Affirmative Action in Film?

by Carol Iannone

The reductive kind of “diversity” practiced by the university today, by gender, race, and other factors, is not only a destructive policy in itself but seems to produce a reductive way of thinking about everything. So I thought when I read an excerpt from Katie Pavlich’s new book, Assault and Flattery: The Truth about the Left and Their War on Women. Pavlich’s purpose is not only to combat the Democratic claim that Republicans are conducting a “war on women,” but, as the subtitle indicates, to turn the accusation against the accusers. In a section excerpted in the Sunday New York Post, she rightly points out how Hollywood, a bastion of the Democratic Left, treats women unfairly and even abusively. She cites, for example, Tinseltown’s staunch support of a known child molester, Roman Polanski, and its disregard of his victim.

Some of her evidence for the Hollywood Left’s depredations against women, however, is more questionable and sounds very much like that offered by supporters of affirmative action. “A 2011 study by Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University,” Pavlich writes, “showed women are grossly underrepresented (although slowly increasing in representation) on the silver screen.” Lauzen’s research reveals that “In 2011, females remained dramatically under-represented as characters in film when compared with their representation of the US population,” and the figures were only somewhat better in 2013.

Since, barring some dystopian apocalypse, the female proportion of the population will always hover around fifty percent, does that mean that half of all characters in films must be female forever and ever? Or that for every war movie featuring mainly men there must be a film about a sorority? This kind of bean counting, as President Clinton once called it (when it suited him), is not a good way to judge the value of art, although, admittedly, the Left started it and continues to press it in many areas, and it may give us some gratification to see their own tables turned on them.

Pavlich continues, “A ratings system known as the Bechdel test takes a look at how women are portrayed in film. In order to pass the test, a film must accomplish three things: 1.It has to have at least two named women in it; 2.Those two named women must talk to each other and 3.Those two named women must talk to each other about something other than a man.”

Pavlich reports that all the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings films failed the Bechdel test, while Hunger Games: Catching Fire passed.

But the Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings series are expansive, imaginative, and inspiring films while The Hunger Games presents an immature view of life saturated in sullen hatred and adolescent resentment.

Beyond even bean counting, the kind of schematism represented in the Bechdel Test is likewise not a good way to judge the value of art. Such approaches bind us to a single strand of our identity and prevent us from seeing the larger human picture in which we all belong. It stands to reason that the Iliad and the myriad war tales that have followed it will have more “male” characters, as will most adventure and fantasy films, but they can be meaningful for women as well as men if they arise from a genuine and well executed vision of truth, and an understanding of the genuine diversity of human experience.