Lisa Cuklaz (Boston College)


Course description
Strong female lead characters are becoming more commonplace in many national cinematic traditions. Portrayals of such characters, whether fictional or historical, must necessarily draw on the cultural context of production for inspiration. Thus, national cinemas produce a notable range of different representations of the cinematic heroine. At the same time, these traditions are shifting and expanding in other ways, often reaching across cultures to find audiences on distant shores. As powerful female characters become more popular, cultural changes and cross-cultural influences are reflected in expanding representations that cross borders and often defy categorization. This course examines the figure of the heroine in a range of national contexts both East and West, exploring a range of recent representations from the everyday to the fantastical. Through a study of selected films from several countries, approaches to representations of strong female characters are compared and contrasted in genres including romance, drama, animation, children's films, martial arts and superhero films. The course interrogates these films through close textual analysis, using tools from academic theory and criticism as well as studies of cultural values and ideals related to gender and representations. How are ideas of femininity defined and portrayed differently in different cultural contexts? How do the constraints of national cinema and specific genre help to produce particular representations of heroic female characters? Through a series of textual analysis assignments linking cultural context to gender representation and reception, students will examine texts of their choosing in addition to those considered by the whole class as a group.

Together the class will read 30 pages of essay reading per week and watch one feature-length film per week. The films listed provide a sampling of likely inclusions, but the exact list could change somewhat due to time constraints, student interests, or availability in English language format. The course does not require prior knowledge of gender studies or film studies.

Learning Outcomes
Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

1. understand relationships between cultural context, national cinemas, and gender representation
2. compare heroines from different cinematic traditions and genres
3. perform close textual analysis of character representations
4. identify key concepts in film theory and critical analysis

Evaluation method
Attendance and participation: 20%
Two short analytical papers focusing on specific films (15% each x 2 =) 30%
In-Class presentation: 20%
Final exam: 30%

Spirited Away (Miyazaki, 2001)
Kamikaze Girls (Nakashima, 2004)
Secret World of Arrietty (Yonebayashi, 2010)

A Girl At My Door (Jung, 2014)

Hua Mulan (not the Disney version) (Ma & Dong 2009)
The Assassin (Hsiao-hsien, 2015)

Angry Indian Goddesses (Nalin, 2015)

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (Surya, 2017)

New Zealand/Germany:
Whale Rider (Caro, 2002)

Mrs. Hyde (Bozon, 2017)

My Brilliant Friend (Costanzo & Rohrwacher, 2018)

Bend it Like Beckham (Chadha, 2002)

Kill Bill (Tarantino, 2003)
Hunger Games (Ross, 2012)
Moana (Clements and Musker, 2016)

Brown, J. A. Beyond Bombshells: The New Action Heroine in Popular Culture. University Press of Mississippi, 2015.

Dubrofsky, R.E., and Ryalls, E.D. (2014). The "Hunger Game"s: Performing and Not-performing to Authenticate Femininity and Whiteness. Critical Studies in Media Communication 31.5, 395-409.

Jones, N., Batchelor, B., and D'Enbeau, S. (Eds.) Heroines of Film and Television: Portrayals in Popular Culture. London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016.

Henke, J.B., Zimmerman Umble, D., and Smith, N.J. (1996). Construction of the Female Self: Feminist Readings of the Disney Heroine. Women's Studies in Communication 19.2, 229-249.

Inness, S.A. ( Ed.). (2004). Action Chicks: New Images of Tough Women in Popular Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kearney, M. C. (2015). Sparkle, Luminosity, and Post-Girl Power Media. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 29.2, 263-273.

Lindner, K. Bodies in Action: Female Athleticism on the Cinema Screen. (2011). Feminist Media Studies 11.3, 321-345.

Mulvey, L. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, in Visual and Other Pleasures (second edition). New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009 (1989).

Murai, M., and Cardi, L. (Eds.) Re-Orienting the Fairy Tale: Contemporary Adaptations Across Cultures. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2020.

Neroni, H. The Violent Woman: Femininity, Narrative, and Violence in Contemporary American Cinema. Albany: SUNY. University Press, 2005.

Prindle, T.K. Women in Japanese Film: An Alternate Perspective. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2016.

Rana, H.S. (2020) Meheli Sen, Haunting Bollywood: Genre, Gender, and the Supernatural in Hindi Commercial Cinema. Society and Culture in South Asia 6.1.

Reinhard, C.D., and Olsen, C.J. (Eds.) (2017). Heroes, Heroines, and Everything in Between: Challenging Gender and Sexuality in Children's Entertainment Media. London: Lexington Books.

Tasker, Y. Spectacular Bodies: Gender, Genre, and the Action Cinema. New York: Routledge, 1993.

York, A.E. (2010). From Chick Flicks to Millennial Blockbusters: Spinning Female-Drive Narratives into Franchises. Journal of Popular Culture 43.1, 3-25.

Wang, L. (Ed.) (2011). Chinese Women's Cinema: Transnational Contexts. New York: Columbia University Press.

White, P. (2015). Women's Cinema, World Cinema: Projecting Contemporary Feminisms. Durham: Duke University Press.


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30133 Venice,

phone: +39 041 2719511
fax:+39 041 2719510

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