Jennifer Siebel Newsom: a profile on the power of film


By Jessica Bovee

This week is International Women’s week, and in honor of the celebration our blog has decided to post about a few amazing women who are changing the way we think and see things. You can learn more about a new feminist each day. While specifically a documentary filmmaker, Jennifer Siebel Newsom has proven to be a leader in the revolution for women and in the fight for gender parity.

Newsom began her acting career in Hollywood when she was 28, but ran into a great deal of trouble with both her age and MBA from Stanford. Makers, an online platform that highlights women, tells us that her agent asked that she lie about these aspects in order to improve her chances of getting hired, but she refused. She realized that she wasn’t the problem, the media was.

Media does a lot to inform the public and can have positive influence, but it can also negatively harm people and society with the stereotypes and information it releases. It’s a powerful force, and Newsom realized this early on and knew she had to speak out.

Her first documentary, Miss Representation, was part of the official Sundance Film Festival selection in 2001. The film covered a broad scope of what is wrong with the unequal nature of gender in America, as well as the media’s tendency to perpetuate that standard.

I recommend the film in order to better understand the problems we are facing. The film shows gender disparity in America by pointing out that 51 percent of the U.S. population is women, and how Congress is 17 percent women. The next image predicts that it will take 500 years to achieve parity for women based on these statistics.

The problems are in the advertisements we see, they’re in the movies we watch, and they’re in the minds of Americans. Newson is just one individual working to bring these problems to the surface, and although film is powerful, more voices and change are necessary for the results we need.

Newsom has gone on to produce other films such as the Mask you Live In (2012), and also the The Invisible War (2012). The Mask You Live In, a more male-focused film that deals with the pressures of being masculine, uncovers the isolation and pain men feel from society’s expectations. Men are expected to show no emotions, and the film exposes how this can lead to violence, or worse, suicide.

The Invisible War deals with the rise in sexual assault in America’s military. The rape epidemic, although a taboo subject for many, is investigated openly in this film in order to bring light to the dominance exercised over women. PBS writes that 20 percent of active women in the military are sexually assaulted during their service.

Newsom has shocked viewers with her significant findings, but, more importantly, she made people rethink the way we treat women in society and the military. Her films forces us to consider the unjust a little more thoroughly, and it churns more national discussion. While not direct actions, these are the kinds of things that can lead to gender parity and true change.

All of her films force us to consider new thoughts and perspectives that can help reform the America we know. The Huffington Post, in a 2014 article, asked well-known feminists what they thought it would take for a woman to become president. Here’s what Newsom had to say:

“I think we’re in a rut in our country; I feel like we’re stuck. We give so much power to beauty and not enough to talent and brains and leadership when it comes to women.”

It’s true. You can see it, you can feel it. Women are constantly put down, but consistently idolized for how they appear. Newson outlines much of what is wrong with the media’s messages and the lack of respect for women. It’s not that women aren’t getting attention, it’s the wrong kind.

Female political figures are asked about breast implants on national news, and not about their platform. Men have questioned women’s abilities to keep a level head and work in the government because their menstruation cycles can alter moods. Women are being assaulted in America and on the front lines while fighting for it.

Thank you Jennifer Siebel Newsom for your films. Thank you for fighting for gender parity. I hope to contribute to this national, and global issue just as she does. I plan to create films that can cause people to consider injustice, especially when it comes to women. I plan to incorporate Newsom’s work into my life through how I treat people and who I respect, and working to reach gender parity through the way I live my life. I encourage you to find the ways you can help and how you can make a difference, too.


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