Twenty years later, we need more of what My So-Called Life gave us a taste of. We need teenage girl protagonists to be sexual, not sexy. We need honest portrayals of what it is to be a teenager–not only for teenagers who need to see themselves in faithful mirrors, but also for adults who are still trying to figure themselves out.
Zeffirelli’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is one told by the older generation. Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’ is one told by “unfaded” youth. When Des’ree was singing “Kissing You” as Romeo and Juliet kiss (and oh, how they kiss), she is singing with deep longing and pain. When Glen Weston sings “What is a Youth?” he sings at Romeo and Juliet, about how youth–and female virginity–fades.
I get tired of constantly pointing out that something is Problematic From a Feminist Perspective™; I want to enjoy, not eviscerate. I want to laugh.
So what does idealistic, feminist children’s television look like? It looks like ‘Sesame Street,’ which over the course of its 45-year run has won more than 120 Emmy Awards. ‘Sesame Street’s frank and honest treatment of race, women’s rights, adoption, breastfeeding, death, childbirth, incarceration, divorce, HIV, health, bilingualism, and poverty throughout the years has added a dimension of social understanding to a show that also deals with teaching children their ABC’s and 123′s.
The grotesque is enmeshed with sexual pleasure and violent death–all images and storylines that patriarchal cultures have been weaving together for centuries. A woman’s sexual desire and her actions stemming from those desires are often presented as horrifying and punishable: “unwatchable.” Much of what Breillat shows supports the reality that female sexual desire is real, and the societies in which we must function are at best, uncomfortable with that desire, and at worst, violently hostile.
And then I saw it–a film that extols the importance of female agency and sexuality with a healthy dose of raunch, a film that includes a sexually experienced and supportive mother, a film that celebrates female friendship and quotes Gloria Steinem, a film that features Green Apple Pucker and multiple references to Pearl Jam and Hillary Clinton.
Yes. This is it.
In ‘Titus Andronicus,’ Lavinia is brutally raped and disfigured (including having her tongue cut out so she couldn’t speak). This nod to Philomela in Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ echoes the themes of the brutality of rape and the need for revenge. The women needed to name their rapists and share their stories (Lavinia writes in the sand; Philomela weaves a tapestry that tells her story). The women have as much power as they can in the confines of their society, and we the audience are meant to want justice and revenge.
Read more about them. Watch their films. Remember who and what has been too easily forgotten.
We agonize over the lack of female anti-heroes in film and television as if women have never been afforded the opportunity to be good and bad on screen. It clearly wasn’t always this way. And in a time when the regurgitated remake rules Hollywood, perhaps it’s time for producers to dust off some old scripts from the 1920s and 1930s so we can get some fresh, progressive stories about women on screen.
Grier’s legacy has lasted over four decades, but there’s something about her career that leaves me feeling unsettled, as if her filmography is indicative of larger (backward) social trends. She started out headlining action films–an amazing feat for a woman, much less a black woman in the early 1970s. A glance at a few of these films show feminist themes that are incredibly rare 40 years later. Her early films were groundbreaking, but nothing much was built after that ground was broken.
Green’s intimate reporting and the incredible cinematography and editing that makes the film stand out accomplish the goal of respecting, questioning, and empowering these women activists. Green, in examining those fighting against the patriarchy, exposes and dismantles the patriarch who was running the show.
“Hey we’ve come this far, haven’t we? This is just the beginning.”
“The beginning” was in 1980, when this feminist comedy classic was released. Dolly Parton belted out the title song, which features a “boss man” who is “out to get her”–it’s an uplifting song, though, that echoes the closing celebratory sentiment: this is just the beginning. Things are going to change.
Well how have we done in 34 years?