Women’s Films

Source: Montgomery, Sarah. “Women’s Films.” Feminist Review, 1984. Accessed November 15, 2016. http://www.jstor.org.erl.lib.byu.edu/stable/pdf/1394857.pdf.

Sarah Montgomery uses this article to explore three different yet significant films and how they are significant for women in particular. Before that, she argues that female audiences are widely ignored and are not taken into account as well as they should. She writes that movies created for general audiences have overwhelmingly male lead characters, or one-dimensional female characters. This forces women in the audience to identify either with powerless or victimized women, or male heroes, both of which are dismal options. Furthermore, when films are intentionally aimed at female audiences, they are confined with themes of self-sacrifice and female characters that are defined by their relationship to husband and children. This evidence further supports Jane M. Gaines’ ideas of feminist film theory and the claim that there is a systematic oppression of female subjects in film.  Montgomery adds her own commentary that viewing film through a feminist lens means we can identify what we want and don’t want.

            A Question of Silence

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This is the first of the three films that Montgomery analyzes. A Question of Silence was created in 1981 and ran for three and a half months. The film was met with rapturous reviews from women, while men either missed the point altogether or criticized it for seeming to condone violence against men. The movie’s plot focuses on a murder mystery, and women were pleased to see that traditionally male roles were filled by women. Three women were arrested for the murder of a man and then put on trial; a psychiatrist involved in the case must determine whether or not these women are certifiably insane. Then, the script itself puts into words why female audiences had such a positive review of this movie. During the trial, the prosecutor explains that “he sees absolutely no difference between this case…’if three MEN had killed the FEMALE owner of a boutique.’” This film calls out the double standard that it is normal and even acceptable to see men behave violently toward women, but it is not acceptable for women to behave violently toward men.

Born in Flames


This next film, Born in Flames, was created in 1983 and is set in New York in the future, a decade after the most peaceful revolution in history. The movie focuses on four groups: “the Women’s Army, a racially mixed but predominantly black and lesbian network organizing demonstrations, day care, and self-defense; Phoenix Radio, a black women’s underground station; Radio Regazza, its white punk rock counterpart; and a cell of white intellectual women who are trying to work inside the system.” This film is unique in that it gives women not just one, but several characters with which to identify. And even if female audiences cannot identify with the situations (who of us can imagine a futuristic world where we would be a part of an underground radio station?) they can identify with the characters in the situations. Born in Flames is also significant because it shows women across groups of race, class, and sexuality joining together for a common cause. This message is a polar opposite from the typical message that women must compete with each other, often for male attention.

The Gold Diggers


Lastly, Montgomery looks at the film The Gold Diggers, which was also created in 1983 and reexamines the way women are seen and how women should see themselves. The director, Sally Potter, explains the movie as “a musical describing a female quest.” Not only is a typical male role replaced with a woman, but the entire movie is centered around a woman; she is not dependent on her relationship with a husband or children to be seen as significant to the plot. Montgomery writes that “Woman is every bit as active and autonomous as man; she sacrifices nothing, is not there to be looked at as erotic object for the exclusively male spectator; is not presented as what she represents for man.” That is why this movie is significant; it shows that women can be interesting, three-dimensional characters independent of men.



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