Posted in Diller Tikkun Olam Award, In The News, SSAIS

2018 Awardee Minnah Stein: Entrepreneur, Activist, Film Podcast Creator

This article was published on the Diller Foundation blog 3/17/22.

Minnah founded EMPOWERU, an initiative to educate students on consent, safety, and Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities. Since being selected as a recipient of the Tikkun Olam Award at age 17 in 2018, she graduated summa cum laude from Florida State University (FSU) with a Bachelor of Science in Communications and Digital Media with minors in Film Studies and Business.

Photo of Minnah Stein

What have you been up to since receiving the Diller Tikkun Olam Award in 2018?

Diller helped me expand my areas of interests into Jewish spaces, celebrating the crossroad of Judaism and activism. Since winning the Tikkun Olam Award, I have tried to always think about how my Jewish identity influences my studies and my work.

I was invited to participate in the FSU Honors Thesis program. There is no Jewish Film Studies class at FSU, so I used my thesis as an opportunity to explore how film and television intersect with Judaism. My published thesis is titled Representation of Jews in the Media: An Analysis of Old Hollywood Stereotypes Perpetuated in Modern Television. Writing this thesis was a really great opportunity for me to explore the ways in which Jewish stereotypes are ingrained into everything including the television we watch. What I found out through my research shocked me in many ways. It’s upsetting to see how Jews are still reduced to loud, overbearing, bratty, rich, nervous, caricatures in a lot of popular television shows on right now, but it is also great to see how young new Jewish content creators are working to change this.

After graduating, I continued my interest in film by starting a film podcast with my friend and mentor Lauren Lloyd. It’s called The Movies That Made Her…But Not Me. Lauren has been a Hollywood power broker for over 35 years and is a former Executive Vice President at Hollywood Pictures and Tristar Sony Pictures Entertainment. Her insight she shares on the podcast is always insightful and highly entertaining. Because we are from two generations, how we interpret movies is sometimes very different. We decided to use the podcast to explore how generational perspectives influence how we interpret and enjoy movies.

Have there been any updates with your project?

My community action program EMPOWERU revolved around education on the facts of sexual assault and harassment in middle and high school. The program was adopted by my school district, potentially reaching 40,000 students annually. When I went to college, there was an opportunity to make the same kind of difference in a new community. I joined the kNOw MORE advisory board where I planned and held events on campus centered around ending power-based personal violence for FSU students. I held a screening of It Happened Here and hosted a panel with FSU leadership including fraternity leadership, the Title IX officer, the student body president, and more. Our group was also involved in Title IX decisions when Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education gutted Title IX and left it up to colleges to decide how they were going to handle reports of sexual assault and harassment. We educated college students on stalking, consent, their rights under Title IX, and an array of other power-based personal violence issues.

I made the decision to dissolve EMPOWERU in early 2022, as I no longer felt it was a necessary vehicle for my activism. I have continued my work with Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS). I have served on its advisory board since 2015. I worked with SSAIS on a partnership with the ACLU to take on the Department of Education for their decision to take away protection for students. I was honored to be a part of their promotional material and featured in the video that came out on the 48th anniversary of Title IX.

As part of my work with SSAIS, I helped launch the national Students Against Sexual Harassment (SASH) Club for high school students. SASH Club is a new, national youth peer-to-peer education and prevention project targeting the problem of youth sexual harassment and assault. They provide resources and structure to high school students wanting to address the epidemic of sexual harassment at their school and in their community. As part of the launch team, I helped with website design, writing curriculum, and creating easy-to-use content to engage high school students on topics that are tricky to talk about.

#METOOk12 celebrated its four-year anniversary this past year. As the #METOO movement garnered media attention, SSAIS started the #METOOK12 movement to highlight the sexual assault and harassment that happens in secondary school. For the past four years, this campaign has promoted awareness and inspired action to counteract pervasive sexual harassment and sexual violence in K-12 schools.

What advice do you have for teens who are thinking about applying for the Tikkun Olam Awards?

The best advice I can offer hopeful Awardees is to start the application early! The application is a lot of work, but you shouldn’t let that intimidate you. I also recommend you ask someone familiar with your work to look over your application to make sure you’re doing a good job explaining your project.

The other piece of advice I would give is don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the award the first time you apply for it. If you don’t get it, you can always apply again the next year. I applied twice before I won. In that year between applications, my project had changed and grown so much. The most important thing is to keep doing your work and know that no matter what, your work matters and it is valued.

How has receiving the Tikkun Olam Award helped prepare you for your future?

