Suffragette Cinema

a feminist look at films and the media surrounding them

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There’s something Serial-ly wrong here

Originally, this blog was started nearly a year ago for a class assignment at my University. Despite having stopped blogging, this website is often on my mind, and I am going to try and pick up writing once again. Because it is January 2nd, I’m going to even go so far as pledging to try and update it once a month as my New Year’s Resolution!

However, I will most likely be shifting to additionally discuss my thoughts on various forms of media; beginning with this article, on the podcast series that recently ended on December 17th,  Serial.

Serial is a podcast spinoff from This American Life. It first was released in October, 2014 and continued as a 12- episode weekly podcast. Serial is narrated by Sarah Koenig and follows her investigation on a murder case in 1999. Hae Min Lee, a senior at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, Maryland, on January 13, 1999 was reported missing, her body, a month later, found in a city park. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed was arrested and convicted of first- degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.


Koenig conducted interviews, looked into records, contacted experts, and read through hundreds of papers   regarding this case, trying to make sense of the events that occurred and investigating to see whether or not Syed, who to this day claims he was not responsible for Lee’s death, is truly guilty or innocent.

If you have some time to spare, I really recommend listening- I started the series yesterday and finished early today- it can be downloaded for free on iTunes or listened to here.

Racist Undertones

In the series tenth episode, “The Best Defense is a Good Defense,” Koenig spends a great deal of time talking about how racism showed up within the investigation and prosecution. (The transcription of this episode can be found here.)

Riddled into Syed’s bail hearing are multiple sentiments and statements that are directly related to his being of Pakistan decent and Muslim.

For instance, many of the jurors seem to have extreme racial biases, stating “I’m not sure how the culture is over there, what they’re taught about women. He just wanted power over her, and she wouldn’t give it.” Another said, “In the Arabic culture, men rule, not women. I remember hearing that.”

Even the prosecutor, Vicki Walsh, makes claims comparing Syed’s court case as being “frighteningly similar” to Samuel Sheinbein’s, a man who, according to Koenig, “was accused of brutally killing another Maryland teenager in 1997 and then absconded to Israel.” In reality, the only similarity between Syed and Sheinbein’s cases is that they are both men of Pakistani heritage convicted of murder. The cases themselves are inherently different- Walsh’s claims are thus, blatantly about race.

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I do not believe that this episode of Serial focused on the racial aspects of Syed’s trial accidentally. Coinciding with the episodes release were the highly public deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York, New York.

I believe that all of these cases, the way that all three of these men of color have been treated by the police force or court system are blatant examples of racism in this country. While I believe that Koenig would have included a piece on Syed’s treatment because of his race, I think that she did so so extensively, spending nearly half of the 44 minute podcast on the racism Syed experienced, due to the recent events that have gained publicity.

I want to be clear here and say that I do not know whether or not Adnan Syed is guilty or not, and am not writing this post to suggest he is. What I am saying and what Koenig discusses in her podcast, is that the way in which Adnan was discussed by both the jurors and the prosecution was in a racialized one with which has the potential to create bias.

Here are few quick facts from “11 Facts About Racial Discrimination” on, a website dedicated to creating social change.

  1. African-Americans comprise 13% of the U.S. population and 14% of the monthly drug users, but 37% of the people arrested for drug-related offenses in America.
  2. Studies show that police are more likely to pull over and frisk blacks or Latinos than whites. In New York City, 80% of the stops made were blacks and Latinos, and 85% of those people were frisked, compared to a mere 8% of the white people stopped.
  3. After being arrested, African-Americans are 33% more likely than whites to be detained while facing a felony trial in New York.
  4. In 2010, the U.S. Sentencing Commission reported that African Americans receive 10% longer sentences than whites through the federal system for the same crimes.
  5. A survey in 2011 revealed that 52% of non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes.
  6. In 2012, 51% of Americans expressed anti-black sentiments in a poll; a 3% increase from 2008.

Ultimately, the institutional system that is currently set up in the United States is extremely flawed. It is set up to be racially biased, and the cases of Adnan Syed, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner are only three of thousands that occur on a daily basis on an institutional and individual level.



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A Year in Review

For this week I decided to change up my usual post and created a sister-type-website! In it, I broke down 60 top movies from April 2013 to April 2014 (I know it’s May… forgive me please! 🙂 ) and how they showed up in relation to the Bechdel Test (if you don’t know what that is, even more reason to check it out!) as well as my own analysis on what the results all mean.

So check it out, think about it, and as always let me know what you think!


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Monsters University Boys Club

Monsters University centers around the two protagonists of Monsters Inc., Mike and Sully, during their first year in college. In the film, the duo battle juggling classes in the Scare School along with maintaining a social life. Eventually, the two join a fraternity, Oozma Kappa, and participate in the annual Scare Games to which their success in winning the games becomes the only way that they can remain students at Monsters University.


I really enjoyed this film. I really enjoy the whole thing that Pixar has been doing where they revamp and make sequels to movies that came out in the early 2000s. Because, let’s be real, they’re totally targeting the 90s kids who fell in love with these characters a decade and a half ago.

