OWN takes on “Miss Representation”

OWN will premiere Miss Representation, a doc which takes a close look at the pervasive negative representation of women in mainstream media, this week. Here, first-time doc director Jennifer Siebel Newsom (pictured) takes realscreen through the challenges of making the project.
October 19, 2011

Miss Representation, premiering on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network on October 20, takes a close look at pervasive negative representations of women in media. For director Jennifer Siebel Newsom, having the film receive its TV premiere on OWN is the perfect marriage of message and medium.

After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival, ro*co films international picked up the doc for the OWN Documentary Club. 

“I’d read an article where Oprah herself had said that she didn’t watch a lot of TV because it left her feeling dissatisfied and frustrated with what media was giving to us,” says Siebel Newsom. “Oprah’s about media that doesn’t limit you and that’s what we’re all about. It’s a win-win and we’re completely aligned in terms of our missions and objectives.”

The film features a number of interviews of women in media and politics, including Gloria Steinem, Rachel Maddow, Rosario Dawson, Nancy Pelosi and more. Still, as a first time filmmaker, Siebel Newsom found the biggest challenge to be finding funding. The initial seed funding came from entrepreneur Regina Kulik Scully, and then the director began to raise money in $25 increments through fundraisers over a span of three years.

While it was challenging, she says she carried on in order to champion good media for other generations. “I noted how media is permeating our cultural values and gender norms and that children were learning at an earlier age from media that a woman’s value lies in her youth and sexuality and not in her capacity to lead,” she says.

In addition, she was experiencing the issue in her own career as a film and television actress. “As I say in the film, I was told right away to take my MBA off my resumé and to lie about my age,” she recalls. “I didn’t do either but it reinforced the fact that I was supposed to be there as an object and not as someone with the capacity to contribute in greater ways and my intelligence wasn’t valued.”

A social action campaign follows the October 20 OWN premiere and Rosie O’Donnell-hosted discussion afterwards. Visitors to can take a pledge to stop sexism and create new opportunities for everyone, regardless of their gender. Educational outreach will be available to American schools via ro*co educational. She adds that there is international interest in distributing the doc, and that she’ll continue to spread the message through follow-up documentaries.

“We have number two and three simmering and some seed funding for those as well,” she says. “They’re going to continue the conversation that we started with Miss Representation. We basically saw this film as more than a film, as a movement to empower women and girls in our country while simultaneously lifting men to recognize the full potential of women.”

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.