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Women Take the Reel

Films and lectures celebrate Women’s History Month

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Kathleen Rowe Karlyn will discuss her new book, Unruly Girls, Unrepentant Mothers: Redefining Feminism on Screen, on campus on Wednesday, March 23.

Last year, when Kathryn Bigelow became the first female to receive an Oscar for best director for The Hurt Locker, many hailed the win as a milestone for women in Hollywood. This year, however, the best director nominees were once again all men. Critics say that the lack of films helmed by women means that too often society is deprived of different points of view.

To counter that imbalance, Boston University’s Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program (WGSSP), in collaboration with the Graduate Consortium of Women’s Studies (GCWS), is sponsoring the film festival Women Take the Reel. The festival celebrates Women’s History Month and featuries movies directed and/or written by women. As part of the festival, the film Thirteen, starring Holly Hunter and cowritten and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, will be shown on campus today, March 22, at 6 p.m. A related lecture by Kathleen Rowe Karlyn, a University of Oregon associate professor and author of Unruly Girls, Unrepentant Mothers: Redefining Feminism on Screen (University of Texas Press, 2011), will take place the following day at 3 p.m.

The GCWS is a consortium of nine Boston-area universities that promotes women’s studies research and scholarship by allowing graduate students to take courses at other institutions for no additional fee. This is the first year the GCWS has hosted a film series to honor Women’s History Month.

Using a film festival is “a wonderful way to engage multiple audiences,” says GCWS program coordinator Andi Sutton. “The use of images and the way film incorporates sound envelopes you, and it all comes together to make an inviting environment to think about hard issues.”

One of the goals of the series is to highlight the many women making films despite Hollywood’s domination by male writers and directors. Another goal of the monthlong festival, which is taking place at campuses across Boston, is promoting films that are less influenced by the politics of major studios.

“I think it’s very exciting they’re showing a lot of films,” says Barbara Gottfried, WGSSP codirector of undergraduate studies and BU’s GCWS board director. “They are celebrating that there are so many women making movies and there are more movies that document what women want to see.”

“Independent films are really important in a world that’s dominated by Hollywood, because it gives women directors an opportunity to get an audience at a lower budget,” says Diane Balser, a WGSSP instructor and also a codirector of undergraduate studies.

Karlyn will discuss the film Thirteen as it pertains to her new book, which explores the way mother-daughter relationships are portrayed in contemporary films. She says she will also look at “outrageous things girls have been doing and trying to figure that out.”

She is encouraged by films like Clueless, Titanic, and this season’s Black Swan because “they empowered girls, because these girls know what they want, and they go after it.”

The films fail, however, to portray a positive relationship between these empowered girls and their mothers. Mothers are either seen as monstrous and controlling, as in Titanic and Black Swan, or simply absent (Clueless). While younger girls in these films are liberated, she says, “there are very few strong roles for older women.”

Karlyn questions Hollywood’s accuracy in portraying mother-daughter relationships. The media “satisfies what we want and creates those desires in movies,” she says. “Hollywood is a dream machine, and I always ask my students, ‘Whose dreams are on screen?’”

Thirteen, released in 2003, is about an adolescent girl who falls in with a “cool” crowd and begins to experiment with sex, drugs, and crime, and her mother, who fights desperately to help her. The film earned a best actress Oscar nomination for Hunter, as well as the Sundance Film Festival’s best director award for Hardwicke. Karlyn describes it as “a wonderful testimony to getting women’s voices out in culture and showing the power of a woman’s point of view.”

She says the film realistically depicts a mother-daughter relationship. “Holly Hunter is shown not only as a mother, but as a person in her own right, and that doesn’t make her a monster,” she says. “The mother is a human being, and she tries to keep her own integrity intact.”

The film is very much a zeitgeist for modern feminine culture, says Gottfried. It points out the flaws in today’s society that encourage the premature sexualizing of girls.

The portrayal of women in movies today is crucial, because movies teach us how to act and think in modern society. “We absorb through movies what morals and behaviors are valued in society,” Karlyn says. “We learn about romance, how to be sexy, how to be a good friend, and how to be a good citizen.”

Balser agrees that the Women Take the Reel film festival is important for beginning to change society’s perceptions of women, and says she’s optimistic about the influence series like this can have.

“There is a cumulative effect in the context of having things like this,” she says. “It can have a ripple effect in women, because it’s part of a larger picture.”

Thirteen, introduced by Barbara Gottfried, will be shown today, Tuesday, March 22, at 6 p.m. in the College of Communication auditorium, 640 Commonwealth Ave.; it is free and open to the public. Kathleen Rowe Karlyn will deliver a lecture titled Rethinking the Motherline: Mothers and Daughters on Screen, on Wednesday, March 23, in the General Classroom Building, Room 205, 750 Commonwealth Ave., at 3 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. More information about the Graduate Consortium of Women’s Studies can be found here

Allison Thomasseau can be reached at althoma@bu.edu.

6 Comments

6 Comments on Women Take the Reel

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2011 at 7:24 am

    Where was this article on IWD?

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2011 at 7:56 am

    If you’re going to write a piece highlighting women, how about NOT starting off calling them females (and, to make things worse, using “men” and not “males”)? Aside from the grammatical point, which would be enough all by itself, “female” used as a noun sounds like “chattel.”

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2011 at 1:12 pm

    Generating more discussion

    This is a fabulous! Gottfried, Karlyn, and Sutton raised such interesting points! I applaud Allison Thomasseau’s writing. I admire the way Thomasseau brought the whole piece together and her obvious research. While I appreciate the former opinions, may I remind you that comments regarding Thomasseau’s using the word ‘female’ makes a valid point it does not respond to further contents of the article. As for question regarding IWD, I agree that it would have been fabulous on International Women’s Day. But the movie is being shown today. It is my hope that folks respond to this article as much as the BU Today article http://www.bu.edu/today/node/12452 about Suzanne Venker’s book “The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know—and Men Can’t Say” and the Daily Freepress article http://dailyfreepress.com/2011/03/09/dropping-the-f-bomb/ entitled “Dropping the F Bomb” Thanks BU Today and the Daily Freepress!

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2011 at 4:11 pm

    This is fabulous!! Gottfried, Karlyn, and Sutton raised such interesting points! I applaud Allison Thomasseau’s writing. I admire the way Thomasseau brought the whole piece together and her obvious research. While I appreciate the former opinions, may I remind you that comments regarding Thomasseau’s using the word ‘female’ makes a valid point it does not respond tofurther contents of the article. As for question regarding IWD, I agree that it would have been fabulous on International Women’s Day. But the movie is being shown today. It is my hope that folks respond to this article as much as the BU Today article http://www.bu.edu/today/node/12452 about Suzanne Venker’s book “The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know—and Men Can’t Say” and the Daily Freepress article http://dailyfreepress.com/2011/03/09/dropping-the-f-bomb/ entitled “Dropping the F Bomb” Thanks BU Today and the Daily Freepress!

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2011 at 4:12 pm

    Fantastic article!!!

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2011 at 4:13 pm

    Fantastic Article!!

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