Creating my project that won the Tikkun Olam Award required me to take entrepreneurial initiative. My project was based off of the idea that sexual assault and harassment were going unaddressed in my community — specifically, in schools. I decided to be the first to take on the issue and provide education to students. But to get this done, I had to approach administrative leadership, my school board, create curriculum to teach students, and organize educational events. The Diller Tikkun Olam Award provided validation of my entrepreneurship. The award provided a confidence boost that I was an entrepreneur who built something that had a meaningful impact. This validation instilled confidence that has led me to continue to grow, adapt, and expand my project and also to take my love of film and turn it into an opportunity to build something else that has an impact. The Diller Tikkun Olam Award inspired me to believe in my abilities and to not be afraid to start new and different projects like The Movies That Made Her…But Not Me.

What is your favorite memory of your experience with the Tikkun Olam Awards?

Shabbat is always my favorite time of the week. I have so many fond memories of braiding challahs with my mom for Shabbat dinner, sitting down with my whole family to light Shabbat candles, and sharing a good meal at the end of a long week. However, one of the most memorable Shabbats I have ever had was not with my family. It was with my fellow Tikkun Olam awardees. At the awardee retreat, we sat outside on Friday evening on blankets as the sun set. We said the prayers, told stories, ate together, and used the evening to bond and get to know each other. It is something I am reminded of every Friday night. I am so grateful for this experience and every experience I’ve had with the Diller Foundation. It has given me a great Jewish community that I’ve been able to share Shabbat and so many other traditions with.

Posted in Film Cred Articles, Published Articles

The Article About Nothing: The Role Voyeurism Plays in Movies About Nothing

This article was published on Film Cred 3/11/22.

My favorite kinds of movies are the ones that make me feel like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window — 60 years old, two broken legs, with a super-zoom telephoto lens, in my pajamas all day watching other people’s lives like they’re TV, and Grace Kelly by my side taking care of me and doing all the leg work. In other words, I like movies that make me feel like a voyeur, observing and learning from others’ experiences. 

I like movies about nothing. “A movie about nothing?! That doesn’t exist!” you might be thinking. In response, I would like you to think of a time when someone asked you to describe a movie you watched, and the only way you could describe it was by saying it was just about someone’s “coming of age,” or a character “just living their life.” These movies, my friend, were about nothing. 

In the 1950s and ‘60s, voyeurism became a very popular film technique. Making audiences part of the movie by rendering them merely voyeurs emerged as a horror trope. During this time, audiences were shown all parts of a story — everything the main character doesn’t know — and suspense was built through the audience knowing all this information but not having any way to tell the main character. The exploitation of viewership draws viewers into the story, simultaneously immersing them in the experience and reminding them of the illusion of a film’s false reality. Being trapped as a voyeur built anticipation in movies like Rear Window and Peeping TomThese films, and many others categorized under the voyeuristic genre, will use physical cameras, movies, video cameras, or film to emphasize the trapped nature of both the people inside the movie and the people outside. 

A still from Rear Window, Jimmy Stewart as Jeff near huge, towering windows.

Most literally and clearly, Rear Window is a great example of this voyeur style. The film presents audiences the main character, Jeff, with two broken legs, trapped in a wheelchair, who uses his camera to zoom in on the lives of others. Just like audiences watch the life of Jeff — unable to reach him or help him — he watches the lives of others unable to reach them or help them. This movie shows audiences that they are not just television viewers; they are, in fact, life observers. 

Rear Window, and films like it, are not about nothing though; they’re suspenseful thrillers. Audience-as-voyeurs was used as a plot device, but peering into the lives of others wasn’t what the story was about. Voyeurism served a purpose in these films to make us feel just as trapped as the characters living out a horror-drama. As filmmakers explored and developed voyeuristic techniques, a new genre of filmmaking was created: movies and TV shows about nothing. What if audiences didn’t just feel like observers in thrillers? What if they were also observers in movies and shows about other things, like romance, work, school, and everything else we do to fill time? Expanding the voyeurism to movies of all kinds of stories allowed viewers to be passive voyeurs soaking in information, learning, and observing without having to be on the edge of their seats. 

Watching a character do something so familiar on television or in a movie creates a feeling of comfort. No matter how different that character may seem, they show through their everyday activities that they are not really too different from us. The familiarity of the mundane makes audiences feel safe with those characters. We trust them. For example, no matter how unrelatably selfish characters on the sitcom Seinfeld seem, their friendships, dates, coffee shop-hang-outs, and office jobs make audiences see themselves in the characters. When we see ourselves in a character and trust them, we are more likely to listen to what they have to say. Establishing a character’s relatability through nothingness eases audiences into larger conversations they may have not been open to hearing otherwise. In this way, nothing can be used as a tool to persuade. 

A still from Seinfeld captioned "Everybody's doing something. We'll do nothing."

