Miss Representation (2011)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

     

Documentary Featuring: Cory Booker, Margaret Cho, Katie Couric, Geena Davis, Rosario Dawson, Dianne Feinstein, Jane Fonda, Paul Haggis, Catherine Hardwicke, Lisa Ling, Rachel Maddow, Gavin Newsom, Nancy Pelosi, Condoleezza Rice, Gloria Steinem, Daphne Zuniga.
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Director: Jennifer Siebel Newsom
Rating: Unrated

Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Date: January 20, 2011
Home Video Release Date: February 21, 2012
Box Office: Not Tracked
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Girls’ Club Entertainment, The Oprah Winfrey Network, and Virgil Films and Entertainment.

Written by: Jennifer Congdon, Claire Dietrich, Jenny Raskin, and Jennifer Siebel Newsom.

 

“There is no appreciation for women as intellectuals.  It is all about the body and never about the brain…” – Ariella, a high school student.

The time is right, the need is there, and unfortunately, the film is merely adequate. Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s documentary Miss Representation is a film that speaks to a topic of great importance and significance – the exploration of how conventional media outlets, working in print and television, present, market, and image women. The thesis of Newsom’s film is astute, the individuals who take part in the film are noteworthy and impressive, and yet, everything feels one-note. Even if Miss Representation spins its wheels, the effort is laudable and there are points made and backed up that speak to a substantial and troubling issue in today’s everything-right-now society; to wit, women are perhaps less respected and devalued in the media than ever before.

Some will scoff at this assertion as being flawed on its face, but those are likely the same people who never consider how the images of women have so skewed the self-esteem and expectations that young girls and teenage girls have struggled with since the dawning of the visual medium. People simply refuse to pay attention if they feel there is nothing wrong at all with the onslaught of contemporary singers, actresses, and media personalities who wear little to no clothing and adopt a sexuality and provocativeness inherent in everything they do.

Deeper and more profound are the realizations that the perception of women permeate away from pop culture and track forward into avenues away from the cameras. Biases and an unrelenting “less-than-equal” mentality may seem less constant nowadays, but Siebel Newsom proves that women in all walks of life still face opposition in what still largely a male-driven world from the top down. Nancy Pelosi, who became the first female Speaker of the House in the United States Congress, mentions that questions dogged her first Senatorial campaign about who would be watching her children if she was elected. Her oldest child was a Senior in high school prior to her launching her political career.

Siebel Newsom makes this point and employs a stunning group of experts who make solid and undeniable points throughout the film.  The film achieves its most impressionable and lasting moments when high school teenagers are interviewed and offer a raw and real analysis as young people set to take their first steps forward into the adult world. To quantify and help embolden her point, Siebel Newsom employs a mix of actresses from Jane Fonda to Rosario Dawson to Geena Davis, politicians as diverse as Condoleezza Rice to Nancy Pelosi, and reporters and notable figures such as Rachel Maddow, Lisa Ling, and Katie Couric, who offer considerable credibility and importance to the topic, even if Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s selective narration simply restates or predicates comments made by the panel.

Sadly, however, the film leverages that the sheer repetitiveness of the message will be enough to rally and command action.  Miss Representation never makes a false or dishonest point, but also never does anything other than follow Documentary Filmmaking 101 and at times, Miss Representation misses the mark on representing its message in a profound and important manner.  Perhaps this is merely a result of Siebel Newsom being a first-time filmmaker, a bit too passionate with her own thesis to see outside the bubble. Honestly, it is a bit of a letdown to realize that Miss Representation just never finds a second gear, its needed message muted somewhat by its one repetitive note.

Even if the film fails in presenting this material in any kind of unique or tangibly fresh manner, the information is hard to ignore and largely Miss Representation exists for for teenagers and young adults to observe, consider, and contemplate. While geared towards females, males would certainly benefit from seeing the film, as the facts that Newsom introduces are staggering. Nearly 80% of teenage girls are dissatisfied with their appearance and most teenagers spend almost half the day looking at and taking in visual media (internet, magazines, television and movies) .

Miss Representation may play one-note over and over again, but it is one note that is an important one to take a listen to. While this film would have exponentially more power and impact as a short film given Newsom’s ultimate approach, I find it hard to not recommend taking a look at the film and considering its message. There is absolute importance in Miss Representation and kudos to Jennifer Siebel Newsom for braving the effort.

Should I See It?

YES

This film has been championed by many different groups and rightfully so.  The message of women’s imaging in virtually every element of mainstream culture and society is an increasingly troublesome one, which seems to be forever spiraling out of control.  Jennifer Siebel Newsom makes an obvious argument a galvanizing and important one, amplified by the staggering number of iconic and relevant people agreed to take part in the film.

Teenagers, and that includes teenage boys, should see this film without a doubt in my mind.  Parents may bristle at some of the content in the film, but the message is bigger than a few images here and there.  This will likely foster a conversation parents and their children should and ought to have.

NO

For those who want Miss Representation to be as good of a film as the message and cause it is fighting for, you will be sorely disappointed.  Largely a pedestrian affair, the message gets through but Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s understandable tunnelvision for the film and its message comes at the cost of making a film that never seems unique or fresh.  Sadly, that may lose some open to the message.

Simply too repetitive and lacking innovation.  At times, Miss Representation feels like a really terrific video program for a graduation project.  Ultimately, while it would likely never attain the reach and audience it has as a feature length film, Miss Representation, in this form, would pack a much greater punch as a Documentary Short Film.  Then, the content is immediate, plentiful, and not dragged out and repeated over and over again.