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home : readerswrite : onyourmind April 29, 2016

Dear Oscar: Women have stories, too
"Films shape our culture and they shape us. Over time, the images we see in story after story subtly impact our ideas about who we are." -Tara Sophia Mohr

by Tara Sophia Mohr

At the Oscars' ceremony in February we were treated to a montage of great moments from movies from the past few decades. There was something quite surprising and quite disturbing about the montage.

In the first clip, Forrest Gump ate from his box of chocolates. Next, a series of couples gazed lovingly into each other's eyes and then came a stream of 25 clips showing male heroes talking to, leading or fighting other men. In the middle were a few women, one screaming in stress about her wedding, one screaming because she was being attacked and one screaming to fake an orgasm.

And with that, the montage ended.

In the highlights of movies from the past few decades, there wasn't a single clip of a woman doing something that related to her children, her friends, her work or her contribution to the world. There wasn't a single clip of a woman leading, making a decision or showing agency. There wasn't even a single clip of a woman experiencing a moment of meaning or joy.

The montage reflected a view that men are the protagonists and women are background figures who show up only as romantic interests or victims to be saved.

Oscar, I have news for you: There is another world of women's lives. We work, we create, we relate, we reflect. We choose, we risk, we grow. We'd like to see that reflected in the movies we see, and the movies you recognize.

The film industry, though growing more diverse, remains male-dominated and primarily Caucasian at the top. Oscar voters are nearly 94 percent Caucasian and 77 percent male, the Los Angeles Times recently found. The LA Times reported that men compose more than 90 percent of the five branches of the Academy. Only six of the 43 members of the governing board are female, and only one is a person of color.



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Does this really matter? Should those of us concerned about women's empowerment and diversity spend our energy worrying about the Academy when there are so many other pressing issues affecting marginalized populations?

I think it does because films shape our culture and they shape us. Popular films become part of our cultural fabric. Over time, the images we see in story after story subtly impact our ideas about who we are. Films-whether realistic or fantastical-teach us underlying ideas about what is possible and what is true.

When women can't see strong, interesting, female protagonists in the stories we watch, it becomes harder for us to see ourselves as the strong, interesting protagonists of our own lives. When girls grow up seeing story after story that tells them they are sex objects, accessories or victims, they will learn that to be a "woman" is to play one of those three roles.

Let's bring this era to a close, this era when the film industry was dominated by a single segment of the population that chose the narratives that shape our culture. It is time for the movies to look like us.

Tara Sophia Mohr is the founder of the "Playing Big" women's leadership program and the creator of "10 Rules for Brilliant Women."


Editor's Note: This essay was first published in a longer format on Mohr's blog, www.taramohr.com. Reprinted with permission.


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