Seinfeld famously is a show about nothing. Jerry Seinfeld is a comedian living in New York City dating women and hanging out with his friends and we, the audience, just watch him. Of course, interesting things happen to him and his friends, but as far as the plot of the entire show goes, it’s just a show about someone living in New York City. It’s about nothing. At one point in the show, the characters George and Jerry make fun of the show’s premise by creating their own show with NBC in which they pitch the idea of having television programming about nothing. “Everybody’s doing something!” George says, “We’ll do nothing!” 

Episodes take on conversations any person could have found themselves having back in the 90s, but they discuss them in creative ways. In the episode “The Couch,”Jerry and Elaine discuss whether or not they would date someone who is pro-life, while Kramer fights with his business partner over when a pizza is officially a pizza: before it goes in the oven or after? This episode juxtaposes a regular conversation about a current event with an in-depth conversation on the same issue using metaphors. Not once does Seinfeld tell its audience how they should feel about this issue. The show just tells us how different characters feel about abortion as an issue and then uses metaphors of everyday life, i.e. pizza making, to present the arguments. The audience is a voyeur on conversations and arguments and then is urged to make their own opinions based on the subtle facts laid out before them in the form of metaphors. If the show was too aggressive about the overarching topic of abortion, the show risks losing viewers because of the strong emotion the topic evokes. Through the metaphor and subtlety of nothingness, Seinfeld is able to discuss issues in a way that maintains viewership and gives audiences the space to form their own opinions. In this way, nothingness is a more effective way of discussing controversial and complicated topics.

Every person watching a movie or a TV show knows what it feels like to do nothing in a day. Maybe that’s even the reason they’re watching the movie or TV show: to fill the nothingness. Nothing is familiar and relatable. The Peanuts, by Howard Schultz, uses the relatability of nothingness to its advantage, because we all know what it feels like to be a little kid, sitting around, doing nothing, and pondering big questions. And since we know what this feels like, we also know how scary nothing can be. In the article How Peanuts Created A Space For Thinkingby Nicole Rudick, the author describes a comic strip of eight panels that all depict Charlie and Sally simply sitting on the earth, engulfed by the dark sky, discussing the Big Dipper. “Nothing much happens here, yet, in its openness and conversation, the strip is alive with wonder, possibility, and humanity.”

Howard Schultz is not afraid of nothingness, and in his comics, he urges us to welcome and embrace it. There is beauty in moments of blissful nothing. In this context, nothing is being used to give audiences the space to gain a new perspective on big issues. How would their younger selves have approached this conversation? How can I embrace nothingness to have the clarity I need in this situation? Observing The Peanuts allows audiences to open their minds to the greater nothingness that surrounds us in everyday life, empowering us to use it to inform our decision making and thinking patterns. 

A comic strip of The Peanuts, Charlie Brown and Sally Brown peering into the stars and observing the big dipper.

There is also a kind of nothingness that comes from studies of everyday life. Deliberate nothingness can contribute to the exploration of culture and act as a cultural commentary. Content about nothing that depicts a certain time period acts as a time capsule of that time. The Graduate came out in 1967. Taking place in the ‘60s, the movie could have been about a major political event or a movement in the ‘60s, but instead, the filmmakers chose to focus on the attitudes and feelings of young people during this period. Thus, the movie was not about anything, but audience members feel like voyeurs, or time travelers, peering into the life of someone in the 1960s. 

Just as nothing can give us insight into a different time, it can also give us insight into people who are different from ourselves. Content where the consumer feels like a voyeur into the life of someone they may not understand serves to broaden their worldview. Movies like Frances Ha or Moonlight help us to get into the head of others and understand their perspectives. Audience members can put themselves into the shoes of those on screen and for 90 minutes, they can live a life totally unfamiliar to their own whether that be today, or 1960. Similarly, the documentary Get Back gave Beatles fans 8 hours of voyeurism, as we watched footage of The Beatles write their album Let It Be. Although being about the creation of an album, Get Back has no plot and that is referred to multiple times throughout the documentary. Producers worry that they’ve gotten all of this footage, but who would want to watch it because it’s not about anything. But in not being about anything, Get Back is about the intricacies, dullness, drama, and excitement of creating an album. It is about the nothingness of The Beatles going to work and doing their jobs-creating music. 

Being a voyeur of life allows us as an audience to welcome new patterns, perspectives, ideas, and ways of thinking. Presented more subtly than in a thriller, passive voyeurism has found a role in broadening mindsets and introducing a new format for influencing audiences. Within the nothing is a lot of something. And that something is the way in which life has meaning and gives watching others’ lives even greater meaning.

Posted in Uncategorized

THE MOVIES THAT MADE HER: Her Campus Interviews PODCAST HOST MINNAH STEIN

podcast with flower

This article was written by Katrina Oro and published on Her Campus on 2/17/22.