Something that was sincerely lacking in this movie, however, was female representation. There were only two named female characters that had multiple speaking roles, Dean Heartscrabble, head of the scare major, and Sherry Squibbles, one of the fraternity brother’s mothers. On the other side, there are dozens of male characters who are named and have significance to the plot. Off the top of my head there are Mike and Sully’s five fraternity brothers, the opposing rival fraternity, Randal, their male professor, and the list goes on.

Especially because this film is a prequel to Monsters Inc., there were so many opportunities to include female characters, even if only from the ones we met in the first film. A teenage Celia, for instance, or Roz could have been slipped in as a guest speaker or working in an area of the University.

Ultimately, female representation within forms of children’s media and media in general is severely limited. A recent study found that only 15 percent of top movies have female leads, and on 2013 were 30 percent of speaking roles (including major and minor character roles). In 2012, Pixar released Brave, their first film with a female protagonist, and two years later a film with little female representation was released.



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I’m Calling Wolf (of Wall Street)

Erin Landau named The Wolf of Wall Street this year’s most misogynistic blockbuster and after viewing it myself, I would have to agree. There were many points throughout the movie; so many that I lost count, where I felt my jaw drop at the high level of disrespect, misogyny, and oversexualization of women throughout the film. In The Wolf of Wall Street the majority of women who receive air time are hookers, strippers, helpless wives, or gold-digging girlfriends. Landau states in her article that this portrayal “raises interesting questions about how women are portrayed as accessories to their leading men.“


The portrayal of both men and women in this film is abysmal to me. Women are once again objectified and used as objects in this film, they are known for their sexual endeavors and are otherwise useless. In many scenes, where Belfort, Men are also portrayed negatively in this film- they are demoted to being animals whose only goals are to have sex, make money, and do drugs. In her article, Helen O’Hara states when discussing the men of the film, “They consider themselves alpha males, warriors, as their leader Belfort whips them into a frenzy of excitement for the latest opportunity to make money. But the truth is that they are weak, ridiculous, boys playing at being men… no reasonable audience member can look at them and think, ‘That. That’s what a real man looks like.’”


Ultimately, this is a film that I have seen many times before. These are not new depictions and unfortunately, I can bet that in the future, there will be many more versions of The Wolf of Wall Street. Below is a spoof trailer of The Women of Wall Street created to make a point about both the ridiculousness of sexualization of women and how if reversed, as seen with one of the men being covered in packets of money as in one scene from the film, many of the things women are subjected to are absurd. As well as giving an example of a film that we have not seen many times before, as a majority female cast with women in power is a rarity.

I think that struck me the most about this film, however, was not the film itself. What struck me was the fact that this was nominated for five Oscars. While I recognize that there are a lot of components that go into nominations and recognize that the acting and direction of the movie was well done, it still does not sit well with me that a movie that is so anti- women was still a runner for such prestigious awards. I feel that this only perpetuates rape culture and the dehumanization of both women and men.


Whose story is it, anyway?

Over the past few months, there have been two movies that have gotten considerable hype for having a white cis-gendered male play a character from a different subordinated group. In this case, I am referring to Jared Leto who plays Rayon, a transgender woman, in Dallas Buyers Club and Johnny Depp who plays Tonto, a Native American from the Comanche tribe, in Disney’s The Lone Ranger. Both men have been the center of many debates questioning the reasoning behind their being cast in those roles. deppAs I have discussed in previous posts, there is absolutely an overrepresentation of whiteness in the media, particularly of white men. Many people are thus outraged that these two roles, designed to honor and bring forward stories that are not typically seen in Hollywood, were given to the very men that we as a society are used to seeing.

Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger.

Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger.

I do not think it is fair to place all of the blame on these two actors, Depp and Leto have proved themselves to be successful at what they do. However, it does call into question why actors and actresses who do represent these subordinated identities are not being asked to play a specific role, why they are not being sought out and being chosen by casting directors.

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This can similarly be seen within television shows and movies at large within the disabled communities- Degrassi’s Jimmy, Glee’s Artie. By having this character be played by communities who do not share the same identities, it is lowering representation.

Overall, there continues to be arguments for both sides in all of these cases. For instance, Comanche Chairman Wallace Coffey, an elected official for the Comache people, while said that he would love to see someone who identities as Native on the big screen, also stated, “This is just the beginning, is my thinking. It opens the doors for more creative visions with regard to Native Americans in the future….” However, others, including Adrienne Keene, author of the blog Native Appropriations, stated, “You guys, I’m pissed off. Like for real. I had a teensy-tiny bit of hope that this wouldn’t be another othering-stereotype-filled-horror, but clearly I was so wrong.”


The cast of television show, Glee.


I believe that there are many things to say in terms of representation in the media, and while I believe that those actors who were chosen to play Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club, Tonto in The Lone Ranger, Jimmy in Degrassi, Artie in Glee, and still dozens more of characters did not do a bad job in their portrayals, I do not know if I believe they fully play up those characters to their justice. I believe that it would make much more of an impact to have a woman who identifies as trans* play the role or Rayon on the trans* community, to have someone Native play Tonto, etc., As I said, it isn’t as though those selected weren’t good, but it’s yet another way of hiding a subordinated group and not allowing those who identify on a daily basis to be visible. We are, in part, erasing the true stories and struggles that the characters are meant to portray.



