Women Behind the Camera. Directed by Alexis Krasilovsky. Los Angeles: Rafael Film, 2007.
Generation M: Misogyny in Media & Culture. Directed by Thomas Keith. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation, 2008
Addressing women and the media in very different ways, the films Generation M: Misogyny in Media & Culture and Women behind the Camera nevertheless elaborate the institutionalization of sexism in society and how it affects the way girls and women can live their lives. Generation M, directed by Thomas Keith, demonstrates the extent of misogyny in popular culture. Through the four different sections in the film, “Female Empowerment?,” “Idealized Beauty,” “The Pink/Blue Dichotomy,” and “Misogyny and Double Standards,” themes such as violence against women and gender stereotypes are made central. Keith uses different voices to support his claim that media reinforce a dichotomous, mutually exclusive, and oppositional model of masculinity and femininity. Professionals such as Jean Kilbourne and Jackson Katz, college students, and adolescent girls present different perspectives about the relationship between media and culture.
Although his argument is not new, Keith offers an updated version of Kilbourne’s Killing Us Softly film series (1979; 1987; 2001), presenting still images and video clips of contemporary icons and brands that will probably be familiar to many high school and college students and those in their twenties. Because the argument is so basic—and includes definitions of terminology such as misogyny—this film is useful for introducing concepts in gender, media, and communication classes to a younger audience. Students who have already studied this topic will likely learn little from this film, although a class with such students may productively analyze the film itself—its tropes, its use of imagery, and how Keith makes his argument.
Whereas Generation M scrutinizes the products that media feed us, Women behind the Camera explores the production of media itself. Women behind the Camera is the culmination of a project that director Alexis Krasilovsky started in the 1980s and includes a book of the same name published in 1997.1 The film is divided into five sections—“The Pioneers,” “The Struggle,” “Survival,” “Mothers and Cameras,” and “Visions”—and tells the stories of women who have worked behind the camera from the mid-twentieth century to the present throughout the world. Krasilovsky foregrounds the hard work women have done and the struggles they have faced trying to succeed in what is still a heavily male-dominated profession. Hearing women describe being groped on the job, facing discrimination in the unions, and having their equipment sabotaged makes it clear that sexism is not only an outcome of the media but is fundamental to its creation. However, the variety of women included who recount positive experiences on the set, their relationships and networks of support, and the fulfillment they find in their work show that the news and film industries are not homogeneously patriarchal.
Accompanying the feature film are additional interview excerpts and an interview with the director, some of which are on a second disc. Like Generation M, Women behind the Camera will be accessible to a lay audience, and because its focus is quite narrow, it is unlikely to be repetitive for more advanced students. This film seems appropriate for classes about gender, labor history, film production, and mass communication, as is outlined in the accompanying teacher’s guide that has suggestions about how to use the film in class.
Both films reviewed here have impressive breadth, which is at once a strength and a potential challenge when using them in the classroom. Women behind the Camera comprises interviews with fifty camerawomen from nineteen different countries who have worked in a variety of positions: director of photography, video documentarian, gaffer, news camerawoman, and wildlife camerawoman. As a result, this film may present difficulties when comparing and contrasting the experiences of women in different countries. For example, some countries are represented by only one camerawoman, which may encourage viewers to let her stand for all camerawomen in that country. Generation M tackles a wide range of topics, including role models, advertising, the gendering of toys, video games, violence against women, racism, and the nature vs. nurture debate regarding gender. Unfortunately, the lack of sustained analysis on any one topic (e.g., eating disorders, cosmetic surgery, or high rates of men of color in prisons) could cause viewers to oversimplify the relationship between media and culture, believing that media is primarily responsible for gender stereotypes. Both films need to be accompanied by readings that offer more in-depth analyses of the topics an instructor wishes to address.
1 Alexis Krasilovsky, Women behind the Camera: Conversations with Camerawomen (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997).