Films play a huge role in the representation of culture within each generation. Join me in interviewing Minnah Stein, where she tells us about her process in creating the podcast, The Movies That Made Her… But Not Me. Here, she and her co-host, Lauren Lloyd, explore the contrasting interpretations of films between different generations. 

Minnah Stein, 21, is one of the hosts of the podcast The Movies That Made Her… But Not Me. She graduated summa cum laude from Florida State University (FSU) with a Bachelor of Science in Communications and Digital Media, with minors in Film Studies and Business. Through the Film Studies program at FSU, she developed a love for film analysis and interpretation. 

“Introduction to Film Studies was the first film class I had ever taken, and it was amazing to me that film theory was an actual area of study outside of me just having deep discussions of movies with my family and friends,” Stein says. 

After graduating in 2021, Stein knew she wanted to pursue her passion for film, so she decided to write for FilmCred, an online publication where she was able to meet a community of people who shared her same passions. It was then that she was inspired to try podcasting. 

One day, during brunch, Stein and her dad were debating over whether or not Annie Hall (directed by and starring Woody Allen, 1917) was a good movie. Amid their debate, their guest, Lauren Lloyd, interjected that Annie Hall is her favorite movie of all time! Soon, they came to the realization that because Stein saw the movie in a post-#METOO world, she interpreted the movie differently than how her dad and Lloyd did when the movie first came out. Continuing her chat with Lloyd, they concluded that the differences between their generational perspectives led to their contrasting views on films. Soon enough, Lloyd would join Stein in her creation of The Movies That Made Her… But Not Me. 

Lloyd has been a Hollywood power broker for over 35 years and has cast and discovered many household names like Chris Evans, Julia Roberts, Heath Ledger and others. “Lauren has great insight into film. Not only does she bring an industry-insider perspective to the podcast, but she is also infectiously funny, constantly making me laugh with her quips about the movie we’re discussing,” Stein says. 

She and Lloyd chose a podcast medium to hold discussions, like the one they had over brunch, as well as challenge each other’s opinions. Furthermore, a podcast would allow their listeners to relate to them and their content since they would be listening rather than reading in blog format. So, with her professional relationship with FilmCred, Stein decided to write them a pitch that would convince them to add a podcast element to their online publication. Not only was her pitch approved by the company, but they also agreed to sponsor their project! The next thing Stein knew, she was coming up with a title for the podcast. 

The Movies That Made Her… But Not Me derives from common film titles. The Movies That Made Us is a show on Netflix about how popular movies were made, and The Movies That Made Me is a film podcast where filmmakers discuss the movies that inspired them. It was important to Stein and Lloyd that they convey how they are a film analysis podcast with a generational perspective. By going back and forth each episode choosing the movies they were discussing, the movies were ones that made Stein, but not Lloyd, or vice versa. Hence, the name The Movies That Made Her…But Not Me.

Once she had the podcast title, Stein had to figure out a few more logistics, including who their audience was and how their podcast would be recorded. In order to market her audience of film enthusiasts, they began to promote their project on FilmCred, SuperYaki, and now, Her Campus! In creating the podcast, Stein and Lloyd would record every episode with a single mic and hang up blankets as a background. After reading the opening script, the two would open up into a natural conversation about the movie. “I love when we talk about how we felt the first time we watched that episode’s movie versus how we feel about it now,” Stein says. She enjoys reflecting on how each movie affected her at a certain age and what they mean to her now. 

The Movies That Made Her…But Not Me is still a relatively new start-up, so Stein and Lloyd are focusing and pushing their episodes out there as well as perfecting their recording process. Throughout her time creating the podcast, Stein made it a priority to keep an open perspective. She learned that nothing was a waste of time, even if she wasn’t good at it right away. To the people interested in starting their own podcast, Stein believes that they should not feel limited by the things they’ve never done before. “Every interest is an opportunity to learn a new skill or even to learn that you don’t like what you thought you were going to. Never pass up an opportunity to learn something new, even if it doesn’t go as planned,” she says.

Besides being a podcast host and FilmCred staff writer, Stein is also a production assistant at Lloyd Entertainment. In 2014, she founded the EMPOWERU initiative that was adopted by her county’s public schools to educate K-12 students about Title IX. Today, she continues her activism against power-based violence as an advisory board member of Stop Sexual Assault in Schools.

The most recent episode of The Movies That Made Her…But Not Me came out on Feb. 14th. Join Minnah Stein and Lauren Lloyd as they talk about one of the greatest love stories of all time in the film Ella Enchanted. 

