Women in Films

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The film industry has had a recurring theme with its woman in film. The theme began as woman playing a secondary role to males and playing the victim that needs rescuing. The rise of feminism began in the 1950s until the 1970s, at first it was unpopular with the audience and did not make its return until the 1990s. Throughout the years it is shown that woman have become more dominant in their roles as the main matriarch of the film. Going from roles such as the female that needs a man to make her happy, to roles such as woman who will stop it nothing to get what they want and won’t let any man stop them.

In the film “Some Like it Hot”, released in 1959, the character played by Marilyn Monroe named Sugar is wooed over by a man named Joe. In the movie, Sugar is an alcoholic singer looking for a man to sweep her off her feet and help give her happiness. That same year a movie called “Imitations of Life” was released about two single mothers who will do everything they can to raise their daughters in a healthy environment. One mother, Lora Meredith, is a white female looking to make it big on Broadway and film to provide for her daughter, Susie Meredith. Lora believes in her abilities to be a great actress and does not give in to the lust of directors and not giving up on her dreams to be with a man she loves named Steve Archer The other mother, Annie Johnson, is an African American woman who works for Lora as a person who cleans and cooks but is never treated as help but as family.

Annie’s daughter, Sarah Jane Johnson, is a half white and half black girl with only white features being expressed. Annie has a hard time having her daughter accept her African roots because Sarah Jane does not want to be discriminated against for being black but accepted for being white. The “Imitation of Life” film was one of the first films recognized as feminist films due to its strong woman characters. In the 1990s a film named “Thelma and Louise” following two different personality females who are best friends. The film follows their adventure on the run from the law after murdering a person who tried to rape Thelma.

A film I thought majorly expressed feminism and the pursuit of happiness for woman is the film “Fire”. “Fire” follows two females, Sita and Redha, who are miserable in their relationship with their husbands and find happiness and love within each other. The last movie I will be talking about is “R.B.G. (2018)” which is a true story about a woman named Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and how she went from a lawyer to an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States by fighting laws against sexism, for both males and females.

The film “Some Like it Hot” is a film that follows two males, Joe and Jerry (Gerald), who are musicians looking for a job after losing their last one. The two men also witness a murder by the mafia and need to go somewhere as soon as possible to go into hiding. The only job that is available is all female band, so the two men disguise themselves as women to get away. Joe and Gerald go under the name Josephine and Daphne when disguised as women. When they join the all-female band, they meet Sugar, the singer of the band. Sugar is a very soft spoken and has been heartbroken multiple times. In one scene, she talks about how all the men she has been with have the same characteristics; play the saxophone, are liars, and only after one thing. Joe begins to lust for Sugar but over the course of the film begins to fall for her.

Back in 1950s there are films that have woman play as the ditsy and helpless girl that needs to find love. This scene is really showed when Joe lures Sugar to a boat that he pretends is his by pretending to be a rich guy, and tricks her into liking him more by making up a story about the first and only time he fell in love and now has no feelings because he was heartbroken. In the film Sugar admits that she turns to drinking whenever she is heart broken or is depressed about losing a loved one. When Joe breaks up with Sugar, she gets depressed and begins drinking bottles of alcohol to cope.

This made it seem that Sugar needed a man to be happy. Throughout the film there are scenes where the camera would zoom in on the face of the character to show the audience what the character was expressing. The same year “Some Like it Hot” another movie came out called “the Imitations of Life”. This film was one of the few at the time which is leading female leading roles with support roles from males. During the time of its release the film was not liked by the audience and did not become a classic until the first wave of feminists in the 1960s.

The film follows two mothers; Lora Meredith and Annie Johnson, each with one daughter, Susie and Sarah Jane respectively. Lora is a dedicated undiscovered white actress trying to make it big on broad way. Annie is a hardworking African housekeeper willing to do anything to make sure her daughter has a roof over her head and 3 square meals to eat. I feel that each woman represents two different kinds of strong woman in the world. Lora is a feminist who believes she can make it financially and take care of her daughter without a man in her life.

