When it comes to film, women have been constantly underrepresented on screen and especially behind the scenes. In 2012 alone, women comprised only 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. That statistic from the Celluloid Ceiling Report 2012 represents no change since 2011 and an increase of a mere 1% since 1998. This is the state of women in movies. Women make up a little over half the population in this country and yet only 18% work in major behind the scenes roles in our biggest movies. What does that say about the kind of movies we see? What does it say about the images of women that appear in these movies if only 18% of us are actually working on making these movies? What message about women can we expect out of this? In 85 years of the Academy Awards, women have been nominated for Best Director a total of 4 times (in 1976, Lina Wertmuller, 1993-Jane Campion, 2003-Sofia Coppola and in 2009 it was Kathryn Bigelow). Out of these mere 4 instances, only 1 woman has ever won and it was Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (a film that tells a male story). According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, for every single female character onscreen, we see 2.5 male characters. 73.5% of family films have a male narrator. What does this tell us about women in film? When only 13.5% of Directors Guild of America members are women and in 2012, 38% of films employed 0 or 1 woman in the roles considered, what does it say about the kind of movies the American public receives? What does it say about how women see themselves represented?
In "Making Movie Magic," bell hooks tells us that movies give us the "reimagined, reinvented version of the real." She goes on to say that it "may look like something familiar, but in actuality it is a different universe from the world of the real (and) that's what makes them so compelling" and often, "life transforming" (1-2). Given the current state of underrepresentation of women in film, how can we look at the images we do see? What can we say about how women are reimagined and reinvented in film? Specifically, in regards to the intersection of gender and race? Unfortunately and sadly, when it comes to reimagining and reinventing minority women in mainstream film, stereotypes prevail.
Stereotypes: Black, Asian and Latina Women in Film
Black Women in Film:
Throughout history, Black women have been consistently relegated to play stereotypical, unappealing roles in film. These perpetual characters include:
The Mammy and/or servant/maid was the first role designated to Black women. She is happy-go-lucky and always willing to cook and clean. She is the maternal figure to the white family she serves and is generally obese, non-threatening, deeply religious and unattractive.
The Angry Black Woman:
Recently, it seems that black women have outgrown being maids and sometimes whores (though these are still present). Enter, the Angry Black Woman. She is loud, boisterous, stubborn, bitchy and emasculating. This stereotype is seen everywhere. If a black woman has succeeded in being granted a position of power, she must play this part. She can be seen in all her imperfect glory in this Tyler Perry movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTbsDqu23Ks&feature=player_embedded
Asian Women in Film:
Usually Asian women in film are portrayed as one of the following stereotypes:
- Seductive Dragon Lady
- Martial Arts Master
- Model Minority (Nerd/Geek)
- Submissive China Doll
- Hypersexualized female (inferior and subordinate to whites)
Latinas in Film:
The Latina actress like other minority women in film is also reduced to a statically fixed stereotype, a caricature of who she really is.
Latina Stereotypes typically are as follows:
- The Spicy Sexpot/Latina Lover (the object of the male gaze, a sexual object to be used)
- The Feisty Spitfire (Often a crazy, loud, incomprehensible bitch)
- The Meek Maid/Servant (usually an immigrant who either needs saving or ignoring depending on looks and the ability to pass by not looking too ethnic)
- The Hoochie (aka the ghetto, crime-committing Latina)
She is the Latina whore. She is in a movie purely for what she has to offer as a sexual object. She is objectified as such and there is not much depth to her. She often walks around in heels and underwear, even if she is undressing alone. She may take to salsa dancing and carrying a “sexy” accent because she’s so “caliente.” She is also meant to have an hourglass figure with curves (in all the right places) and a certain “Latin look” (dark hair and slightly tanned skin). Or how Gina Torres explains in a documentary on being an Afro-Latina, “I quickly realized that the world liked their Latinas to look Italian, not like me.” “When white women are prostitutes, they are usually the “hooker with a heart of gold” like in “Pretty Woman”. When a Latina is a whore, she’s just a slut. It’s the idea that Latinos in general are untamed over-sexed horn beasts, only looking for the next lay.” –Jack Thomas of www.tuvez.com
The Feisty Spitfire/Hothead is the crazy Latina depicted in movies as an unhinged psychopath with rage issues. If a Latina is in a movie and she loses her temper (which she will), she will either pull off her earrings and/or take off a chancleta and start yelling in Spanish and beating the other person. A good example of this character is Sofia Vergara in Four Brothers and Machete Kills. Oftentimes, she is both feisty spitfire and sexpot.
The Maid is the meek, subservient Latina who is the loyal housekeeper, the nanny. She is usually lower class and possibly an immigrant as well. She is usually portrayed in one of two ways. Either she is the Jennifer Lopez from Maid in Manhattan, a maid that needs to be rescued because she fits the mold (she might be able to ‘pass’ like Dolores Del Rio). OR, she is Lupe Ontiveros, where the bigger the accent, the better. This Latina Maid is usually not only an immigrant but she can barely speak English and for the most part she is completely dismissed, unless of course, she finds a treasure. Actress Lupe Ontiveros once estimated to have played the maid more than 150 times. She stated that at auditions, she’d always know what they wanted, “you want an accent?” And they’d say, “yes, we prefer for you to have an accent” and the thicker, more waddly it is, the more they like it. – Ontiveros on NPR
The Hoochie is the Latina who often lives in extreme poverty, has big hair, wears provocative clothing and a bad attitude. She usually has several kids (possibly to different fathers) and she was most likely a teen mom. She works odd jobs (if at all) or just leads a life of crime. She is usually the spitfire, sexpot and hoochie all in one (sometimes maid too). She’s loud and in your face. She’s unapologetic. The best representation of this stereotype is Rosie Perez.
We would like to finish by touching on Maggie Humm's article, "Author/Auteur: Feminist Literary Theory and Feminist Film." In it, Humm describes a troubling authorial signature in Marleen Gorris' representation of racial difference in Broken Mirrors. According to Humm, Gorris others Surinamese prostitute, Tessa, by making her "stereotypically exaggerated" and framing her "in medium shot sitting passively at the far end of the brothel bar, an isolated silent figure" or otherwise "in half profile giving...(a) guarded look away from camera that speaks of a subservient passivity" and making the only prostitute to pick her stool once she is gone to be the "sexually abused and victimised Linda" (Humm, 105).
Taking in mind that the great feminist filmmaker, Marleen Gorris, struggled with her own anxiety of authorship through the othering of Tessa, how can we prevent ourselves as creators of our own forms of alternative media from engaging in these myths, consciously or not, that "thinking politically about...(a) work will interfere with some 'pure' vision" or otherwise that the work is "merely documenting life 'as is,'"? (hooks, 8-9).orates all of the above.
Interesting Articles and Other Sources:
Good quotes on Latinas on the Screen:
Movie Boat Trip Banana Scene Roselyn Sanchez:
Roselyn Sanchez being spied on in Rush Hour 3 as she undresses, gets down to her sexy lingerie still in heels: