Tag Archives: Documentaries

Wonder Women! Pop Culture and Feminist Role Models

24 Apr

Lynda-Carter-WWAsk someone to name a superhero, and the first answers you’ll get are almost always men. As with much of popular culture, the roles available for women in comics are often sadly subordinate. A wonderful new documentary explores this issue and the relationship between feminism and popular culture.

Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines was directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan and produced by Kelcey Edwards and is featured on the PBS series Independent Lens. The hour-long documentary poses an important central question

What are the consequences for women when they are strong and when they are the central actors of their own lives?

The film is centered on one of the oldest and most well-known comic heroines, Wonder Woman. Created by psychologist William Moulton Marston as an antidote to what he saw as the overly violent and masculine world of 1930s comics, the Amazon princess has been a figure of admiration and scorn alike since her introduction in 1941.

Princess Diana has been rebooted and rewritten dozens of times (unlike her male colleagues) but still maintains a loyal following. Her treatment over 70 years has clearly reflected the ups and downs of feminism in this country. As women were driven from the workplace after WWII, so was Wonder Woman reduced to guest star in her own books. The notorious Fredric Wertham, whose book Seduction of the Innocent shut down huge sections of the comic industry, made it clear that a strong woman must be a lesbian and was therefore not a fit model for children. As Second Wave Feminism got rolling, Wonder Woman lost her powers — it’s hard not to see a backlash correlation there. Despite everything the character has been through, however, she remains a strong symbol for millions of people, serving as a nice symbol of the undying spirit of feminism in the face of obstacles.

The documentary features insights from a wide variety of people. Gloria Steinem discusses the importance of strong women role models in all media, and other icons from the Bionic Woman to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Xena are given their due. Riot Grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna takes a keen look at the backlash against feminism and the trivialization of strong women as merely sex symbols as the 20th Century came to a close. Comic historians and media analysts look at the roles of women over the decades, providing some sad and disturbing insights. With 97% of all decision-making positions in media held by men, it’s no surprise that women’s roles are narrow and hard to come by.

The film also remembers the groundbreaking 70s Wonder Woman series, featuring conversations with star Lynda Carter. She is outspoken about the power of the series for girls and women, however light the plots and dialogue may have been. We hear from Portlander Andy Mangels, the writer who created Wonder Woman Day, an annual comic store fundraiser for domestic violence shelters and programs. Given Diana’s mission to spread a message of peace and love in a violent world, that’s a perfect tribute.

Wonder Women! is a significant and fun look at 70 years of popular culture and how it succeeds — and fails — both to reflect our world and to inspire us. It serves as an excellent introduction to some important themes and provides a good jumping-off point for anyone interested in further study. The film is being rebroadcast on Independent Lens based on local PBS affiliate schedules; it can also be watched online at the series website.

Women’s History Month 2013: Soledad O’Brien

6 Mar

soledad-OBrien-Today we honor and celebrate a woman whose recent push to restore journalistic integrity to cable news may have cost her her job. María de la Soledad Teresa O’Brien was born on Long Island in 1966. Her parents — an Afro-Cuban mother and Australian father — met in the Washington, DC area a decade earlier. They lived in Maryland, which did not allow mixed-race marriages, so they wed in DC and soon moved to New York. Soledad is one of six children (all of whom received degrees from Harvard).

She began her television career as an associate producer and news writer in Boston. She joined NBC in 1991 and worked a variety of on-camera and production jobs over the next decade. She settled into regular roles on MSNBC and as co-host of Weekend Today. She contributed reports to NBC Nightly News, honing her desire to move away from soft news.

Soledad joined CNN in 2003 as co-anchor of their morning news program. Smart, likeable, and possessing good journalistic instincts, she helped that show rise above standard morning fare, even as the rest of CNN began to devolve into FOX-light in a desperate ratings grab. Confused network executives moved her out of the morning show in 2007 and she spent the next few years contributing reports to other CNN programs and doing In America documentaries. When CNN scrambled to re-re-redesign their morning show in 2012, they brought Soledad back to host the two-hour news program Starting Point.

