, takes absurdity of the "show-off" culture to extreme. In this film a group of teenagers take us on a thrilling and disturbing crime spree in the Hollywood hills as they rob the houses of celebrities like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Orlando Bloom. The teens “assumed they should be celebrities, with their obsession about brands and bling”, Coppola says.

      As you can see, all her films carry a strong feminist rhetoric which is concealed by a veil of misrepresentation, as if she is winking at the viewer. She is a female film-maker, making movies about women and the way society shapes our experiences. However, Coppola refuses to acclaim any political meaning to her movies. “I was raised by a feminist but I don’t really describe myself as anything. I don’t want to be political and I don’t make political statements. Actions speak louder than words: it’s important to be independent and strong.” She refuses to push messages of morality in her films and prefers ambiguous endings. Perhaps, her personal detachment from the feminist movement is what justifies her success in the male-dominated Hollywood as much as her exclusion from the WMM.
 Works Cited:

Shonda Rhimes - Queen of TV Hits

Last week I sat in class, getting grumpier and grumpier as I realized most women involved in film or tv partake in documentary making. To me, documentaries are weak and not as creative. I know they can be all powerful and enlightening - to hear true stories can shake us to the core, however it’s not creative, it doesn’t involve massive amounts of money, or involve bossing around hundreds and hundreds of people like it does to create a major action film. Documentaries don’t need graphics or large budgets, they don’t get played in mainstream theatres and most of all, the general public just doesn’t care. So in class I sat in my chair and thought “how fitting, women get the family, storytelling job, the weak sibling of the movie industry.” I wanted to hear about women who made huge blockbuster films are had millions of supporters. I thought of a few like Nora Ephron and Sofia Coppola. However neither of them have done anything major in three or four years. Then it occurred to me, that one of the most successful writers and producers today was Shonda Rhimes.
Shonda Rhimes is the creator of two of the most popular shows on television; Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal (Also Private Practice but that was weak). 

It's interesting that even with referendums and amendments, women still haven't made enough progress to even be near considered equal to men in the entertainment industry. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr. Said "There can be no doubt our nation has a long and unfortunate history of sex discrimination." In the US we also have a long history of discrimination against those of color. Shonda Rhimes has to go against the stigmas of both. She has prevailed and is the leading creator of two of the biggest shows on television. Her first show Grey's anatomy pulled massive audiences on the ABC Network. There have been ten seasons and it is now one of the longest running shows on a major network. Her other hit, Scandal is about a powerful black woman, performed by Kerry Washington. She plays a Washington DC political fixer. Like Rhimes herself, the characters she creates are powerful women.

 The New York Times calls her "most powerful African-American female show runner in television " and the also give her the compliment that "Rhimes is among the few remaining bona fide network hitmakers" left on network television.  She is the ultimate powerhouse, she is a mother to two children and still "oversees some 550 actors, writers, crew members and producers"

Eddings, Barbara Murray. Women in Broadcasting, De jure Defacto. Columbia University.

Judy Chicago - Feminist Artist Spotlight :)

Judy Chicago, born Judy Cohen, is a world renowned feminist artist  known for her large collaborative art installation pieces which examine the role of women in history and culture. She was one of the most influential feminist artists in the US. By the 1970s, Chicago had coined the term "feminist art" and had founded the first feminist art program in the United States. Chicago's work incorporates skills stereotypically placed upon women artistically, such as needlework, counteracted with stereotypical male skills such as welding and pyrotechnics, which she uses extensively throughout her works. 
Judy Chicago with her work The Dinner Party (above). Judy Chicago spraypainting, a technique she learned during auto mechanic and welding training (below)

Judy Chicago grew up in a very liberal family and was very strongly influenced by her father. Her father, Arthur Cohen, came from a long lineage of rabbi's, and was a labor organizer and a Marxist, and was affiliated with the American Communist Party during the McCarthyism era. As she later told LA Weekly, "I was raised in a family that believed in equal rights for women, which was very unusual for that time. The bad news was they never bothered to tell me that not everyone else believed in that, too." (LA Weekly, What I Learned From Male Chauvinists). After the death of her father and her husband, she chose to change her name to Chicago, rather than following male dominated naming practices. 

For one of her projects, The Birth Project, Judy Chicago collaborated with over 150 needleworkers to create dozens of images combining needlework, spraypainting, and painting that celebrates the gift of life and birth. It represents all aspects of the birthing process- from the painful to the mystical.
 The Birthing Project

Her most influential work is The Dinner Party, which, as she describes it, "is a sort of reinterpretation of the last supper from the point of view of those who had done the cooking throughout history" (The Dinner Party: A Tour of the Exhibition). It depicts place settings for 39 mythical and historical women with notable historical accomplishments, each complete with a table runner embroidered with the woman's name and images and symbols relating to her accomplishments, a napkin, utensils, a goblet and a plate. The Dinner Party celebrates traditional female accomplishments such as textile arts (weaving, embroidery, sewing) and china painting, which have been framed as craft or domestic art, while at the same time using techniques such as welding that have been stereotyped as mainly a male form of art. 

 Place tables at the Dinner Table (view tour here)