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Katherine Magee

Mr. Phillips

Honors Cultural Media Literacy

20 May 2018

Correcting the Misrepresentation

1,223 directors helmed the top 1,100 top grossing films from 2007 to 2017. 43 of those

were women. That is four percent. The ratio of male to female directors within that data set is

22:1 (Cohen). The ratio of male to female in the human population is approximately 1:1. Saying

that females are underrepresented statistically in directing roles is an understatement. So what

happens when men control the presentation of women in the media landscape? It is oftentimes

inaccurate, insulting, and puts false stereotypes into the minds of society. But what happens

when women get the rare chance to control the narrative? Films directed by women such as

Wonder Woman and Lady Bird have disrupted the landscape in that they have upset stereotypical

representations of women in film and presented them as people instead of accessories. These

movies have been important in changing the perception of what females can and should be in a

tumultuous climate in which feminism questions how females can and should be perceived.

Women have typically been portrayed in a limited range of character types. There is the

exasperated housewife or the woman whose main purpose in the film is to help the man find his

purpose or the cold career-focused bitch who can be softened by love or marriage. There is a

common misconception about women in leadership in which “[w]omen who lead in popular

culture have almost always been portrayed as being aggressive douchebags with no heart.”

(Emilaire). This misconception has been led by male directors who oftentimes follow societal

perceptions of populations in order to assimilate characters into the natural landscape of the
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media. Sierra Emilaire wrote “Pop culture is a mirror for society, and when young girls look in

the mirror but can’t seem to see anyone that resembles who they feel they are or who they aspire

to become, that is troubling and discouraging.” For all of history, males have controlled the

media landscape and with that, young girls have often missed out on having an accurate portrayal

of strong women that they can aspire to be. But lately, things have changed and female

representation has been on the rise. In 2017, two powerful female directed films were released,

Wonder Woman and Lady Bird. And in 2018, the #MeToo and Times Up Movements infiltrated

Hollywood as female celebrities stood with women across the nation and world to end sexual

harassment and upset intimidating gender power imbalances in the workplace.

When Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, was released, it was a huge milestone

for women in film as it was the first female superhero movie in over a decade and the first ever

superhero movie directed by a woman. It follows the story of Wonder Woman, formerly known

as Diana as she leaves her home on the Amazon island of Themyscira and goes to London during

the time of World War I in order to stop Ares and end the war. In the magical world of

Themyscira in which she is surrounded by only women, Diana is trained to be a warrior and is

clueless of the stereotypical molds women squeeze themselves into in the real world. When she

arrives in London, she is treated as lesser and not respected, a treatment that she is not used to.

And in response to this treatment, “Wonder Woman subverts and undermines the casual sexism

and erasure that’s become de facto in even the best superhero movies — and with a radiant smile

besides.” (Framke). In order to fit into popular culture, the movie could not simply go without

male presence. Diana was joined with three men in her quest to end the war but they “wouldn't

make it out of the second reel alive without Diana and her sword, shield and heart.” (Board). She

is constantly proving to everyone that she is a strong woman and her independence radiates
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throughout the film, even when she does find a male love interest. Although there is more

romance in Wonder Woman than in male superhero movies, Diana ends up without her beau and

saves the world anyway. The movie is filmed like a normal superhero movie; the fact that it is a

superhero movie with a female lead is not dwelled upon. Wonder Woman’s outfit, although

skimpy, is not lingered upon in the shots; “[s]he’s filmed as a badass; an athlete and warrior,

rather than a sex object.” (Grossman). Wonder Woman is not limited to being just being what

society has constructed a woman to be. She is a warrior who destroys Ares and helps to end

World War I. She takes it upon herself to do what is right saying “If no one else will defend the

world, then I must” (Marston).