A stark contrast to most CNN programming and other morning “news” offerings, the show featured engaging conversations and showed her strengths as a real journalist. Numerous guests complained about their treatment (including the odious John Sununu), a sign that she was actually doing her job rather than letting them spew talking points. Sadly, that success — even combined with good ratings — seems to have been too much for CNN to take–JEERS to CNN. Ms. O’Brien was the only reason I watched CNN. The new network President, Jeff Zucker (who spent the previous decade destroying NBC) wants his soft news, so Soledad is out.

Her new documentary, Latino In America, will be out soon. After that, Soledad O’Brien will find her next role in broadcast journalism — not, as she put it, “cooking salmon and doing fashion shows.” Wherever she lands, her colleagues will be lucky to have her talent and mature confidence in doing journalism right.  I hope NPR is able to secure her journalistic prowess.

Pushing Back Against Bullying

23 Aug

Let’s put a stop to bullying

As the nation gradually heads back to school, it’s important to remember that the problem of bullying is still a major issue for many students. Last year saw an unprecedented number of kids commit suicide because they were bullied due to their real or perceived sexual orientation. Given the endorsement of anti-gay discrimination that came from the Boy Scouts, more bullies may feel empowered to act out their aggressions. Studies show that LGBT teens are still more harassed and depressed than their straight peers and violence against the LGBT community is up overall.

Fortunately, many are raising their voices against this tide, pushing for schools and communities to shut down bullying of any kind once and for all. In the past year or so, a number of voices have been raised against bullying: the It Gets Better project, a wonderful comic book called The Power Within, and families of victims have all made a difference. Two other wonderful efforts deserve our attention.

My friend and colleague Alison drew my attention to an important new film, Teach Your Children Well. Directed by Gary Takesian and narrated by Lily Tomlin, this documentary short consists of many important facts and interviews that demonstrate the ongoing problem of bullying.

The film’s primary goal is to bring homophobia and its harmful repercussions to light, and to hopefully effect a change in society’s consciousness such that the bullying and violence against our LGBT young people is greatly reduced – and ultimately eliminated. It is our intention that the message of this film expands beyond theaters and film festivals, reaching into the areas where these aggressive behaviors take place: our schools, homes and neighborhoods.

Regular TSM reader and commenter Daphiny drew my attention to this wonderful story. Kevin Curwick, a Minnesota teen, has responded to the problem of cyberbullying by creating a special Twitter account. @OsseoNiceThings celebrates accomplishments and positive qualities of Curwick’s classmates. Using social media to emphasize the good and drown out the negative has caught on, with many students around the nation creating similar accounts as Kevin’s story spreads.

These are important steps. We must all continue to shine a harsh light on the realities of bullying and not allow schools to fall back on  the “kids being kids” excuse. Until our communities are safe for all, they are safe for none.

Kidnapped for Christ…

3 Mar

Who Would Christ Kidnap?

Thanks to my colleague Patrick Harhai for inspiring me to write this article. As though Newt Gingrich’s claim that he left his cancer ridden wife and divorced two others in the name of God and service to his country was not bizarre enough; this story of parents paying to have their Gay/Lesbian children kidnapped and sent to a punitive school in the Dominican Republic for Christ is far more disturbing and far more cruel.

Yes, I can just see our homeboy JC waiting in the dark of night with his mini-van, ready to kidnap all the young homo youth; I believe that story is in the book of Mark.  Kidnapped for Christ is a documentary of Gay and Lesbian American teenagers who were sent — against their will — to Escuela Caribe, an American-run Evangelical Christian reform school in The Dominican Republic.

I guess there is no such thing as unconditional love by parents–and we wonder why the suicide rate amongst LGBT teens is so disproportionately high.  Click here to see the trailer. I hope you will take action to help stop this abuse of LGBT youth.  Of course, these parents feel justified in abusing their children when they hear and witness top politicians signing a pledge to discriminate against all LGBT people in the United States (Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich).

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