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Representation of Women in International Cinema – Emmanuel Johnson

Society has witnessed a fresh wave which has brought about change in the way women are represented within it, or maybe this is only a myth and not reality.

Are women truly liberated within the 21st Century society? Based on vague knowledge, the answer to that question is yes. Nevertheless, after close analysis, that might not be the case.


I shall be looking at the representation of women within the three largest film industries in the world; Bollywood, Hollywood and Nollywood.

Despite geographical and cultural differences between India, The United States of America and Nigeria, there are noticeable similarities in the representation of women within their movie industries.


There is evident pressure placed on women by members of the society, which they now struggle to conform to. The 21st Century society has altered the position of women within society. Although they are now expected to be educated in universities and colleges, they are still pressured into the belief that, a man is needed within their lives to attain true satisfaction and happiness in life.


In the American film, Just Go With It, although Katherine (Jennifer Aniston) has a good career as a Plastic Surgeon, she is represented as ‘incomplete’ and not truly happy, because she is not a happy relationship with man. This changes for her towards the end of the film, as she falls in love with Danny (Adam Sandler). It is at this moment that she is portrayed to be truly happy and satisfied, despite the professional career she has built for herself.

Similar depictions are represented in both Bollywood and Nollywood industries, via the films: Dear Zindagi and The Wedding Party.


This draws upon similarities in cultural norms, because, although American society (Western society) is perceived as different from other cultures, in respect to lifestyle and practises, we see in these films that, practises overlay between these nations.

Dear Zingadi sees an independent filmmaker, Kaira (Alia Bhatt) who struggles with emotional imbalances and seeks the help of a mental therapist in finding solutions to her problems. This film highlights the pressure faced by many women in the present-day Indian society. There is a never-ending pressure on women to ‘settle down’. This film details the expectations placed on them and everyday challenges they face as a result.


In a similar plot with Just Go With It, Kaira spends the entire film in search of meaning, which is represented in this film as a romantic relationship with a man.

Within all the films represented in this essay, it is vital to nice that, women are portrayed to be under a universal power; the man. This goes against the idea of women being an independent agent of free will. In Dear Zingadi, when Kaira realises that she needs counsel, she turns to a male psychologist for help. This is a representation of power – as the phallus was handed over to a man to wield in the plot.


The Wedding Party is a film that truly reflects the reality of the Nigerian society. Butler (1989 cited in Haraway 1997: 29) describes agency as ‘a concept of a coherent inner self’.  The presence of an agency is dormant within the entire text. Although Dunni (Adesua Etomi) has an independent life of her own, we see in this film that, that is overlooked. The only thing her parents and the society around her care about is her wedding.


This leads me to question the position of women in the 21st Century. The efforts of western women in first wave Feminism proved successful – as issues like voting rights and the girl child’s right to education turned out to work. Nevertheless, this led to the transformation of patriarchy. Inequalities are created by social structures based on difference (Becker nd). Current structures within society now hide under the politics of difference and separate men and women from each other, to maintain the patriarchal hegemony. Although women can now work, the issue of unequal pay is existent and acts as a divisive means to maintain the current power societal power structure.


Film, as a reflection of society replicates happenings in the real world using subliminal means. O’Pray (1996:1) states that aspects of our reality have found meaning via representations on screen. All my chosen films share a common occurrence. The women within them are represented as objects of desire for a heterosexual male audience.


The transnational industry of cinema creates films for a male-centric audience. The goal of all filmmakers world-wide is to make texts which appear appeasing to members of their given audience – as a result, very specific body types are used for the roles of main characters. This is a dominant practise within the three largest film industries enlisted in this essay. This can be seen in all three highlighted films in this work. Gill (2007) argues that a lot of attention is placed on the female body. She furthermore mentions that, a ‘sexy body’ is presented as the main factor of a woman.


Although we live in the 21st century, women are not truly liberated. The objectification of women in film is still present. Tusker and Negra (2007: 22) mention that, ‘feminism challenges us to critique relations of power, to imagine the world as other than it is, to conceive of different patterns of work, life, and leisure’. In the age of Post-feminism in the west, the topic of Feminism is still very much needed, as similar battles are still being fought in ‘developing countries’ such as India and Nigeria – countries perceived as backward and unworthy of the title ‘postmodern’.








Becker, M (nd) ‘Patriarchy and Inequality: Towards a Substantive Feminism’ University of Chicago Legal Forum: Volume 1999, Issue 1, Article 3. Available at

<http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1266&context=uclf> [8th May 2017].


Gill, Rosalind (2007) ‘Postfeminist media culture: elements of a sensibility’. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 10 (2). pp. 147-166. Available at <http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/2449/1/Postfeminist_media_culture_(LSERO).pdf> [8th May 2017].


Haraway, D. (1997) Space, Gender, Knowledge: Feminist Readings. New York: Arnold.


O’Pray, M. (1996) The British Avant-Garde Film: An Anthology of Writings. Luton: John Libbey Media.


Tusker, Y., Negra, D. (2007) Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture. Durham: Duke University Press.


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