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Heading to the Women's March

Film and protest.

January 18, 2017
 
 

“Here at NASA”--“We all pee the same color,” states the indignant Kevin Costner after he discovers that his top ‘computer’ mathematician, Katherine Goble Johnson, has to walk twenty minutes to find a “colored women’s bathroom” on NASA’s campus in Hampton, Virginia, 1961.  This is one of several memorable lines (“They hired us not because we wear skirts, but because we wear glasses.”) in the 20th Century Fox film adapted from Margot Lee Shetterly’s successful nonfiction book “Hidden Figures,” by writer Allison Schroeder and writer/director Theodore Melfi.  Yes, this is the film that pushed Star Wars’ “Rogue One” off the top box office bracket this past week.

But in a number of articles on this inspiring film, Dr. Martha Lauzen, director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, is referenced with her well-researched but not-so-inspiring 2015 study on the portrayal of female characters in top grossing films.  The statistical news—that Hollywood and the box office still prefer films with white men as protagonists--is familiar to those who know of the Bechdel Test and the paucity of films where women even have a conversation together, much less a leading role.  But “Hidden Figures,” with three black, female leads, aces the test on several levels—representing women of color who are older than 20, who work together, have children, supportive spouses (in secondary roles) and, most pleasingly, possess a genius level of intelligence.

For my first “Introduction to Cinema” class this week, the critical success of “Hidden Figures” provides a welcome counterbalance to the stories of scandal surrounding the incoming Trump administration. (So do Alec Baldwin and SNL).  But the first film I will screen for this class, also from the segregated Cold War era, conveys an entirely different kind of message--John Frankenheimer’s “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962).  As a number of journalists have noted recently, this critically acclaimed film, which shows a naive McCarthy-like presidential candidate, controlled and manipulated by a Communist wife who works to rally voter fear and hysteria after a terrorist act, seems just a little too prescient right now.  Of course, rather than musing in class about Putin’s potential hold on Trump, I’ll concentrate on Frankenheimer’s use of deep focus and surreal, melodramatic strategies to make his points about propaganda, persuasion and twisting public opinion.  (See Roger Ebert.) 

           The other activity I’m focused on this week, along with over a million people, mostly female, is the “Women’s March on Washington.” The biggest march is centered in D.C. this Sat. Jan. 21st, but is accompanied by over 600 “sister” marches in the U.S. and, indeed, around the globe.  Faculty and gender study centers on many college campuses are assisting with the organizing—where to meet, how to stay warm, keep safe, catch a bus, find a place to stay—and discussing articles such as Rebecca Solnit’s “From Lying to Leering” to help students who are seeking informed outlets to deal with the outrageous misogyny surrounding the presidential election.  Other professors, scholars, students and activists are organizing activities such as anthropology groups reading Michel Foucault aloud, inaugural teach-ins or Climate Convergence/ Earth2Trump walk-outs (scheduled for Jan. 23rd).

When I first saw the women’s march forming on Facebook in early November, I immediately bought my ticket to D.C., along with my partner and two adult children. The march’s web site and political communications have been heartening to witness as the dialogue and dissension surrounding questions of leadership, diversity and the goals of the march continue to grow and develop.  Now the country is running out of pink yarn from the thousands of pink “pussy hats” that protestors have knitted, sewn and plan to wear during the march.  My family has four hats arriving gratis in the mail. We plan to wear them as we yell on the mall next Saturday, marching for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, immigrant and prisoner's rights, fair labor, the environment and an end to racial discrimination.

The peaceful transition of power will be met with an enormous pink protest.  Mr. President, we’ve got our ears on…

 

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