10.17.2014

Black Magic Design and the Inexplicable Floating Woman

I wish I had a Harry Potter-esque illustration to accompany that title, but alas, what I have is this:


To quickly describe this image, this is a mock set, featuring the Black Magic URSA camera in action. Here we see three appropriately muscled and 5 o'clock shadowed white male filmmakers, capturing the serious scene between two appropriately muscled and coiffed white male actors, while a white bikini-clad woman-cast-as-sex-appeal looks on passively from the background.

My initial reactions were:
  1. That LED light is in the shot.
  2. The woman-as-gratuitous-sex-object is NOT in the shot.
  3. Are these cops worried about the devastating flood outside their penthouse?
In the smaller scheme of things, this is just another run-of-the-mill, heavily photoshopped, sexed-up ad full of pretty white people, where the cis-hetero male gaze + women's sexualized bodies are used to sell an attitude, lifestyle, and/or/plus a product.

Yawn.

Black Magic is not the first and will definitely not be the last to do this. It's a very old, clichéd approach to advertising. I was actually shocked at just how clichéd this was, as it feels like a desperate Don Draper wannabe threw back a can of Coke Zero, loosened his skinny tie, banged his fist on a board room table– making the Dorito crumbs briefly dance– and cried, "let's make filmmaking cool and sexy again."

 This deliberate objectification of female bodies (and all-white casting), in order to sell product is so over-used and over-consumed in our culture that many of us don't even notice it anymore. When I saw the ad for the first time, I tweeted out this snarky sentence:
And within five minutes, I got at least three responses from my very well-meaning followers that it was, in fact, an advertisement for the Black Magic URSA. Once I pointed out what I actually meant, the normal response was "Oh. Yeah, that."

Yeaaaaaah. That.
(Meanwhile most of the filmmakers I knew were like "I CAN'T BELIEVE THIS IS REAL?!")

I have reached a point where I can only roll my eyes at axe commercials that portray women as drooling animals because a dude made a weak attempt at poor personal hygiene, or cleaning product commercials that portray men as fumbling, helpless buffoons who have a chronic cranberry juice-spilling problem, because silly men, cleaning is a woman's domain! There are just so many of them that, while still harmful, they are almost parodies of themselves.

But I am not brushing this one off as just an ill-thought out advertisement that fell "prey" to the usual sexist advertising tropes. These ideas feel outdated and silly to us when examined directly, but this image that Black Magic put out? It's terrifyingly accurate. It reflects a very real sentiment throughout the film industry today. Now. In 2014. Which is that the voices and talents of women and people of color aren't needed behind the camera.

I penned the following to Black Magic's press contacts for the US and Europe:



Many of my other filmmaking friends did the same, but I decided to make it public again on my twitter feed. My followers are mostly a lot of young people interested in film, and I thought it was important to call bullshit on something I found very damaging. Here is the text in entirety:

Hi Terry/Patrick,
     I'm writing to express my very real concern about this Black Magic advertisement for URSA that contains a very unfortunate depiction of women in film.
     I'd like to be very clear: This is not about being offended, or a matter of taste. Despite being a ridiculous-looking ad, it is truthfully very harmful. It demonstrates a choice to be exclusionary to women and people of color in the film industry. It reinforces the erasure of women and POC behind the camera and objectification of women in front of it, glorifying it and further promoting it as normal and desirable. You are not just alienating women and filmmakers of color with this ad, but erasing them from the picture entirely. This perpetuates harmful thinking that is disadvantageous to women and POC who are looking to enter the industry, and to those already within it.
     I'd also like to point out that the bikini-clad sexual object in the background is not even "in the shot."
     I work primarily as a cinematographer for one of the most popular digital web studios in the world (7 million subscribers/fans), but I dedicate a large part of my time to teaching and mentoring, young women in particular. This kind of image-- placing white men front and center while relegating women to background sexual decoration and erasing all people of color entirely-- is sexist, exclusionary, and destructive. So many young girls I know are looking at the film as a way to tell their stories, and the film industry is outright telling them "you don't belong here."
     I and many of my friends in the industry want to express our deep disappointment and concern that this advertisement was even created. We hope that it will be removed and properly addressed.
     Thank you for your time,
     Lauren Haroutunian

Women made up only 2% of cinematographers in 2013, and only 4% of directors. Minorities overall made up only 12% of directors.**
**And before you say "But if there were more female/POC writers/cinematographers/directors they would get hired, there just aren't any" just stop. No. Just, no.

