SPOTLIGHT February, 2022: Nina Menkes, Independent Filmmaker, Feminist Activist, Educator

Nina Menkes is a trailblazer of American independent cinema and a crucial voice in our current reckoning with the ways film—both as an industry and an art form—treats women. More importantly, few living filmmakers have created work so virtually unprecedented in its stark originality. Her oeuvre is ripe for rediscovery.

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BRAINWASHED: SEX-CAMERA-POWER (Sundance FF 2022) – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

In her new documentary Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power, director Nina Menkes cues up a bathtub scene from 1972’s Superfly. Guess what happens? From a close-up of a man and a woman, the camera glides down the woman’s back to her buttocks, then shows her breasts while the man stays discreetly in the suds. Compiling nearly 200 clips since 1896 from popular, classic, and indie films, Brainwashed analyzes certain filmmaking techniques that continually view women as objects

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BRAINWASHED: SEX-CAMERA-POWER (Sundance FF 2022) – Review by Leslie Combemale

In her documentary Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power, which is inspired by her lecture “Sex and Power: The Visual Language of Cinema”, Menkes uses over 170 clips from films from the 1940s to the present from all genres to demonstrate that shot design is gendered. She makes a strong case for the idea that the visual grammar of cinema creates an environment that encourages discrimination, pay inequality, and sexual harassment, both inside and outside the film industry. Cinephiles may find themselves defensive about their favorite flicks, but it’s hard to ignore the many points she backs up with examples. Brainwashed may well fundamentally change the way we watch films, and it should.

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BRAINWASHED: SEX-CAMERA-POWER (Sundance FF 2022) – Review by Marilyn Ferdinand

Through the use of film clips, filmmaker Nina Menkes shows how a male-perspective-based film vocabulary has formed and hardened into accepted practice—one used even by women filmmakers. It is Menkes’ contention that these internalized norms of film construction influence how men and women behave in the real world. If women cannot be heard in a film, it’s only a short leap to silencing them in workplaces, public spaces, and relationships. If women are sexualized and give in to men’s sexual demands with pleasure in the movies without negative consequences, then sexually harassing and raping them in real life won’t seem so wrong.

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