Brainwashed: Sex – Camera - Power18
Cinema has often been a good barometer of public opinion over the years, as it reflects the good and the bad throughout the decades.
But it also has a darker side, by all too often exploiting the female on screen sexually for the benefit of the male, both on screen and the audience, as this documentary by Nina Menkes examines.
Much of it takes place with the director addressing a group of young students, as she illustrates cinema’s wrong doing, that of the sexual objectification of the female form, or more accurately, the normalising of it.
Since the dawn of cinema, filmmakers have always been keen to show actresses in a highly sexual light. As the film states, they have become the subject of the male gaze; this not only attests to the lead male, but also the audience, as it forces women to look at women through the often lascivious gaze of men.
And by doing it with such alarming frequency, no doubt featuring in some of your favourite films of all time, it does as the film’s title suggests and brainwashes all that watch it. And the fact that it occurs all too often results in all of us just accepting it as the norm. But as Menkes and her contributors quite rightly point out, it’s not.
Although the director’s argument is sadly irrefutable, her approach in substantiating it is a little disappointing, certainly in terms of her contributors. All of them are women, which, considering the topic, is understandable. And yet – and this is said without any irony – a male perspective is lacking.
For example, it would have been almost a relief to hear from male contributors who just simply agreed with the premise. It would have made for a more balanced argument, because there will be men who do agree.
It would have been interesting if Menkes, who also makes features herself, to approach some of the names of the directors whose work she features, for a right to reply. Did any of them now regret some of the scenes they created? If not, why not?
Also, although there are a fair number of contributors, there are only a handful from the industry itself, and virtually only one brave voice from an actress who has been subjected to being sexualised on screen, in the form of Rosanna Arquette. Her segments are some of the film’s most fascinating, and it just seems odd that the director was unable to get more on board.
Where Menkes has no problem is with scenes illustrating the sexual objectification of actresses, with over 200 hundred films use for clips, which in itself is indicative of the issue.
The fact is, it’s a systemic problem, only made worse by the fact that the majority of directors in the world are male. And with the industry still keen to suppress not only female directors, but female talent as a whole, very little will change any time soon.
Menkes ultimately provides a powerful and fascinating examination of the visual language of cinema, and how easy it has been for audiences to succumb to it for all these years.
It’s undeniable evidence that things need to change, but with men still in control of all the powerful positions throughout the industry, expect to continue to see women sexualised on the big screen for years to come.