Institute in International Communication Discusses Women on the Screen

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On July 23, 2013, John Cabot’s Institute in International Communication hosted its third Summer Forum, dedicated to representations of women in the film industry, from Hollywood to Bollywood to Cinecittà. The conference was moderated by Nicholas Boston (Assistant Professor of Communication at Lehman College, CUNY and visiting professor at John Cabot University) who invited the audience to reflect upon the interface between the global and local, and the modern and traditional in film.

The first speakers were two John Cabot Communications students, Chiara di Maio and Rawabi al-Hesainan, who examined Bollywood divas and representations of Arab women in Hollywood films. We learned that the figure of the “diva” in film traces first back to early Indian actresses, and that Hollywood has typically reduced Arab women to a sort of exotic object with no personality at all.

JCU Communications Professor Tijana Mamula investigated the images of women in Italian movies and television. Though she expected Italian film to be populated mostly by such unflattering figures as the perky prostitute, suffocating mother and ditzy doll, an analysis of the neorealist films of Rossellini, Antonioni and Fellini demonstrated the importance of quirky, complicated and compelling women instead. The vision of women from Cinecittà has precipitated since the 1950’s and 60’s, with a renewed focus on women as decorative, diminutive objects. JCU Communications Professor Clelia Clini took the audience on a tour of Bollywood representations of women, which seek to mediate between the opposite pulls of modernity and tradition (in which the latter almost always prevails). Films such as Awaara and Mother India tell stories of Indian women who struggle to survive and learn to accept arranged marriages and patriarchal dominance. The values of modernization have spread more widely recent years, and positive depictions of independent and courageous women in Bollywood films are starting to emerge as well.

Students and professors intervened to provide their own perspective on the figure of the diva and on others representations of women by the different film industries. It clearly emerged that the moviemaking business is a male-dominated arena that often puts forward a one-dimensional view of its female characters. A greater participation of women in movie directing and scriptwriting would surely provide a more sophisticated viewpoint. There seems to be hope in this respect, as young women filmmakers, in both India and Italy, are coming on to the scene.