Divergent Gives the Middle Finger to Rape Culture

Divergent takes place in a post- apocalyptic Chicago where there are five factions to which every person belongs to. Each faction holds a specific trait that they honor above all things, intelligence in Erudite, bravery in Dauntless, selfless in Abnigation, honesty in Candor, and peacefulness in Amity. The film follows Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior (Shailene Woodley), born into Abnigation, but when she comes to age and is able to choose her own faction, selects Dauntless. For the first half of the movie, Tris is shown becoming accustomed to her new faction as she goes through initiation and fights her way to be able to secure a spot in her new home.

There were a few significant moments that stuck out to me throughout Divergent, all of which broke down a form of rape culture and gives empowerment to women.

First, in one memorable scene where Tris and Four (Theo James) are kissing, Tris breaks away from him and tells him that she does not want to go to fast. Four agrees and the two break apart and continue on in their days. This simple but significant moment gives Tris power over her own body and sexuality, she is able to dictate what she wishes to or not to do, and Four accepts this without question. There is no coercion, no awkwardness, and no backlash, it is simply accepted and their relationship through the movie continues to get only stronger.

In another scene, when Tris returns to Dauntless after a brief trip away, she is caught and attacked by three masked men. They carry her as she struggles against them to the chasm and attempt to throw her into it which would lead to her death. During the fight, Tris is able to unmask one of the men, revealing Al (Christian Madsen), one of her closest friends from Dauntless. Hearing the fight, Four approaches the situation and saves Tris from the three men, telling Tris that Al was at risk for being kicked out of Dauntless because of his low ranking, hence his irrational actions. Later that night, Al approaches Tris and begs for her forgiveness, stating that it was a mistake. However, Tris brushes aside his comments stating If you ever touch me again, I will kill you.

While Four’s heroism is the predictable and well played out knight-in-shining-armor-saving-the-damsel-in-distress scenario, Divergent saves itself by putting in Tris’s standing up for herself and pushing away Al’s feeble apologies. She advocates for herself by letting Al know that what he did was not okay and that she would not stand for her so called friends and fellow faction members to treat her so poorly.

A final scene that I wish to discuss, is during a simulation Tris is put into as a way to be tested on her ability to deal and conquer her fears, Tris is shown being sexually assaulted by Four. In the scene, Tris fights back and succeeds in defeating Four and protecting herself. And, when she comes out of the simulation, the crowd of onlookers around her cheer her on, chant her name for her admirable defeat, and praise her for her strength. They tell her she is a model and inspiration for other trainees, that her fighting was perfect, that it was right. They validate everything she has just done.

This is revolutionary. That a young woman is shown on screen being assaulted and comes out as the hero, is seen as someone who is extremely strong.

The fear of sexual assault is something that nearly every women can relate to, and over one fifth of that female population has experienced sexual assault. It is a very lived, terrifying, and real experience and often in the media, it is not something that is taken seriously. This scene, as well as the previous two, give power back to women. They are a visual representation of female empowerment and a culture where rape and violence against women will not be tolerated.

And that, is amazing.

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Turning Up The Heat

This summer’s comedy action film, The Heat, follows FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) and Boston police officer, Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) as they attempt to find and bring down a well-known drug lord. Something that particularly stood out to me in this action filled comedy was Mullins no bullshit attitude. While sometimes perverse and extreme, and with a mouth that sometimes made me cringe, Mullins works in a male dominated career and excels in it, part of that being because of her attitude of simply not caring about how others see her.

Mullins is unashamed of herself and helps her, at first enemy and later turned friend, Ashburn learn to be similarly confident in herself. Though I became nervous at the character of Ashburn, who was shown to be highly career driven and cold and her fellow coworkers would joke “that’s why she’s single. However, by the end of the movie, the conclusion was not that she only needed to find a man that could melt her (if this sounds familiar, I’ve just roughly outlined another of Bullock’s performances in The Proposal), but rather through the help of Mullins, Ashburn learned to loosen up and enjoy life more (without a man).


I was pleased to see that Mullins was similarly confident in her body. Mullins is unashamed of herself and in multiple scenes various men come with whom she’s had relationships and flings with in the past come up and confess their love for her. She additionally inspires some confidence in Ashburn by mocking the spanx she wears underneath her pants. She makes fun of them and calls a mockery to the fashion world- calling to attention how ridiculous it is for women to feel the need to alter their bodies or create an illusion of some warped form of beauty. Mullins is confident in herself and her weight is never brought up, joked about, or shamed. In other films, such as Bridesmaids, where McCarthy played a comedic role, her weight was brought up multiple times and made the butt of fatphobic jokes.


The Heat is not a perfect film, however, I was extremely impressed by the character of Mullins, and would like to see more characters that follow her loud, outspoken, and confident mannerisms.