Women, feminism and cinema: A whole lot of change going on

Slowly but surely, the depiction of female characters in film is making a positive statement for feminism, writes Ella Gill.

Dec 07, 2022, updated Dec 07, 2022
Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer “Jen” Walters/She-Hulk in Marvel Studios’ She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. (Image: Marvel Studios)

Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer “Jen” Walters/She-Hulk in Marvel Studios’ She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. (Image: Marvel Studios)

Modern cinema has already boosted the representation of women, but why is it not enough?

Major female-led movies are facing mixed reviews, largely due to viewers’ and critics’ lack of knowledge on feminism.

Since the beginning of film, there has always been a global template of the ideal female representation that every auteur follows.

Through each wave of feminism, these women have changed, along with gender ideologies, according to what audiences think these characters have to be. From films such as Fatal Attraction (1987) to Captain Marvel (2019), depictions of women fluctuate constantly.

However, how many of them do viewers associate with feminism?

The majority of movies portray females as either vulnerable and passive towards men or they do the complete opposite and disregard their male allies. From one extreme to the next, contemporary auteurs often miss the mark on how to present audiences with their idea of  positive female representation.

Melissa Hampton from the University of Queensland, says: “Equality is not about just treating everybody the same, but also recognising when there is inequity.”

Most recent films focus on the differences in the lives of women and men, and it is easy to misconstrue equality for performative feminism.

Marvel’s miniseries, “She-Hulk, Attorney at Law”, presents a female version of the Hulk navigating the struggles of daily life and discusses the societal ideology of women being criticised for emotional displays.

Jamie Lerner, Distractify staff writer, says, “In the MCU, angry men like the Hulk can be heroes, but angry women must immediately control their anger to be deemed heroic. Instead of breaking the patriarchy, She-Hulk feeds directly into this idea by creating a female Hulk who doesn’t actually Hulk out. In fact, Bruce has to teach her to scream like a Hulk.”

While Lerner argues such a scene fuels the patriarchy, Melissa Hampton disagrees saying that this emphasises the inequity between how men and women are accepted when displaying emotion.

“She controls her emotions so effectively, because as a woman she had to or she would be punished for it, in a way that her male counterpart (Bruce) never would have needed to as a scientist in his field,” Hampton said.

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This just goes to show how various viewpoints develop which is essential to the study of films in order to progress representation of women in media and progress equality in general.

Major movies in Hollywood are increasingly featuring females as the lead which is a massive development in the film industry. Now finally having the chance to be heard, these auteurs want to discuss feminism.

However, after centuries of women fighting for their rights, some critics are ignorant to these portrayals of equality and dismiss it as “woke feminism’”

Of course, this is understandable as it’s not like these movies have the greatest writing. While “She-Hulk, Attorney at Law” does make statements on the mistreatment of women, some of the show does lack substance and even at times over-simplifies female issues.

But considering such representations can still educate young people on equality, is this really such a problem?

The importance of this is highlighted in this quote from Jessica Morrison, a Year 10 student at Helensvale State High School.

“Yes, it’s all well and good to go to the cinemas for entertainment but young audiences must be educated about the long and frustrating history of female struggles,” she said.

In order to continue advancing feminism through modern cinema, keep the essentials in mind before you judge a strong female character on the big screen.

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