Listen to the podcast: https://www.flowcode.com/page/moviesmadeher

Follow them on Instagram and Twitter: @moviesmadeher

Website: moviesmadeher@wordpress.com

Posted in Podcast: Movies That Made Her...But Not Me

New Podcast Launched: The Movies That Made Her…But Not Me

I am so excited to announce my newest venture! I am producing and co-hosting a movie podcast called The Movies That Made Her…But Not Me. I am even happier to report that my co-host is my mentor and amazing friend, Lauren Lloyd. Lauren is an accomplished producer who brings interesting and entertaining insight to our podcast movie discussions. I am also excited to share The Movies That Made Her…But Not Me is sponsored by Film Cred.

I’m a GenZ and Lauren is a Baby Boomer. From the beginning, movies have reflected and defined the culture within a generation. However, outside of that generation, how is the film interpreted and received? What can one generation learn from another through movies? That’s what you’ll find out when you listen to The Movies That Made Her…But Not Me.

Listen on Apple or Spotify. And, follow us at @moviesmadeher. Also, share the podcast with your friends!

Posted in Flipscreen Articles, Published Articles

Always a Bridesmaid and Never a Bride, Until Now: How ‘Bridesmaids’ (2011) Allowed Women to Take the Front Seat in Comedies 

This is my first article for Flipscreen. You may read it there or here.

In every film class, in every film podcast, and in every article I’ve read about the success of funny women in film, Bridesmaids is always pointed to as the film that allowed women to take the front seat in their own comedy films. Before Bridesmaids, how could we really, truly know women could carry a comedy film all by themselves? How could we have known that funny women could make money for studios? 

Bridesmaids is a movie about a pair of best friends named Annie (Kristen Wiig) and Lillian (Maya Rudolph). When Lillian gets engaged, she asks Annie to be her maid of honor, but Annie is constantly being upstaged by Helen (Rose Byrne), a richer bridesmaid. Becoming bitter, Annie comes to discover her dysfunctionality and inadequacy are not Helen’s fault, but rather herself getting in her own way. Annie learns how to accept herself and to be grateful for what she has instead of pining after what she once had or what she’ll never have. The bride, as well as the other bridesmaids — including Megan (Melissa McCarthy), Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey), and Becca (Ellie Kemper) — all learn things from each other and become stronger as a group. 

A group of women getting ready to board an airplane. They are dressed in a variety of styles, from glamorous to casual, and have a range of body types, appearances, and facial expressions. At the front of the pack is Melissa McCarthy's "Megan" and Rose Byrne's "Helen". The rest of the film's ensemble cast of women can be seen trailing behind them.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

In many ways, Bridesmaids was a test case for female-led comedies. Studios made it clear to everyone working on the film that the future of the genre was on their shoulders. After the film went into production, other screenwriters with scripts about and for women started to pitch their ideas, but studios were waiting to see how Bridesmaids did at the box office before they decided to give more women opportunities to create these kinds of comedic feature films. Writers Wiig and Mumoloended up bringing in $288.4 million dollars with Bridesmaids, making the film Judd Apatow’s highest-grossing. From there, audiences have gotten to see Wiig and McCarthy’s careers really explode, and the comedy genre of film expands into “women’s issue films.” From Girls Trip, to Booksmart, to Bad Moms, to Ghostbusters (2016), the buddy comedy genre has proven to be a genre that men and women can star in, making money for studios and delighting audiences of all kinds.  

The history of women in comedy is one of constant struggle against the men who wanted them to fail, and this isn’t a history that spans from the invention of the television to now, or even the beginning of vaudeville comedy to now. This is a history that beginsin 1695, with playwright William Congreve decreeing (without being asked, I might add), “I must confess I have never made an Observation of what I Apprehend to be true Humour in Women…Perhaps Passions are too powerful in that Sex to let Humour have its course; or maybe by reason of their Natural Coldness, Humour cannot Exert itself to that extravagant Degree, which is does in the Male Sex.” If only he had lived to see Bridesmaids! He would have felt so stupid. 

More recently though, we have had people like John Belushi sabotaging SNL sketches written by women and asking for the female writers on the show to be fired, Jerry Lewis telling the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival that a woman was a “producing machine that brings babies in the world” and therefore couldn’t be good at comedy, and presumably male psychologists publishing “research” that “proved” men were biologically the funnier sex. These attitudes and comments fueled studios thinking women were incapable of making a comedy that would attract an audience. This isn’t to say there weren’t funny women in films, but since studios are all about making money, they didn’t trust women to star in a comedic film or stack a movie with an all-female ensemble. Women also weren’t seen as a viable audience group. Despite their being half of the population, when Bridesmaids came out, it was still seen as a “niche” film. Its success, which largely came in the form of large box office numbers, opened the doors for other “niche” movies about “women’s issues” to get made. As more movies about women came out, they became less niche, giving us movies like Wonder Woman and Ocean’s 8.  

