SUNDANCE REVIEW: Miss Representation

An uncompromising and inspiring analysis of the media's role in women's social marginalization.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom interviews Katie Couric, Lisa Ling, Rachel Maddow and others for her competition documentary about the media's role in women's social marginalization.

PARK CITY -- A relevant and important doc that deconstructs the insidious role of visual media in the widespread, unbalanced depiction of women and girls, Miss Representation is destined for long-term festival play and could make a significant social impact on broadcast and DVD.

Actor and filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom is inspired to examine how TV, movies and advertising affect young people and their potential for social change when she becomes pregnant with a baby girl. Traumatized as a girl and young woman, Newsom attributes her experience to the myriad methods that the media deploy to influence girls' developing self-image, as well as opinions about the roles of women in society.

Crucially, Newsom identifies patriarchal attitudes and economic interests as the principal forces that influence people to see women in secondary roles to men. Kids growing up today absorb far more media influences than their parents, bombarded by hundreds of carefully crafted messages daily in TV programs, movies and online content that are both glaringly obvious and enticingly subtle. The gist of these depictions is to cast women and girls in roles that are supposed to be subservient to males, whether in their careers or in their relationships. Advertising then intervenes, influencing women to feel inadequate and convincing them that they can become more appealing to men by acquiring endlessly evolving fashions and products.

In-depth interviews with academics, newsmakers (including Katie Couric, Lisa Ling and Rachel Maddow) and politicians (Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein, Condoleezza Rice) reveal their observations and experiences about women trying to assert their perspectives and personalities in male-dominated social spheres. They describe how male perspectives have marginalized their opinions and effectiveness, diminishing their impact as they've tried to assert alternative perspectives about the roles women can play throughout society.

Newsom covers well-traveled territory in the doc, refreshed by the timeliness of the statistics and sources she cites, as well as the laser-like focus of the experts she interviews, who remain convincingly on-topic throughout the film. Interviews and location footage are cleanly shot and attractively assembled with archival clips by editor Jessica Congdon.

Newsom conceived of Miss Representation as a "call to action," and as such it will appeal principally to those who feel victimized and outraged by the widespread failure in the media to depict women as being just as competent and complex as men, but breaking through the cacophony of popular culture will remain the greatest obstacle. The scope of the challenge is appropriately summed up by author Barbara Berg: "Patriarchy is America's default setting."

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, U.S. Documentary Competition
Production company: Girls Club Entertainment
Director: Jennifer Siebel Newsom
Screenwriters: Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Jessica Congdon
Producers: Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Jacoba Atlas
Executive producer: Regina Kulik Scully, Sarah Johnson Redlich, Geralyn Dreyfous
Director of photography: Svetlana Cvetko
Music: Eric Holland
Editor: Jessica Congdon
Sales: Preferred Content
No rating, 89 minutes