BU Film Students Make Strides in Defying Hollywood Gender Roles

Remember being a kid and and solving the riddles in the back of the Sunday paper’s Comics section?  Well, here’s an age-old favorite:

A father and son get into a car accident.  The father rushes his son to the hospital, and meets the surgeon.  But the surgeon says, “I can’t operate on him. He’s my son.”   How is this possible?

The doctor is the son’s mother.

Mae West was one of the first in Hollywood to defy gender roles. | Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

For some, it is a surprisingly difficult riddle. Like most riddles, it makes one think. Unlike some, it poses a larger question: are there male jobs and female  jobs? One would think that by the time we hit our twenties, most of us would answer “No.” But the Spring 2011 FT 505 class recently learned that there are implicit discrepancies between male and female roles in the industry.

Guess Who?

Their semester project was to produce a video for a client — the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

“[We had] to make a video for six to nine year-olds about gender bias in media,” said Boston University senior Caitlin Cohen,  “so they don’t fall into the stereotypical thinking previous generations have.”

Soon enough, the production team realised their own accounts as aspiring film makers amounted to many collective experiences of gender bias.  They discussed it in a follow-up behind the scenes video.

The Making of Guess Who?

Cohen answered a few questions about her experience with the eye-opening project and the obstacles women face in the film industry.

The Quad: How have your personal experiences been relevant to your participation in this project?

Cohen: I guess I’ve always gotten annoyed with being told I couldn’t do things because I was a girl. Even as a kid I was super defensive about it. It just seemed like a way to keep girls from having as much fun as the boys. Like, if a boy misbehaves, it’s “boys being boys” and they’re meeting expectations, but girls are always expected to behave better and be more docile learners, so I think we get in more trouble for the exact same thing …. When I was about 17 I learned that, just by looking at the numbers, I have every right to be annoyed by the difference in the treatment of men and women

Did you come upon any startling information during your years as a television major?

When I took this class, I got to do more research on the discrepancy between male and female characters in film and television. We learned about this simple test called the “Bechdel Test,” named after a feminist comic book writer from the 80s, Alison Bechdel. In it, it asks 3 questions about any film or TV show you’re watching:
1. Are there 2 female characters with names? (Sorority Girl #1 doesn’t count.)
2. Do they talk to each other?
3. Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?

It’s astounding how many movies, and even movies supposedly geared towards women, don’t pass this test.

How do you think women in film (from directors to actors) are treated in the industry?

The problem that I have with Hollywood is not that they don’t necessarily hire women, it’s that the stories they tell are constantly from the white male perspective.

My favorite example, is “Superbad.” A totally unattractive and complete jerk (ugly inside and out) just wants sex with a hot girl. Fine, that makes sense. But at no point in the story does he prove he deserves it, and then he ends up with Emma Stone? What about what she deserves? It’s … without even a thought as to what goes on in the female brain.

Since then, Judd Apatow has learned that the overweight manchild with a heart of gold buried somewhere deep in his misogynistic manboobs is apparently considered “sexist,” so[he] does a raunchy comedy [about] women. 40-Year-Old Virgin takes place in a tech store. Knocked Up is about a one-night-stand …. And the female raunchy comedy is called Bridesmaids. I’m not going to elaborate any further.

Do you see any change on the horizon?

I have no idea when we’re going to change from a mostly-male perspective, where the few women in the movies are the mother or the sex object or the fat girl and that’s it, but I do know that the only way that we will change is if the girls in the industry start writing and directing stories about ourselves. And doing it well, obviously.

What was it like working on a male-female team for this project?

I absolutely loved my production team. Seriously, they were great. Not everyone really believed it was an important topic. A [few people] believed we were making a big deal out of nothing. But overall everyone worked really hard and was really nice. If I end up working with any of them again, I’ll be pretty happy about it.

One of Cohen’s classmates, Sarah Kamaras, submitted the project to a festival, and the group won an award.  As for the kids featured in their video, hopefully they’ll carry on the lessons they learned about gender roles. The riddle is difficult because some identify “doctor” as a male role. But hopefully, some thought the riddle was obvious. That’s a good omen for gender roles, on and off the silver screen.

About Veronica Glab

Veronica Glab (CAS '11) is the Feministka writer for the Quad. "Feministka" means "feminist" in Veronica Glab's native language, Polish. There are few things Veronica loves more than eating pineapple, taking long walks on the beach, and thinking about Rasputin's beard.

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2 Comments on “BU Film Students Make Strides in Defying Hollywood Gender Roles”

  1. Hey Veronica,

    The competition was the BCA Young Filmmakers competition, and we got 1st place in the Documentary category.


  2. I completely agree with Caitlin’s statement that women aren’t really hired in the film industry. As someone who works for a major film studio that is overwhelmingly male (perhaps 80%), I can personally say that our films suffer from a lack of a female perspective in the screenwriting process and a real reluctance from higher ups to promote younger women (especially if the one making the decision is an older woman). It’s also discouraging that there are so few women in the industry, whose varied racial and economic backgrounds could really enhance the creative process and add new ideas into filmmaking.

    Unfortunately, I think the best thing we can do is educate ourselves and fight for opportunities, not only for ourselves but for each other, in an industry that is already hard to break into. Good luck to Caitlin and her crew on their future endeavors!

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