OpEd Project founder and folklorist Katie Orenstein weighs in on movies and the Oscars.
Movies aren’t just entertainment. They are modern myths through which we interpret the world and tell our story. Why are we here? What is the nature of our existence? What is it all for?
When I say “our story,” of course, I don’t mean all our stories. I mean the collective story that a small number of us imagine and tell for everyone else. Very few top-budget films in Hollywood have female directors. I spoke about this with the director Catherine Hardwick (Twilight, etc.) in Delta Sky Magazine a year or two ago (excerpt here). Budgets affect the kinds of stories that can be told, and how far they travel – whether we are talking about journalism or Hollywood. Awards and attention do too – which is why I hope everyone checks out this video acknowledging the past year’s great movies directed by women who aren’t up for Oscars.
Should we care that there are no women nominated for the category of Best Director this year? I think the real question is not about the movies or the directors we may admire or recognize tonight, but about the world we can imagine, or not – that does not yet exist. And about those who mediate our collective imagination, toward that possibility. What does it mean to be excluded from the ranks of such enormous interpreters, our modern day shamans?
Alyssa Best, the OpEd Project’s East Coast Program Manager, recently published a fantastic piece in The Huffington Post discussing the abusive dating dynamic suggested by the Twilight series. We asked Alyssa, who is one of the very first alums of the OpEd Project (she came through one of our pilot programs before we even officially existed), to tell us about the process of writing an op-ed during a seminar, finishing it afterwards, and publishing it – and her reactions. Congratulations to Alyssa, and we hope her story encourages you to add your perspective, no matter what the subject.
“Last week, I wrote an op-ed, “In Twilight: Eclipse, I’ll Vote for Team Bella” in The Huffington Post criticizing the way the Twilight films portray the lead female character, Bella Swan, as a victim in need of rescuing. I felt compelled to write the piece as a reaction to the “Team Edward vs. Team Jacob” discourse that has dominated our popular culture and that has obscured the identity of the story’s heroine. Especially in light of more powerful female leads in recent movies, I feel that the Twlight movies are moving our popular narratives backwards in a harmful way.
I started brainstorming this piece in the last public seminar in DC on May 1st, began to design a strong argument in the DC follow-up workshop series in May, and continued to workshop my ideas with other alums at a DC happy hour on June 10th. As a staff member and alum of The OpEd Project, I wanted to experience first-hand the benefits of having access to a community of other opinionists who will help me stay accountable to my goal of writing this piece. Tapping into the various activities The OpEd Project offers to alums to help us broadcast our voices has been critical to my success. The reaction to my piece has been more than I expected: in one week, I received 26 comments, the op-ed was shared 27 times on Facebook, and it was re-tweeted 177 times.
Most of all, the debate my op-ed has spurred has been tremendous: from getting blasted by some fans who claim I’m not qualified to comment onTwilight because I haven’t read the books to a community advocate from Start Strong Idaho who pushes forward my linking the story line to teen dating abuse and claims that “the high proportion of 11-14 year olds (primarily girls) who believe that controlling, obsessive behaviors by dating partners are indicative of true love is shocking.” This level of commentary further reinforces why my perspective –and the critical point of view of other members in The OpEd Project community — is necessary to change our public debate.”
- Alyssa Best