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Saturday, 20 April 2019 12:23 am

Web campaign gets feminist film into festival

A US film on the media’s portrayal of women made it into this year’s film festival largely as a result of a Wellington-organised email and Twitter campaign.

Response to the campaign – organised by Wellington blogger “Boganette” – was big enough to convince NZ International Film Festival director Bill Gosden and assistant programmer Michael McDonnell to find out more about the film, Miss Representation.

“We contacted the filmmakers, they gave us the opportunity to see the film, and we thought, ‘Yeah, it should definitely be shown,’” says Mr Gosden.
Their biggest hesitation was the film’s specific focus on American media, but they decided it is relevant due to its universal message and the amount of American media available to New Zealanders.

“Boganette” says she heard of the documentary from a reader in the US: “I immediately wanted to see it. The trailer alone moved me to tears.”

Miss Representation, which premiered at the  2011 Sundance Film Festival, argues that the media’s portrayal of women as sex symbols causes lower self esteem for young girls, resulting in fewer women in leadership positions.

Written, directed and produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, it includes interviews with teenage girls as well as American politicians and media personalities like Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow and Geena Davis.

TV current affairs reporter Amanda Millar  says New Zealand women in politics and television journalism face the same public scrutiny about their appearance as Americans.

“I worked for the first female Prime Minister of New Zealand, the Rt Hon Jenny Shipley, and I can say there was a huge focus on clothes, looks, makeup and hair,” she says.

“I have had to contend with male editors taking issue with the colour of lipstick or female clothing, yet a male reporter whose overall appearance was highly distracting never received any negative feedback.”

While New Zealand television news is more gender-balanced than American news, she says, it is being influenced by American reporting styles that may have negative impacts for female journalists.

One example is the “live cross”, where reporters stand in front of the scene and present live into the news bulletin.

“This is a very American approach that New Zealand is increasingly adopting.

“It is therefore appealing to young reporters, who want to be in the ‘limelight’ and who may be less interested in the more unglamorous side of reporting that involves off-camera work and sheer hard digging.”

Nicole Skews, founder and co-ordinator of the Wellington Young Feminists’ Collective, says she hopes to come away from Miss Representation feeling more informed about how women can combat the messages they receive from the media.

“I think there needs to be a greater emphasis on diversity, and acceptance that you actually don’t have to be skinny, white, straight, cisgendered, feminine and have all the latest things to be happy,” she says.

Imran Siddiquee, social media and communications manager for, says the filmmakers were excited to learn the documentary is being shown in New Zealand.

“The fact that women and men all over the world are interested in the topics of the film and making it a success makes us really hopeful about the future of our campaign to transform the media’s representations of women.”

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is a Whitireia journalism student.
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  1. Oh so this is why Palmerston North didn’t get it… was specifically for Wellingtonians…. 😛

  2. Great article! So good to see coverage of stuff like this!

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