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Category: Education, Girls, Media

One Film to Open Minds

January 31, 2011

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 The WMC blog is featuring Progressive Girls’ Voices in dispatches from the Sundance Film Festival, as our girl journalists attend feminist film screenings and interview notable leaders and directors. In this installment, Charis Benjamin discusses media role models in the context of Jennifer Newsom's Miss Representation — watch this space for more.

By Charis Benjamin

Charis Benjamin was born in Dallas, Texas, but currently lives in Salt Lake City. She is in her Junior year at Rowland Hall. She is an advocate for discussing diversity issues, and as a young African-American woman in a state with a 1.3% Black demographic, she has a distinctive and unique perspective.

It is amazing what one film can do. After I viewed Jennifer Newsom's film Miss Representation, I noticed something change in the way I saw and critiqued the world around me. Not only did I have facts and statistics from the movie to inform the way I viewed television, but I also had new narratives from women in the film that helped me understand the issues discussed more clearly.

Miss Representation inspired my AP American Literature teacher, Kody Partridge, to bring the discussion about women's portrayal in the media to our class. For the past couple of weeks we have been studying advertising in America from the 1920s to 1950s. Part of our research led us to how women have been viewed in the media since the beginning of the 20th century. We were able to test how desensitized we actually are to the way women are portrayed on television.

For some in the class, the discussion questioned what personal prejudices they might have about what a woman should look like. This discussion is the first key to stopping these prejudices for both young women and men. By educating young people, we can teach my generation to be more respectful and less destructive of their bodies and mental images of themselves.

When I had the opportunity to speak with Jennifer Newsom, I asked her how the media affected her personality and self image. As a mother, she said, "I became much more protective- I would turn the T.V. off if was not appropriate." Newsom believes that there is some positive representation of women on the air, but the problem is that young girls have few resources to sift through the mass media and find good female role models. Personally, she struggled with understanding how far she would go in her acting career. Throughout her many television and film appearances she has developed an understanding of what characters best reflect her and what characters are not as true to her self-image. She encourages all girls to be alert and act with integrity, which I think is a pledge worth taking!

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