With the airing of the Golden Globes Awards ceremony last night, much has been written and discussed in recent days about the presence (or lack thereof) of women and minorities in Hollywood. When one looks at the population statistics of our country, women and minorities are greatly underrepresented in movies and television. One of the reasons The Hunger Games trilogy has been so well received is because the protagonist, Katniss, is a teenage girl from the backwoods of Appalachia. Yes, there are boys and men interested in her, but that is not her raison de vivre. She is a full and rich character – imperfect, flawed – but real. And that is such a rare thing in Hollywood. When women are present, they tend to be the girlfriends or some passive agent in the action. We can name the exceptions on a couple hands, because they are so rare. (The Hunger Games movies themselves certainly have been helped by the presence of the incredible Jennifer Lawrence, an authentic and down to earth talent.)
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is trying to change this in regards to children’s entertainment through research, education and advocacy. Women and girls are less than 20% of the characters represented in children’s media, and these images tend to be stereotypical. As children are inundated with these ideas, they are less likely to broaden and expand as they age. Movies and television for adults continues to perpetuate this lack of the presence of women, as well as relegating them to passive roles. And if a film has a preponderance of women, it usually falls into the derogatory category of “chick-flick.”
This is truly a theological issue. Before serving a women’s college, I worked on a state campus for a number of years. For several years, our ministry hosted a panel discussion – “Was Jesus a Feminist?” Yes, I realize this is an improper question. It’s taking a fairly recent construct and applying it to a Jewish man from the backwoods of the Ancient Near East. Yet, in these discussions we looked at how Jesus treated women. And the fact was, he treated them in a manner that was revolutionary. In a patriarchal world that left women at the mercy of men and denied them opportunities for growth and enrichment, Jesus included women as some of his closest followers. He continually affirmed the presence and participation of women in his movement, both in words and in actions.
I love movies. I love entertainment. (And I especially love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.) And I would love even more to see images of women in Hollywood that are real, empowering, active, and transformative. If a preacher from the wilds of Palestine changed the subject 2000 years ago, we can too.