Films have a massive impact on all of us, in overt as well as subtle ways. They influence our biases, our assumptions and they contribute to either reinforcing or breaking popular stereotypes that dominate our worldview. There is a lot that has been written about the ways in which films compound patriarchal worldviews and normalize violence against women, leading to a rape culture that views violence against women as regular and acceptable outcomes.
Despite some progressive films breaking new ground in the last few years, the box office hits continue to be mainstream Bollywood films that treat women either as sexual objects for the male gaze, or as desexualised mothers, sisters or wives. Women characters have no agency of their own, and exist merely as plot points for heroes to fulfill their story arc of saving the damsel-in-distress or playing the hero. Item songs continue to view women as nothing more than a sum of body parts, often complete with lecherous men gazing uncomfortably at the heroine in question.
Mainstream cinema continues to romanticize stalking and valourize unhealthy and abusive relationships as “romantic ones”, leading to twisted understandings of love, sex and consent. Violence against women is often a plot point for heroes to prove their masculinity and heroism, rather than focussing on the woman’s experience of it.
#UnstereotypeCinema is a campaign by FII and Oxfam India to take a hard look at the films filling our theatres today, and look at ways in which they contribute to a society of rampant violence and rape culture. Through a mix of interviews and movie analyses, Oxfam India has released a research study on the ‘Impact of Films on Violence Against Women and Girls’. The findings from this study form the basis of this campaign, and highlight the extent of gender bias that our films embody.
On this note, Oxfam India supports the creation of gender sensitive films. It has instituted the ‘Oxfam Best Film on Gender Equality’ award, in partnership with Jio MAMI 20th Mumbai Film Festival with Star, the Mumbai Film Festival. A first-of-its-kind recognition, this award category focusses on films that challenge gender-based social norms which lead to gender inequality, and hence to the global pandemic of violence against women and girls.
This year’s partnership of Oxfam India and Jio MAMI 20th Mumbai Film Festival with Star aims to put the spotlight on the film fraternity to end stereotypes in male and female characters in cinema. We recognize the new breed of cinema, filmmakers and actors exploring subjects like sexuality of women, equality in relationships and real stories of strong women. These have been successful amongst audiences which means there is appetite for progressive cinema. However, the top grossing, widely consumed films in the entertainment industry continue to have regressive scripts that portray toxic masculinity and women characters as second-class citizens.
Through this collaboration with Jio MAMI 20th Mumbai Film Festival with Star, Oxfam India aims to encourage entertainers, film-makers and especially women to challenge gender stereotypes in the industry, talk openly about gender issues and anchor the change in perspective required in our films. This is aligned to Oxfam India’s Campaign Bano Nayi Soch theme on the norm: Violence is an expression of love within relationships.