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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Where Are the Women? Room

Where Are the Women? Room

A great example of how a movie with a male protagonist can still represent even a woman in “traditional” screen roles in a powerful way as fully human.


Is there a female character with significant screen time who grows, changes, and/or learns something over the course of the story? (for an ensemble cast, or a film with a male protagonist) [why this matters]


Is there a female character with insignificant screen time in a position of authority? [why this matters]
More than one? [why this matters]

Is there a woman whose role could easily have been played by a man? [why this matters]
More than one? [why this matters]


[no issues]


Does a man police or attempt to police a woman’s sexual agency? [why this matters]
Is he rebuked for it, either directly (by a character onscreen) or indirectly (by how it is depicted)? [why this matters]


Is there anything either positive or negative in the film’s representation of women not already accounted for here? (points will vary)

While most movies that feature women as mothers do not actually explore issues of motherhood as they affect women — its ups and downs, its rewards and its stings — this one does, and in the case of the female coprotagonist, without ever reducing her life to being defined solely by motherhood. The film also examines how a woman survives a horrendously abusive situation that, in another film, would reduce her to a mere “victim.”


IS THE FILM’S DIRECTOR FEMALE? No (does not impact scoring)

IS THE FILM’S SCREENWRITER FEMALE? Yes (Emma Donoghue) (does not impact scoring)

BOTTOM LINE: Though it casts its female coprotagonist in roles that are “traditional” for women onscreen — as a mother and as a target for male hatred — the film is very much about the strong inner resources she marshals in order to not only survive but to retain her humanity in the face of someone who would take it from her. This is a great example of how a movie with a male protagonist can still represent women in a powerful way as fully human people.

Click here for the ongoing ranking of 2015’s films for female representation.

Click here for the ranking of 2015’s Oscar-nominated films for female representation.

NOTE: This is not a “review” of Room! It is simply an examination of how well or how poorly it represents women. (A movie that represents women well can still be a terrible film; a movie that represents women poorly can still be a great film.) Read my review of Room.

See the full rating criteria. (Criteria that do not apply to this film have been deleted in this rating for maximum readability.)

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