“Miss Representation”- Documentary Review

For the last couple of decades, people concerned with the issues affecting female empowerment have been criticising the representation of women in all kinds of media. Everywhere one looks- TV, magazines, the internet, billboard, etc, the ideal woman is always shown as a scantily-clad, size-zero “item”. I say item because the model is displayed like a beautiful piece of meat and not as a person of integrity. Miss Representation is a searing documentary by actress and social activist, Jennifer Siebel Newsom which addresses this very issue from the angles of media experts, professors, and heads of states. She explains that the film is a result of the increasing anxiety she faces, thinking about the kind of world she is bringing her daughter into, and is inspired by her personal struggles in the media industry.

The treatment of women in the mass media and popular culture is vulgar, to say the least. Due to the perpetual objectification and particularly atrocious treatment of women in leadership roles, a vicious cycle is created, which denies young girls of strong and powerful role-models outside of the film or fashion industry. There are the talent-free self-exploiters like Paris Hilton, Jessica Simpson and basically every woman to ever appear on a reality show. There are the meat-market tabloid magazines and entertainment news programs that thrive on bikini bodies and accuse starlets of being pregnant if they don’t have eating disorders. Most embarrassingly, there are these journalists on respected networks like CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, whose handling of women like Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin or Nancy Pelosi will make you cringe in shame. The one clip they showed in this film that was particularly shocking was that of a lady reporter from Fox News commenting on how Hilary Clinton turned up at an event looking like she is “ninety”. What kind of a message does a news-watching teenager gets when she listens to this? That however high you may have climbed up with hard work, talent and brains, you will always be judged by your looks.

Unsurprisingly, the film’s core villain is the financially-driven entertainment industry, in which the male-driven media conglomerates and advertisers make unilateral decisions about what people want to watch and buy. If the exploitation of female bodies to sell products and entertainment still continue, there will be no incentive to change. However, my issue with the film is that it puts the entirety of the blame on men and represents women as victims. In my opinion, this is not case there are quite a few women who propagates the idea that women have an obligation to look pretty, find a man, settle down and keep him happy. If this were not true, then the so-called “chick-flicks” would not be so popular. Even 21st century women are trained from an early age to believe that we must always be attached to someone else.

Ultimately, the whole film is aimed at making people understand how important it is to be media-literate; especially in the current scenario where we are constantly bombarded with advertising and marketing strategies wherever we are. It is basically trying to explain that contrary to the age-old belief, media may not actually be holding a mirror to the society, as much as it is trying to brainwash the public into believing that whatever they are selling is what we want. The film also proposes that along with teaching Mathematics and Science, schools must also teach the students that media is a construct, motivated by economic endeavours of media conglomerates.

The film is hugely talked about and made its way into the festival circuits, including the Sundance film festival and was also broadcast in Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network Documentary Club. I strongly suggest this film to everyone who is genuinely concerned about the society and its betterment.

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