On Monday night, I went to watch The Candidate (1972) with a group of coworkers and friends on the National Mall, as part of DC’s Screen on the Green. The Candidate is about an idealistic lawyer who decides to run for the U.S. Senate to draw attention to key community issues. But as his chances get better, he begins to get caught up in the politics. Although I enjoyed the film, I could not help but wonder about how few political women are portrayed in films.
Recently, actor Dennis Haysbert (you know… the “are you in good hands?” dude) rather “modestly” stated that his role as a Black President in ‘24’ paved the way for Barack Obama to be a viable candidate for President. Now that’s a little much. But we can’t deny that the images that the American people are exposed to can influence their belief system and notions of what’s considered acceptable. The fact that so few political women are shown in films may be a small but contributing factor to why so few women run for office. The films that do portray women as political seem to cast them in a pejorative light as power-hungry control freaks and not like the male political characters – confident, controlled and commanding.
Let’s look back at a few recent films/ television shows that have starred political women:
Manchurian Candidate (2004 film) – Meryl Streep plays Eleanor Shaw, a senator and a ruthless, manipulative mother. Many compared Meryl Streep’s character to Hillary Clinton.
Commander in Chief (2005 television show) – Geena Davis plays MacKenzie Allen, the first woman American President. Allen is smart, passionate and does not come off as a deranged woman on a power trip. The show was cancelled in 2006 (hmm).
The Contender (2000 film) – Joan Allen plays Laine Hanson, a senator who is nominated to be Vice President. She becomes the victim of various attacks on her personal life in which sexual accusations are spread. The media and various politicians work hard to portray her as nothing more than a sexual deviant.
It is worth noting that in both Commander in Chief and The Contender, the women ascend to their powerful roles because a man dies in office and an opportunity becomes available to them. It almost suggests that these women would not be able to ascend to these positions in their own right.
People often talk about Hollywood’s progressive views on sexual orientation and global warming. But when it comes to political women, they’re still stuck in the dark ages.