Two white women at a bridal shop looking at each other while they try on dresses. The woman on the left has short blonde hair and is in a white Grecian style dress. The other woman is a taller brunette who wears a purple dress, seen in profile view.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Bridesmaids was a successful film for a number of reasons, the first one being it was produced by Judd Apatow. Had this movie not been marketed as an Apatow film, it may not have been as successful as it was. When this movie came out in 2011, Apatow was riding the success of Knocked Up, Superbad, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Anchorman, and an array of other successful films all centered around funny men. These Apatow films could be sexist, raunchy, disgusting, and any other adjectives you could use to describe the stereotypical male fantasy comedy. So, when Bridesmaids came out, even though it was a movie about women, when audiences saw the name Judd Apatow on the movie poster, they knew what to expect. Had Wiig and Mumolo self-produced this film, it probably wouldn’t have reached as broad of an audience right away. 

Another thing that made Bridesmaids successful and stand out was the fact that despite playing off of male-centered comedy tropes, the movie didn’t try to be something it wasn’t. Although it has often been compared to The Hangover, Bridesmaids separates itself from the “male comedy” outline to be something unique and feminine. As The Guardian put it, “The bridesmaids aren’t copying male behaviour, but neither do they come across as archetypal females….This time it’s Lillian, not her groom, who fears that marriage will rob her of her mates. It’s Annie who has a problem with commitment, and not her swain.” Bridesmaids reclaims the comedy genre, showing realistic and raw representations of women. They are funny, yet serious; strong, yet insecure. These women just are who they are. They make a statement about women in comedy through their refusal to play into the ideas of what people want women in comedy to be. Audiences think women in comedy movies will just be talking about their periods and being screwed over by men, but instead these women are characters anyone and everyone can relate to. With the release of Bridesmaids, it was proven that women can make a comedy film just as funny as men can by allowing women to just be people— funny or not. 

But aside from being groundbreaking and hilarious, there is a lot to Bridesmaids that often goes unappreciated. Bridesmaids is an emotional film about the realities of female friendships. It shows us a hero who is her own villain despite putting the blame onto everybody around her. It is a film we can all see ourselves in— struggling to show up for others when we can’t even show up for ourselves. It has moments of humor, as well as moments of deep despair and sadness. In a scene after Annie explodes in anger in front of all of her friends, ruining Lillian’s bridal shower, Megan comes over to Annie’s house to see if she’s okay. Pouting, Annie tells her, “I got fired from my job. I got kicked out of my apartment. I can’t pay any of my bills. My car is a piece of shit. I don’t have any friends.” 

Megan cuts her off, saying, “You know what I find interesting about that, Annie? It’s interesting to me that you have absolutely no friends. You know why that’s interesting? Here’s a friend standing directly in front of you, trying to talk to you. And you choose to talk about the fact that you don’t have any friends…I don’t think you want any help. I think you want to have a little pity party.” She then starts hitting Annie to simulate life throwing punches, adding some levity to the otherwise very heavy situation. Bridesmaids has a lot of serious moments like this, where we as an audience are reminded that as funny and silly as this movie can be, it is still about the realities of being a single woman after the 2008 housing market crash. 

A white woman with blonde hair sits on a floral couch. She has an upset expression and wears casual clothes,  with her legs up in front of her. A floral wallpaper can be seen behind her, and her feet rest on a wooden table where a floral cup sits.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Annie’s life was her business, but it went under in 2008. With her bakery went her relationship, her money, and her own self-worth. She never fully heals from the trauma of all that she lost when she lost her company. But instead of picking herself up, she wallows in it and lashes out at the people around her who are just trying to help her. Bridesmaids gives us a story where the hero is also the villain. At first, we are led to believe that the rich and seemingly perfect Helen is the source of all of Annie’s problems. But as Annie comes to realize maybe she is her own worst enemy, the audience sees it as well. Giving audiences a complicated hero is a unique and bold thing to do in a film that knew it had the future of female comedic films riding on its shoulders. Bridesmaids deserves to be honored for the film that it really is, a comedy and an honest story about friendship, self-image, the impact of the 2008 Great Recession on small business owners, and how to start to heal from trauma. 

While Bridesmaids took a lot of steps forward for women in comedy, these steps were for primarily thin, beautiful, white women. The movie takes cheap shots by dressing McCarthy’s character sloppily, oftentimes making her gross, obsessed with food, and using her body as the butt of many jokes. Bridesmaids was a game changer for female-ensemble comedy films, but it still falls into the archetypal male fantasy of the comedy genre by hyper-sexualizing beautiful women and desexualizing every other woman. As much as Bridesmaids deserves praise, it is important to remember it would still take six years for Girls Trip to get made — a similarly structured comedy about Black women — and eight years before audiences got to see a Puerto Rican actress star in female buddy comedy Someone Great. The point is, it’s still a fight for women whom production companies deem unprofitable. 

