Leigh Kolb

What Shakespeare Can Teach Us About Rape Culture

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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.

Forgotten Great Black Actresses: “Race Films” in Early Hollywood

Nina Mae McKinney

Read more about them. Watch their films. Remember who and what has been too easily forgotten.

Pre-Code Hollywood: When the Female Anti-Hero Reigned

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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.

The Unfinished Legacy of Pam Grier

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.

‘Ukraine is Not a Brothel’: Intimate Storytelling and Complicated Feminism

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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.

’9 to 5′: Still a Fantasy

9 to 5

“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?

Pussy Power and Control in ‘Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer’

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And it sinks in. We can, half a world away, celebrate Pussy Riot’s name. We can listen to their music and cheer them on. What our challenge as feminists needs to be is to take their cause as seriously as those Carriers of the Cross take it. We must hold on so tightly to our convictions–at home and abroad–that the utter fear and terror of female power that those enmeshed in the patriarchy are emboldened by is neutralized.

Ruthless, Pragmatic Feminism in ‘House of Cards’

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The women of ‘House of Cards’ are not “Strong Female Characters.” They are well-written characters with a great deal of power, which they wield alongside the men. They are integral parts of the narrative. When female complexity and power is written into the narrative, everything else–including passing the Bechdel Test–effortlessly falls into place.

Muted Female Power in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and ‘American Hustle’

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The men get the most attention for their greed and corruption. However, if we look a bit closer, the films’ women are the ones who can be traced to plant bigger, fatter seeds of avarice. This wouldn’t bother me, as I’m always in favor of more complex female characters (even if they’re unsympathetic), but what strikes me is that we barely notice these scenes. The women become victims and damsels, when oftentimes the ideas were their own.

Is this some kind of 21st century version of the femme fatale? A woman who is coercive–not only sexually, but also financially–but who isn’t taken seriously as a power player? Is it just embedded in us to not notice women’s power or ignore their parts in the narrative?

The Academy: Kind to White Men, Just Like History

Black men and women, organized by character type, who have won Academy Awards. (The Black actors up for 2014 Academy Awards--Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o--play a kidnapped freed man/slave and slave.)

The hunters write history. The hunters glorify themselves. The hunters’ history infiltrates itself into the very fabric of our cultural narrative, so we’re only comfortable with seeing the complexities of the hunters, and the simplicity of the lions.

It is what we’ve been trained for since birth.

‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and an Audience of Sheep

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When Jordan says to his staff, “Stratton Oakmont is America,” he wasn’t, as he typically was, full of shit. That was one of the truest statements in the film. … But even if we are adequately critical of the reality of Jordan Belfort’s story, how much can we expect from audiences who, like the audience at the end of the film, want at some level to know Jordan’s secrets?

Powerful Realism and Nostalgia in ‘My So-Called Life’

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Almost 20 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.