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'Miss Representation' director is aiming to change American culture

Published: Thursday, Jan. 27 2011 7:01 p.m. MST

Universities across the United States will screen the film to help students understand the impact of media on culture. With a hand from Common Sense Media, a 30-minute version will be prepped for high schools and middle schools, with appropriately tamed visuals for the younger audience (the film includes disturbing sexual images, some nudity and strong language). Screenings will also be arranged for parents to "educate and awaken them" and to give them talking points to use effectively with children.

Part of Siebel Newsom's strategy is reaching young people before another generation embraces old attitudes.

"We in America are almost blind to the subtleties of sexism," she said. "It is almost the norm now"

In the process of making the film, the director spent time speaking with young men and women, some of whom appear in the film.

"I was so blessed to speak to these young high school boys," she said. "These young men in particular know there is something wrong. It (media) is communicating to these boys that a women's sole purpose in life is to find love, but that (finding love) isn't shown as a value for boys. No wonder we have an imbalance. "

And although the film is about women and the media, Siebel Newsome doesn't limit the audience to one gender and believes the change she seeks will only come from efforts by both.

"This film is a film for men," she said. "It was one of the reasons I was so careful making sure there were men in the film speaking about what we need to do and how critical it is. I needed men to speak to how it isn't cool to demean women and disrespect women, or treat them as second-class citizens who aren't worthy of respect or positions of power."

The director is already thinking about follow-up projects that focus on similar issues at worldwide levels. During the fundraising stage of the film she discovered that foundations were more willing to fund international projects and that few, less than 10 percent, were willing to fund causes for women or girls.

"What about our own backyard?" she said. "And we are influencing other cultures. We export the worst of Hollywood culture around the world."

She believes media are mirrors of our society but reflect a distorted image. Her film reflects some of those images back to potential viewers — and she hopes it works as a tool for positive change.

"Most importantly, we should talk about this with men and women in our lives," she said. "We must empower each other; encourage men to see women as equals and not as threats. We will live in a better society if we encourage women to be in positions of leadership."

e-mail: lc@desnews.com

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