A white blonde woman wearing sunglasses and a black and white striped shirt. She stands in the middle of an airplane as she pulls open the curtains, and a man in the background looks at her.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

When film classes, podcasts, and articles talk about women in film, they shouldcontinue to celebrate Bridesmaids, but re-evaluate why. Bridesmaids is a great film because it is funny and because it allows women to be everything they want to be— funny, messy, serious, emotional — all of it. Mixed in with discussions about Bridesmaids should also be a conversation about how comedy can become even more inclusive for all kinds of women. There is still room in the film industry for comedies to tell different kinds of stories about women without needing to humiliate some women to get laughs. Bridesmaids is great, but it shouldn’t be the be-all end all “we proved women can be funny” movie. Rather, it should be a foundation we build upon to make sure everyone has the opportunity to tell their stories and see themselves in the stories being told.  

Posted in Film Cred Articles, Published Articles

Live From Your Home: It’s Theater for Everyone!

This article was published on Film Cred 9/3/21.

There is perhaps nothing more magical than seeing a Broadway play. The warm theater lights and the sounds of stringed instruments warming up seem to promise something great to come. A certain kind of comradery can be found only in a theatre. Conversations flow freely with strangers who become fast friends by token of assigned seat numbers. 

The history of the theatre surrounds you, filling your mind with questions. Who sat in these seats before me? What plays were staged here before I was even born? Every single thing about a Broadway show is magical to me — except for the fact that Broadway is in New York, and I am in Florida. 

This lack of proximity entices many theatre lovers into watching bootleg versions online. These bootleg videos are available on YouTube, the handiwork of theatre attendees who shoot video on their phones during a performance. The quality is terrible. Capturing the videos makes the actors on stage upset, both because it’s distracting and because (most importantly) such recordings are illegal. When someone takes a bootleg and puts it online, it’s stealing someone else’s art. On the other hand, for a lot of people, this is the only way theater can be accessible to them. It’s tempting to think of bootlegs as a workaround, getting around the classist system that prevents them from seeing a Broadway show to begin with. Discourse on the value and/or immorality of bootlegs can be tricky, because both sides have valid points. The issue: how do we make theater more accessible? I see one solution in my living room: the small screen. 

Streaming and broadcast television have opened up new avenues for consuming theater. Over the years, content creators have explored how television and theater can work together to create an intimate and accessible theater experience off-off-off Broadway, right in your own home. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have purchased professional recordings of Broadway shows; Oh, Hello!, What the Constitution Means to Me, and Hamilton were all legally, professionally recorded then debuted on popular streaming services, to be viewed easily by even a hesitant Broadway enthusiast. 

Unlike movie adaptations of a show, like Little Shop of Horrors or Rent, these filmed performances capture a communal experience. Arguably, the audience is what makes theater, well, theater. It sounds cliché, but it is true: the audience is just as much a part of the show as the actors or the set. When a Broadway show’s matinee performance is filmed and put on television, at-home viewers can feel like they are just as much a part of the audience as people in the theater. It is the perfect medium for a Broadway show precisely because of how personal television is. It’s small, viewed in the comfort of your own home; and, as with news shows and reality television, people can form “personal relationships” with celebrities in this setting.

There are 120.6 million home televisions in America. With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down cinemas and theaters alike, broadcast television and streaming have become the biggest forms of content consumption. As theaters scrambled to make money during the shutdown, television and streaming offered them a solution to their revenue problem, also resolving the issue many theater lovers have with the price of tickets. Attention was drawn to local and Broadway theaters alike as libraries of professionally recorded shows were made available, theatre companies performed shows on ZOOM, and streaming services picked up shows that previously planned to debut on Broadway. And in 2020, it was announced that Diana: A New Musical would make its streaming debut on Netflix two months before it made its Broadway debut. 

A still from "Diana: A New Musical." A man stands, supportively resting his hand on a woman's shoulder. A photographer angles to take a picture of both of them.

It’s not just those who can’t afford a ticket to live theatre who benefit from this forced transition to streaming theater. People with medical conditions that prevent them from enjoying plays in a theater can benefit from the customizability and accessibility that television offers, while also highlighting the ways in which theater is not an accessible art form for everyone. The renewed attention theater has received during COVID has in many ways also worked to destigmatize it, making it not just a pastime for the ultra-wealthy but also a retreat for the average person. In this way, television theatre has brought communities together. 