Unknowingly (or maybe even knowingly, because everything included in an advertisement has to be decided upon, approved, and produced, and is designed carefully to appeal psychologically to humans) Black Magic Design, unfortunately– and however inadvertently– is glamorizing a scene that upholds the industry's erasure of the contributions and roles that women and POC have held/currently hold in film. They have accomplished this, again, however inadvertently, by packaging this problematic image into a cool and sexy advertisement that is literally telling us, "this is desirable, this is what you want and need, this is the ideal." That is, of course, the job of an advertisement.

These are the responses I received from BMD Press:



So, I will give Patrick and Terry– hereinafter referred to as "Perry"– the benefit of the doubt that they did not set out to write an incredibly condescending email. But dudes, don't be that guy who implies that a woman who wrote a very thoughtful and professional email to you about the negative implications of your advertisement does not understand what the advertisement was for.
I would even be as so bold to assume, actually, that most women know how advertising works, because I live to make wild and grandiose assumptions. 

How could have Perry responded differently? Well, let's look at what is happening in their emails.

Me: "This advertisement for your camera is harmful to women and POC filmmakers and here is why."

Perry: "Thank you for the email. Actually, this is simply an advertisement for our camera. I have passed on your note to the advertising department."

......NO WAY WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME THIS WAS AN ADVERTISEMENT? I MUST LOOK A FOOL!  LOOK. A. FOOL.

In contrast, here is my corrected version of the exact same PR response without the insult:

Me: "This advertisement for your camera is harmful to women and POC filmmakers and here is why."

Perry: "Thank you for your email. This was not the intent of the advertisement for our camera. I have passed on your note to the advertising department."

A subtle wording change that acknowledges me as having critical thinking skills. It's obvious, but not dismissive.

**And to be fair, the identical images Perry included in the email to demonstrate that Black Magic's advertising team is indeed Not Sexist™, did in fact have clothed women in them. There was this nice white blonde lady being a script supervisor, in one. Cool. And then the same white blonde lady was pushing a button on a board in another. She must be very busy, because she was also marking focus on a focus ring, and showing all the men on set the last take on the DIT cart. I went to their website, expecting to see these photos in a visible place, but had to spend a good 5 or so minutes clicking through different menus to locate more than one. Meanwhile, the floating woman remains smack dab front in center on the camera products page, gazing sadly at the men who won't help her out of the pool.  But good news, I saw a photo of a different white brunette lady near an editing work station!!


GET BACK TO THE POINT, LAUREN: 
WHY SHOULD WE CARE ABOUT THIS?

Okay okay fine, we get it, it's a sexist ad, what are you trying to accomplish with this? Realistically you can't expect them to remove all their advertising and send you an email apologizing and begging forgiveness. Why are you STILL harping on this?

Well first, thanks for letting me know what is realistic because initially I was super disappointed that my list of demands (which included Perry personally sending me a free camera rental with a case of mountain-sourced sparkling water inside a bubble bath-and-loofah gift basket) was not immediately met. I know better now.

Second– and to finally be serious for a moment– what I am trying to accomplish is simply to get Black Magic Design to look at this ad (the symptom) critically, and thus the current diversity problem of the film industry (the real problem) critically, and acknowledge how they are contributing to it.

Real awareness can take that uncomfortable-thing-we-know-about-but-don't-want-to-admit-we-perpetuate-through-inaction mush, and shape it into an Actually Acknowledged Problem™ with real tangible consequences for the industry, thus with a real impetus to change it.

Ultimately, I am asking for a future where a young girl can look at an advertisement for a camera and not feel like cinematography is a world unavailable to her. She's got stories to tell.

That's it.

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