Cinema is one of the seven fine arts that women are less involved. And yes, of course one could say that female figures are present in every movie or play. But are they ever the real protagonists? Do we ever listen to their needs or they just simply serve as objects, as part of the decoration?
Nobody would disagree with the claim that film is a male art, a man’s view of the world on screen. Most of men love women and most would say that the famous “this is a man’s world, but it would have been nothing without a woman or girl” used to be a fact more than 50 years ago: but has it something really changed today?
Yes, women are no more just house wives, mothers or lovers: most of them are educated, lots of them are highly paid executives and they don’t care about traditional female goals (like kids or husband for example). But is this really depicted in films? Or even if it is depicted, don’t they look stressed, struggling and obsessed with achieving goals?
It is true that film industry gets more and more women in the business: directors, writers, cinematographers and of course leading actresses. Nevertheless, women are still paid less than men in Hollywood: remember Jennifer Lawrence protesting hard against gender inequality of pay, a couple of years ago while she was the highest-paid actress in the world. Moreover, female characters talk or express themselves far less than male ones: it’s like they don’t have dreams, thoughts, deep needs and all they do is standing there besides a man.
The good news is that two of this year’s nominated films -The Favourite, by Yorgos Lanthimos, and Roma, by Alfonso Cuarón – in the Academy Awards were devoted to women: women that have feelings, cravings, needs, thoughts, ambitions, goals, wounds, problems. Women that are dynamic, ambitious, sweet, vulnerable, cruel, machiavellian, powerful, wounded, reborn, queens, servants, scientists, mothers, daughters, wives, lovers, friends, citizens, and above all human beings that lead the story of their lives.
More specifically, in The Favourite we watch the story of three ladies in early 18th cent. in England: Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stone) an ex-peer servant who succeeds in becoming the protégée (the Favourite) of Queen Anne. The Favourite is a dramedy directed by the Greek Yorgos Lanthimos who makes a breakthrough in the period film genre: it seems like we watch a female Barry Lyndon (“Barry Lyndon” by Stanley Kubrick, 1975) in an even more sarcastic and cynical way.
“With a cool and distant view of the life of the peerage in 18th century, Lanthimos justifies the needs of this female erotic triangle and makes men around them look like objects.”
“ The film doesn’t neglect to picture the deepest needs of the female nature: being a mother, being appreciated and being loved.”
Lanthimos directs the film in the upside down way compared to other period films: women are the players, the chiefs and men just frame them. Power and authority are what Weisz and Stone are fighting for, while Coleman struggles to reign a united Great Britain during a war with France. All three of them act in a strong and independent way, though they know that as women in a male-centered society should fake dependence to men, husbands or counsellors. Marriage is the means and not the goal for a woman of that period in order to cope with the society.
The Favourite is quite revolutionary as it seems like a film made by a woman for women (or men who love women): it speaks to the contemporary female soul. With a cool and distant view of the life of the peerage in 18th century, Lanthimos justifies the needs of this female erotic triangle and makes men around them look like objects. Nevertheless, the film doesn’t neglect to picture the deepest needs of the female nature: being a mother, being appreciated and being loved.
On the other hand, Roma which is written and directed by the Mexican Alfonso Cuarón is a black-and-white period drama situated in Mexico in early 70’s while the country was under a state dictator- ship, backed by the U.S. government. The protagonist is again a woman, though she is not a queen but a humble indigenous maid in a middle-class family in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. The lead characters are all female: the sweet and caring maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), the matriarch scientist Sofía (Marina de Tavira), the caring maternal grandmother (Verónica García) and the other family maid Adela (Nancy García). The only leading or positive male characters are the three little sons of Sofía who seem to be the only hope and future for the mankind: one of them depicts Cuarón himself in child age.
Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Daniela Demesa, Marco Graf, Diego Cortina Autrey and Carlos Peralta in Roma (2018)
Roma is a lyric, bittersweet deeply feministic film with complex social, political, gender and racial issues that are hot until today. Again, primary female needs are blended together with social class gap and lack of po- litical freedom. Eternally, women feel dirty about their sexual needs, they often get neglected and marginalised when getting pregnant out of marriage, they feel ashamed of their body, of their nature. It doesn’t matter if a woman is an indigenous, poor maid and unmarried mother or a middle-class scientist mother in a comme-il-faut beautiful family: one day women of all classes could be left alone in a men’s world fighting for their life.
Cuaron demonstrates without fear the injustice delivered by society to women, to lower classes, to race minorities and to democratic citizens even though they are not numerical minorities: they are just social power minorities.
Women seem to be the eternal fighters and eventually the eternal winners in life while men care for power, war, games and joy. Again, Cuarón makes a film that seems like been made by a woman for women hoping to influence more and more men to love women sincerely, to respect human nature and to a point about mortality and human vanity.
The symbolisms and the metaphors through the scenes shape the following message: we will all live our lives, we will all die one day and the only thing that we will leave behind us is our chil- dren or our heads on the wall (like the stuffed heads of the dogs on the mansion’s wall) or just crap like the family’s dog crap that covered the yard floor. It’s a matter of choice the way we will live our life!
In conclusion, cinema is the form of art that influences the most the way of thinking of people undoubtedly. Films like The Favourite and Roma are foretokens of a world where sexual, racial, political and social inequities will be less and less present: a world of more love and less fear seems to be possible.
“Women seem to be the eternal fighters and eventually the eternal winners in life while men care for power, war, games and joy.”