For context, I grew up on the council estates of South-East London. As a family, we didn’t have much – but my good fortune lay just across the street. We lived opposite Well Hall Coronet Cinema and, in those days, you could see movies for just £2.50 on Mondays and Wednesdays. For someone utterly besotted with film from the earliest age, this was like heaven on Earth. I would routinely scrimp and save in order to see whatever was playing in the two-screen movie theatre each month throughout my formative years.

Evidently, I went through a phase of saving the ticket stubs, and they now make for fascinating reading. I am worlds away from those afternoons spent in the darkened auditorium of the now defunct art-deco cinema. It closed in 2000, and my last visit was in 1998. But, thumbing through this stack of old movie tickets, I cannot help but apply my current Feminist Flicker lens to all those hours of viewing in years past.

For anyone with a passing interest in equality, the question of how past social awareness was shaped by external factors is a vital one to ask. Mass media – which includes theatrical film releases – plays a huge part in the formulation of attitudes, and our perception of the world. As a population, we are constantly bombarded with conditioning messages – both subtle and otherwise – through advertising, marketing, television, news, print, radio, music, sport, and film. We absorb these messages without even realising it – while queuing at the supermarket, while scrolling through websites, and especially while watching movies.

As we have seen through our explorations on Feminist Flicker over the past year, it is possible to spot, and filter out, even the most subliminal of misogynist microaggressions in movies, once that awareness has been stoked – but, on a personal level, I know I haven’t always had the benefit of that questioning mind. What about all those years during which I simply consumed the media, and blindly accepted the status quo? That is what makes this trip down memory lane so compelling. As I wrestled with puberty and academic pressures in my teens, the cinema was my escape – but, as I look back from the relative safety of my late thirties, it turns out that these works of art were simply bolstering the internalised misogyny that had already been created. To explore that further, we need to take a whistlestop tour through my cinema trips of the 1990s, and consider what these films were saying.

Breaking it down in the broadest of strokes first of all, this collection of cinema tickets details 37 films released between October 1995 and August 1998. That’s a period of 32 months. Of those 37 films, just two were directed by a woman – and I use that turn of phrase deliberately, because The Peacemaker and Deep Impact were both directed by the same woman: Mimi Leder.  

In terms of writing, each of the 37 films were written by men – but two of them also featured female co-writers. Twister is co-written by Anne-Marie Martin with Michael Crichton, and The Relic is co-written by Amy Jones and Amanda Silver with John Raffo and Rick Jaffa.

There are exactly zero female cinematographers among the 37 films. There is one, single, solitary female-led film among the 37, and that is Alien: Resurrection. There are 6 female co-leads - but they are all white women. Of the 37 films, eight include women of colour in what might be considered to be the main cast, but they are all brief, supporting roles. One  film features two women of colour. Otherwise, it is wall-to-wall whiteness.

Taking these basic statistics gleaned from the range of films I was apparently watching at the cinema in those 32 months (between the ages of 16 and 19 years), and looking at them in conjunction with what we know the rest of mass media generally does in terms of representation, what would my perception of the world have been?

Well, that’s simple. Men make movies. Men write movies. Men star in movies. White people take up all the space onscreen. White men are the ‘norm’, while anyone else is ‘other’. The world belongs to white men – the rest of us just fit in where we can.

What about the specific stories, though? What were these movies telling me about my place in the world? More importantly, what were these movies telling people in general about women’s place in the world? Let’s look at a small selection of the 37 movies in the ticket collection:

Seven: A woman’s place is by her husband’s side – until she is decapitated for the sole purpose of hurting the husband;

Leaving Las Vegas: A woman’s place is in service to a man – specifically as a prostitute, while he drinks himself to death;

Get Shorty: A woman’s place is by the side of a loan shark who is using her for her connections – because that’s the only way she can be taken seriously as a film producer;

Toy Story: Boys play with male-gendered toys only - with the exception of Mrs Potato-Head and a doll left by a female sibling;

Broken Arrow: A woman’s place is to help a guy retrieve nuclear weapons that were stolen by another guy, while providing a distant hint of sexual reward once he’s got the job done;

Mission: Impossible: Women are either sexually available, disposable, or both;

Independence Day: A woman’s place is to stand around - wringing their hands and asking questions -while men bravely and decisively save the world;

Jerry Maguire: A woman’s place is to latch onto a man who’s going places, and not let go until he realises she is The One;

The Lost World: Jurassic Park: A woman’s place is to endanger everyone by trying to help a baby T-rex, and then avoid dinosaurs by doing gymnastics;

Men In Black: A woman’s place is to be a qualified Medical Examiner, while also providing the male hero with a love interest that he can rescue from the villain at the end;

Face/Off: A woman’s place is to remain confused/endangered/sexually available while the predatory men in their lives growl at each other;

Scream 2: A woman’s place is to be the focus of violence;

The Big Lebowski: Women just want money and babies;

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Looking Back Through The Mists Of Time, We Find...Exactly This (1)
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I came across something interesting this week, which I wanted to share and discuss in terms of sexism in film, and its social implications. It is a collection of cinema tickets from the 1990s.

For context, I grew up on the council estates of South-East London. As a family, we didn’t have much – but my good fortune lay just across the street. We lived opposite Well Hall Coronet Cinema and, in those days, you could see movies for just £2.50 on Mondays and Wednesdays. For someone utterly besotted with film from the earliest age, this was like heaven on Earth. I would routinely scrimp and save in order to see whatever was playin...

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