The mystical and amazing fantasy of “Wonder Woman” is in sharp contrast to the other

female directed film that came out and was popularized in 2017. Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” is

so terribly mundane and that is what makes the film so aweing. Gerwig tells the story of a

mother and daughter as the daughter goes through senior year of high school and goes off to

college. The relationship between mother and daughter is portrayed as difficult and

heartbreaking and the entire film is like real life. As my own mother and I watched “Lady Bird”,

we laughed and cried as we felt so personally connected to the storyline, something we could not

say for “Wonder Woman”. Ladybird is stubborn and is a true role model for young female

audiences as “how she values herself is almost entirely self-determined, a bullish sense of her

potential” (Williams). The movie breaks the molds of what teen life is stereotypically portrayed

as. The “notion women can only find fulfilment via a conventional heterosexual coupling,

usually advanced by the man” is subverted as “the film’s romantic apex is found in Lady Bird

and Julie’s (Lady Bird’s best friend) reconciliation” (Williams). A stereotypical female-led

Hollywood film, whether it be directed by a woman or not, is centered around real-life heroism
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or epic romance or revenge but “Lady Bird” finds “real drama and lasting emotion in the

adolescence of a flawed, lovable protagonist.” (Sims). There is something beautiful in finding

and showing power behind normal, everyday life. Gerwig portrays attainable goals for women to

meet in her characters: flawed, strong, and human.

The two films are completely different as one tells the story of a woman with

superhuman capabilities saving the world and the other shows two women struggling to get by in

a harsh world with real consequences for actions. But both films are completely groundbreaking

not only in their directors’ sex but in the portrayal of women. They subvert the institution of

sexism within Hollywood by showing the roles females can fill that are not the hopelessly

romantic side piece to a male superhero or the lovesick and lost teenaged girl. Wonder Woman

and Lady Bird have narratives about females controlled by females. Both films were hugely

successful, a message Hollywood should receive as it moves forward into the future of

possibilities for female directors. The films fight back against stereotypical representations of

females in the media by showing what else is possible for female characters. Wonder Woman

does so by showing fiction. But even in fiction, the strong female archetype exists and is

prominent. Lady Bird fights stereotypes by depicting nonfiction. And this unconventional love

story of strength and hardships is touching to audiences of all genders. The two movies are

empowering for women but do not isolate male viewers, as all good movies should aim to do.

They show strong, fearless, loving, and admirable women, some things Hollywood needs a little

more of.
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Works Cited
Cohen, Anne. “You Know About The Lack Of Female Directors In Hollywood. These Are Their
Stories.” Transgender Experience Awkward Ted Talk Jackson Bird, Refinery29, 2 Feb.
2018, 5:00 PM,
www.refinery29.com/2018/02/189814/half-the-picture-review-amy-adrion-women-film-
nequality.
Board, Editorial. “Wonder Woman Saves the Day, Crushes Stereotypes.” Chicagotribune.com,
Chicago Tribune, 26 June 2017,
www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-wonder-woman-movie-edit-0602-
d-20170601-story.html.
Emilaire, Sierra. “A Look at Women Represented in Media.” Study Breaks, 1 Mar. 2018,
studybreaks.com/culture/women-representation-media/.
Framke, Caroline. “Wonder Woman Isn't Just the Superhero Hollywood Needs. She's the One
Exhausted Feminists Deserve.” Vox, Vox, 7 June 2017,
www.vox.com/culture/2017/6/7/15740804/wonder-woman-amazons-feminist.
Grossman, Nicholas. “Wonder Woman, Identity, and the Value of Representation.” Arc Digital,
Arc Digital, 29 June 2017,
arcdigital.media/wonder-woman-identity-and-the-value-of-representation-5b3e1cc51b98.
Marston, William Moulton. Wonder Woman. Directed by Patty Jenkins, Warner Bros, 2 June
2017.
Sims, David. “A Memorable Mother-Daughter Talk in Lady Bird.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media
Company, 27 Dec. 2017,
www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/12/a-memorable-mother-daughter-talk-
in-lady-bird/549188/.
Williams, Lara. “Youth in Revolt: Is Lady Bird the First Truly Feminist Teen Movie?” The
Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 20 Feb. 2018,
www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2018/feb/20/is-lady-bird-a-feminist-teen-movie-gre
a-gerwig-saoirse-ronan.