Women in Film on Public Broadcasting: Midge Kovacs and Marjorie Rosen

The American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB) welcomes guest author Veronica Mendez, a duel intern with AAPB and Women in Film and Video New England. Stay tuned for a short series of essays that feature public broadcasting materials covering topics related to women in the film industry. Veronica is currently pursuing a bachelor’s in Media and Film from Suffolk University with an emphasis on video editing. 

This is the second installment of this series. Click here to read more.

Midge Kovacs and Marjorie Rosen

This week, I’d like to draw your attention to the Woman series produced by WNED in Buffalo, New York between 1972 and 1977. Woman was a half-hour public affair talk show covering issues of interest to women and in an episode from 1976, The Lady Vanishes: Where are the Women in Films, host Sandra Elkin interviews guests Midge Kovacs and Marjorie Rosen. At the time, Midge was the coordinator of the NOW Image of Women in Film Task Force and a member of the United States Commission on Women in Media. Marjorie was a film critic, journalist, and author of Popcorn Venus: Women, Movies, and the American Dream. The discussion of the program centered on how women in the 1970’s lost their agency and position in the film industry. 

Their observations come from critiques of media and their representation of women, concluding that the quality of women roles in films was on a decline. Marjorie argues that the representation of women was becoming more sex-centric due to the rise of the “buddy films” of the 1968s, which Rosen notes was during the time of second-wave feminism when women where exploring many different options and roles in their lives, “we began to see women as adjuncts — as hookers, as prostitutes, as very much secondary characters to these male central characters.” Which is a countering image to the fact that women were, in real life, creating meaningful roles for themselves.

Similarly, in 2019 a movement for better representation and better roles for women in Hollywood has been widely seen. What I did not know is that there had been a history of decline in the 1970’s. Apart from learning about the history of representation of women in films, I also got an insight into the connection between the regression from Hollywood as second-wave feminism started giving more independence to women. The heroines that once had been praised now turned women into mainly sexual beings and the objects of male desires. According to Elkin, actresses were leading names and although they didn’t have much decision power in the roles they starred in, they had variety, to which Rosen responds: 

What struck me the most from this interview was that women had roles as screenwriters and editors in the beginning of cinema and film. Unfortunately, because film became a money-making industry during the 1930’s women lost those film production roles. Women’s representation behind the scenes had declined, just as later on so would women’s acting roles. Nowadays, there has been an increase for women to get back those positions but also be producers, directors etc. Organizations such as women in film push for women to gain opportunities and network so the representations behind the scenes increases. The AAPB archives is a great resource to learn about the regression of women’s roles in history and the dynamics that helped those issues happen. Knowledge about history gives people the power to make different choices, and not to take groups of people for granted.

Join me again next time for another look at women in the media industry as I uncover the treasures of the archives.

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