Esmé Weijun Wang wrote in a letter of recommendation for the New York Times: “Before 2020, I had never before thought to explore theater beyond one or two plays, considering it a luxury for those more able-bodied or in certain cities. Watching plays on a computer screen isn’t a traditional experience, but it gives access to a type of storytelling for thousands who may never be able to enjoy it otherwise.” Television has given theater a whole new audience. Television has made the art form more personal and accessible. One could even argue that, more than ever before, it is by and for the people. 

But all live theatre shows recorded and put on television are still just “previously recorded.” Part of the thrill of theater is that it is experienced live. The show must go on, as they say! Across the past decade, broadcast television networks like NBC and Fox have looked for ways to capture the live aspects of theater. In 2013, NBC produced The Sound of Music; this was the first time a theater performance was recorded live on television. 18.62 million people tuned in to watch The Sound of Music Live!, making it NBC’s largest non-sports audience on any night since the 2007 Golden Globes. It got a 4.6 rating, and the success of the broadcast led NBC to make live shows an annual event. After several years of live shows on NBC, and Grease on Fox, fans felt like there was still something missing. Since The Sound of Music Live!, these live shows had been kind of a mixed bag. After A Christmas Story, Live! was televised by Fox in 2017many critics and viewers alike questioned whether NBC should continue their annual live show tradition. In all the networks’ efforts to capture the live aspects of theater, their audience was forgotten. Remember that cliché about audiences being a key part of a theater production? A Christmas Story, Live! proved to skeptics that audiences are, in fact, crucial to a show. 

Much like rock concerts that are recorded live and put on television, NBC’s 2018 Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert finally combined capturing theater live and raw with an audience to give television viewers an electric television experience no one could complain about. The director of Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, Alex Rudzinski, said his goal was to “blend the audience and primary performance area so the demarcation is slightly blurred. The act of making music itself will be a visceral aspect of our storytelling. There is a beautiful, disciplined madness in the whole creation. The kinetic energy from the audience and the focal point of the band being omnipresent — those two elements are what’s going to define us to a degree.” This is the reason Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert was so successful; its creators kept in mind the essence of theater and used the essence of television to accentuate what makes both television and theater great. Television is the most intimate medium, and theater is the most intimate art form. Together, they create a theatrical experience that is its own unique experience, and even better — accessible to all.  

Other than Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, what productions have done the best with combining television and theater? This is my opinion, but I’m a big fan of Oh, Hello! Streaming on Netflix, Oh, Hello! is one of the only shows I’ve seen on a streaming service that recognizes and takes advantage of the fact it is going to be on television. Whereas shows like Newsies that are played as usual with no specific accommodations for it being on TV, Oh, Hello! makes jokes about it being a special and recorded for Netflix. The special plays out other jokes by having guests and including both an intro and an outro. Oh, Hello! feels special in the way it’s filmed for Netflix. Even people who saw the show live in the Lyceum Theater could get something new out of seeing it on their television. 

When shows make their Broadway television recordings special, it adds to the experience for at-home viewers. They are part of something that is more than just the show, and this creates a unique shared experience amongst the television audience. The medium of television, and Broadway’s increasing experimentations with it, has made people realize theater is for everyone. 

We no longer need to have discussions about the morality of bootlegging Broadway shows, because television is an answer that allows everyone to win. It is the future of Broadway and theater as a whole. We all deserve accessible theater. Through television, we get a replication of the in-person theater experience that, executed correctly, can provide a unique viewing experience that can be equally meaningful.

Posted in Awards, Education, Published Articles

My Thesis Has Been Published!

I was invited to participate in the Florida State University Honors Thesis program. I researched and wrote Representation of Jews in the Media: An Analysis of Old Hollywood Stereotypes Perpetuated in Modern Television.

It was my honor to have this amazing opportunity.

I wish to thank the following individuals who offered me guidance and encouragement along the way: my thesis director Dr. Andrew Opel, my committee members Dr. Martin Kavka and Dr. Arienne Ferchaud, and Dr. Arthur Rainey and Jeffrey Richman for their invaluable expert insight. A special thanks also to Marjorie Schwartz Nielsen and Lauren Lloyd whose enduring guidance and support I appreciate so very much.

Anti-Semitism in the United States is just as prevalent today as it ever has been. How does this cultural anti-Semitism translate into the media? Through portraying Jews as greedy, neurotic, pushy, money obsessed, cheap, and a myriad other negative stereotypes, the media often perpetuates long-standing anti-Semitic tropes.

This thesis analyzes the prevalence of Jewish stereotypes in modern television through the analysis and discussion of three of the most popular modern television shows consumed by young people and evaluation of the appearance of Jewish stereotypes in each episode.