This becomes apparent in two scenes, once when an agent named Allen Loomis tells her that she can get her audiences with high directors as long as she “puts out” if that’s what they want, she refuses and storms out promising to make it big without giving into sexual favors from men. Another instance is when her boyfriend/photographer Steve Archer tells her to quit her pursuit of becoming a successful actress and let him take care of her and Susie. She refuses him saying she will not give up on her dreams just for him. Annie Johnson is a womanist (a term I learned from my Africana Philosophy class); someone who embraces motherhood and does the cooking, cleaning, housework, and other motherly affairs.

Evidence of this is when Annie and Lora first meet, Annie asks Lora for a job and accepts even though Lora warns her she does not have much money nor space at her place, but Annie is more than willing to accommodate. As the movie progresses, we see that Lora has become a famous actress and is providing a highlife living for Annie, Sarah Jane, and Susie. Susie and Sarah Jane both go through their own battles, Sarah Jane goes through an identity crisis because she is born half white and half back. Sarah Jane is white skinned and rejects her African roots, because she feels people wont like her or will judge her for it.

When she becomes a young woman, she runs away from home doing burlesque shows to get men to notice how beautiful she is, but in doing so pushes away her mother, wanting nothing to do with her anymore. Susie is an innocence and sweet girl who believes that all she needs to be happy is to be with a man who will treat her right. She begins to fall in love for Steve Archer when he keeps an eye out for them while Lora is out of town doing a show. Susie becomes heartbroken when she finds out that Steve and Lora both have feelings for each other still after many years of being apart. Once she realizes that a man is not what she needs to be happy she decides to pursue her own happiness by going to college in Colorado.

The director in this film made sure to focus on the two mother’s facial expressions whenever possible so the audience can see the difference. Annie always had a smile on her face and was always happy to do whatever was asked of her, while Lora would express a lot of seriousness to show how passionate she really was. “Thelma and Louise” is a great movie about friendship that was released in 1991. The movie is about two women; Thelma Dickinson, who is a modest housewife who is married to a jerk of a husband named Daryl, and Louise Sawyer who is rambunctious and is not afraid to speak her mind. We follow the two women as they go on a road trip to a fishing cabin in the mountains. Thelma meets a flirtatious young man and begin dancing together.

After the dancing the young man takes her outside and begins kissing her and taking her clothes off without her consent. This leads to Louise to step in and save Thelma by pulling a gun on the young man. However, the young man continues to mock the two girls and Louise shoots him. After talking about how no one will believe what happened they decide to run for the boarder of Mexico for safety. The two begin sharing moments with each other and begin to build a bigger friendship. While on the run Thelma meets a young man, who turns out to be a con-artist that steals all of Thelma’s money making it impossible for them to progress. The two decide to rob a convenience store for money.

When they cross over New Mexico, the two are chases by police toward the Grand Canyon and both decide it is better to keep going, over the canyon, than to turn back. The film ends with the two women driving over the cliff. We can sympathies with the women of the film because there are a lot of close up shots of their faces expressing how they are feeling. When we hear their backstories; Thelma is a marriage she feels is not going anywhere and Louise having a hard time with her relationship and job, we begin to feel what the characters feel. This film relates to feminism by demonstrating the bond between the two friends.

There are multiple examples of feminism in this film, but a few examples are; they protect one another, they encourage each other to be strong, and that they would rather die together than to jail or back to their old lives. It was stated by author Brenda Cooper “For many female critics, the film’s depiction of sexism and the marginalization women experience in their everyday lives represented an affirmation of women’s strength and a justification of their anger”. The film by the name of “Fire”, released in 1996, is about two women Rahda and Sita that both married into the Jaaferi family.

The house consists of the two married couples and the two sons elderly mute mother. The mother only communicates by ringing a bell and relies on others to carry her around the house and take care of her. Sita is a newly wed to Jatin the youngest son of the family and Rahda married the older brother Ashok years prior. The two women finally meet after the arranged wedding at the family’s house. We first see that the women come from different times, Radha is very humble and follows things by tradition while Sita is a bit more rebellious and does not know much of tradition. We witness Sita not being traditional when her husband leaves for work and she puts on his clothes and begins dancing to music.

During this time the mother is ringing a bell for help and when there is no reply from Sita, Radha rushes in to see what is happening. It is at this time see that Radha is about tradition by telling Sita that wearing her husbands’ clothes is not acceptable and would anger the elderly mother. Throughout the film the characters talk about an old ritual that happened in mythological days of a god testing a woman through trial of fire, this becomes important later. We find that both women are in unhappy marriages; Radha is in a loveless marriage because she is sterile and unable to have kids, so her husband devotes himself to being “pure of temptation” and not making love or showing any affection toward Radha.

In Sita’s marriage her husband is in love with an Asian woman and only uses Sita. The two women find themselves alone one day and feel a strange connection toward one another, Sita makes the first move and kisses Radha in which they both feel guilty at first. Soon after they become lovers because they show affection toward one another. This slowly starts to bring passion and love back into Radha’s life. This makes things very complicated for the two women because they are both married and if they got caught would cause problems, but not more than the problems they already face.

Sita is treated as a “household pet” as she puts it and Radha is with a husband who refuses to touch her and be celibate. The two women both agree that it is time to leave, the manservant over hears the two and tells Radha’s husband. When Radha finds out she tells Sita that she must go talk to her husband because she owes him that much and to wait for her at a certain location. Radha and her husband begin talking about the situation in which he becomes infuriated. At one-point Radha’s clothes catches fire which spreads within the apartment. Instead of helping her to distinguish the fire he carries his mother out of the apartment and leaves. At the end of the movie we see Sita waiting for Radha in the location the discussed in the rain, Sita spots Radha clothes burned and stumbling.

The movie ends with the two women holding each other in the rain. Author Karen Hollinger states the following in her book Feminist Film Studies “Sita is changed from a model of devoted, long-suffering womanhood to a modern woman who refuses to be bounded by traditional wifely virtues and proscriptions. The trial by fire is transferred to Radha when her sari catches fire after an argument by his discovery of her lesbian relationship”. The feminist theme in this film, I believe, is that women should not tolerate being in a relationship that makes them unhappy, instead to pursue what makes them happy despite what others might think. It is also about standing up for themselves.

The two women were in abusive relationships, Radha in an emotional abusive because she would be forced to lay with her husband and not be touched or loved and Sita in a more physical abuse because Jatin would force himself on her or hit her. Another evidence of feminism is the film focuses on their beauty, there are multiple close-up shots of Radha and Sita while the men show more body type to express their masculinity. The film also caused a big uproar in India, where it is filmed, because many of its citizens believed this was a lesbian film when the film maker claimed multiple times it is not.

The final movie in which I would like to talk about is the documentary of Ruth Bader Ginsburg called “R.B.G (2018)”. She on born on March 15, 1933, In Brooklyn New York to a low-income family who made sure she did well in school. She was raised to believe that education is key to a successful future. She graduated James Madison High School and went on to attend Cornell University where she met her husband Martin D. Ginsburg at the age of 17. She graduated Cornell with an arts degree in government. After Cornell she attended Harvard Law School where she was one of the only nine women to graduate in class of over 500 men. While attending law school with her husband, he became ill during his years there with cancer.

Ruth helped him with his school work as well as her own and taking care of their 2-year-old baby. In 1973 she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She was in multiple cases such as Burwell vs Hobby Lobby, Bush vs Gore, and United states vs O’Hagan. In pop coulter she was given the name Notorious R.B.G., based off the famous rapper Notorious B.I.G. and has become a sensation on internet memes. Ruth’s works ethics are very stern, she believes she will continue to serve until she feels she is physically unable to do so. She is truly an inspiration to wall woman who want to make their dreams come true despite all odds. The rise of woman in film has changed very much since the 1960s where woman played supporting roles, but it was also in the 1960s that woman directors and movies were beginning to make their appearances.

Movies about a female protagonist was very rare back in those times but now it is very common to see women being the center movies with males as a supporting role. We are in a time were the classic “damsel in distress” women roles are fading out and the female role is now the main hero.

Cite this paper

Women in Films. (2022, Jan 14). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/women-in-films/

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